Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Writer Illusion

Slaves of the Internet unite! by Tim Kreider

The writing and analysis in the article are unengaging, so it is not too surprising that the writer is in relatively low demand. But the topic is an interesting one. 

Most people seem to think that writing is something almost anyone can do. There is an illusion that if you can say something orally, all you have to do is write it down on paper, then--"Poof!"--you're a writer. 

What people don't seem to realize is that in conversation, context and meaning are largely conveyed non-verbally. Expressions, gestures, and the situation itself provide as much as the words themselves. Writing is the bastard stepchild of spoken conversation, not vice-versa.

I suspect that school assignments are highly responsible for this illusion. When people have been putting pencil to paper for at least twelve years of schooling, they seem to believe that writing is just something everyone can do. Call this the Writer Illusion.

It is interesting to note the difference between something like mathematics and writing. Most people do not think they are to be trusted at math. Does this mean that educational experience is not really what creates the Writer Illusion?

Perhaps the difference is that people receive much more negative feedback on their skill at rudimentary mathematics. As a result, we are less susceptible to a Mathematician Illusion. 

Yet, most students also hate grammatical rules and spelling, and think that they are not good at it. Why, then, do they nevertheless think they can write? One likely explanation is that it is claimed that grammar and spelling are inessential to writing, ultimately. Even great writers need editors, after all. The claim is that people can write even when they lack these fundamentals.

It is true that precise grammar and spelling are not necessary to be an effective writer. However, it is not true that many students are clear writers, much less effective ones. Not even close. 

Schooling creates the illusion that "anyone can write" because negative feedback on writing quality is hard. 

Unlike mathematics (or grammar) lessons, writing assignments lack an answer key. Every student's paper is different. The teacher has to provide unique analysis and feedback to every student

Furthermore, students have to have certain skills in order to so much as make sense of the feedback. Many don't. So, even if they receive feedback on the clarity and effectiveness of their writing, many students are unable to benefit from it. Many students just perceive such criticism as "pickiness" on the part of the teacher.