Everyone has a story in them?

I’ve studied writing, and I’ve studied (and practiced) the teaching of writing. I like to explain to students of writing (most of whom are not willing students of writing, by the way) that writing is both very hard and very easy. I say this because I find that they aren’t always able to make the distinction between having something to say and saying it well.

Everyone is capable of having something to say. I make a specific distinction here; I do not believe that everyone has something to say. I simply believe that they can, if they choose to. Having something to say requires thought, and many of us do not choose to put in that work. Conversely, the internet has given us all the opportunity to say something whether we have anything to say or not. (An argument could be made here about what I’m saying, but I digress.)

Therefore, contrary to popular belief, not everyone has a story in them. They could if they chose to put forth the effort, but again, this is where writing is hard. Work is required to construct a story, even when the elements of the story are present. Simply telling the facts (or whatever) of a story does not make it a story. And I’m not even being picky about quality; even a bad story requires work. It surprised me at first how often my writing students didn’t understand this, but I got over it and made notes to explain it to them in my class.

Also, the flipside of this is that not everyone has the experience needed to actually have a story in them. Sure, some people have the innate ability to make up a story, but this is actually a fairly rare talent (I distinguish between talent and skill; talent is inherent, skill is learned, both are important.) But let me tell you from experience – most 18-year-old college freshmen (freshpeople? freshthings?) are quite sheltered and have no life experience whatsoever from which to draw a story. That’s not an attack; it’s just my perception.

And I think this is why they get so frustrated by college requirements that they study the skill of writing in college. They don’t see the bigger picture, which is that communication of any kind, especially one as exacting as writing, is a skill that must be practiced, and is a skill that one must be prepared to use in great quantity in order to earn (as well as prove) a higher education. It’s honestly got more to do with the thinking process than having a story to tell. Writing is about expression, but you still have to have something to express. And that requires more than just recounting what one did over the summer.

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2 responses to “Everyone has a story in them?

  1. When I went to college, my scores on the TSWE was high enough that as a Computer Science major I simply didn’t have to take Freshman English. I later transfered and while many of my credits transfered, I found myself required to take 2 semesters worth of Freshman English in my 4th year of college. Being congratulated by the teacher because I actually knew how to write in complete sentences was murder. I can only imagine what it is like to be on the teaching end.

    • Normally I’d have four or five that were really good in a class of 25. The rest either didn’t have the skills or didn’t care enough to put forth the effort. I could usually tell in the first two weeks of the semester who was who 🙂

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