About ten years ago, I announced to some friends that I wanted to do a writing course. One person responded ‘but you can’t learn how to write – you either can or you can’t’.
WRONG! All writers learn their craft, even if they don’t do formal study. They learn it by reading books about writing, talking to other writers, going to their local writing centre or doing short courses. Some learn it solely by reading, but they’re very clever people who can analyse a book’s structure and elements while they’re reading it. Me, I chose a more formal route, because I needed class time and assignment deadlines to instill a writing discipline.
That’s not to say we should apply everything we learn as we write. While I read about writing all the time, I have to ‘forget’ this while I’m doing my own crafting my first draft. If I consciously try to write well, it jams me up and I stall. For example, the other day I noticed I was baulking every time I wanted to write an adverb (-ly word) and I was stopping in my tracks while I was searching for another way of saying what I was trying to say. These stoppages break my flow of thought and often result in my getting up from my desk. This is dangerous, as it can lead to some serious procrastination.
So while I encourage all writers to learn their craft, there’s a time and place for everything. The first draft is not the place for craft. Nor is the second, if you have to do major revision and restructuring. Leave it to the third draft, to be done right before you send it off to your critical reader.