I just read the “Don’t be Cruel” and “The Case for Conversational Writing” articles.
They both resonated. My comments on work often include the comment “you are a good writer.” I write this often because I often believe it’s true, and it’s important to point this out. Many students respond in a way that leads me to believe they’ve never been told this before by anyone. It reminds me of that old SNL skit where Eddie Murphy goes undercover as a white guy to see what life is like for white people. He goes to a newsstand to buy a newspaper, and when he puts the money on the counter, the shopkeeper looks at him like he’s crazy. “We’re both white,” he says. “Just take it.” That’s the face I tend to get when I tell students that they’re good writers. Like, “what is the meaning of this? Is this some kind of trick?” Or, if the student enjoys writing, they are obviously proud, like “I knew it. I knew I was a good writer. Confirmed.” Yeah, somewhere between incredulous and beaming.
I also always tell my students to write like they speak. In every course I teach. I realized a while ago that the best writing advice I could give them (the only writing advice, really) was what worked for me. When I tell them to write like they speak, I also get the “what is the meaning of this?” reaction. Because they seem to have been told the opposite forever. “Why not?” I tell them. “Why not write like you speak? You speak very well. And you sound like a human being, which, when you try to write in some artificial way, you don’t.” I also tell them that there’s a caveat to this: they can’t write how they would speak to they’re closest friends out at a bar on a Saturday night. I tell them to think of how they would speak at work, or in a classroom, or with someone they don’t know well. I guess I wasn’t totally conscious of the fact that the idea “write like you speak” entails an implicit consideration of audience. They have more experience speaking to different people in different situations than writing to different people in different situations, probably.
I also tell them the beauty of writing is you can express yourself even more precisely than when you’re speaking, because you can go back and edit what you said. How many times do we think of the perfect comeback or witty comment lying in bed later that night? You have that second (and third, and fourth, and so on) chance in writing.
And of course, positivity is something else that comes up in the “Don’t Be Cruel” article. The power of positive thinking. In class today, I told my students I was attempting to teach them the pleasure of creation, without the stress of a final product.
What we can accomplish is 100% determined by our thinking about it. This is coming up more and more for me in terms of how to foster creative thinking in the classroom. This is even bigger than genre or alternative assignments. It’s the joy of residing in the realm of the unknown.
Ah. Exciting stuff.