Fear of writing

Assumptions about writing that hinder the writing process.
Part II in a series.
Part I here.

We do not expect people to fly planes without thorough instruction and practice. And yet, in our society we do expect people to somehow magically turn out ‘text’ without profound instruction or practice. At the same time, many of my students have been convinced that ‘writing is not for everyone’, that it is a difficult undertaking that only a few gifted ones will master.

To summarise: you can write without much in the way of instruction, yet you will never learn to do it well. These deep-seated convictions do not add up, and do not harmonise.

Such a clash of deep-seated convictions is the essence of prejudice. The clashing convictions express the combination of fear and contempt that we may feel towards the unknown. This meme about ‘Schrödinger’s immigrant’ sums it up neatly: the immigrant steals everyone’s jobs (fear), yet is too lazy to work (contempt).

image: ‘Schrödinger’s immigrant’ meme, c. 2015. I could not trace an author. It appears to be a flip of an American right-wing meme, c. 2013. More about Schrödinger and his cat joke here.

When we don’t know something, or someone, we might be shy, or even feel fear. As a result of that fear, we might attribute fictitious power to that unknown thing or person: ‘immigrants steal our jobs’. Or ’writing is very difficult’. At the same time, we might push our shyness or trepidation down with contempt, making that thing or that person small, inferior, not worth our care or effort: ‘immigrants are too lazy to work’. Or ’writing classes are too time-consuming, our employees will learn to write on the job’.

Once you know that these are just assumptions about the unknown, not facts about writing (or immigrants), then you can begin to cast them off.

No, writing is not something that only a select club of people can master. I have seen the most moving, beautiful, funny, engaging texts made by people who had never tried their hand at writing before, and were convinced that their writing would be a disaster. And yes, time and practice and a good writing teacher will greatly improve your writing.

In my eyes, writing is a craft. A craft that most people who want to learn, can learn, even if there are physical or mental obstacles to be overcome. A lot more can be done with words than people think, by people who do not think they can do that.

writing does not have to hurt

Although I rarely show it, I often feel anger and sadness about the daunting status of WRITING in the places where I teach.

image: first aid kit for snake bites, 1964. Johnson and Johnson archive.

Because I see people struggling with their writing and I know that it is simply not necessary. And I know that they are not really struggling with the craft of writing, but with inhibiting assumptions that they have about writing.

Here is the truth of the matter: writing does not have to hurt. And when it does, that is something we can change, if you want to. Writing can be an enjoyable, liberating, even empowering activity. A way to express yourself, a way to play. A way to understand yourself, and others; a way to be understood. You can step out of the cage of your (school’s, peers’, society’s…) assumptions about writing: about what it is, how you do it, why you do it and who can do it.

To show you where the door of the cage is: that is one of my main jobs as a teacher.

Part III here.

main image: Bessie Coleman, first Black American woman pilot with an international license. Photographed in France, where she went to be licensed, c. 1922. Photographer unknown.