In composing my blog posts for the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about my current crop of ninth grade students. A handful of them are aspiring journalists or playwrights, and the rest are there because the state, and their parents, say they need four years of English before they finish high school. While it is enjoyable (and certainly, easier) to address the students who want to write, my job as a teacher demands that I develop lessons that speak to all types of students. I’m beginning to wonder if I should throw those kids an occasional blog post, as well.
While considering these Sometimes Writers, I came across this intriguing article, in which blogger John Scalzi offers a few simple pointers to those who don’t plan to scribble for a living. Among his bullet points are, “Speak what you write” (sounds like something I’ve said before), “With sentences, shorter is better than longer,” and the aptly titled, “Learn to friggin’ spell.”
“What writing tips would you whisper to those who aren’t aspiring professionals, but would like to write better?” Scalzi asks, and I feel as though he is talking directly to me: “If I asked you about losing weight and you said ‘diet and exercise’ you’d be a) correct and b) ignored. So no ideas that take work. We want the quick fix! Tips like ‘Edit your work’ aren’t useful. ‘Gerunds are your friend’ are.”
He’s right, of course, but even his tips assume that he’s talking to a non-writer who actively wants to improve his writing, but doesn’t want to work at it. What can we possibly say when we go a step farther and address those who want nothing to do with writing in the first place?
To that end, here are a few tips of my own:
- Realize that you write all the time. Most folks today can send at least an occasional e-mail or a text message, and my students probably have the adult population trounced in that respect. By focusing on the sheer amount of writing done each day, we can hopefully make it seem more like a necessary part of life, and less like a chore.
- Understand, and accept, that you will be judged on your writing. Even the students who despise writing will need to throw together a college essay, cover letter, or self-serving paragraph on a job application some day. Sure, not everyone’s end game will be a writing-centered job, but one never knows when one misplaced comma or mispelled word might make the difference between two qualified candiates. Recently, my supervisor at school told me of an application that had been tossed because the prospective teacher had completed a “Bachelorette Degree”.
- Treat any writing as practice for when it really counts. Your Facebook status update likely won’t get you any jobs, but it is extremely important to maintain positive habits: If you forget commas on Facebook, you may be more likely to leave them out of your next e-mail to your boss–and he may not appreciate it.
Now ask yourself–are you really a Sometimes Writer? Are you sure you don’t enjoy writing, or do you avoid it only because you don’t think you’d be very good at it? Could it be that you might enjoy expressing yourself through the written word? Is it all possible that if you pushed through and put a little more effort into your writing, the payoffs would be well worth that effort? If you answered “maybe” to any of these, maybe you aren’t a Sometimes Writer at all.
Perhaps you’re simply a regular writer–who hasn’t quite realized it.
Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.