6 Things I Want (MY?) Students to Know About Writing

by P. Braithwaite

So, I may or may not be a writing instructor at a local university. This may or may not be true, but let’s, for a moment, say that it is.

A few weeks ago, I had a dream that my students discovered my blog. One of them, the loud one that makes me laugh on the inside (because laughing aloud would be encouraging him), read certain passages to the entire class. Everyone pointed at me and laughed. If I were a student, I could’ve run away, but I was the instructor – there was nowhere for me to go…

I woke up in a cold sweat: what if my students actually read my blog? What would they think? What would they know for sure? I promptly privatized my Twitter account, and then started to wonder what my students would/could learn from reading my blog. Would it be the worst thing in the world for my students to discover that their writing teacher was actually a writer in her spare time? Probably not.

Here are a few things I’d want them to discover:

1. Writing is Brave: So many of the essays my students write are written for me. I don’t mean that they are written because I assign them; I mean that students often draft papers that express ideas they mistake as my own: they tell me what (they think) I want to hear. If my students read this blog, they’d understand that real writing (even academic writing) is exposure. To say something w/o knowing how it will be received is very brave. You are taking a position on something, you are inquiring about or analyzing something – you are daring to do battle with the ideas that live inside of your head. It is a brave act to turn the whispers in your head into words that live on a page. Writing is a form of vulnerability.

2. Words are permanent: Once you write them (especially on the world wide WordPress), they live outside of you for other people to see (and Google). You must stand behind the things that you are brave enough to write.

3. Audiences are writers too: My students often write prose for me, but they don’t realize that the words that they use are being interpreted. My favorite question is: what exactly are you trying to say? See, you write something, BUT I read it I analyze it, I run them through my own imperfect filter and derive meaning from it. The reader is a collaborator. That doesn’t mean that you should write for your readers, but you should understand that what you write on paper cannot be controlled.

4. The classroom is just the beginning: Here I am, blogging. I am blogging about my book. I am writing a book about men and religion and God. This means I’m reading articles, I’m studying philosophical implications about religion, I am interviewing interesting people, and I’m talking a lot. Oh yea, and I’m writing. The seemingly boring composition skills that I try to impart to my students are just training wheels – once they get riding, they can use research and composition to look at anything they want – anything.

5. Words are powerful:  This is pretty self-explanatory. There are few things I love more than words; especially the words people take time to write down.

6. People are more than just one thing: I may or may not be an English instructor, I may or may not be a tutor. I may or may not be: a woman, a black person, a Long Islander, a former stripper, a pirate, a psychologist, a reality TV addict…and so on. If by some chance a student reads my blog, they’d see a side of me not often available to them in class, and although it would be mortifying – it would be okay. People are more than just one thing. There is no such thing as a flat character. Once you’ve learned that, I suspect, you’re halfway to becoming a writer.

One last thing – I’d want my students to know that there’s no such thing as a perfect/finished draft. Proofreading doesn’t catch everything, and well…teachers make typos too. 🙂

What do you think people (students, writers, readers etc.) can learn from reading?