Tuesday, September 14, 2010

writing in college

My college freshman son sent me a copy of a paper on which he had received an A. He said he didn't think it was worth an A and I had to agree -- his grasp of the topic (stereotypes in the media) was OK, but, as for any of us, the execution left something to be desired.

Reading it over, I thought the paper showed promise of better papers to come. Practice makes perfect-ish. But what really worried me was whether the teacher had actually read the paper and if so, how s/he could have let so much get by him/her. Dumb students are OK -- that's why they're in school: To learn. But dumb teachers is enough to make the pope weep... verbs that didn't agree with nouns; opinions in the midst of an essay; and no sense of punctuation or paragraphs.

All of this stuff has pissed off writers from time immemorial ... if the thoughts are golden in my head, then of course they are golden when I put them on the page. But the hard fact is that writing is 95+% RE-writing. Why? Because the important person in the whole writing equation is not so much the author -- it's the reader. It's no excuse to say, "S/he SHOULD understand." It's harder and more accurate to say, "I should be able to convey it."

All of this and more like it I had a hard time communicating to my son. I am painfully aware of how much practice I have had and how pig-headed I can be. And I don't want to dump my stinky biases in his backyard and discourage him from trying to improve.

So I did the best I could and keep my fingers crossed that I didn't screw the pooch ... again.


  1. My wife the English teacher always says "practice makes better", which even makes some of her students sniff in derision (because duh - she doesn't even know how the saying goes!!!!)

  2. The poet, Mary Oliver, would agree with what you say about the importance of re writing.

    Effortless expression means the reader hears what is being spoken and says, "Yes, thats it."

    Effortless expression is, as writing or anything else, an oxymoron.

  3. In my office, four programmers sit together. One Indian, a Filipino, a China Chinese, and a Singaporean. All four speak English on a different accent, and they do software development in four different software languages. C#, Java, VB, and finally, one joker whose job is to do a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get software that services all the software and make them talk to one other.

    Thank goodness for standardised financial institutions, for the paycheck is in the same currency.

  4. Thank Buddha for the Greenback :)