‘You Can’t Teach Talent’


This piece was retrieved from an old archive of my online writing—there will likely be some rough edges!

Benjamin Percy is one of my favorite writers—I just finished reading Red Moon and absolutely loved it—and now he’s laid down a great bit on the art of teaching, and what emerging writers need to focus on:

You can’t teach talent, but you can teach people how to read strenuously and mimic the moves of rock-star writers so that they eventually accumulate a toolbox of skills. No different than baseball players or ballerinas or painters or pianists. A writing teacher is a coach. I’m forcing them to watch footage of games repeatedly. I’m adjusting their form. I’m showing them the way colors mix together, the way to play with light and shadow. I’m giving them exercises to elongate a second beat or shorten a third and create a magician’s lilt to their music. I’m yelling at them when they’re being lazy and whispering soothingly when they want to give up and cry and clapping them on the back when they finally pull off a great stunt.

I hope that when I am finally able to pursue an MFA program, I can have professors like Percy. I want someone to yell at me in a voice as amazing as his and then pat me on the back, even just once. And, maybe, that would be a good enough reason to pour a little whiskey, raise our glasses in celebration.