In the writers' communities that I've been a part of, this is one question that seems to pop up from time to time. Most people, I think, are starting to come around to the idea that you can learn
to write as opposed to needing some inborn talent. That said, I think that those without
that special innate talent are forever doomed to be "lesser" writers. But, hey, that didn't stop Tom Clancy from getting onto the bestseller lists, now did it?
Personally, I'm of the opinion that writing can indeed be learned. However, I'm not sure whether one can truly learn to write well in a classroom setting. In high school, I took a class called Writer's Craft and, during the course of the semester, turned out work that was far worse then what I'd been writing at home. Looking back on it now, I'm not sure I even managed to improve much from the experience. In my opinion, there are three aspects to pay attention to when learning how to write.
The first, and most important, is to realize that writing is something that's learned by doing. Every new story, even every new character is important to the development of a budding writer, because it forces them to try different things. This is why it's probably not a great idea for first time writers to plan long epics, or stories with sequel after sequel - because it doesn't ask the writer to do anything new, and results in stagnation. Of course, when I was starting out, the first thing I wrote was a novel intended to have many sequels, followed by a novelette that did, end up, having many sequels. To this day, it's a path I regret choosing. Those two projects lasted over two years and, when I look back, there's not much improvement to be seen.
Of course, this isn't to say that if you churn out hundreds of short stories you're well on your way to being a great writer. You've also got to read. A lot. And not just your favourite series, or what's assigned in school, or the latest bestseller, but everything you can get your hands on. Novels, short stories, poetry, drama - it all contributes to developing a sense of what makes great literature. And, if you can get a handle on that
, you have a pretty sizeable advantage over the rest of the crowd.
Finally (and some people may argue this point) I think that interaction
is absolutely crucial to a writer's development. You have to get acquainted, in some form or another, with other writers. Your opinions are good, of course, but let's face it - a writer's success is based entirely on the opinion of others. Interaction with other writers helps to gather more views on the craft of writing itself and also teaches valuable lessons about critiquing, finding markets, doing research, etc., etc.
Do these three things for long enough (I think it was Bradbury who said that a writer needed to have written one million words before they could truly be considered a writer) and you'll probably start to have some successes.
Of course, this isn't to say that learning how to write in a classroom is useless, I just have no real experience there. In fact, one of my life goals to accomplish before the age of thirty is to attend the Clarion writers workshop. If you haven't heard of it, Clarion (there are three workshops, one in Seattle, one at the university of Michigan and one in Australia) is an intense six-week long "bootcamp" for SF&F writers. Workshops are given by top writers in the field (the 2005 lineup at Clarion East consisted of Hugo winner Joan Vinge, World Fantasy and Tiptree winner Gwyneth Jones, Nebula and Hugo nominee Charles Coleman Finlay, Campbell and Locus winner Cory Doctorow, Nebula winner Walter Jon Williams, Nebula winner Leslie What and Asimov's
editor Sheila Williams) and attendees learn tips and tricks, write short stories and have them evaluated by both those teaching and their fellow students. Man, I would kill to go to that.
But, I digress. Maybe someone else has had a better experience in a classroom setting?