The best writers get out of the way

This is Parents’ Weekend here at Elon University, which means that this morning I got a chance to meet some of the people who are largely responsible for making this year’s students who they are.

It’s always fascinating, and I have really great students this semester. Meeting the parents is also a good chance for me to think about what is valuable about what I teach.

This semester, I have two sections of Media Writing, and so most of the parents with whom I talked had students in one of those classes.

Here’s what I told them:

1. Although their students came into the university with strong writing skills in terms of both mechanics and argumentation, in a sense, high school taught them only the first way they will communicate.

2. Writing for people who you pay to read your writing (your teacher) is a quite different exercise from writing for people that you want to pay YOU for your skill and for your ideas. 

3. Media-style writing is a VERY challenging task with 3 parts:

  • Writing with only enough frill to engage. If you are writing such that your reader thinks “Wow! That’s great writing.” You have overdone it.
  • Getting information from confusing or poorly organized live sources like speeches and interview
  • Writing on tight deadlines.

4. If you are able to do all three, and do them well, you are well on your way to being very valuable, not just in the marketplace, but as a citizen and a friend. Those who communicate the best are often the most influential in society. 

When I started graduate school, the professor I met first told me that because I had been a media writer (I am a recovering newspaper reporter), graduate school and everything else was going to be easier for me. I have never regretted being able to write well and quickly, and I love passing this skill on to my own students.

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