Professional Writing

the unspoken prerequisites of professional writing courses

You have to want to write. And I understand that’s not easy.

This summer I did a one-day presentation at a writing institute for teachers, talking about technology and education as I often do. At one point I was talking about Twitter and microblogging a live event. One of the teachers commented on how that would make her feel uncomfortable–that she wouldn’t be able to experience the event and document it at the same time.

I understood her point, but to me it doesn’t meant that you aren’t experiencing the event; it means that you are experiencing the event in a new way, through a new lens. The photographer often sees the world as if s/he is looking through the lens, regardles of whether a camera is available or not. There is a kind of split there. Artists see the world differently, writers included. We see the crevices of perception and thought, of subjective experience, that we can write into; the ambiguity of language that creates possibilities and knowledge through composition; the habits of practice and genre that generate ideas (like a tendency to make lists of three).

It is a difficult thing to ask of students. Of course you can get away with just writing. It happens all the time and it’s easy to see in students’ writing… how they push away any danger of thinking, any possibility of cracking open the world like that. They get the job done and try to think about it as little as possible. They have all the mechanical tools they’ve been taught over the years being taught how to write by people who are not writers. They have the prophylactics that will allow one to produce text without any danger of being affected by the process.

But you’ll never write anything interesting that way. You can complete assignments. You can be a functional communicator, I guess. And those things are fine. There’s no sin in not wanting to be a writer. There’s nothing wrong with not want to write.

Just don’t take a professional writing class.