I’ve been talking about the role of writing for professionals for nearly 25 years. My “talk” has always taken place in a university classroom or an academic journal. I’m not ready to stop talking in those contexts, but I am tired of their constraints. So why not talk with fewer (or at least different) constraints here? There are things I really want to SAY.
Like . . . why do so few recognize how bizarre it is that the US educational system thinks teachers who like to read literature are the best candidates to teach young people how to write? These teachers mean well, but all they offer are platitudes like “writers must analyze their audience” followed by a requirement for at least five double-spaced pages. I guess it works out OK for the 10 or 15 or so years people remain students who write about literature for teachers who like to read literature. But what about the writing they do for the REST of their lives? You know–the kind of professional writing that determines whether they get a job or earn a promotion or win funding for their business venture.
Don’t get me wrong. I have loved reading literature for as long as I can remember. But writing like Austen or Twain or even Stephen King hasn’t earned me a promotion. Not once.
What gets me professional R-E-S-P-E-C-T is my ability to create a document that helps other people do their jobs with minimal reading effort on their part. It’s about bringing order to chaos. Making the complex simple.
That ability was hard won. It started with a knowledgeable mentor who was willing to read the crap I wrote and provide generalizable feedback based not on platitudes but on his knowledge of linguistics and his own professional writing experience. It continued with my willingness to admit I had never written anything but crap–despite my history of straight As in English–and to apply my mentor’s guidance. It also required the kind of knowledge literature teachers rarely have. I’m talking about explicit (not tacit) knowledge of workplace language or discourse. God bless you, Frank!
This blog will allow me to share some of what I’ve learned. I’ll go on record that nothing I can give you will do you any good without humility, tenacity, and selflessness. Platitudes are easy. But it’s not easy to earn the rank of “pro” writer.
That mini-rant felt good. I’ll try to keep myself in check. At least most of the time.