When I was (a lot) younger I used to snort in contempt when I read in an author’s bio on a book cover, usually American in those days, that they had a degree in creative writing. Hah! I thought, either you got it or you ain’t. You can’t teach it like you can physics or history. It’s not hard and fast stuff like that.
Much later, after discovering the Word Cloud and participating in various on-line and real life writing activities, I thought: how arrogant was that? Certainly I considered myself to be a better writer after the S E course.
Now I believe there’s a grain of truth in both points of view. Peer-to-peer critique, workshops, courses etc can teach you stuff. Certainly they can help you progress from the mistakes beginners often make – and I’m not talking about breaking rules, just about what works for a reader and what doesn’t. But over-reliance on such things will inevitably stultify your style, so Harry does have a point. And it’s still true that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
What it really comes down to is voice, which is what Harry’s blog is about. And voice really can’t be taught. It was the one thing that gave me the most trouble on the S E course, until I realised that. Ask anyone to define it, and they can’t. They can only quote you a piece of writing and tell you that there’s a really strong voice in it, and when you read it you’ll see what they mean. But I still defy you to define it.
I think (hope) I found my voice in my second novel. And I did it by doing what Harry says further on in that blog, something I quoted in an earlier post. I took the brakes off. I let myself go. There have been times in the past when I’ve struggled to express something vividly and exactly in polished, correct English. This time I thought, stuff that, and wrote it just the way I wanted to. And it was so liberating. I struggled with the plotting of that book, but the actual banging of words down was great fun.