I know a lot of writers who hate the idea of formal learning. They are disgusted that any part of something as wonderfully creative as a story could be deconstructed and analysed and have it's mysteries violated like the forced taking of a virgin. And I have a great deal of sympathy for these sentiments.
But through my writing career I have also become a realist and I feel it is important that all writers understand the right balance for them between allowing their natural talent to roam free and tempering it with formal learning.
Those who totally rely on natural talent might get somewhere at first - indeed, most of us gain confidence as writers by simply writing - but we start with short pieces and if we just try to continue with that approach as we grow into our first full length work, we generally don't get sustainable careers. By the same token, those who begin their work through some writing by numbers formula, or worse still, by firing up some software called 'Change The Nouns and Rewrite Star Wars in Your Own Words in Under An Hour' (or somesuch) are equally misguided.
The fact is, the right answer - as with so much in life - lies in striking a healthy balance. I believe all stories must come from the heart of the individual. I don't believe any how-to-write guru or rule book or formula can do you any good in the development of your story. They'll just bend you out of shape. Only YOU are the God of your story, and only you can write your story the right way, which is - for better or for worse - your way. So let it all flow! Be creative and free and express yourself without care for structure or budget or what your mum might think of the sexy bits! Fly high! Lose your inhibitions! Let it all out - this is your story! Write it your way and say 'Balls to limitations!' Say it now! Out loud! It's liberating (and quite funny...).
But once it's all splurged out there, you'll find there are things you want to change. There are problems (there are always problems). Then what? You can't just keep rewriting like you could when you were writing short pieces. This is 100,000 words, or 100 minutes of screenplay, and you need better tools. Your instinct is telling you that something is wrong, but leaving it for a month and then rewriting is no longer something you can realistically do six times... and you get so frustrated that it makes you feel you might have to give up.
This is when formal knowledge comes into it's own. To be able to turn your story upside-down and check it's innards for clues towards what isn't running right is a fantastic skill to have. The indicators you get from understanding how the story runs can trigger your instinct:
'By George, I think I've got it! This turning point isn't complete. The climax and resolution don't properly dovetail with the conflict I set up in act 1. I have to set up Susan to take the car, so she meets Beelzebub instead of Darren, and then the conflict makes sense, and suddenly the whole thing works! Thank you David, you are a master of Story and I love you and you somehow seem to be getting more attractive with every year that passes.'
Well, some of that is true... And the limitations and constraints squeeze you into being creative and clever in the ways you solve the story problems, and the story changes and grows into something evermore original and takes on dimensions you didn't see, so that triggers more imagination, and the balance between creativity and formal learning starts to pay you in ways you never imagined it could.
So instead of spending 3 months trying to rewrite the whole thing with your fingers crossed in the hope that your instinct will magically point you the right way, you get it sorted in a day, AND you get new ideas, AND you improve your story. THAT is the value of formal knowledge and THAT is the kind of knowledge I try to bring through my book and seminars. Knowledge that doesn't write the story for you, but helps you to write your story your way, but at the same time end up with a cohesive, tight and professional story that sells.
The saying goes: 'write with your heart, rewrite with you head,' and there's no doubt in my mind that this is the balance you need between allowing your imagination to run free and work it's magic, then bottling it in ways that help you be more productive and make your final product the best that it can be for an audience.