How many books on writing do you have on your shelf—virtual or otherwise? I just did a quick run-through of the books on my physical shelf and those in my Kindle and, not counting books on marketing, I’ve got nearly thirty.

Have I read them all? Not cover-to-cover, although I’ve read a number of them that way. (I also discovered that I’ve got two books in both physical and ebook form—one I bought deliberately, the other by accident. Oh well!)

What about writing courses? How many have you taken? Seminars? Talks? Conferences?

Just how much effort have you put into learning writing craft?

I ask this for a reason, obviously. I recently had a coaching session with an author who is working on her second novel. She wanted some guidance on accountability—how to write more consistently. Naturally, our conversation turned to her work in progress and I asked her about her story structure. She gave me a vague answer about having lots of scenes in her book, so I pressed her about which sort of structure she was following or planning on working with (she’s a pantser, but says that she wants to give plotting a try). She had no idea what I was talking about.

She has already written one book and is working on her second and she doesn’t know what story structure is. She has never taken a course on writing. I didn’t specifically ask her if she’d ever read a book on writing, but my guess would be no.

She is writing from instinct.

That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? We all have an instinct about story—what it is and how to shape one. Everyone growing up in today’s world does whether they’re a regular reader or not—we learn it simply by watching television (all tv shows follow the same story structure). We don’t even need to study television or scriptwriting to have a basic understanding of what that structure is.

Most books follow a similar structure as well, certainly all genre literature does. So, does that mean that we don’t need to study story structure in order to be able to write a book?

Why, yes, it does.

Does that mean that you don’t need to? No. Not at all. As was evidenced by the fact that this author I was working with was having trouble writing. She needed to understand story structure in order to simply sit down and write because she needed a framework on which to hang her story. It’s easier to write that way.

Sadly, because this was a one-off free book coaching session, I didn’t have the opportunity to truly teach her about story structure, but I did send her some basics and a W-graph to work from. I can only hope that she’s going to go out and search out more information and more materials in order to learn how to use that structure and perhaps discover new ways of structuring her story that might work well for her.

The thing is, it’s not only story structure that writers need to learn. They need to study how to write dialogue, how to deal with backstory and descriptions, how to develop characters, pacing, point of view, world-building, and then there are genre-specific topics that many writers would do better for learning about before they ever set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Yes, you can simply write by instinct, but it’s not going to be as good as it could be. You are not going to be able to figure everything out on your own.

There are some very basic books on writing that I recommend (you can find them here), but even more importantly, I believe, is taking a course with a real, live teacher to whom you can ask questions and get feedback. So, in other words, while Teachable, Udemy, and other on-line pre-recorded classes are terrific for some topics, the best way to learn to write is with a real person who can speak to you and answer your questions (whether online or in person, it makes no difference).

The most wonderful thing is that you can frequently find such courses either for free or for very little money. If you don’t mind spending more, you can, of course, hire a book coach which is essentially the same as hiring a private writing teacher (at least, it is the way I work).

But what is essential is not simply to go by instinct. Read, listen, take courses—learn!

I’m always available to help your writing problems and answer your questions. You can find out more on my book coaching website,