Who Gets to be a Writer?

Image of a head with a pen where the neck should be

Do you consider yourself a Writer? 

___ Yes   ___No 

Let’s play a game. Grab a scratch piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Go ahead. I’ll wait. 

 

 

Welcome back. 

Now, write the word “Writer” at the top of your paper. Below, take three minutes to brainstorm a list of qualities you associate with being a Writer. 

Imagine three minutes of Muzak playing here… 

Take a minute to review and consider the list you generated. Using that list, write down a working definition of a “Writer.”  

Finally, reconsider your response to the opening question. Has your self-assessment changed at all? Why or why not? 

The truth is, many of us don’t identify with being a Writer even though we regularly engage in writing activities. On an average work day, for example, I: 

  • Respond to emails; 
  • Brainstorm and draft to-do lists; 
  • Develop lesson plans; 
  • Provide students with written feedback; and 
  • Create slide decks of my lessons. 

Despite writing in no fewer than five different writing modes, I rarely (never…?) consider myself a Writer. Sure, I write. But I’m not a Writer. Right? 

But here’s the thing – everything on the list above is writing. In fact, the writing I outlined above, while not moving towards an award-winning All-American Novel, is the type of writing professionals everywhere engage in. The very type of writing industry leaders around the country want their employees to be able to do. Consider: 

  • Responding to emails is a type of professional writing that requires thoughtful consideration of audience and purpose. And we all know that our favorite emails are ones that are short, sweet, and to-the-point. Precise, concise writing, therefore, is appreciated for this form of communication. Possession of an extensive vocabulary and knowledge of diverse syntax options is a must for Writers who hope to avoid creating a Word Wall of an email. 
  • To-do lists are a form of outlining that helps us work more efficiently. But writing that relies heavily on bulleted text follows very different conventions than prose writing. Resumes, for example, require skillful use of headings, clear and logical organization, and often employ sentence fragments that begin with active verbs. Understanding these conventions is so important that we often teach resume building as part of our curriculum. Yet when it comes to writing lists for ourselves, we generally consider those to be just helpful reminders – not “real” writing. Sure, they really are helpful reminders. But they also require strong organizational skills and a solid understanding of effective selection of detail. 
  • While not every profession requires lesson planning, many professions do require some form of goal-setting, which is often conveyed in written format. And just like lesson plans, other types of goal-based writing should follow backwards design. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll have no way of ensuring the steps you take will get you there. Organization is critical. You may have all the right components, but if you arrange them in the wrong sequence, you likely won’t find success. Lesson-planning requires an understanding of the cause-and-effect organizational framework. 
  • Providing feedback comes in many different forms. Understanding your audience and your purpose is critical. To provide effective feedback, teachers must write with perspective of the reader in mind – what will the reader feel and understand when they read our words? Too much feedback and we risk overwhelming student. Too much criticism and we risk demotivating them. Too much praise and we risk stunting their growth. Somewhere between these outcomes is a balance that comes from a solid understanding of the effect of our authorial choices on understanding. We consider, for example, how to adjust our tone and content to best meet the needs of our students. Just like with other forms of writing, we must consider the moves we make and the effect those moves will have on readers as we provide written feedback. 
  • Finally, the creation of slide decks requires a solid understanding of multi-media presentations including, notably, the link between the visual and written components of a text. Effective presentations utilize the visual aspects of the slide deck effectively and are designed to keep viewers engaged without distracting them with too many gimmicks or too much text. Here again, paying careful attention to our audience when designing our slide decks can be the difference between students engaging with the material or falling asleep. 

We can see that, although these forms of writing seem infinitely less-impressive than publishing a novel or a book of poetry, or even a really-cool nonfiction narrative, a lot of writing skills come into play for each of these types of writing. And these are the types of writing that our students will likely spend most of their time drafting as they enter the work force. Recognizing the writing skills that these forms require will allow us to broaden the definition of what it means to write and, in turn, what it means to be a Writer. 

 The truth is, we are all Writers. Maybe not rich Writers. Maybe not famous Writers. Maybe not rich and famous Writers – although wouldn’t that be nice…? 

 We may not all be authors but that does not mean we are not all Writers. We need to recognize ourselves as such. Because Writers make thoughtful, creative, purposeful choices in our polished pieces. And we want our students to do the same. If we ultimately want our students to see themselves as Writers, we need to see ourselves as Writers as well.  

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