Preparation for writing

When I read Ken Ilgunas’s book Trespassing Across America Sunday evening, one sentence leaped out at me:

Cover of Trespassing America shows man in hiking gear balancing on a large pipe.
The hike wasn’t this carefree.

The only thing that would prepare me for a long-distance hike, I realized, was a long-distance hike.

In many ways, writing is like that long-distance hike. There’s only one way to prepare for writing, and that’s by writing.

And, as with Ilgunas’s hike along the XL Pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, writers aren’t really prepared for writing until they’ve written day after day, in all kinds of whether, no matter whether there’s anybody around to notice or not.

Doing isn’t necessarily understanding

The last two weeks, I’ve worked every day to learn how to create document templates in OpenOffice that contain everything I need for a project I expect to go on for several years.

The effort has reminded me daily of the difference between being able to do something and understanding what you’re doing.

In certain academic areas — writing and math come to mind immediately — being able to perform operations without understanding what you’re doing is as bad, if not worse, than not being able to perform those tasks at all.

The problem is even more serious in non-academic settings.

Imagine a pilot, accountant, surgeon, or cashier who knows how to perform certain actions but doesn’t understand the consequences of those actions.

You may not have to imagine the cashier. You might have seen that person on your last trip to the superstore.

If someone can’t explain:

  • what they are doing

  • why they are doing what they are doing

  • what the previous action had to have been to get them to this step

  • what effect their action will have if it’s done right

  • what effect their action will have if it’s done wrong

  • what the effect of not doing that action at all would be

  • what the next action must be

that person doesn’t know what she’s doing.

Do you make sure your students know what they are doing?

Teaching: Those who can, do

You’ve heard it said with reference to writing that "Those who can [write], do, and those who can’t [write], teach [writing]."

However, it’s is often true that those who do write, can’t teach writing.

And it’s sometimes true that those who can’t teach writing, do.

And it’s always true that those who can’t teach writing, shouldn’t.