By Zach Goodrow
Before I begin, I want to explain where I am coming from with a title like the one above. First, I had a great English teacher in high school. If there were a category for teachers who had no idea what they were talking about, she would not be one of them. She was brilliant and one of the biggest reasons I succeeded in college.
However, many people do not know how to teach people how to write. Some of that can be contributed to the fact that many people do not know how to write themselves. To make matters worse, teaching someone to write is difficult, and many teachers try to simplify the process. This simplification makes it difficult to teach people to write well because writing is not a simple task.
But there is a way to condense lessons learned from writing giants into a few points, which is what I have tried to do here.
Most of this list comes from a compilation of Jordan Peterson’s teachings, and a writer I follow on Twitter. This list is also not exhaustive, but I have seen these specific things plague student writing from kids in middle school to adults in doctoral programs, so if you can master these things, you will certainly be ahead of the game.
I knew these concepts, but I didn’t know how to formulate them into a condensed list until I read from both of those men. Anywho, here is a list of things your English teacher (may have) never taught you about writing.
1. Writing Makes You Dangerous
Learning how to write makes you a threat because if you can write, you can think. If you can think, then people will struggle to take advantage of you.
And in case some may argue that might is more powerful than writing, consider this. The Romans had the best military technology of the time; the Jews wrote a book. Only the latter is still around today.
2. Following All the Rules Makes You a Robot
If I, or anyone else, were to follow all the rules of writing, our writing would be better off coming from robots. Don’t use contractions. And do not begin your sentences with conjunctions. And you probably shouldn’t use “you”. All of these rules are good for beginners, but they make your writing boring and detached.
3. Not Following Any of the Rules Makes Your Writing Foolish
You can’t just ignore all the conventional rules of grammar and expect people to be able to follow along. If you’re building a bridge, you can change the decorations and flourish as you please, but you can’t change that you still need to have a beam over some water for it to be a bridge.
4. Do Not Stop Reading
There will always be people that can write better than you. The only way you will learn how to write better is if you read the writing of people who are better than you. So read (or listen) constantly
5. If You Write About Something You Hate, You’re Lying
This rule applies more so in college than high school. In higher education, the higher ups have this weird desire to make everyone a Marxist. Which means most of the papers I had to write had this strange “oppressor vs. oppressed” theme to them. I hated writing them because I knew they weren’t true, but I knew what my professors wanted, so I wrote them anyway. I lied.
I regret that more than anything else I did in college. I wouldn’t have done that if I could go back and change things. I know better now.
6. If You Don’t Listen to “the Other Side” You Will Become Ideologically Possessed.
Up until very recently, both sides were right about a few things. Neither side is right about everything. It is not good for anyone to become party blind. There are things to learn from the other side. Going to a liberal school made me a more articulate conservative. Don’t underestimate the other side’s ability to give you ammunition.
7. Write Like You Talk, But Don’t Talk Ignorantly
The goal is for your papers to sound like you’re writing them. So make it sound like you’re writing them. Write you’re talking to an audience. It will make it more persuasive. However, you can’t convince people of something if you come across as an idiot. If your paper were to be represented in how you dress, you’d want to wear a button down. But have the sleeves rolled up.
8. Do Not Fear Long Sentences
Sometimes, in order to explain something well, you have to explain it all in one thought as if it were a tapestry being woven together by a single thread or a spider’s web woven by one string.
9. Don’t Fear Short Sentences
They can help make a point. Or they can add emphasis. Both are necessary when arguing.
10. Be Careful With “Always” and “Never”
Those words are powerful and all-inclusive. Most situations are not either “always” situations or “never” situations. Most instances call for a “most of the time” or “rarely”. Remember that before you throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes always and never are exactly the right words, but most times they are not.
11. Don’t Fiddle With a Word Count
Writing shouldn’t be based on a word quota. Make your point as thoroughly as possible in as few words as possible. Don’t have filler. Make every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph fit in your overall argument and you will more than satisfy an arbitrary number of words. Write to make your point, not your word quota.
12. Write As Often As You Can
Keep a journal or twelve and fill them all in a year. Don’t let elaborate thoughts go to waste. If your mind is racing and you can’t sleep, write. If you read something that uproots your mind and shakes your thoughts, write about it. You may surprise yourself at what comes to your mind, especially when you begin to write frequently.
Again, this list is not exhaustive, but I hope it is helpful. If you get better at writing, give the credit to the Lord. If you get worse at writing, blame your English teacher like you always do and no one will be any the wiser.
From one writer to another,
Soli Deo Gloria