January 15, 2014

Just Write

Only after finishing many many years of schooling have I learned to appreciate reading and writing. From age 13-23, I hated being forced to read something, then forced to write. The problem was not the reading or the writing. Rather, it was the simple matter of having little choice in the subject matter. When the material is chosen for the student, it is no longer the student's work. When the student is given the freedom to choose, they become the engine for learning. The power is given to the individual rather than the taskmaster.

People need to choose their own path, for if they can only follow the tracks set in front of the them, there is no purpose to life. America's English education system is broken. One year, when I was 12 years old, I remember a quality program in school called D.E.A.R. It was a 15 minute period in the morning where students would "Drop Everything And Read." There was zero prescription to the student what they were to read, the only requirement was that they read. This program did not last in my school, but I believe it to be one of the most important ideas for fixing language education.

I believe the Chinese should do this with Chinese books, Japanese with Japanese books, and so on. Students should be given the opportunity to learn to love reading. In the same year, I recall a creative writing module in English class. Students were given the opportunity to write freely. The writing prompt was vague and left the student to make up the rules. This was magical. Like the "free reading" program, the "free writing" opportunity was fleeting.

I am torn as to how grading should be done in writing class. Writing is non-linear which makes quality seem subjective. I honestly have no idea if there is such thing as objective quality in writing. I know when I am enthralled with what I'm reading, but someone else may find it boring. Subject, voice, and style determine whether the reader enjoys what they read. If you want to write, what you read will have the greatest impact on your output.

This extends even to word choice, length, and attitude which may be the most important in whether your readers enjoy what you put out. How do you develop your writing? How can you become better? Practice is the first step, but it is not sufficient. The crucial and most terrifying step is to put it out into the world. If you leave your writing "in draft" where no one gets the opportunity to read what you have to say, does it really exist? If you never hit publish to the internet, and no one reads your writing, it doesn't count. Not only is it cowardly, but you steal from yourself the crucial element of feedback.

Writing for yourself may be satisfying, but without interaction, you are lost in space. In this world, everyone may be floating near each other, but they cannot see each other. They can't float together. They can't share the view of the Earth. They are isolated in a vacuum. If you choose to write, have it read. If you have no one to read it. Put it on the internet. Someone will find it. They may not say anything, but if they come back for more, you know you have something of value. Or maybe, just maybe, you ARE something of value.


  1. Some time after D.E.A.R was initiated, the local Kindergarten program added a daily writing time for students. I don't know what the prompts were, but I believe them to have been relatively vague. The general idea as it was explained to parents was to get children accustomed to expressing themselves in written form. Red pencils never corrected spelling errors, and no criticisms were made. The teacher wrote a few comments, giving the student an opportunity to read her handwritten words.

    I often write "in draft." When I am troubled, I send myself emails, occasionally using the subject line "Notes to Self" if I am rambling about a variety of topics rather than one in particular. Or I will write as if I am talking to someone with whom I would like to speak but feel I can't for whatever reason. On a daily basis, however, I post to a forum in which I have started the group "three good things that happened to me today" that day (akin to a gratitude list), and others have chosen to post on it as well. I start the date for the next day the night before when I make my posting. I have come to a time in my life when I finally live in a positive state characterized by gratitude.

    I always read what you write. I don't always comment because I often don't feel that I have anything of value to say. It is not about your value; it is about mine. What you write has value, and you are of value. To me, your value is greater than you know. I wish I knew how to convey in a way that it would be fully understood.

  2. I started reading and writing at age 3. There was always a lot of reading materials at home, and my parents didn't really care what we read. We had the usual story books (Rapunzel, Cinderella, etc) but also magazines in our language. I loved reading them, it seemed to me that the stories were fantastic.

    In school, I also hated that we were forced to read the books in the curriculum. I grew to hate the classics, and it was only when I graduated and read them for pleasure that I realized how wonderful they are. I wish I had appreciated them before.

    Re writing: I'm glad for the internet. My work is being read by a lot more people now, and they keep on reading it (my viral post keeps getting shared, despite having been published 2 years ago), not like before when my articles were limited to newspapers and magazines that grew stale the moment they got published. Long live the webz!

  3. I think it is important to read good literature so we develop a sense of taste. If we read Hamlet and then a comic book, we quickly learn to recognize what is timeless and what is not. Good literature gives us new ways of seeing reality. Great art makes it impossible to see reality in the same way we did before. That can be said of Don Quixote, but not of Third Rock, as entertaining as it may be. Third Rock entertains us; Don Quixote changes us.

    Once we have developed a sense of taste and assimilated the experience of reading the Bible, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, the Canterbury Tales, the Fairy Queen, Hamlet, Macbeth, the Tempest, Henry V, Paradise Lost, Faust, Great Expectations, War and Peace, the Wasteland, Ulysses, and more, we read everything else, and write differently. We know the literary equivalent of the difference between beef and cotton candy. We can still read the newspaper, but we know it is the newspaper, and not Shakespeare. Then the subject of our writing becomes secondary, an expression of our current interest, but through a character that has developed greater mass.

  4. @Anonymous I'm not at the point where I can say that I live in a positive state, but I have tried "3 good things" and found it to be an incredible tool to find and spread joy. I love the elimination of correcting student writing. Readers providing encouragement and open-mindedness is essential in preventing the writer from becoming silent due to fear of judgment. Thanks for your kind words : )

    @Aleah I totally agree. Students are led to hate the classics. They become reading averse and use internet summaries and cliffs notes. Literature classes are a mess and teachers wax on about books that their students either haven't read or haven't understood.

    @Anonymous You may be in the minority as someone who was ready for or interested in Shakespeare while in school. I'll keep working on my "sense of taste." Maybe it'll improve my writing.