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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just Write

You registered for an English composition course, so what do you suppose you might do on the first or second day of class? You will write of course. So why then are so many students surprised when I announce that they will be writing a diagnostic paper. In fact, many students react by opening their eyes in amazement, or they huff and puff and a few even begin to shake, break out in a sweat or simply freeze in horror. Every now and then a student will literally begin to cry.

As an English teacher, I have developed an unconventional list of questions, I think all students should consider when they find themselves "caught off guard" and asked to write.

  1. Will writing this paper literally kill you? More than likely the answer is NO, especially if you live in a free country.
  2. Is it the end of your writing career? No
  3. Will this be the only paper you write? No
  4. Will this one paper determine your success or failure in the course? No
  5. Does this one paper reflect everything you are and who you are? No
If you answered NO to the above questions, then you have nothing to lose by just writing.

What is the worst thing that can happen after you write this one paper? Perhaps you
  1. receive a low score
  2. team up with another student
  3. seek additional help from family, friends or tutors
  4. work harder on the next paper
  5. or you quit
Too often, students choose #5 and they quit. They quit before the class has even started, before they allow themselves to learn, adapt and improve. Nothing pains me more than to see students give up a good fight before the fight has even started. In the end, students cannot attribute their successes or failures to "a teacher" but to themselves, their determination and hard work.

President Harry S. Truman said, "If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen." And I guess many agree with him, but I don't. In fact, if the kitchen gets too hot for you, I suggest you take some clothes off, bring in a fan or add a new ac unit, but don't get out of the kitchen if you want to learn how to cook or if you just want something to eat. The heat WILL NOT kill you; if anything it will just make you sweat.

If you want to improve your writing, then just write.


  1. It is funny, isn't it, that students would not assume they would write in a course entitled "writing." I often taught public speaking courses before I retired and many students would come into those classes on the first day of class and notice on the syllabus or in my discussion that they would actually be expected to give speeches! Many left. Strange. What did they expect they would do?

  2. I've always felt writing was something I should do...maybe someday I'll brave the heat!!!

    I've come to realize for me it is the fear of words...I'm not sure why that is... but it is!!

    I'm always impressed when I come across someone who uses words well...


  3. Excellent advice! I've never heard anyone turn that phrase around before. STAY in the kitchen and learn. That's great.

  4. If you quit before you start, you never progress. It doesn't matter what you write nor even how you write. Skills can be taught and learned but there has to be the desire and the ability to push yourself. The worst thing that can happen is to never try at all. Your list of questions really impressed me as an effort to challenge your students.
    I just have to mention to Azure Islands, after reading your six word short stories, you do have the talent. Don't ever let fear hold you back.
    Thanks Fearless Blog for giving us much to consider.

  5. As a student, I believe Many students fear the worst because they don't write well,or they are afraid because the Professor will Judge their writing skills on that "ONE"paper!Look at this way: its like a first Impression through writing,and many students want Great impressions,so thats why many are afraid to write a paper!

  6. Well I felt, that you had to let go something and you did it in a constructive and positive manner aiming at the fear, that may be the root of the beahviour....


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