You Don’t Have to Like Writing

Jan 01, 2021 | Posted by Andrew Pudewa

The Real Goal of Learning English Composition

by Andrew Pudewa

I have heard this—or something very similar—hundreds, if not thousands of times, on the phone, at conventions, and in seminars for over twenty years. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard a mom say the words “enjoy writing”…

These are, of course, the hopes of so many careful, caring parents who want to cultivate a real love of learning, especially of something so essential, personal, and human as writing. Yet the path to this goal of enjoyment is ephemeral, and there’s no guarantee. No teacher anywhere can honestly promise that under his or her tutelage a child will gain an enjoyment of writing. Sure, some do, but it’s not guarantee-able.

So recently I’ve been pondering whether those goals are even useful goals. Or is it possible that those two things should be seen as byproducts or side benefits of some other more concrete and achievable goal?

Let’s first look at this idea of “expressing oneself.” I’m not sure I really know what that means, but I do know that writing is much more about expressing ideas than selves. We can express our own thoughts or feelings, but we must have the ideas—the words—which make it possible. In my case, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a completely original thought; I’m pretty sure that everything I’ve ever thought of first came from somewhere outside of me. My thinking is the combination and permutation of previously existing ideas that I have encountered and remembered. This is the nature of human creativity—we need to look outside ourselves for the raw materials and tools to create anything, even (or especially!) when writing.

So the first job as a teacher of language—which includes all parents—is to be certain that there is a steady stream of high quality language coming into the ears and minds of the students. This is true for all ages. Saturate your environment with the good and great books, stories, songs, poems, scripture. Have children commit beautiful language to memory whenever possible and maintain a memorized repertoire of poetry, famous quotations, excerpts from noble speeches, and verses. This will help to furnish their minds with not just the words, not just the variety of clauses and phrases, not just the poetic and literary devices that enliven the ideas, but with some of those very ideas themselves.

A second job as teacher is to provide the student with tools for putting ideas into words, sentences, paragraphs, stories, essays, and poems. The best starter set of tools for writers are models and techniques that allow for both imitation and innovation. In other words, structure and style. IEW’s system can be taught at almost all grade levels and learned by students of almost any age and aptitude. By working through the nine units of the writing program, students are immediately freed from the problem of “I don’t know what to write” while being taught how to separate the complexities of the writing process so that it is no longer overwhelming. Then by using the EZ+1 (easy plus one) method of expanding the complexity of the checklist, students improve their word choice, employ an increasing variety of grammatical patterns, and learn organizational rules to keep paragraphs cohesive and engaging. This is too much to describe in one paragraph, but I guarantee you it works.

Works? You ask. How? In what way? Great question. It doesn’t mean that a child likes writing, but it does mean he or she has improved. Each composition is usually slightly better—in concrete, measurable ways—than the last. After several years of practice, the complexity of the process has become second nature, and the stress or struggle is lessened.
Competence should be the goal, not affinity.

When we try to teach solely by enthusiasm and encouragement, we are in danger of failing in our teaching and failing our students. However, if we try to teach toward competency, we get students whose experience then translates to confidence—a confidence much more meaningful than that prompted by the cheerleading of a parent or coach. In my experience, it does no good (and can even do some damage) to encourage and praise whatever a child does regardless of the product. This, taken to an extreme, is disingenuous at best and undermining at worst. Instead, we must provide distinct tasks in a systematic way and then give as much help as necessary for the students to accomplish the challenge. And the increase of challenge must be gradual. Competence must be earned; both teacher and student must cooperate to this end.

Then, one day almost by surprise, the child may say something like, “This is easy.” Or “I like this.” Or “Listen, Mom, I wrote a story!” However, don’t be surprised if someday someone asks this child, “Do you like writing?” and he or she still answers, “No.” That would probably be normal.

To tell the truth, I don’t like writing. It’s hard, and I don’t enjoy the process. I would rather be doing other things. But I have to do it, so I do. What I do enjoy is having written something. That’s the fun part! And for me, it is especially pleasing if someone (in all sincerity) tells me that what I wrote was useful or interesting or humorous. But honestly, I don’t like having to go from “I must write something” to “It is finished.” It’s work.

During a normal year when I am out and about, at conventions and seminars, meeting and talking to parents and children, I often say to young people apparently unenthused about a new writing curriculum, “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.” And the mom looks on quizzically. But it takes a lot of pressure off both mom and student.

Understanding the right goal is so very important. And although we can’t guarantee that a child will love—or even like—writing, we can hope, knowing that joy accompanies accomplishment.


This article first appeared in the 2021 Arts of Language Magalog

© 2021, Institute for Excellence in Writing, L.L.C.
The above article is available for your personal use or for distribution. Permission given to duplicate complete and unaltered. 
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