Can good writing be taught?

The simple answer is yes, no and sort of. Presuming the question is “Can I learn to write for my business?” not “Can I become the next Virginia Woolf?” then we can at least get some of the way there.

What can be taught

In his book On Writing, Stephen King outlines the basics of a writer’s toolbox. This involves understanding grammar (even if you choose to ignore it), avoiding the passive voice and eliminating unnecessary adverbs.

These are fairly easy fixes. Tweaks that can be applied to your existing writing to make it more readable. They are the kind of principles that can be learned – that you can even teach yourself.

King says you cannot teach a good writer to be a great one. And you cannot teach a bad writer to be a good one. But you can teach a competent writer to be a better one. Read any of our ‘how to’ blogs and you will find ways to take your writing up a notch.

“The gift of a good editor is what hones a writer from a free-spirited creative into a focused force.”

What takes time

There are ways to improve your writing. But the amount of time you can invest in writing is an important factor. Think of it like learning the piano. With a little practice you can learn to play Coldplay’s Clocks. But it takes a lot longer to learn how to play Shostakovich. Like, years.

If you have the time to invest, spend it reading and writing. And reading. And writing some more. Much about good writing is learning to recognise the rhythm in a paragraph, the subtleties in sentence structure. This kind of pattern recognition is the product of a seasoned professional. It takes work, but it can be done.

If you’re talking about copywriting, you also need to add in a bunch of stuff that fits around the writing. Like consumer psychology. Brand personality. Customer journeys. General marketing strategy. Copywriting, as we’ve said before, is not just any old writing.

Learning from others

Almost as important as the time you invest is the feedback you receive. The gift of a good editor is what hones a writer from a free-spirited creative into a focused force. Every writer has their blind spots and every new writer has many. 

A good mentor stops you from second-guessing your good writing and they can tell you straight when a paragraph is a load of waffle. They can help you grow in confidence and inspire you to take your writing beyond the perimeters of your own thinking.

If you don’t have an obvious mentor to hand, bounce ideas off your friends and colleagues. What does that word make you feel? Does this sentence make sense or is it confusing? Would you be interested enough to read to the end of that paragraph if I didn’t tell you to? 

Other people’s feedback can begin to build an awareness in you of what your writing is actually communicating.

What can’t be taught

No one can be taught to enjoy writing. If you hate it, if it bores you, you’d be better investing your time elsewhere. In this case, delegation could be your new best friend. Check for writing talent hiding in your staff team or hire a copywriter to make sure your writing is as good as it can be (yes, that was a subtle sales pitch!).

Finally, for some people writing might be something they really want to do, but each and every time they sit at the keyboard their head fills with fuzz. This is a greater creative block than the kind you solve with a few new writing principles.

If that describes you, don’t give up on a desire to write – but writing for your business probably isn’t the kind of pressure you need right now. Take a step back and take some creative risks in a less hazardous arena. Have a go at poetry, a short story, a comic sketch – there’s more than one kind of writer. Mix it up and maybe that creative fuzz will fade and something new will take its place.

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