Learning to Write – Impossible

Posted by on June 25, 2013 in About Writing | 10 comments


by Christina Carson

Learning, as we’ve been brought up to understand it, is actually the act of acquisition of information, a process that stuffs the individual with data, occasionally requiring the student to work with that data: summarizing it, applying it, analyzing it, or memorizing it. That is learning according to the established methodology that took over when mentoring was replaced by institutional education. I’m not trying to beg a point or stir the hive merely to create a ruckus. I am interested in presenting a notion for you to ponder: no accomplished artist ever learned their art using the model for learning that we’ve all been taught to believe is how we learn. As an artist, you can save yourself a great deal of time if you come to that realization quickly.


The learning that fosters advancement in the arts is what I’d call intuitive learning. Its signature song is writingcuriosity. If you’re a writer, questions like—What’s basically going to happen in this story? What is the protagonist going to experience overall? What kind of person would the protagonist have to be to find themselves in that experience?—might begin the process. You have to put the word out to the universe, and I don’t mean that as a figure of speech. Whether you are aware of the vast interconnectedness that is our universe and beyond, or not, you will employ it anyway, because you have no choice in the matter. That is just the way things work. To find this out, rather than take someone’s word for it, try it, put the word out, through your mind—a general statement of a story you want to tell—and let it start to brew. Notice how it begins to suck story to it, growing like cotton candy on that paper cone. See for yourself how art truly comes to life. Start it long before you finish the book you’re working on presently. Give it time to whirl.


The second predilection (not skill) needed to cozy up to the intuitive is an observant nature. Artists must hone their abilities to pay attention, not just to the world around them, but most specifically to what is going on inside them as they look, hear, imagine, review, live, and relive the lives that are their own. Here’s how Aldous Huxley says it:

“Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating.”


Learn to look and look deeply, and you will begin to see things that you’ve never seen before.


And finally we come to the crux of the matter, that which ultimately separates artists into good and great. You must find you own stash of courage, the part of you that will look. We’re talking looking here, not just watching. Watching falls into the category-spectator. Looking is more akin to digging to the bottom of your photo album box, seeking to know if that was love in his eyes all those years ago, or if it’s all been a lie. It is letting yourself relive a moment of triumph, not to rerun it like last year’s TV Soaps, but to see what triumph tastes and feels like or …see, if indeed, it was triumph at all. Guts are what great artists have in spades. And though their lives may at times be in shambles; where their art is concerned, there they will always rise up to the truth, even if only to fall again. For that is the sacred vow we take as artists: to bring the truth, to deliver authenticity, to commit to integrity.


In any of that did you see the need to memorize? Could anyone put that together with an outline and still keep the flame of discovery alive? Or do we have to lay it out on a table like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle and let the universe, through the innate and mysterious force of intuition, create the book using us as the story gatherer, the initial question-asker, the insatiable sentient who will be paid off in the end with unexpected insight into the arcane nature of her own life and that of the universe as well.

You are the truth from foot to brow.

Now, what else would you like to know?


Find this on my site at: blog>About Writing



  1. Very good. No disagreement here. The only thing I can add is that too many seek out someone to teach them how to do a thing or put the knowledge into their heads. All knowledge and skills must be learned. A “teacher” is merely someone to hold your hand while you are learning.

    • Christina Carson

      Yes, I agree. One of the best examples is learning to walk, one of the most physically complex activities we do. The urge comes from with in and then we teach ourselves. Thanks, Jack, for stopping by.

  2. Thanks for this post, Christina. Just saw a quote my husband copied from Lennie Tristano’s biography, “His Life in Music”: The jazz musician’s function is to feel.

    How true that is for everyone who creates…

    • Christina Carson

      I couldn’t agree more and that feeling experience must involve one’s willingness to open up and see what happens, especially if what they are opening up is personal. Many people fear that.

  3. I think you’ve boiled Zen and the Art of Writing down into one brilliant essay. This is the best piece of writing I’ve ever read about what it is to be an artist, how to be an artist, and what true art is. It should be required reading for serious writers.

  4. Christina Carson

    Thank you, And I’d say you should know as accomplished as you are.

  5. No argument from me Christina. I think you have a 360 degree view of what it is to be creative.

    • Christina Carson

      David, thanks. As one writer to another, corroboration is always heartening.

  6. Christina, some great things to ponder on, I am looking for my courage that sometimes gets lost in all the excuses, but taking those steps every day and remembering to be inspired by life itself)

    • Christina Carson

      Delighted to have you stop by, Amanda. I love you line: “looking for my courage that sometimes gets lost in all the excuses.” I’m sure you can image how many can relate to that. One foot in front of the other is how every great work in life came into being. My best to you.

Thoughtful comments are always welcome!


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