Teaching writing and and the big “why”

I used to teach writing. Well, I should say that I used to get paid for teaching writing. I get paid for other things now, but it always seems to come back to teaching people how to communicate in a written format.

Most people don’t mind telling you what they think about any given topic. (Some more than others, and some more picky about the topic than others.) But once they’re required, for whatever reason, to commit it to “paper” it’s a whole new ballgame. They get nervous, they start to stall, and they just really don’t want to do it any more. They will tell you that they can’t write despite the fact that you’ve heard them spin BS like a pro in sales meetings with millions of dollars on the line.

My challenge as a teacher of writing was to get students to understand that there really is no difference. If you can make up a story, regardless of the subject and how much fact is involved, you’re already writing. Where you’re getting bogged down is the thought of putting it down so someone else can deliver it. Your readers will be the ones using your ideas to persuade themselves to accept your point. (Some people are better at relinquishing power than others, but that’s a pretty big digression. Probably textbook sized, if I really go for it.)

A lot of the problem is that people aren’t good at being thorough. Or at least they don’t recognize how thorough they can be when they’re not thinking about it. Writing requires that you explain everything, where in a conversation (or even a lecture) you get cues from your audience which tell you how much more detail you need to present in order for them to understand the point. Most people don’t have the patience for that, and they also don’t have the patience to sit down and think about what details are really needed to express the point.

What’s also fun about it is that most people know all of this but have no idea why they know it or why they don’t like writing. They just haven’t put it together that “I don’t like writing because it’s hard and requires thought, and I am lazy as hell on a species level.” Or at least they don’t want to admit that to themselves.

Think about it. Who in the world is more patient than someone whose chosen job is to work at something every day that will not be finished for anywhere from six months upward? And they still might not get anything more out of the project than the simple fact that they completed it.

And that’s why I still haven’t decided if I can do that to myself.

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