Can Good Writing Be Taught?

books.jpgThere is a myth in the marketing world that anyone can write good copy. When this myth is spoken, it's usually followed by the advice that all one needs is a good swipe file (successful ads of the past that one can “borrow” from).

This myth has always struck me as false — or at least only partially true.

I believe that when it comes right down to it, you must have some writing talent. If you don't, your copy will not be brilliant. It may not even be good. In most cases, it will just be bad.

I see plenty of evidence that the last is the most common result.

There is another myth that if one studies enough of the right manuals, or attends enough of the right seminars, one can learn to write well. Frankly, if you don't have some native talent — a “knack”, if you will — I don't think all the classes, courses, or seminars in the world can help you much.

Stephen King would agree with me, I suspect. In a recent article he penned for the Washington Post, King wrote: “The only things that can teach writing are reading, writing and the semi-domestication of one's muse.”

So there it is, then.

My opinion is that not everyone can learn to be a great (or even good) writer. Everyone is born with a certain aptitude (or lack of it), and they're pretty much stuck with that aptitude. They can take classes or be taught to make the most of it, but they are always limited to a certain range in the development of their craft.
What do you think?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at

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  • Hi Ray,

    I believe that anyone who truly desires to be a good copyrighter can, with effort, learn so to do.

    I also believe that becoming a truly *great* copyrighter requires that talent you write of in your article.

    But this holds true of most any endeavor.

    Curiously, I don't know whether I can be more than merely good. Because of educational background (PhD engineering, Berkeley), I know how much effort is required to be “merely” good, and I have been gathering my emotional energy for the better part of 6 months before diving into learning copyrighting.

    I suspect I will learn enough about copyrighting to provide a very good “rough draft” to someone such as yourself, which will also allow me to better perform due diligence from my outsourced copy. And that may well be good enough.

    I agree with the SK post above, but would not say that it's enough to become great. That's the minimum requirement for simply being good!

  • I agree that you can't teach great copywriting. I'd say it has to be learned. The difference is whether the motivation is internal or external.

    We have a number of examples of people who came out of non-English speaking countries learning to be successful online. It's not that any of those people in particular are great writers but I imagine if that had been their goal, they could have done that too. Being great in business pays better than just being a great writer. You can hire a great writer if you're great in business.

    To your point, it can't come from a single course because of the way people learn. Any course can only tell you what other people do or what worked before. The real place to learn is in getting out there and testing things yourself.

    So while I'd say it's a possibility, being a great writer is not a probability for most because they have other things they want to do. I'd say anyone who wanted to be a great writer more than anything else would eventually get there. And they'd get there even faster using NLP modeling.

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  • I think it's really hard to know the answer to this question. If you or I (I hope) have a natural knack for writing, then that's all we know. We've had that knack since day one and it's what we've developed from then on.

    In that case, how can we know whether or not someone without that knack can develop good writing skills?

    Truth is, I'm not completely sure how I feel about this question. It's a very valid question to ask, though.

  • Jeff Goins teaches that anyone can increase their writing skills. We might not become the very best at writing but we can increase our skill level/become better. It’s what happened to me over the past 5 years of writing, those years have allowed me to increase my writing skill. Great thoughts.