The Casual Minutiae of Writing by Clarence Gene Burns
Yes, good writing is about sentence structure, transition, syntax, style, and organization. But, it is also about attitude. Rather than blame others for our writing shortcomings, it is imperative to accept responsibility for personal growth. Effective writing is not a natural derivative of schooling. Novice writers must view themselves as creators of their own abilities. Though good teachers are worth their weight in gold, they do not make students better students. Students make themselves better students. Teachers can inspire, facilitate and counsel, but students are ultimately responsible for their own personal growth, especially writing prowess.
A good first step toward being accountable is developing a passion for reading. Most students are visual learners and reading is the ultimate visual exercise for enhancing writing skills. Persuading students to read, however, appears an insurmountable undertaking given the many vexations to the writing spirit, particularly the relentless presence of technology in contemporary life. But persuade young people we must because reading is fundamental in cultivating communication skills. All other suggestions to improve writing proficiency are useless if reading remains a disconnected activity.
Emphasizing the importance of thinking for want-to-be writers is an essential and productive strategy. The process of writing requires opening our minds to new ideas, new challenges, and new solutions – to think differently, critically, and creatively. Self-discovery, dialoguing, reason, logic and analysis are the cornerstones of effective writing. Writing and thinking are intertwined. Good thinkers make better writers.
When it comes to the doing of writing, each writer should foremost focus on quality, not quantity. The fundamental goal of any writing project is to be concise, crisp, clear, and understood. Quality encourages clarity while quantity produces clutter, confusion, and disorder. Such a concept is certainly evidenced by the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863. According to the Library of Congress website, Edward Everett, a popular orator of the time, spoke for two hours at the ceremony. Yet, Everett admitted to Abraham Lincoln, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address continues to resonate in American history and clearly accentuates the importance and influence of quality over quantity.
I always hope my allegiance to writing, no matter how unorthodox, and my ideas about the casual particulars of writing will be manifested in helping others to become better writers. Oh yes, practice is a good idea too.
Library of Congress (n.d.). Today in History: November 19. Retrieved March 14, 2006, from (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/nov19/html
Gene Burns is a Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance.