Updated: Aug 3
Have you ever tried serving a juicy and cooked to perfection piece of steak to a group of vegetarians? Never? Neither have I. However, I can easily imagine what it is like since I am almost living through this experience every time when I tell my students that they will need to practice their writing skills. Sometimes though I can see the eyes in front of me lit with curiosity and anticipation. Nevertheless, much more often I am looking into dull or frustrated faces, and hear groans and moans, and quiet sighs. And there is a reason for it as writing is a difficult cognitive (mental) process that takes a lot of time and effort even from a professional writer. However, in the times that we are living in now, good writing skills became a necessity for those who want to get into a good school, get a promotion, sell their artwork to potential buyers or simply be heard amidst an informational boom. What shall we do then to make writing a less tedious process for our kids? First and foremost, we need to unveil some of the myths about writing!!!
My favorite one, that was already mentioned, is the idea that some people are just born good writers, for whom writing is always a leisure stroll on a sunny day, and some are born bad writers, for whom this skill is a burden. As long as someone believes in this, it is difficult to learn to write better. Yes, some people are initially more inclined to express their thoughts in writing than others, but it doesn’t mean that they, the lucky ones, don’t make an effort to create a text. Moreover, the premise that “bad” writers will never be able to improve their writing skills is also a wrong one.
The other one is that people who are reading a lot necessarily become good writers. Of course, one’s brain absolutely needs this exercise, and the more a child reads, the better it is. Nonetheless, the question is whether a reader pays enough attention to the way the author has structured every paragraph or analyzes the logic of the writer’s thought flow. I seriously doubt it, and it would be a nightmare if it were so, because people would stop loving reading. Furthermore, while reading, we see only the tip of an iceberg, which is the result of the writer’s hard work, and sometimes it is a combined effort of both - a professional writer and an editor. To bake a delicious cake we once tried in a restaurant, we are looking for the recipe, and the most dedicated of us even attend culinary master classes. To create a text on our own we also need to look at the process of writing from the inside! And though I may be accused of using a false analogy, it helps to illustrate my point.
Secondly, somehow we often believe that once we give a student a certain set of rules, he or she is good to go! We tell him that there must be the main idea, an introduction, and a conclusion and that his paragraphs have to be detailed. Therefore, if there is no progress in the way the student expresses his thoughts in writing, we might assume that he was on his phone texting, someone. As a matter of fact, he wasn't!
The problem is that writing is not a choir singing, but a solo. The process of improving someone’s writing skills is delicate and complicated, and it needs a lot of practice! Remember the number of equations your child went through till he or she got it right? Meanwhile, staring at a blank page for two hours doesn’t count as it only causes more frustration and anger. What helps is thorough guidance when every single sentence is carefully examined by the one who claims to be more experienced, and a legitimate reason for every single change made in the text is given. There is a need for practical advice, but not for a general statement like: “Add more details to this paragraph!”
Moreover, quite often we get an impression that once our vocabulary is large and we have mastered the grammar of the language, we have become good writers. This is the myth I help my students to get rid of, as I show them that the key to success is to improve one’s thinking skills. It is impossible to express one’s thoughts in writing well if one is not sure what exactly he or she wants to say. In addition, success is not guaranteed if the writer doesn’t think about the background information a potential reader might have or he doesn’t know how a potential reader will benefit from reading the text. A habit of finding answers to these questions is essential for effective written communication.
Lastly, I will allow myself to give a small piece of advice. Since only a reader can say whether a text is good or bad, and many beginning writers can’t easily step into their potential reader’s shoes, they might need a real one! This is why, dear parents, next time your child gets a grade that he or you are not very happy about, find some time to read the text together, and maybe you will see the ways to make it better. And you may find the words of wisdom on the margins left by the teacher that your child might have overlooked!