Misconceptions about writing

After two years as a high school English teacher, two summers as a writing consultant in the BGSU Writers Lab and another year as a writing center consultant at Defiance College, I have been exposed to a plethora of opinions about writing. What amazes and frustrates me most are the misconceptions all age groups, from high school students to veteran educators and administrators, have about writing and writing centers. Some of these views are absurd and only hinder the writer that exists within each individual.

Misconception 1: Writing is a skill that you either have or you don’t have.

Though some people are blessed with a natural ability to write, you are by no means doomed if you struggle with writing. Writing takes time, practice, diligence, dedication, and patience. It is a skill that must be honed and developed, just like driving, dancing, singing, or cooking. At some point, even some of the most accomplished and talented writers feel inadequate and apprehensive when it comes to writing.

When asked to identify the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, Ernest Hemingway replied, “A blank sheet of paper.” Just like Hemingway, many writers may feel unable or overwhelmed when writing, but imagine if all writers succumbed to those emotions. Everyone has the ability to write; it is only a matter of allowing that ability to blossom through practice and consultation with other writers.

Misconception 2: Once you become a good writer or succeed in tackling a significant writing challenge (such as passing English 112 or completing your dissertation), you no longer need to consult with other writers.

With writing, as with every other skill, there is always room for improvement. You write for others to read, and regardless of whether you agree with your readers’ suggestions and opinions, that feedback serves a purpose. Feedback makes you think, revise, improve and recognize your blindspots and weaknesses, and that is imperative, despite your degree of writing competence.

Professional and famous writers have editors, critics and confidants, all of whom provide writing feedback. Getting a second opinion may be the best advice a writer can follow.

Misconception 3: Writing is an isolated discipline that is used mainly in academic environments, such as high schools, colleges, and universities, and rarely in the “real world.”

Writing is an essential life skill. How many professions require absolutely no writing ability? Very few. In addition, writing is one of the most advanced modes of human expression, and, as if that is not enough, writing is crucial in the technologically advanced world we live in today. Writing is not solely for English classes–everyone uses it. Only the ignorant and the lazy think writing is a luxury or a useless and inapplicable skill.

Misconception 4: Writing centers are merely complimentary services at a university and are secondary in importance to other programs when considering locations, funds, and staff.

On the contrary, writing centers should be placed administratively and physically in central locations on campus so writing feedback is as accessible as possible to all writers. Not doing so reveals the attitude that writing centers–and writing–are not central to life-long learning, are marginal to the university’s larger vision and are only for a select few. Quite simply, without writing, universities would fail to exist; therefore, writing centers should be one of a university’s main priorities.

Misconception 5: Writing centers are perfunctory places where students hand over their papers to be written by the consultant or to be annihilated by the consultant’s red pen, therefore providing an easy way for an average or poor writer to get a grade he or she normally wouldnot receive on a paper.

Anyone who has visited the BG Writers Lab knows this is not the case! Consultants do not mark on the student’s paper, and they do not demand that the writer makes any corrections. Rather, the consultants identify writer strengths, ask questions and suggest areas for improvement, whether that involves brainstorming, organizing, rewording or identifying consistent mechanical errors. Instead of making superficial corrections to the papers, consultants strive to encourage overall growth in the writers.

Again, writing takes time, and it cannot be taught in one, ten, or even twenty writing sessions, and writing center visitors are never guaranteed an “A” paper. Rather, they are guaranteed helpful feedback from other writers.

Though there are many other misconceptions surrounding the field of writing, these five misconceptions seem to resurface again and again as I interact with students, peers, and administrators. In order to battle these beliefs, as writers, we need to remember that although writing can be a labor-intensive, sometimes frustrating process, it can also provide insight, clarity, understanding, and hope. Writing provides satisfaction like no other, for the writer and the reader.

As Samuel Johnson once insightfully shared, “What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure.” While effort must begin with each individual writer, universities must cultivate this effort by providing writing centers that offer the ultimate academic service–writers helping writers.