On Writing

From the editorial preface to Mackay’s From Far Formosa:

“To a man of his ardent temperament and active habits prolonged literary work is the most irksome drudgery. He would rather face a heathen mob that write a chapter for a book.” (4)
-J. A. MacDonald

While I haven’t faced any mobs lately, there’s plenty I’d rather be doing than writing. Pretty much anything, most days. And so I read. And take scattered notes.

I’ve taught writing to undergraduates for a few quarters, which makes my apathy for it somewhat worrisome. While teaching it makes me a better writer, it also helps me see how difficult and complicated the whole process is.

When I was an undergrad, I thought I was great at writing. That it was easy. Though grades my papers were given seemed to confirm this, there were times that I wish they hadn’t. Even in my utter ignorance, I had an inkling that some papers I submitted were inexcusably poor.

Bad writing is relative, of course, so grading on a curve may have justified that slew of As and A-s on a lot of poorly thought out work. Another thing I’ve learned from teaching it is how much more work it takes to help the above average students in contrast to the truly confused ones. When time is limited, good enough is fine for now. I can’t help but wish now for a little more critique back then, however.

The single virtue of my bad college writing is that it makes excellent examples for my undergrad students to turn up their noses at, by the way.

Writing became really hard for me in my second year of graduate school. Not that it was particularly easy my first year, but I hadn’t realized just how inept I was at it yet.

Critique and guidance from professors has helped. Taking a pedagogy course on writing was life changing. Helping first years through their struggles with the transition from high school reports to college papers has helped me grow the most of all.

fcSlt

Yes, Lisa Simpson, you’re absolutely right.

Writing is hard. When it’s easy, that’s cause for alarm.

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2 thoughts on “On Writing

    • Oh, I’d never go as far as saying it’s a sign of academic prowess! (But you know that.) Mostly, I think it’s that I knew I was getting away with a lot of sub-par work in college and really wanted someone to call me on it. Had something of a crisis after my freshman year when I realized no one was doing it, went on to get that 2nd major in physics because it was hard and left little room for bullshitting.

      It’s more with fear and trepidation that I submit writing to my committee now. I’m not trying to get away with sloppiness anymore. But I do know there are still major problems with things I write that I’m not able to see on my own. Even so, critique is hard to hear!

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