By almost any measure I'm not a good writer. I don't remember any of the grammar I learned in 10th grade, thus I regularly break the rules. I know, I know, ignorance is no defense but I'm just too lazy to re-learn all that crap and as long as people can understand the point I'm trying to make I'm fine with breaking the rules.
Now I'm not fishing for false praise here. After four years of college and more years than I'd like to think about in the working world I can safely say that I'm a better writer than the vast majority of people I've come across. I'm also an avaricious reader so I'm pretty confident I know good writing when I see it and I'm equally confident that my writing doesn't come close to what I'd consider strong. Still, I'm happy that I'm able to communicate effectively with my writing and I know that it's largely because I grew up with a very strong editor in the person of my Mom.
What caused me to think of this is this post by Fred Wilson in which he writes about how he came to writing late in life and how he wants to help his children realize the gift that is effective writing:
But I still struggle to help my children with their written work. I find it easy to help with Math and Science homework. I know how to ask them the questions that lead to the insights that help them answer the questions themselves. But when I read a draft paper that isn't the best they can do, I struggle to help them. I certainly don't want to edit the paper. I want them to edit it. But it's hard to find the words, the strategies, and the ways to inspire them to improve it. I've noticed that the best english and history teachers usually ask their students to hand in a draft, which they mark up, and then the students are asked to write a final version. I think that's a great way to go. I guess I suffer from never having had an editor or an editor's job. I'm just a self taught writer. (Emphasis mine: Jon)
Communication skills are so important in life. The investment I've made in my communication skills over the past eight years is paying huge dividends for me now. I want to help my kids make the same investment, just much earlier in life. I know it will come in handy and I know it will be a great source of pleasure for them thoughout their life.
Believe me, when I was in high school and my Mom reviewed my papers and returned them with more red than black on the page, I didn't feel lucky. But when I got to college and had papers returned with comments from my professors that said things like, "Your argument probably doesn't merit an 'A', but I was so relieved to get something intelligible that I just couldn't resist giving it to you," I knew that I'd truly lucked out having my toughest editor raise me.
Fred's right in saying that communication is more important than ever, and while you'd think that the rise of Youtube and other DIY multimedia tools would reduce the importance of the written word I think it has, and will continue to have, the opposite effect. Being able to write means being able to think logically and to organize your thoughts in such a way that you enable others to understand them. Those skills are just as important, maybe more so, in today's multimedia age and I think we do our children a great disservice if we don't give them the tools to communicate effectively.
Mom, if you're reading this, thanks for the gift!