Why writing is kind of like riding a bike.
Have you ever seen an advertisement offering bike riding lessons? Nope, me neither. Sounds a bit silly. I mean, who would pay to learn how to ride a bike, right? More importantly is it even necessary? My kids learned to ride bikes when they were four. I remember watching my middle daughter hard at work one day, picking herself up again and again. “How do I keep my balance?” she asked. “It’s just something you have to learn,” I told her. At the end of the day she had it mastered.
Back when I was nine, and just learning to ride a bike, my older sister told me what to do. She showed me how to get on, where to put my feet and hands, and how to stop. A piece of cake. At least it looked that way when she went tearing down the road as fast as those pedals would take her. Trying it myself was a totally different story. Remembering to pedal while not steering myself into a ditch was challenging enough, but the most challenging of all was keeping my balance. Mind you, I ended up with a few skinned knees before it was all over and palms bit with gravel stones. Yup, we lived on a dirt road.
But I was determined. I knew it wasn’t something that was beyond my capabilities. Everyone I knew could ride a bike. It was child’s play, after all. So I set out to learn, secure in the thought that I would. It was just a matter of time. Practise, practise, practise. It was the only way I was going to learn. My sister could show me as many times as I wanted her to, but she couldn’t do it for me. You can’t teach someone balance. It something you understand through doing.
It’s that way with writing. We can read all the books on writing we want, take a hundred and one classes, but none of those things will make us a good storyteller. We actually have to hit the keyboard and start writing. Of course we’ll be wobbly in the beginning. We’ll fall more times than we can count. We’ll get our pride hurt. But each day, as we practice, we’ll get a little better. We won’t feel so uncertain. We’ll work out all the wobbles.
While I might be able to tell you enough writing rules to get you started, becoming a storyteller is altogether different. Good writing doesn’t necessarily make a good storyteller. I happen to believe that the ability to tell an interesting story, one that engages the reader, is a bit like bike riding. No one else can teach us, it is a skill that we develop with a great deal of practise. It takes time and determination.
I’ve never taken a writing course. I’m sure many of you haven’t either. I own perhaps half a dozen writing books. I may not be able to explain how I tell a story, the same way I can’t explain how to I keep my balance on a bike, it’s just something I do. Right or wrong, I’ve learned what it takes to make a good storyteller. You’ll learn that too. Writing is easy. That’s right, you heard me. Easy. I know someone who whipped up a novel in two weeks. The first thing he’d ever written. Was the story any good? What do you think? Perhaps the worse part was the writer wasn’t interested in making any changes, or working to improve what was there. Their writing was VERY wobbly, but it could have been improved had they understood that the writer you are in the beginning is not the writer you’ll be further down the road. Good storytelling is a skill you acquire over time.
Do you agree that good storytelling is something that is acquired over time, that writing can be taught, but storytelling can not?
Posted by Laura Best on March 18, 2012