A reader sent me an email: Do you think writing can be taught?

Six months ago, my answer would have been a yes, absolutely, for sure, 100%. It can.

Today, I am not so sure. You see, I have failed someone as her “writing teacher” and have learned that there is one aspect to writing that cannot be taught.

Let me explain. I have been teaching food writing for many years now. I get all kinds of students from all walks of life: chefs, PR people, homemakers, professional writers, cookbook authors, career changers, etc. Some stick with the class and do the tasks, some find excuses not to do the homework but eventually submit something. Some are amazing. Many of my students have gone on to sell cookbooks, write articles, create amazing blogs.

And then came a student who humbled me to no end. She took the highest level of the course, which includes one-on-one mentoring with me via phone. The first week was fine but she had not had a chance to do her homework, then the second week and no homework, then the third week and I had not seen a single word from her. So we talked and she explained her fear of writing. She could not sit down and do it. She was afraid of failing. Ah, I had dealt with this so many times before, with myself and with other students.

I told her about doing morning journals, about writing like no one is reading. I begged her to write a few lines. I scolded her for not doing her homework. I cajoled her into trying to write one paragraph, a bio, a sentence.

No matter what I did, nothing worked. Nothing. At the end of seven weeks, she let me know she was grateful that I had taught her so much and that just the first phone call had been worth the entire course.

But I felt I had let her down. I could not get her to write. No matter what I did, I could not get her to write.

Now that I have had time to lick my wounds and consider this a bit more, I have come to a realization of the big secret about what cannot be taught in writing: it is this need to write. It is the urge to put all that is in your heart and mind on paper. It is this calling that will not let you sleep at night unless the paper is full of words.

That part, I am afraid, cannot be taught.

So come to me to learn the art, the craft, the technique. But you will have to go deep into your heart to learn why you do or don’t want to do this. If it doesn’t tug at your heart and make you crazy, then writing isn’t the right profession for you.

You will write because you want to write. No one can make you.

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