Totally Unrelated: On Writing

I am currently taking a class called Theory and Practice of Writing. Our first assignment, besides reading, was to write a Literacy Autobiography. This is an approach to understand how we learned to write, why we write like we do, and really just learn about our writing. I took a few examples from learning various writing approaches and talked about my how my need for perfectionism in writing really stunted my desire, and therefore ability, to write. While this has almost nothing to do with book reviews, I wanted to share my story with you.

How did you learn to write? Do you remember? I had to ask my mom about it, because I have poor memory of my childhood. Ask your parents, or elementary teachers, because the response could be really interesting. Either let me know in the comments or keep the information to yourself. Anywho, here’s my paper.

One of my proudest achievements from childhood schooling was in third grade—Mrs Lowry would hold weekly competitions where each student would have a dictionary at the ready. She would supply a word; the student who could locate that word in the dictionary first would receive a sticker. Throughout the third grade, I received the most (almost all) of the dictionary stickers. Since then, in thirteen years of primary and secondary school, throughout all my spelling tests, I have only misspelled one word.

A bit of a perfectionist, I have always wanted things to turn out correctly the FIRST time. As a child, I was intuitively writing at four years of age. However, if I came across a word I did not know how to spell, I would run to my mom and have her show me the correct way and memorize it for future use. While hearing this from my mom gave me pride in my young self—what an eager and diligent learner! I thought—she continued on to say that the kindergarten teacher had actually reprimanded her for correcting my spelling. Mrs Fish claimed that free writing and a free spirit in spelling was encouraged in her class, that my mom should not push so hard to have me spell things correctly.

It is unclear whether Mrs Fish did not understand the situation clearly (that I desired, nay, NEEDED, to spell the words correctly) or whether she did not want to stress the importance of spelling in the classroom (should my mom have denied me the correct spelling when I requested it?). Regardless, I find it interesting that her method was to scold my mother for helping me learn to spell correctly in a way that suited my needs.

My aunt, a teacher as well, remarked that students of math do not learn free math—that 1+1 might equal 3 in a free spirited way—but students of language learn that it is okay to spell things incorrectly as long as they are writing. This intrigues me still today. Is it not better for students to get the writing out, and edit it later, or is it better to stress correct writing, because practice makes permanent? I am still not sure which pedagogical choice is best, but I do know that my kindergarten experience provides the stark contrast of being expected to not only spell known words correctly, but being able to look up new, unknown words, so really to understand English spelling rules, in Mrs Lowry’s class. Either way, my need to spell and even write everything correctly is still rampant today.

Often, I find myself at a mental road block when I begin a writing project. “How can I start this without knowing exactly what I want to say? Without knowing exactly where I’m going?” I ask. This dreadful thought pattern has helped me procrastinate many a paper in college. Writing academic papers (not truly addressed in my high school Advanced Composition class) occurred first in my freshman year at Wartburg College. I simultaneously participated in a writing class and an introduction to literature course at Wartburg. While the writing course was helpful to learn accepted forms of academic writing, it was the literature course that really helped form how I write today.

Because I was writing relatively simple (read: boring) papers in the writing class, I decided to branch out for my first paper in the literature course. I wanted to write about Coheed and Cambria and their foray into the literature world—they produced one companion graphic novel for each of their studio albums—but I had absolutely no idea how to approach literature with a critical eye. Partially thanks to that fact, the paper received an embarrassingly low score, while I received 100% on the presentation of the paper. It was not in writing that paper that I gained the most important skills—it was writing the presentation and receiving comparative notes on both performances. This paper is where I learned what not to do. I learned how not to write a thesis, how not to leave it dangling without evidence, how not to cite in-text, how not to write a works cited page, and most definitely how not to turn in a paper on its first draft.

While the perfectionist in me was wounded by receiving a terrible grade from Dr Nolan, who became my favorite professor, her constructive criticism was endlessly helpful. She fostered a good environment for learning to write, in that and other classes she led. From that class on, I slowly came to the realization that straightforward academic papers were almost always boring, although I did not know how to overcome that problem. Dr Nolan encouraged me, through her reception of my presentation and throughout other various classes I took with her, to explore other options than the academic writing approach.

Although projects in other classes helped encourage looking outside of the academic writing box as well (ex: Storify!), it was in blogging that my writing has really flourished. The lifelong need for perfection in writing, while totally unrealistic, has led to my many writing anxieties and a general tendency to avoid writing when possible. However, blogging has greatly reduced my anxieties—it provides a place to get my thoughts out with an easy option to edit them and the much-loved post-publishing edit. This has led my perfection-addled brain to accept the fact that you have to eventually admit that something is “finished” and publish it, while at the same time relaxing because there is an option for post-edits. Using the preview option on WordPress opened incredible doors for me because it allowed me to see the “final” product without publishing it. After previewing it, I usually edit it 3-4 more times before actually publishing it (I actually used that approach to write this paper). This has less finality to it which allows me to publish more and worry less.

Through writing class notes in my professional writing blog, writing blog articles for Chegg every week as an actual job (although my first post gave me weeks of nervous headaches), and my first blogging love—writing book reviews, I have come to gain much practice in—and much less anxiety before and during the act of—writing. Still a perfectionist, I can at least get words down on a page and allow someone else to read them, even if there is no grade attached. And though I may never be a great writer, I can at least use my exemplary spelling and grammar skills to help someone else become one.

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