I was asked a good question this weekend while attending a conference: Can you be a professional writer, but not a storyteller (or an “artist”)?
As my previous post suggested, I am not sure everyone is a storyteller or “artist” waiting to be inspired by the right teacher. There are definitely those instances when a great talent is nurtured and released through dialogue with a mentor. I cannot predict which people those will be, so I hope to always give students and seminar attendees an equal opportunity to find inspiration.
But, can one be a professional writer without the gifts of a storyteller?
I know several journalists who are great researchers and interviewers. They are good writers because they have discovered structures for reporting. These journalists follow “templates” common in their particular fields. Sports stories, business reporting, and other specialties have common structures that can be learned. This is similar to learning to write academic papers.
Many forms of professional writing can be mastered through practice. From business proposals to grant writing, there are known guidelines. The basics of business and academic writing are teachable, if someone wants to learn.
The divide between storytellers and good writers does exist in non-fiction forms of writing. There are historians who write books that read like great novels, except they are research-based works. One of my favorite writers is Malcolm Gladwell, who writes captivating non-fiction works on psychology and human nature. Without question, being a storyteller helps communicate complex ideas to a general audience.
Writing is a skill that opens numerous opportunities. Many careers that produce writing rely on other skills and talents; writing is the way knowledge is shared in these fields.
As I have admitted previously, I’m not a literary fiction reader or writer, so I’m not privileging “art” over craft. If anything, I want people to appreciate how valuable the skills are and that anyone dedicated to improving his or writing can do so.