…if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise…

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath

every semester i have at least one.

mrs. emerson, i can’t write. i have to take this elective because of X, but i can’t write fiction / poetry. 

when i first started writing, i thought that was true. that some people can write, and some people just can’t. but the more i have studied writing and especially after teaching writing, i’ve come to think differently. i believe that anyone can be taught (or teach themselves) how to write. it is just a matter of persistence.

i’ve never been a good singer. i didn’t grow up in a musical household, i wasn’t in the church choir. so i never sang much around the house until zu was born–then i sang (and still sing) everyday, to her. when she was about a year old, i was singing some silly song to her, and i looked up to see bryan had been listening. i hadn’t suddenly become adele, but he could tell my range had grown and i could match pitch. it wasn’t something i had consciously set out to improve on, but everyday use had made my voice stronger.

this works for writing too. the classic advice on how to be a better writer? write write write, read read read. and it is true. if you write everyday, read everyday, your writing will improve.

this doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily become a professional writer, publish a book, find fame. to give another example, if i worked at it everyday, i’m pretty sure i could learn to play basketball. i might even be able to sink it from half-court regularly, if i work hard, for some years. but will i ever be michael jordan? no.

so, yes, you have to be born with some of it. that gift for language. i believe that everyone is born with some small bit of writing talent that can be nurtured and grown.

every semester i have my writing students read the four temperaments and the forms of poetry by greg orr. in this essay, he states that there are four temperaments to poetry–music, imagination, story and structure.

Orr goes on to say “To me, the notion of the four temperaments holds the promise of an underlying pattern that can orient and guide a poet as well as a critic. The first issue is always one of self-knowledge or self-recognition. Once a poet has a sense of his or her fundamental temperament, the possibilities for growth are twofold. The first is to go further into the gift, but such a decision carries with it the risk of a narrowing as well as the promise of a deepening. The second direction is to expand. Such an expansion can be under stood as the poet’s struggle to nurture and develop the other temperaments in such a way that their energies and constraints enrich his or her poems. Again, no one can hope to have all four temperaments in equal strength, but the goal will always be to have all four temperaments present, though some will arrive as gifts and others must be learned and labored for.

so just like i have the self-conscious student or two each semester approach me worried about their writing abilities, i also always have a self-conscious student or two who tells me, at the end of the semester, that they didn’t know that they could write like they can write. it is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching when i see it click for a student; when they turn in that poem or story that they didn’t know that they could write–and when they finally see their potential.


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