Carousel Asks

Can writers be taught or should it come naturally?

Earlier this month I was invited to speak at the Hay Festival Kells on a subject that caused some interesting discussion.

“Can writers be taught or should it come naturally?”

The large picture windows

The large picture windows at Carousel Writers’ Centre where I get equal doses of inspiration and learning.

On the acknowledgements page of my novel, Summer Triangle which was launched in October, I mention all the people who helped to teach me to write and those who nurtured my ability to write. I rate both with equal importance.

Recently I was at the book launch of The Interview by an author who is a completely natural writer called Patricia O’ Reilly. Patricia has published about eight books of fiction and non-fiction but what makes her stand out from other authors is her never ending dedication to sharing her success with other writers.

This was Patricia’s take:

“From 20 years’ experience of writing sessions in UCD, I believe successful writing is a combination of natural ability, willingness to put in the hours & acquired skills.” (Patricia O’ Reilly)

Patricia’s years of teaching creative writing in courses speak volumes, in that she is always invited back to facilitate more courses as the word of her ability to nourish others talent, spreads.


I began creative writing when I was forty. That is I began learning the craft of writing, as no doubt I had been scribbling words for many years before. The first thing that I discovered is that I have a passion for writing. The second was that I never get writer’s block as I always have something that wants to get down on paper. I have a yearning to write, so there’s the nature of the writing. Eventually I realised that I had the ability to write a book. But that only came from learning through facilitators like Patricia. I could write, but I needed to facilitate my writing through practice.


Through other authors I learned a discipline called FREE WRITING; 10 or 20 minutes a day letting your pen dance across the page, letting it loose!

That seems to oil the rusty part of the brain and by the time I sit down to my writing project the words are ready to flow.

Another author taught me to keep pushing out the words… “What’s your word count this week?” and that reading your work aloud not only helped others to give you feedback but hearing your words spoken aloud gave you the ability to actually hear where you were going wrong.

The Best of Teachers! Facilitator and author Louise Phillips and Emer Cleary of Emu Ink Publishing.

The Best of Teachers!
Facilitator and author Louise Phillips and Emer Cleary of Emu Ink Publishing.

I’m a member of two writing groups and I know that my novels would never get to the finishing line without the push and the pull and the moulding that comes from my writing colleagues. With the right group behind you, you can learn what feedback to take on the chin and use it to make your writing stronger and what feedback to reject when you feel strongly enough about something you’ve written. Learning from other writers is a good discipline as you’ll be listening to the wise words of your editor when publication time comes around and you won’t be new to the process.

Our Crime Writers learning the craft of holding that gun before putting their crime scenes together.

Our Crime Writers learning the craft of holding that gun before putting their crime scenes together.

And then there’s Carousel Writers’ Centre…

Hundreds of writers filter through its doors hungry for learning and sharing the craft that they have come to love. Poets, novelists, short story writers, journalists… all ready for the giving and taking of advice to give their work polish and make it shine.

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Taking a break from the hours of learning and sharing.


Through the workshops and writing groups, I watch the characters and location in scenes go from good writing to writing that springs to life with the help of role plays, hot seating and working through the senses. The sharing of experiences of publishing and social media and learning how to get your writing out there, could not come from sitting at home on your own. Through learning from others you learn about yourself. You begin to recognise your own writing style and realise how different you are from others. The camaraderie and the sheer buzz of working with these groups is something that I couldn’t manage without.

I facilitate writers’ workshops through Carousel for children from the age of 5 to 12. I’d like to say that I teach them but I have to use the word facilitate here. Children have a natural ability to write. But the tools that I give them each week open up that ability and helps it to grow. They have no inhibitions. They are natural FREE WRITERS.

Reading their work aloud with pride!

Reading their work aloud with pride!

Our own land of Scholars, (I think we may have lost the Saints bit along the way), is renowned for its learning about writing. Historically, Irish writers liked nothing more than a good get together with other artists to share their work and many of our great writers were protégés of others. Today our centres such as The Irish Writers’ Centre, Big Smoke Writing Factory, Irish Pen, Carousel Writers’ Centre, Inkwell, and our wonderful festivals such as Hay, Listowel and Doolin, attract people from all over the country and all over the world to hone their writing craft. Some are beginning to write and need the freshness that can be taken from a creative writing class. Others who are professional in their chosen art need master classes from experts to nourish and round off their work.

How many would-be writers talk about the book they are going to write when they get the time? As Patricia O’ Reilly says it is willingness to put in the hours. And there’s nowhere better to begin than holding a pen and a piece of paper surrounded by others who are learning their craft with you.

A professional sports person never lets their coach go. No matter how many trophies they win along the way. They know that they have to practise constantly to keep those muscles working. Without training those muscles will waste away. It’s the same with writing. We need to flex those writing muscles with new knowledge and we need to oil that part of our brain that helps us to write and keep those words flowing.

 I’ll finish with some wise words on the subject from one of my favourite editors, Bernadette Kearns of Book Nanny:

“You can’t teach someone to have the gift of seeing, of perceiving the world differently, seeing beyond or beneath the externals to the very essence of life – that for me is the natural talent – but you can help them use that gift. Let’s face it, a diamond in its natural state straight out of the ground would probably still look like a lump of rock with crud all over it to most of us – only a few experts would see the diamond within. Even an uncut, unpolished diamond before a jeweller has got his or her hands on it, looks interesting, but dull. It’s the cutting and polishing that makes it sparkle – that’s the craft – the uncut lump of rock with all that potential for greatness is your writer without craft. Regardless of the degree of a writer’s talent, they’ll benefit from a cut and polish nonetheless. We all love sparkly, shiny things!” 



I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the subject! 

4 thoughts on “Can writers be taught or should it come naturally?

  1. I believe that anyone can be taught to write competently… if they want to learn and if they’re prepared to practise.
    If they also have natural talent they can be taught skills that will improve their writing. Skills that could take them years to discover for themselves. They can be encouraged to keep going over the difficult stages.
    In my experience people who believe in “it should come naturally” may well write beautiful sentences and paragraphs,with original similes and metaphors but it is rare that they know how to edit themselves.

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