Why writing is a learned skill – and a hard one

Back in the 1960s, researchers looking into how people viewed their own ability to drive made a remarkable discovery: everybody over-rated their abilities.

Not so much a pier as a pi!

Apparently it’s a human thing. We do it a lot, particularly when it comes to ubiquitous actions such as driving, where there’s a consistent implication that we should be ‘good’ at it.

I still remember the time, a few years back, when I found myself on a wiggly piece of road, following a car which was the identical model, make and age to mine. I was holding speed to quietly run the right lines through the corners – it’s a physics thing which means your passengers aren’t thrown about and you don’t have to keep braking. I got taught how to do it, and I practice every time I get in the car. For various reasons, I’ve done a LOT of open-road driving over the past thirty-odd years.

But the guy ahead was all over the place, rocketing away on short straights, then braking on the corners and missing the line that worked with the camber and radius, which meant they were threatening to come out in the wrong place on the far side of the corner. It was against the dynamics of how cars turn, of how the camber on the road (calculated by its makers for a specific speed) worked, and so on. It also meant I was over-running them every time. And that’s quite apart from the fuel consumption. Ouch.

I can think of a few other things people consistently over-rate themselves in too. One of them is writing. It’s the same as driving, really, in that everybody is ‘meant’ to be able to write. You know – ‘I did high school English so I can write. How hard can it be?’ Well, quite.

Like good driving, good writing’s a learned skill. It gets better with practise, and it just as difficult to be good at it. The trick, as with driving, is to understand the basic mechanics – the mechanisms behind it. Then it’s possible to understand what will work when composing phrases and sentences. It’s also possible to control the effect of that composition – to make writing do what you want. You get mastery, in short, of the writing – whereas, a lot of the time, people who plough into it find that the writing masters them.

Kind of like that car I was following.

Click to buy

One of the key tricks is to break the thing down – separate the mechanics of writing from the subject matter. It’s like the difference between the mechanics of driving a car, and the destination. Oddly enough, I’ve never written a book on how to drive – but when it comes to writing, hey, I’ve written a book on that very subject. Check it out!

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018

6 thoughts on “Why writing is a learned skill – and a hard one

    1. Yes, absolutely. All require their own kind of practise – I view it rather in the way that skilled musicians can usually play just about anything, but there’ll always be a particular genre they are well versed in.

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  1. Totally agree. I think, too, that this niche has to be one writers fill with passion – it’s what drives the learning curve behind the skill (and it’s why I don’t do poetry).


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