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!
I can relate to the ‘self taught’ concept. At the risk of sounding old and crotchety, much of what we had the privilege of learning about the written word was from reading well written works – works that were the main text available to read. (brace for crotchety part) THESE DAYS, so much of our reading time is spent in front of online works, social media and a vast array of e-books that have not been forced through the jury of peers and editors. The result is a sea of bad stuff that can become our model for our own creative outcome.
Likewise, much of what I learned about public speaking came from listening to great speakers. The art of verbal communication and rapier rhetoric is becoming a lost commodity.
Kim, Ive been accused by my kids of being similarly crotchety and I guess theyre right. With the help of my wife Ive opened my mind a bit – watching my boys play their video games online with and against friends Ive been amazed at the creativity and collaboration involved. (Most of them are war-related since these are teenage boys, but I can still see the positive side of it). The relationship to what were talking about here is that the kids really do have so many different media outlets that youd think that they would be suffering on the dead-tree side of things. To the contrary they all read quite a bit, and most interesting to me, they really seem to enjoy exploring the longer story arc that novels provide. Ive also been tickled to see the light go off when they realize that the plot line from one of their favorite movies is essentially a direct rip-off of Shakespeare.
Maybe our household is an anomaly, but my pre-online experience leads me to believe that its not because of the digital revolution. Back in the pre-internet dark ages I was considered weird by my peers because I enjoyed reading and regularly read books, magazines and newspapers even though no one was making me, and when I got to college I was astonished to find that hardly anyone read for pleasure. Im willing to bet that thanks to social media more people read for pleasure now than back in the day but I seriously doubt theyre reading great works. Id say thats an improvement except that, like you, I worry that the truly talented folks out there will be lost in the shuffle. Flip side of that coin? More people who should have been published but were kept out by a gatekeeper (editor) who was having a bad day will be able to get their work out there for public consumption. Thats my glass half-full outlook!
Thanks for the comment!