“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”-Thomas Mann
During my first writing-based class in undergrad, I made a B on the first essay I turned in, even though I was not predominantly a B student. My reaction then, as I have seen many students react to assignments since, was “but I’m a good writer.”
The icky, uncomfortable truth is that there is not necessarily such a thing as a “good writer,” because it is difficult to impossible to define “good writing” (Rose 60). Some traits carry over, like clarity and concision, but application varies from genre to genre and from audience to audience. How do you decide what is clear and concise in a legal journal or case brief as opposed to a newspaper article about a trial? Same source material, completely different expectations. What is clear and concise to a lawyer is not necessarily going to be clear and concise to a kindergarten art teacher.
Jenna Moreci created a video about writing tips, incorporating some tactics which translate to different types of texts (reading aloud for clarity and to check for errors, outlining and visual outlining, and writing sprints), but she writes for an audience of fiction writers, most of whom write novels. Thus, most of her tips are geared towards novel completion and publication rather than a generalized writing audience, which is everyone.
After a student finds appropriate mentors (Rose 59-60), there is a benefit to experience. In psychology, there is a term called practice effects, which refers to the phenomenon that the more participants become accustomed to being asked certain questions, the better equipped they become to answer those questions.
I wrote in an earlier post that I want students to learn that it is okay to fail, and I stand by that. “We often forget […] that successful writers aren’t those who are simply able to write brilliant first drafts; often, the writing we encounter has been heavily revised and edited and is sometimes the result of a great deal of failure” (Brooke and Carr, 62). Speaking of writing techniques, Randy Ingermanson developed the snowflake technique for writing a novel, which is based on the mathematical concept of fractals. The basic idea is to start with the simple basis of your project and to expand on it systematically, but even then, Ingermanson says that your project (again, probably a novel) will require multiple drafts.
The next time you or one of your students think “but I’m a good writer,” say, “Yes, maybe you are—but that doesn’t mean you stop learning, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer if you make a single mistake.”
“[L]earning to write effectively, especially in different contexts or communities of practice, takes different kinds of practice, and such practice takes time and effort” (Yancy 65). Writing requires instruction and practice and cannot be perfected overnight. The sooner we and our students can understand that, the better. If Jackson Pollock can get away with his paintings, you can survive a misplaced comma, dangling modifier, or split infinitive. Get messy, get creative, get loud. Just remember to return to the page and be ready to work.
Akshay, Dollar. “Processing : Koch Curve – Fractal Animation.” YouTube, uploaded by Dollar Akshay, 12 Aug. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTYW4Re_RsY.
Beglinger, Leigh J., et al. “Practice Effects and the Use of Alternate Forms in Serial Neuropsychological Testing.” Archives Of Clinical Neuropsychology: The Official Journal Of The National Academy Of Neuropsychologists, vol. 20, no. 4, June 2005, pp. 517–529. doi: 10.1016/j.acn.2004.12.003
Brooke, Collin and Allison Carr. “Failure Can Be an Important Part of Writing Development.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 62-64.
Ingermanson, Randy. “The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel.” Advanced Fiction Writing, https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/. Accessed 20 Sep. 2019.
Mann, Thomas, and H. T. Lowe-Porter. Essays of Three Decades. A.A. Knopf, 1947.
Moreci, Jenna. “Top 10 Writer Hacks: Tips and Tricks for Making the Writing Process Easier.” YouTube, uploaded by Jenna Moreci, 6 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O0ivx5Gr-w.
Rose, Shirley. “Writers Have More to Learn.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 59-61.
Yancy, Kathleen Blake. “Learning to Write Effectively Requires Different Kinds of Practice, Time, and Effort.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 64-65.