• B. G. Kelley

Writing Matters

REAL WRITING has been dumbed down by social media.

Generations growing up in the technological age communicate primarily through texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Real writing, indeed, real critical thinking is lost. Both the young and adults need to move more to a comprehension of what good writing is --- and it’s not in 140 characters.

For sure, writing skills need to be ramped up, particularly among our young.

For years now, college presidents have been hearing from leaders in the workworld to focus more on improving students’ writing skills. Why? College graduates were and are coming into the workforce without requisite writing skills, thus not adequate communication skills. It is my contention that students who learn how to write an essay, or a story, or a report, or a profile, or a critical thinking opinion piece will have little difficulty finding, advancing in, and keeping a job in an information-driven society.

But, alas, the majority of our young --- boys and girls --- don’t like to write, except for text messaging, or Facebook and Twitter posting. I understand. Sitting down and writing isn’t easy (okay, the sitting down part is easy). Writing is about patience, persistence, attention to details --- putting in the time. And those virtues defy the culture and lifestyle of our young today: an impatient insistence on getting things done quickly, as if everything should be like fast food --- a skate-through, if you will.

Thinking critically, creatively, and organizationally takes time in order to produce the heft, depth, and breadth that results in meaningful, substantive writing.

I have taught a writing course to seniors at International Christian High School now for 18 years. I teach 28 principles of writing. The most important one is “Show, just don’t Tell”. If you “Tell” me something, support it with “Show” through stories, examples, explanation, reasoning, quotes, re-creating a scene, description. That’s the heft, depth and breadth required for meaningful, substantive writing. An analogy: A desk top is the “Tell”, the legs the “support”. Without the support, the desk top will collapse. So will a writing piece without “Show”.

There, too, must be a love of language. If so, there will be a willingness to persevere and persist to produce good, substantive writing.

Recently, one student returned to visit me. The first thing out of his mouth was: “I’m so thankful I took your course. It was the most important class I took in terms of preparing me for the rigors of writing in college. I was lifted to writing once I saw the convincing power of language. I will admit I suffered through the demands of your class, but in the end I was a better student and person for the suffering.”

Exercising a healthy attitude toward language will enable students to recognize its power to persuade, dissuade; enrage, engage; inspire, aspire; blame, shame. Good, effective writing can make us laugh and cry; heal what is broken; rail against inequities; change and be changed; motivate and move us toward a better self; forgive transgressions. One student wrote a powerful essay forgiving someone who had bullied her, and the bully apologized; another wrote a story about a mission trip she went on, and it motivated another student to go on one.

Then, too, it is imperatively important to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite --- and rewrite. Embracing the notion that no writing piece is ever done on the first draft, not a story, not a song, not a poem, not a film, remains an anchor of good writing. Rewriting not only gets rid of clutter (unnecessary words, phrases and sentences that muddle meaning and communication and burden pace and rhythm) but also provides the opportunity to make it stronger substantively.

So, real writing --- indeed, telling stories --- matters for our young, perhaps more than other subject they will study in their educational careers. Writing will elevate their literacy, their critical thinking, their self-confidence, indeed, their imagination as adults.

Succinctly, stories tell us who we are (at our best and our worst), who we might be, who we ought to be. Stories give us a better sense of ourselves — they connect us to others, and, assuredly, to our world.

I know.

Over the years students in my writing course at International Christian High School have written stories about growing up without a father; losing a soccer championship; going through cancer treatments with their mother; reconciling with a brother returning home from prison; playing the guitar at a musical prayer meeting and seeing tears fall from the eyes of those listening; losing a best friend to the streets; gaining a best friend at school; receiving no presents at Christmas; being bullied; receiving unexpected love from a youth pastor; being conferred in confidence by a teacher.

Putting a focus on improving writing skills will work in many positive ways for our young.

For their entire lives.

B.G. Kelley is a nationally-published writer and author.

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