The One True Tao of Writing

Many authors talk about “how I learned to write.” Often consciously or unconsciously, they dismiss college writing, or really school writing, as unhelpful. For instance, both Stephen King and Terry Pratchett note their experience in journalism as being when/where they unlearned school writing and learned to really write.

It is true that college composition has been shown to have little to no effect on writing ability. Many studies, largely ignored by writing program coordinators, have shown this. Both the coordinators and upper administration are, of course, looking out for their jobs, their research, and their funding. However, the studies have shown that four years of college, writing in various fields and courses, does have a positive impact on a person’s writing ability. But, this is not the point I’m going for here.

My point is that there is no “one true” way to write. I think people look for one because: a) they want writing to be easy, b) “it worked for me, it must work for everyone”, and c) an innate desire for solid, definitive answers. (I might add a d. monotheism’s pervasiveness in Western society – the one true way of the one true god – but that’s mere speculation on my part.)

The reality is that there is no one true way to learn writing, just as there is no one true perfect form of writing. Journalistic writing isn’t better than novel writing isn’t better than academic writing isn’t better than diary writing isn’t better than business writing isn’t better than scientific writing. There are just a lot of different ways to write that have evolved for particular niches. (I’m using evolution here in its biological sense – adapting to environment – rather than being a necessarily continual “improvement”. Thus, saying Pratchett’s writing has evolved versus Shakespeare’s isn’t saying Pratchett is “better” than Shakespeare, just that he is better adapted to late-20th to early-21st century audiences.)

In short: there is no one true method to learn writing, despite some people’s claims and no style or method is better than others, they are just different and better suited to different purposes. One might as well say that classical is better than jazz or polka is better than country . . . they aren’t, they simply do different things and are suited to different audiences.

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