Start any discussions on the art of writing fiction and you will quickly find the group divided. On one side people claim it is an innate trait that people are either born with or without. But, when the authors that make this claim start creating their own books on writing that is admitting this stance is not true. Still, people exhibit varying skills with language and different comprehension of the elements that make up a story. The flip side of this viewpoint is writing itself is not innate and must be learned. The desire to write fiction and poetry seem to reveal itself early but successful writers don’t pen their first book by age twelve. There is definitely a learning curve to consider that will consume at least a quarter of a century in a writer’s life. For some it is much longer.
Even when people see fiction writing as a skill that can be taught, their methods vary for teaching it. Despite formulas and questions to aid with producing quality fiction, the characters of this kind of writing are neither able to be defined or measured with any consistency. What is original and unique in one culture, may be commonplace in another. A goal worthy of a hero in one society, may seem a bit nonsensical to another.
Anyone in a program to develop their creative writing skills has found that some deliberate efforts to kick start creativity may fail. But, original stories may surface at other times in spite of being stuck in a boring place among boring people. The work of the imagination is terribly unpredictable and won’t follow our schedules. According to author and editor Irving Taylor, creativity exists hidden within many people, but requires development. “At some point, however, some conscious discipline and control is beneficial and necessary. It is difficult to know whether developing creativity is like building a muscle or following a recipe.”
In my own research, I interviewed college students studying the different fields of art and writing to identify the factors that helped or hindered their creative drive. Near the top of factors those that helped were characteristics such as “risk taking” and “experimenting,” along with “being imaginative.” However, they rated having creative friends as the most helpful. Their major hindrances to making creative work were lack of time and resources, followed by their own lack of expertise. To cultivate the skill of writing fiction it seems necessary to provide the appropriate environment: lots of other creative people, no fear of experimentation and plenty of time and resources.
As I examine the kind of instruction recommended to teach creative writing, I find that this talent is nurtured, encouraged and cultivated more than it is directly taught. The skills for creating fiction can be learned, but the drive that it takes to complete this work can also be stunted or even killed.