Last week I gave a sixty-minute presentation called “Writing with Precision and Clarity” to some twenty-odd second year teachers in my school district. One of the first things I said was that I felt it would be malpractice to give a presentation on writing that didn’t involve actual writing. So during several points I stopped the PowerPoint and they wrote on specific topics in blank pages I provided in their handouts. Most of my young charges dutifully went about the task at hand. At the end of the evening, the district required the participants to fill out an evaluation sheet, rating the presenter on a 1-4 scale, 4 being best.
There was also a place to write comments, and the results were decidedly mixed. One man said, “That was amazing. I wish everyone in my department could have heard that.” I say here proudly that he was one of the mentor teachers there to support the novices. Another person also said that my presentation was well-organized and had great examples. But not everyone had such great things to say. Some of the comments from the other end of the spectrum included “It was hard to find takeaways from this,” “I’m an English teacher, so I do this stuff all day,” and my personal favorite, “You made us do writing for no purpose.”
What I found interesting, though, is that the prevailing attitude when it comes to being taught writing (especially among adults) seems to be, “Why are you telling me this? I already know how to write.” It’s more difficult than I was expecting to explain to people that just because everyone knows how to physically write, doesn’t mean that everyone is writing well. You may be able to throw some sentences together and communicate a basic message but if you want to inform, entertain, persuade, or move someone, it takes so much more. It takes talent, skill, effort and, most importantly, practice to put together words in a way that have an impact. I told them that no matter what they write, a message will be communicated. What good writers do is maximize the chances that the message being sent is the one they intend.
So I want you to promise me that you will never be discouraged by those people who act as if what you’re doing is average or pedestrian. Promise me that you’ll never forget that your ability to write well is a gift. In the same way that some people are good at singing, dancing, or algorithms, you are good with words. Even when people turn up their noses and act like you’re wasting your time stacking up page after page, be confident in the fact that you are doing something worthwhile.
Despite my recent crisis of faith (check it out here), I still believe writing is a noble pursuit and is usually a better way to spend one’s time than posting anonymous comments at the bottom of that TMZ article on John Stamos.
But maybe that’s just me.
What’s the hardest aspect of writing to communicate to others?