Sorry, but you can’t write like me

One of the first things that happen as a result of you being appreciated even a little as a writer is that people want you to teach them how to write like you. This is, on the one hand, understandable. We all look at skilled people and wish we could do what they do. On the other hand however, it creates in the writer a false sense of expertise. Because writing and teaching writing are two entirely different things.

Most writers don’t know anything about teaching. Most writers will not be able to teach you anything. Many of them are honest enough to add disclaimers such as “this is not a writing manual, it’s just how I do things”. Some writers who are teaching writing aren’t that honest and sell their personal routines as manuals for others to follow. The funny thing about this is that I am not even sure if these writers know that they are being disingenuous.

Perhaps they got so many requests from people to teach them that they decided they were experts. Perhaps they really do think that they have hit upon some kind of golden equation that can turn anyone into a writer as good as they are. Perhaps they are simply looking to monetise their skill and giving their audience what they want. Regardless, it’s a slippery slope.

The danger here is that once someone starts getting officially trained by their favourite writer, they will either become a copy of that writer and not manage to become the writer only they can be, or they will fail to become a copy of that writer and come to the inaccurate conclusion that there is something wrong with them. Both are sad outcomes of the illusion that all writers are capable of teaching writing. Both outcomes actually prevent you from becoming a writer with your own unique voice.

As far as I know, there is only one way to learn how to write. And that way is to write. Writing is not a theoretical discipline. It is eminently practical. Unless you put pen on paper and are prepared to write badly for a long time, you will never become a good writer. Your favourite writers are kind of already teaching you how to write. They are doing it by writing. In reading them, you are training yourself to be a better writer.

In the Mahabharata, Ekalavya was the archer who learned by watching others and then practicing by himself. In doing this, he got better than those who were being taught by professionals. People often say this is testimony to Ekalavya’s inherent superiority. I personally think that though he may have been so, there is something to be said in favour of learning by voluntary assimilation as well. It’s learning where your exploration of the subject matter is not hindered by the rules created and imposed by your teacher. Our brains assimilate learning in strange and fascinating ways and I am of the belief that freedom of approach really helps in that process. Someone else’s methods may look effective from far away, but only by following your own path will you be able to find yourself and even surpass others.

All this has been a roundabout way of for me to tell you that I cannot teach anyone how to write “like me”. And that you should not even try to write like me – you should write like you. And that the only person who can teach you to write like you is you.