Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Very Real Cases of Writing Apprehension

By Tamara Girardi

Writing's scary, right? If you're nodding your head, I'm with you. If you've tilted your head to the side in confusion, I think you might be an alien.

It's interesting (not you being an alien) because I just started teaching college composition courses again this week. My semester at Westmoreland County Community College began Monday, and already my students are actively discussing their writing strengths and weaknesses and their goals for the semester.

So often, their writing weaknesses intersect with a lack of confidence. They're scared of writing, scared of getting it wrong. I have a tough lesson for them.

You always get it wrong. But in a way, you always get it right, too.

With writing, there are so many factors: content, audience, purpose, delivery. Of course, you can't control all of those things because the way people receive your writing will always vary just by human nature. Five hundred people read an essay. Five hundred people have different reactions. It's life. We interpret and perceive information uniquely.

Furthermore, there's that issue of words. A five hundred word essay includes five hundred opportunities for choosing a substandard word. Is there a better word? A better way to order that sentence? That paragraph?

Sure.

But I'm also sure that some of those words were perfect. And so were some of those sentences and even those paragraphs.

That's the beauty of writing. One piece of writing is like a gorgeous puzzle the writer has created all on his or her own. Yes, there is some apprehension in that because we all want to be perfect. But the way I see it, it's not possible to be perfect with writing. (A concession: the greats have come close, but even they found flaws in their creations).

No the real lesson here is that once we realize we can't be perfect with writing, we can never be, the more liberating that is.

Then it's time to take chances and to enjoy the process. When it's over, I'm certain my students will be proud of their results. I look forward to those days because that's when we'll look back at these weaknesses and talk about how they've conquered them.

8 comments:

PatRemick said...

This is a great reminder to every writer! Thanks Tamara. I think you must be a very inspiring teacher!

Annette said...

Excellent post, Tamara.

Letting go of that desire to get it perfect is a tough one. I'm struggling with it at the moment, too. I'm slogging through a first draft, reminding myself that I don't have to get it "right" on this first pass.

It is freeing once it sinks in, though. Just write.

Joyce Tremel said...

It takes me forever to get through a first draft. It usually ends up being my second or third draft because I have to revise as I go along. Yes, I drive myself crazy.

Ramona said...

Tamara, I'm sure your students benefit from an instructor who has been there/done that regarding the writing process.

I love the comment that a 500 word essay provides 500 opportunities for choosing a substandard word. Darn, I wish I'd written that!

Tamara said...

Thanks, everyone. But as is the case with many things in life, it's much easier to make this claim or point it out to others than to embrace it yourself. I think it's a lifelong attempt, or at least, it will be.

I've encouraged some of my students to stop by the blog today, so you might see comments from them pop up. We are creating some blogs this semester, so I want them to start looking at blogs. I think the comments strands on this blog provide some great examples of conversations that arise from blog posts.

Thanks, again.

Gina said...

I must be an alien. I'm never scared to write and I don't find it scary at all. Maybe it's just my basic lack of self-esteem. I know I'm going to foul up, so I don't sweat it.

Jennie Bentley said...

I'm an alien, and I have the green card to prove it.

Writing doesn't scare me. I know my books can't compare to some. I'm not the most lyrical or beautiful writer in the world. There are people, tons of them, who do this job much better than me. I find things to change in my books all the time, long after they're published. But the way I see it, my job isn't to be the greatest writer in the world, or to pen the most gorgeous prose. (And if you want that to be *your* job, that's great, nothing wrong with that, best of luck to you. But it isn't my job. And that's fine. We're all different, thank God.)

My job is to entertain. As long as I do that, my writing can be as imperfect as it wants. I do my best to use the right word and to leave out the parts people skip, but I write first and foremost because I enjoy it, and if the joy goes out, then I'll probably stop. Beside, perfection is boring.

Tamara said...

Gina, exactly the point! That's what makes it liberating. Nicely, if somewhat self-deprecatingly, said.

Jennie, thanks for the comment. We are all different. I love that you and Gina aren't afraid. It takes so much stress away when you can just write to enjoy it - when it's not for a grade or to score an agent or anything else you really can't control anyway.