I fired our writing teacher.

I was hesitant to fire her because she is the only black person my son has ever talked to outside of a store setting. But once I started thinking like that, I knew I had to fire her.

The more papers she assigned, the more I wondered why anyone still pushes that kind of writing.

So many writing teachers will say that people who write clearly think clearly. And teachers tell kids they need to learn to “write well” because writing is good in and of itself. But actually having good ideas is what’s good, not being able to write well about them.

And this is a great time to tell you that many, many scientists in the US speak English as a second language and have someone else write their papers, which is a great example of how the ideas are more important than being able to write about them.

I think my son needs to learn how to search better. He asked me why Slaughterhouse Five is about war. That was a good question. Guess where I sent him? SparkNotes. There was a two-paragraph summary of the book that answered his question. He could have written a paper to answer the question, but that would be absurd when millions of people have already answered the question online.

What about taking another approach? Teach kids to write short. I don’t want to read a five-paragraph essay from anyone. People pay attention to brevity, and as we shift faster and faster to a video-based, emoji-laced language, words must get shorter and shorter.

Actually, I think my son just needs to write without adverbs. You can’t go wrong if you leave adverbs out. And that’s not just the -ly words. But you don’t have to learn all the adverb rules, you can just use adverbless to take out the adverbs from all of your writing. I love this tool. I love the sentiment that writing well isn’t rocket science it’s just caring enough to take a second pass at what you’ve done.

McSweeney’s recently published a list of letters Nick Hornby wrote to explain why his kid’s homework wasn’t done. And Hornby begs the question, “What if kids declined to write assignments they didn’t like?”

Hornby uses the language of the work world to show us that when we don’t want to write something as adults, we weasel out of it. Here are two of my favorites, but you should go read them all. You’ll never want your kid to write another school essay again.

Dear Mrs D,
Thanks for your homework. Your idea of writing a Christmas ghost story was a good one, but it’s not really the kind of thing I tend to do — it’s a little bit too genre for my tastes. Try Kevin, who sits next to me. He loves that stuff.

Dear Mrs D,
It’s a no, as you’ve probably guessed. The problem for me is that it’s too similar to something I did quite recently, and though I know you’ll say that you’re asking for a book report of a different book, the form and shape of book reports are sufficiently alike for me to conclude that the homework would feel a bit stale. If I’m going to commit an hour of my life to something, I’d want to feel stimulated by the freshness of the challenge. I hope we can get to do something together soon!

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50 replies
  1. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Gotta disagree with you on this one. Having ideas IS important, but so is being able to relay them to others comprehensively…which is why the scientists you referred to hired somebody else. Here’s an everyday example: as an Operations Manager at a local bank, I worked with a VP who simply could not communicate on writing articulately. Whenever he sent out a memo, it was full of errors and sometimes it was simply difficult to understand just what he was trying to get across. This lack of writing skills caused others to view him with less respect, which of course, effected his day to day interactions. Right or wrong, people just didn’t take him as seriously. How we communicate matters, as I’m sure you realize as you write your blog. You could hire someone else to do it, but can someone else convey your original ideas as well as you? My guess is that you enjoyed Mr. Hornby’s notes because he writes them so well…adverbs and all. ;)

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    The only useful thing I learned about writing in school was a basic essay format. My Freshman English teacher used a book called _The Lively Art of Writing_ by Lucille Vaughan Payne. It was, and remains, a great starting point for writing and supporting an argument.

    That’s it. Almost everything else I’ve learned about writing, I’ve learned by writing and either evaluating my work myself, or by putting it out there in the world and seeing how people responded to it, or having it edited by someone who knew what they were doing — and then writing some more based on what I learned.

    Oh, and of course I did learn valuable things about how to be interesting in Penelope’s “How to Write About Your Life” course, available for you to view now at quistic.com.

  3. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I wonder if you could add some references to substantiate your assertion that many, many scientists hire ghost writers for their articles because of their lack of English fluency.

    I believe it is common knowledge that high-level science education is delivered mostly in English the world over, because that’s the language most textbooks and articles are published in. This means that, in the sciences, many people can read and write fluently in English, but not speak fluently.

    I’m sure some scientists hire translators, but scientific writing is much easier than colloquial speech, from a linguistic perspective, especially given the vocabulary that doesn’t even exist in other languages.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Yes, I would find it extremely problematic if scientists were all hiring ghostwriters; however, hiring an editor is completely understandable even for those who use English as a first language.

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      To me, whether scientists hire writers is beside the point. Science writing really is just to convey information without regard to internal form. Writing as an art is something else.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      There are three chemistry Phd’s in my family, and I have friends at three major research institutions. It happens all the time.

      Here’s how my brother explained it: When you get to the top tier in the whole world for science, it’s statistically unlikely that the majority of those people are American, or even have English as a first language.

      He has been the only native English speaker in his lab at two very large universities. Scientists are bored with the crafting of the English language. That’s not what they studied. They are able to convey the scientific ideas just fine. Writing them for a top journal is another story.

      To be honest, very few people native English speakers have a command of English that could get into a national publication without a copyeditor. For example, when is followup one word and when is it not? And when is it hyphenated? Few people would know the answer to that in 100% of the cases.

      But that’s another story.


      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        Personal anecdotes, then. I got those too.

        Top tier biomedical scientists come to my house for dinner regularly. Yes, they’re usually foreign, but they all speak English, and read and write it much better than they speak it.

        Your brother’s experience is unusual; maybe his university is economizing.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Bostonian and P,

          I think that ghost writing is not what is happening, that would be unethical for top research scientists to hire people to write papers for them, and several research universities consider ghost writing to be plagiarism. If you are talking about hiring a copy editor and a translator, that isn’t ghost writing. I would question any research paper that was written by a ghost writer. I’m not talking about research assistants either, it is established that they help with the writing, but then they also get credit for it whereas ghost writers get zero credit. So I think it was just a misuse of the word ghost writer, instead of copy editor. Copy editors can be hired to go through each word and change it around to make another persons writing better, they will be the ones who fix words like follow up vs follow-up etc. on the other hand ghost writers write the entire paper and I can’t logically see how ghost writers would be able to, on their own, explain quantum mechanics or describe a chemical formula in a research paper. If an ESL scientist has written their paper, it is acceptable for them to hire a copy editor or translator to make it readable in English. I don’t think we would be challenging so much if the word ghost writer had not been used.

          • Anna
            Anna says:

            I assumed it meant someone to verbalize things that the scientist wants to convey. I guess actual ghost writing is someone else writing a book with ideas other than the named person’s own (i.e. the actual writer’s ideas) but in that person’s name. Such as when a well-known person “writes” a book, but that person didn’t really write it all nor think of the ideas, at all, but has that person’s name as the author. That doesn’t happen in scientific fields, as far as I know. Such a thing would be outside a scientist’s purview. There would be no point to that. A ghost writer would not have superior ideas to a scientist’s or the person would be writing their own papers. So I assumed it was something more like bridging the gap between data and clear and accurate verbal written form.

      • Hannah
        Hannah says:

        My husband is the only person in his research group that intends to write more than a first draft of his publications. When scientists get requests for revisions, they automatically assume they must do more research even when most non-scientists would just re-write the paper.

        Usually an English speaking undergrad research assistant looking for a second author call out will update the words.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          – unless you are in a non-STEM field authorship should be associated with a scientific contributions. Correcting words goes into the “acknowledgements”.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      sorry – this is not really the case. Many european countries deliver lectures in their native language, teaching in China is in chinese, and South America uses spanish or portugese in their universities, Russia still teaches in Russian. The written language is science is english but teaching at the student level still is done in many different native languages.

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        You’re right. At many top scientific universities, like ETH and NUS, the language of instruction is English, but at others the lectures will be in a local language and only all the texts and publications will be in English.

        But that still counts for something. Even a scientist who never leaves Sao Paolo will still publish in English. It isn’t a coming to America thing.

    • linda
      linda says:

      I worked as a ghostwriter for several academic scientists and science educators. Primarily I was writing their grant proposals, also some other documents. Two of my bosses could not have written the grant proposals themselves, they did not have the intellect or project planning skills. I had to lead from below because these bosses could not drive the process or the planning. I wound up feeling it was unethical, even though the universities had no problem with it, and I left it behind.

      About every university scientist gets their name on papers written by their grad students, sometimes as first author, depending on the field.

  4. Amy Kovach
    Amy Kovach says:

    I’ve noticed this theme in many posts about how it is not important for children to do things they don’t want to do or enjoy doing. It seems based on the greater assumption that most adults don’t have to do things they don’t want to do either – that they pay others to do them, or arrange their lives in such a way as to avoid them.

    I really don’t think this is an accurate assessment of adult life. Each of us (regardless of how much money we have or how perfectly suited our lifestyle/job is) have a whole suite of tasks and responsibilities that require a level of self discipline. From flossing our teeth to managing our email’s in-box, from filling the car with gas, to cleaning the kitchen after cooking a delicious meal, from politely sitting in meetings and engaging with unpleasant people, to filling out tax forms or aggravating reports, life consists of a certain percentage of tasks that we would rather avoid. To learn to approach and manage those with enthusiasm, grace and good humor, to see them as small parts of a larger whole, seems essential to a well adjusted adulthood. To allow our children to avoid things that aren’t appealing to them seems to me to be doing them a disservice.

    I’m not specifically addressing whether writing skills are needed, or math or whatever. I just think the overall theme is concerning.

    As the mother of grown children, I guess I see how this from a bit of a different perspective.

    • Jim Grey
      Jim Grey says:

      While you have a good point that we all have things we simply have to do whether we like it or not, I think the lower you are on the socioeconomic ladder, the more you can’t avoid doing, because you lack the resources to do otherwise. But it seems to me that the audience here is largely middle class and above, and we do have resources to some extent to avoid doing things we don’t want to. I hate doing my taxes, even though they’re pretty simple, so I pay an accountant to do them. Someone in a lower class with fewer resources can’t afford to do that. I am highly skilled in my field and there’s high demand for what I do, so if I’m in a bad work situation I can find another job pretty easily and not have to put up with the nonsense. That kind of thing.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      First, I really like how you summarized this blog. I think you have a point — many posts do come down to my thinking that people should not do what they don’t choose to do.

      When I clean up dishes from a meal it’s because I want to cook for my family and I want a clean house. When I took biology in school I absolutely could not think of why I would want to take that class. I did not care and I did not want to do anything having to do with science.

      In adult life we each choose our life. We make choices every day by saying “here’s my top priority” and then we do the things we need to do to accomplish our top priority. We might do something we don’t like, but the context of that task is that we choose to do it because it gets us something we want.

      This cannot be said of kids studying topics they don’t care about. It’s circular: they study topics they don’t care about so they can go to college to study topics they don’t care about. Then they go to the workforce and those topics are irrelevant to them.

      Adult life is not like that.


  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What were you expecting from a writing teacher other than writing assignments?

    It sounds like you might want to take advantage of writing workshops that will teach your kids this:

    -Write what matters to them
    -Understand the strategies needed to draft, revise, edit, and publish
    -Effectively put language to use
    -Write to a specific audience with purpose
    – Apply correct conventions and form

    Usually one can find something like this in suburban and urban areas and it is less intensive than having a teacher assign papers without meaning or context. I have several of these options available to me, you might have something similar close to Madison.

  6. redrock
    redrock says:

    I find writing an excellent filter for ideas – but it also needs practice. If you always wait for a great idea to roll around before you start writing you will never get the practice. It is like practicing scales on an instrument – it is not a creative thing and does not even sound beautiful but it essential to mastery.

    And, I don’t know any scientist who does not write their own publications. Second language or not, although the vocabulary and sentence structures in scientific publications is definitely simpler then in a discussion of Shakespeare novels.

  7. Jen
    Jen says:

    Oh boy.

    I can promise you that the vast, vast majority of academic researchers do not have the extra money to hire someone to write their papers, nor would most of them want to farm out the communication of their work, which is a very personal, creative process. (Proofreading/editing is another matter and a smart option.) If principal investigators aren’t doing the bulk of the writing, their postdocs and grad students are (as the latter groups are actually doing the experiments, this makes sense).

    I have a recent PhD in a biomed field from a public Ivy and now work as a science writer and editor. I worked in academic research for well over a decade and now work with academic researchers. I can confirm that poorly written articles get rejected by journals—not poor in terms of grammar, but poor in terms of an inability to clearly convey ones ideas. Poorly written grant applications get rejected even before the funding association meets for a study section. I know this, because many such documents get sent to me to be edited in the hopes that they can be salvaged for publication or resubmission. If a researcher cannot clearly describe his or her work, the ideas and results cannot be transmitted to others, including me. If the writing is bad enough that I can’t make heads or tails of the intended message, I can’t help the researcher.

    Leaving aside articles and grant applications, which are absolutely crucial (you’ve heard the phrase “publish or perish”, right? It is completely true), if your son intends to complete a graduate degree, he’s going to need to be able to write a thesis or dissertation. He will need a strong enough command of the language to be able to describe his findings and explain 1) how they support or refute his hypotheses and 2) how they fit into the context of the existing body of knowledge about that subject. He will need to write applications for grants and professional memberships. He will need to write multiple essays during the application process. If his program is anything like mine, he will need to be able to write short, thoughtful essays in response to exam questions and longer research proposals in order to advance to doctoral candidacy.

    Maybe the previous writing teacher wasn’t a good fit, but that doesn’t mean that writing papers is stupid. It means that you need to find another approach to help your son succeed. Maybe try a technical writing approach.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      that is what I was also saying – none of my colleagues has a ghostwriter or professional editor. We share the work among ourselves and then discuss. Change, rewrite, discuss….

  8. Dave in VA
    Dave in VA says:

    >>actually having good ideas is what’s good, not being able to write well about them.<<

    I had a very good idea about how to respond to this article, but you'll never know what it was, because articulating it in prose isn't "what's good," and isn't as important as having the idea itself.

    What do you think of my idea? Don't bother responding with a post, just think your response. According to Penelope, that's the preferred method.

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      Thank you! That was a great response. Also, if all you ever do is have your kids search for other people’s opinions how will they learn to form their own. There were many things I didn’t have an opinion on until I actually had to think about them to write a paper

      • Betsy
        Betsy says:

        Yes! Writing is an excellent way to process thoughts and to figure how and why we think and feel the way we do.

        I learned to self-edit my speech better by self-editing my writing better.

  9. Moms on the Sidelines
    Moms on the Sidelines says:

    The problem is schools aren’t teaching kids how to write well. They’re teaching them how to follow the rules of writing. Not the same. There is benefit to learning how to influence and engage others with your writing. But that’s not being taught in our school system. My daughter had to write 7 different essays about The Wizard of Oz. It was painful (for both of us) and redundant. I can’t believe the teacher read 7 essays from every single kid about the same damn book. It’s a form of torture.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      Unfortunately there will always be uninspired teachers out there but there can be good ones too. My son has two amazing high school English teachers. Interestingly though, the only taught the honors or AP classes.

  10. Dana
    Dana says:

    Great post and I completely agree. With my children we did one writing course and then I didn’t do anything after that. I beat myself up plenty — especially because I have a BA in English. However son #1 just graduated from college with a 4.0 and son #2 is a sophomore also with a 4.0. They have written plenty of papers in college and I do proof them before they turn them in — but they have self learned it.

    What we did instead of writing papers is snuggle on the couch with good books. I wish I had known it was that easy and didn’t second guess myself constantly. I think my role now is to tell other home school moms to enjoy your kids — it goes too fast. I still have one left at home.

    Now, when are you going to tackle testing? My oldest son’s first test was in driver’s ed — and he was unsure of how to mark the dots! :) He is very well adjusted now. Keep up the good work!

    • Stabat Mater
      Stabat Mater says:

      Thanks! I needed to hear this. Exactly what is in my heart, but then I hear my friends who have their kids registered with a HS program writing paper, after paper, after paper. I did that in school & remember very little, AND had to completely change my writing style in college & real life.

      My kids can discuss the books they read in depth, and I see how great literature transforms them to be better, more thoughtful people. I don’t see that happening readily with most kids their age who are writing and rewriting and being tested on such material.

      My kids will write freely about things that inspire them, and so we work from that point into editing & final drafts.

      And my kids write MUCH better thank you notes than any kid we know and most of the adults, too. LOL

      I am not saying kids should not be taught to write at all, however, the amount of writing in EVERY subject these days is becoming as oppressive to authentic learning as testing.

  11. Jules
    Jules says:

    You wrote an organized, coherent blog post about why it’s dumb to learn how to write. Seems ironic.Sure, your child may never have a blog, but he will not be able to completely avoid written communication.

  12. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I think this goes way too far. I’m sure we sometimes overvalue those who can “write,” and there are other ways to generate ideas (particularly in the sciences). Writing shouldn’t be so sacralized that other things like manual skill, or physical ability are devalued as a result. But, it’s just true that learning to write better makes you a better thinker. “Having good ideas” and “writing about ideas” isn’t mutually exclusive, particularly when talking about the Humanities and social sciences. Too many good ideas have come about because someone wrestled with them through writing. Plus, there’s a personal benefit; the ability to dialogue with oneself is improved through writing because that’s essentially what writing is. Writing can be crucial to the development of one’s inner life. And scientists who speak other languages might have others write their papers in English but you can guarantee that they write plenty in their own languages. You’re just maiming yourself unnecessarily if you refuse to cultivate your ability to write.

  13. Blandy
    Blandy says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. I declined to write several assignments throughout my education, most notably an 8th grade paper on Huckleberry Finn, and they were defining moments in my academic career. (Thank you, Mr. Wilson. I owe you more than you will ever know for handling my defiance the way you did.) And yet…the lessons I learned about organizing my thoughts in paper-writing informed the framework of a short speech I gave a few weeks ago that received rave reviews.

    I guess the question is — is the structure of academic writing limiting or freeing? In my case it is freeing, but I can’t answer for others.

  14. non
    non says:

    Aren’t you trying to teach your sons grits? and to achieve what you want some time you have to go through what you don’t want? I don’t mean that in a way of banging your head to the wall hoping to lessen the headache, but as in we have to take in the bad with the good. Because nothing, no world, no path is perfect.

    You are a very dedicated and determined mom, trying to make your sons’ paths as smooth as possible, but in doing so, aren’t you undermining their endurance and their coping skills?

    I also think that writing well is a great life skill :)

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


      In this case she is admitting she made a mistake in hiring a writing teacher. There are better ways for someone to learn writing than being assigned paper after paper after paper that don’t interest the learner. Writing workshops are a good way to get those skills.

  15. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Writing is considered one of the hallmarks of civilization from way back in ancient history. But the reasons for writing and the ways we use it have changed drastically over time. I think the skills involved in writing effectivly are important but the way they are taught is often abysmal and ineffective. The skills it takes to write a Twitter post, a LinkedIn article, a screenplay, a sci fi short story, and a reasearch paper are all different. If you know the kind of writing you are doing, who your audience is, can summarize your ideas and convey them appropriately with good grammar, then you have the tools you need for success. Practice makes writing better, but kill and drill on outdated modes of communication dose not. I think it’s finding ways to practice the kinds of writing that are meaningful and purposeful that are important. There are tons of tutorials about how to write various types of things from Wickapedia articles to the reasearch paper link above. Because I know she is going to have to write papers in college, we train for that now but not to the point of overkill. I use the e book version of Writing With Skill by Susan Wise Bauer as a guide for teaching my middle school kid the basic mechanics, but we don’t do all the drills all the time if she can prove she understands the how and the why behind things. We do use the essay topic ideas suggested by Sparknotes after we read a book on occasion, but we usually put our own spin on them. Friends of ours have had great success with the Cover Story and One Year Adventure Novel workshops which are DVDs based and set up to work at your own pace. They teach a middle school or high school kid how to write in a specific genre if that’s what interests them. Again its passion and purpose that count. Still writing is a skill that developes with practice and sometimes just like with violin, practice is a necessary evil and an ends to a means. But that doesn’t mean you have to write pointless papers in outdated genres to get your practice in.

  16. INTJ Professor
    INTJ Professor says:

    Writing in the genre which interests the writer, or in which the writer will eventually be expected to write, is one path to producing non-stupid writing. If your son is reading peer-edited papers in his field, he’s reading one of the kinds of writing he’ll be expected to do when he gets his PhD. It’s possible to build that kind of writing into the study of whatever science he’s headed for. This is called “WID”: Writing in the Disciplines.

  17. John
    John says:

    You say writing doesn’t matter if you have great ideas, but sometimes great writing IS the idea. There’s art in the writing itself. Netflix has got plenty of movies on tragic love, but there’s only one “Romeo and Juliet”! And your example of Sparknotes is akin to the ubiquitous kid complaint: “why do I need to learn arithmetic if I can just use a calculator?”

  18. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    Writing papers in a coercive (or manipulative) environment when they are unrelated to your freely chosen values, is stupid.

  19. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “What about taking another approach?”

    Whatever approach is taken, it’s aim should be to inspire, engage, and make the writing (communication) process fun and yet productive. I’m thinking writing for kids today is much different than it was for me. Searching, collecting, organizing, and distilling information into something meaningful for a report now utilizes the Internet, cloud-based and computer based apps. There’s a lot of cut and paste and linking to other sources in addition to the original writing required to bind everything together with summaries and conclusions. The kids today will be held to standards currently in place once they enter college and the workforce so they’ll have to be aware and capable to the extent necessary. However, they will also incorporate their own writing communication style into the workforce once they get there. The same was true with social media with Gen Y. Social media was met with resistance in the workforce by older generations initially. I’m not saying social media is used to publish papers. However, the means and ways of communication are different with each new generation.
    Writing is being taught differently in some schools. There’s a book I’m aware of that’s written by a teacher (Vicki Davis) named Reinventing Writing. It’s written for teachers to teach students how to write using technology by having them write with collaboration tools and other apps. She has a blog and there’s a post ( http://www.coolcatteacher.com/teach-writing-skills-using-powerful-prompts-to-inspire-students-to-write/ ) I liked where she does an interview with John Spencer. An 11 minute podcast. One reason I’m citing it here is because he encourages multimedia (photos, videos, etc.) to be used as writing ideas. Especially good for learners who are more comfortable with visual prompts.

  20. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Here’s one take on a modern writing class:

    Give each tenth-grader a box of shit from Goodwill. Require they sell it all on eBay within a month. Enforce (maybe this is the hardest part) that real customers must buy the stuff.

    Grade them by the $$$ raised.

  21. Jeff Till
    Jeff Till says:

    Great post, Penelope. Thanks!

    Purely anecdotal, I’m a pro ghost writer for business executives and have had a successful career doing it. I never wrote anything in school or had any training, the first paper I wrote, beyond some proposals, was a paid assignment. Understanding and formulating ideas has always been more important than writing skills, which can be learned on the fly.

    Even after 20 years and a couple $million in fees I still have to look up grammar rules and vocabulary online daily.

    I hope my kids take a shine to writing and find that they enjoy it, but making them write papers for the sake of learning writing skills seems like a waste of time, if not outright cruel.


  22. Morénike
    Morénike says:

    My thoughts on writing, etc. have been addressed by other commenters, so there is not need for me to be repetitive.

    However, I find it pretty concerning that no one (or, if I missed a comment, almost no one) mentioned what a travesty it is that a child of this age never interacts with Black people outside of store settings. Yes, I realize that rural Wisconsin is not exactly full of people of color. But there ARE some Black people in Madison, and there are DEFINITELY Black people in the New York area. If one can find Black people in Russia, Mexico, China, and South Korea, certainly they can be located in the United States. We live in a global society and learning about other cultures is one thing, but personal connection is another. It’s good to have knowledge and appreciation of others’ backgrounds, but that doesn’t negate the importance of developing some sort of relationship or friendship.

  23. Carrie Pomeroy
    Carrie Pomeroy says:

    My son has learned to write really effectively, and in a way that I think is more appropriate for most of the real-life writing situations he’s going to confront, through his interest in video games and online role-playing games. He posts a lot on video game-related forums to help answer other people’s questions or pose his own. He’s written reviews of video games for a blog our homeschool co-op created. As part of his role-playing games, he often has to argue complicated points, write detailed process descriptions to explain how games should be played and what the rules are, and work out misunderstandings and disagreements with other players–all through writing. I love that his primary experience with writing so far has been writing with real purpose, directed at audiences he values and cares about. Much more valuable experience, in my opinion, than churning out five-paragraph essays about topics he cares nothing about.

  24. Erin
    Erin says:

    I can’t stop thinking about this post.

    First I want to acknowledge that a bunch people commenting on a blog post are going to categorically value writing more than the general population. But, having said that…

    I think writing is important, but it’s useless alone.

    I also think ideas are important, but you have to have some Really Good Ideas in order to get away with abandoning things that annoy you, like good writing.

    For someone like me who is trying to carve out a place for herself, good writing is essential because it’s how I connect to other people. If I were to contact someone I respected or wanted to work with and didn’t reread my email for typos, that’s just dumb.

    I think poor writing skills always detracts from someone’s “overall package”…some people just have so much going for them, they can afford to let writing go. Others would drown without the lifeline.

    HOWEVER I will add: if you have good speaking skills or visual skills, they could probably make up for shitty writing in this era. Writing isn’t the only way we communicate anymore.

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