5 Lessons I Learned While Teaching Writing

When I taught English Composition at a local community college – a job I loved so wholeheartedly and sincerely miss with the start of each new semester – I was heartbroken to hear just how much my students hated writing.

They didn’t dislike it. They HATED it.

After a handful of semesters, it was clear why. And I learned a few things about how to address and dismantle that hatred and – shall I be so bold? – turn it into love. Or, if not love, at least like. Or, you know, not-hate.

5 Lessons I Learned While Teaching Writing

  1. Most people hate writing because they’re afraid of it.
  2. Most people are afraid of writing because they had a gruesome teacher who made them believe that “good” writing was something that only “some” people can achieve. Or they made them slog through James Fenimore Cooper or memorize (and recite in front of the class) huge passages of Shakespeare.
  3. Syntax isn’t the hard part. Getting the words down in the first place is. You can go back and revise later. Just write now.
  4. Many students (dare I say… most) think writing is only literature. They neglect to consider the vast quantities of writing we all do every day: email, Twitter, text messages, and so on. Refine your skills on those tasks. It’s less intimidating.
  5. Finally, and here I’m going to let you in on a big secret, if you want to improve your writing and eliminate nearly all your mistakes, you need to do two things. First, print it out. Seriously. On paper. Second, take that hard copy of your work and read it out loud. You don’t need an audience (though it does help to get a second opinion). Read it to yourself in the mirror, to your snoring dog, to your best friend, to your mom on Skype. It doesn’t matter when, where, or to whom (again, even if it’s just yourself). Every awkward phrase, every stilted cadence, nearly every typo will BLARE out at you when you read your work out loud. Go try it. Right now. I’ll wait.


Oh, and one bonus tip:

6. Putting a sticker on someone’s work makes them feel proud. Seriously. College students, adult learners, everyone. They all thanked me for putting stickers on their work. One dear student even told me she put hers on her fridge so her kids could admire it!

Now, go write!