Years ago I had the great good fortune to attend a weekend workshop with Paul Gillette. In the process of having our work analyzed, he brought up the concept: “I can teach you HOW to write but I canâ€™t teach you WHAT to write.” It sounded quite wise, and as he was saying this in praise of something I had submitted I tucked the concept away to consider later.
Come forward through years of writing and not writing, into a time when of new experiences. Iâ€™ve had the great good fortune of judging contests. I am amazed at the quality of work entered. Even though not everything is ready to submit, itâ€™s clear these people have put a lot of thought into their work, and have the principles of formatting, sentence structure and basic usage down pat.
Every now and then, though, I review an entry lacking in all those basic writing skills but so rich in story Iâ€™m stunned. Just as rarely I read something perfectly crafted, showing great skill in word choice yet totally lacking in imagination. Finally, I understand what Paul Gillette was telling us. Anyone can learn to write with an acceptable level of skill but not everyone can come up with a story that grabs at the reader and demands we drop everything else to finish the book.
Who would have the easier task for improvement – the person with the excellent skills but ordinary story, or the person with the great story but little idea how to organize her thoughts into words? Iâ€™m not really sure, both have a hard road ahead of them. A lot will depend on how badly they want to write, and how much it means to them to finish the book. Then the next book.