Last week, I started teaching a summer class–a Comp 1 class–filled with nervous freshmen. They are all inherently likable, arriving to class with their notebooks and highlighters, filled with fear and optimism. The fear is usually at the forefront for most of them, though, and I forgot how often they utter the phrase, “I can’t write,” or “I am not good at writing.”
Part of my job is to convince them that they CAN write. After all, if they don’t think they can, they won’t try. So I need to restore that hope, the concept that as with anything a bit complicated, it just takes practice.
I ask them to share with a classmate a skill they have, something they are good at. Soccer. Basketball. Working out. Taking care of people. Cooking. Playing an instrument. Surfing. Re-building cars. Then, we come together and discuss how all of those things took practice and time, as does writing. So, it isn’t a matter of them not being good writers–or even just competent writers–but just that they may need more practice.
Writing is a complex act. Even if we aren’t writing poetry or fiction, we have to make decisions on audience, point-of-view, word-choice, and organization. We have to write a clear message, which isn’t always easy. We have to offer details and examples and be logical about the whole process. It’s no less complex than playing a guitar, yet people will beat themselves up if they can’t master an essay in one draft.
I try to learn from them on the level that I’m at. All things worthwhile take time. They take effort. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.