The Myth of “Spark”

I decided to go back to school recently and one of the first classes Caldwell requires is Expository Writing. The class meets everyday, since it’s a summer class, which is beneficial from a writing standpoint.

Today, there was a substitute teacher (whose name I didn’t catch, as I was a couple minutes late thanks to heavy traffic in Boone) and she had the class split into four groups.

When we formed those groups, she passed out papers from previous students and had us discuss what grades those papers would receive. My group was the harshest, which we found out when the sub told us what the actual grades for the papers had been.

But when she started talking about those grades, she made it a point to say that English teachers can only teach mechanics. She said that writing is “a dichotomy that blends science and art.” She went on to explain to the class that some people are born with the ability to write because they have the “spark,” while others have to stick to mechanics.

I found that insulting. Because everyone has the ability to write well; everyone has the “spark.” Mechanics are drilled relentlessly into people by the education system and all of the teachers say the same thing: that only certain people have the “spark” or “knack” for writing.

And that pisses me off. The “spark” that writers possess isn’t raw talent or hard work or even a combination of both. It’s a much simpler–yet more complex–concept than that.

Writers, people who define themselves by the words they write, pour their emotions onto the page. Grammar and mechanics take a back-seat to the story, because the emotion behind the writing is what transforms a story. Emotion is what makes the science of writing an art. Not some random “spark” that a person has to just stand around hoping they were lucky enough to be born with. What trite.

Becoming an artistic writer who can paint pictures with words requires one thing. Emotion. That’s all any art requires. The difficult part is learning to trust yourself enough to let your soul shine through your work, whether you use a cloth canvas or a paper one.

Now if we can get teachers to stop jamming people’s heads full of the belief that they can’t write unless they happen to be gifted, maybe more people will realize how beautiful writing really is.

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