There are people who say no-one can teach you how to be a writer. While I do think you have to have some natural inclination towards spending hours with imaginary friends, the skills involved in writing something high quality, techniques used in fiction and non-fiction, vocabulary and so on can always be improved and therefore, learned.
For me, some of the most valuable lessons I have learned have come from reading and interacting with other writers directly, but I have also studied creative writing in an education setting. Three of my teachers were particularly memorable, and their encouragement and criticism has had a huge effect on my life, my reading and my writing.
The first teacher was at high school and was very encouraging. He told me I had an eye for seeing the story in the simplest situation and that I was a great creator of character. He also taught me the importance of genre and not just sticking a mish mash of techniques into one piece and thinking its individuality will make it work. He introduced me to my inner critic which is a very valuable lesson to learn when you are young and starting out. He would tell me honestly and bluntly when something wasn’t my best work, but more importantly he made me realise that I already knew it wasn’t my best work and that I could do better.
My second memorable teacher was at university. Like my high school teacher praised me on creating drama in everyday situations. He encouraged me to write in different point of views and I began writing more in the first person and also did some pieces in the second person. He taught me the importance of research and it was at this time I started to write more science fiction as well as some historical fiction.
My final teacher at university is the one I disliked the most and also the one who probably taught me the most valuable lessons. From very early on he listed in minute detail everything that was wrong with my work. He told me my style was poor, my narration was boring, my characters unbelievable and science fiction was lazy writing. At one point, he emailed one of my stories to our entire tutor group and gave them the task of rewriting it to show me what a good story actually was. If I questioned him he would dismiss everything I said and simply say that people who had no talent should be more willing to learn from people who did. In all honesty, this was a very difficult part in my life. There were tears, tantrums and declarations that I would never write another word again. There were rants to anyone and everyone who would listen. There was a particularly dark point where I read through the poor reviews of his work online, drinking wine and muttering to myself that at least he was rubbish as well. After that I hardened up and became determined to prove him wrong. Over the next year my short fiction has been published four times and my novel is close to being ready for rewrite.
These are just three teachers out of the many people I have learned from and am still learning from. I have learned how to stimulate creativity when nothing is spontaneously happening. I have learned how to use all the senses to enrich a scene. I have learned how to rewrite and edit ruthlessly. I have learned that not everyone will enjoy your work and most importantly, that their opinion is an opinion, and being in the position of teacher doesn’t automatically mean that they are right.