Writing and Growing Professionally

I spent a lot of formative time in high school and college listening to writing teachers and would be mentors tell me that I was too sloppy or too disorganized to write effectively. They were probably right. Furthermore, this is probably not something that I think I've been able to keep secret from anyone who has read my blog for any measurable period of time. (Though I do think most of my more recent entries are better than nearly all of my early entries.) What no one really dared to tell me, are probably the most important things I've learned as a writer:

  • First, that editors are not only essential to the writing process, but that there's something fundamentally wrong if something leaves the original author and is handed to final readers without passing through at least one editor, and often more.
  • Second, the skill of writing isn't necessarily being able to write artful sentences, or being able to perfectly apply all of the rules of grammar (which, aren't detrimental to the craft of writing). No, writing is about being able to get things written. Writing is pobably about being able to do research while keeping in mind the parameters of the project and ending up with a few paragraphs on a given topic that make sense and enlighten more than they confuse. That is considerably more rare.

The problem, and I wish I had a solution for this, is that there is no real way to teach people to write and to love writing. Exposing people to lots of examples of writing (i.e. literature) is helpful in teaching people to read and cherish the practice of reading. Unfortunately, I think reading and writing pull on vastly different skills. And while readers have a useful and required prospective on the text, readers who don't write often provide ambiguous and difficult to assimilate feedback. [1]

Fundamentally, I think, readers live on the plane of words, and writers--at least writer's like me--live on the plane of paragraphs. And then there's the whole issue of confusing a love of reading with a need or desire to write, but that's another story for another time.

The way, I think, to learn how to write better is to write a lot of crappy stuff and learn how to "fail" better and more gracefully. Blogging has and is a great tool for me in this regard, but it's not a cure-all, and I think integrating blogging in the writing curriculum is a difficult project that requires a very nuanced view of blogging, and the right set of learning objective. Beyond this, the project of learning to write and learning to write "better" is one that I'm not sure how to properly facilitate in myself or in others.

At the end of the day, I think it's important to realize that growth as a writer isn't the kind of thing that happens quickly. Being a writer is a life-long project with slow and steady improvement, minor regressions, stunning breakthroughs, dashed hopes, and tactical successes.

Onward and Upward!

[1]Readerly feedback often comes in the form of thinking that large swaths of text need to be rewritten, when the addition of a single sentence clarifies the required point. Similarly, I think readers aren't as prone to thinking about texts and paragraphs as things that can be reordered above the level of the word.
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