Its been interesting over the past couple of years the array of reactions I receive when I tell people that I’m working on a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English.
“So you want to be an author?”
“What can you actually do with a degree like that?”
“How do writers make money?”
“That’s so cool! I didn’t know they even had a degree for that!”
Writing to a lot of people seems like an art form, or a scientific specialization. I think people see it as more responsible than being an artist, but not as practical as being an engineer or getting a business degree. The amount of times I’ve been told “yeah writing is not really my thing” is staggering. I started wondering if these individuals didn’t realize how much they write on a daily basis.
When you strip it back, writing at its core is simply a form of communication. It is the process of communicating thoughts and information when we are unable to verbally. We’re already using this form of communication daily; perhaps more than we did twenty years ago, and definitely more than we did fifty years ago. In an age where texting is more common than phone calls, and emails have replaced some face to face meetings, its surprising that people still don’t consider themselves ‘writers’ and label the process of writing as taboo to their skill set.
One of the primary reasons I believe people think they aren’t good writers, is because they were never really taught. Sure, we all take English classes throughout our K-12 experience, and we write numerous papers for all sorts of classes. Then as we progress into college we write more papers (even math majors have to write them) and yet at the end of it all, fully educated adults are uncomfortable with their writing abilities.
What is the difference between being taught English and being taught writing? English classes teach us the nuts and bolts; when to use commas, what a proper sentence looks like, how to prevent plagiarism. However those are all just pieces, and like a bookshelf from IKEA, you really can’t put together anything solid without the instructions. Sometimes, if the teachers you’ve had are forward thinking, they’ll give you some of those instructions. What I’ve found though (primarily through observing classmates) is that if a student has already mentally determined they don’t enjoy writing, they probably won’t take those instructions on to the next class with them, and they definitely won’t be applying them to everyday life.
So now, unless we have the drive because writing sparks our interest, we usually don’t feel the need to get any better at it. It could be likened (loosely) to swimming. Some people really love the water, and other people aren’t so keen on it. Those who love it pursue their swimming skills and essentially become mermaids, while those who don’t love it stick to exclusively sunbathing on a beach chair on family vacations. But at the end of the day, everyone has to know at least a little bit about how to swim. Otherwise… well, otherwise you’re in immediate danger near water.
That analogy might be a stretch, but if you’re someone who isn’t keen on writing, and therefore doesn’t have much faith in your skills, you’ll probably think you’re in immediate danger when your boss asks you to write a proposal for something, or when your professor extends the essay length to 10 pages instead of 5. I would argue that learning to properly write (even if you’re not fond of it) is a lot less stressful than learning to more effectively swim. So why doesn’t everyone take the time to improve their writing skills, if even a little?
My guess is that it’s easier to tell a stranger that you’re not a good writer, than to tell your boss that the proposal he wants in two days in probably going to suck. It can be difficult to have the drive to accept and improve on your weaknesses when you don’t view them as weaknesses. You just don’t see them as ‘your thing’. The cultural norm of only playing to your strengths and disregarding you weakness as things you ‘aren’t interested in’ has gotten out of hand in recent years. With the popularity of theories (myths actually) like the left/right brain theory, or the idea that we should only pursue things we love doing as careers has given society a new way to classify things they find difficult. Based on our personalities and upbringings, its likely that at a young age we’ll find things that come easy to us, and things that bring more challenge. There is no proof however that the things that challenge us are genetically always going to be challenging.
Writing is a pivotal form on communication in our society, and being able to write beyond ‘just getting by’ is actually very important. Again, it doesn’t need to interest you, but kind of like driving, you should know how to do so better than ‘good enough’ to get yourself where you need to go in a safe and timely manner. All that to say that in essence, writing is only a weakness if you categorize it as such and chose not to work towards improving it. The easiest way to ‘up’ your professional or academic game is to build your writing skills and learn how to effectively communicate with those around you.
The first place to start is by no longer saying ‘that’s not my thing’, and instead seeing its as a ‘thing’ you can add to your toolbox for success.