Can you teach someone to write “better?” Well, I’m not sure. When it comes to composition, much depends on the one being instructed. As instructors, we offer the ideas, and yes we should have some method or organization to how we offer and introduce the ideas, but still it is very much the onus of the student and how they react, what they put into practice that will make them stronger, or “better”, writers. Attitude is another ingredient to writing stronger, with more confidence, with less fear and less self-doubt. No writing assignment is beyond you, or over your head. Sprint into your writing, not away from it.
With teaching writing, I find myself in contradiction. On example comes when reiterating a point in an essay versus just flat out redundancy. What’s the difference? How do you know where you’re on one side or the other? “What is your definition of redundant?” a student will ask. “You have to use your judgement,” I say. Then in their head I know they’re thinking, “Well that doesn’t help.” And, understandably. But, writing isn’t quantitative. Writing is a habit, a dedication, a redundancy of its own, if you will, where with constancy a student teaches themselves to write better as a result of the ideas the instructor prepares for them.
As an English major in college, both at undergrad and grad, I matriculated in very non-invasive instruction. I wouldn’t call it hands-off, but the pedagogy, for the most part was anchored in the generation of ideas surrounding a topic or text, then I’d write my short or long paper, submit, receive grade and comments. Rarely was I taught “how” to write. I already knew how to write. Again, there were suggestions offered that changed certain specificities to my composition, like the one instructor who hated parenthesis and ever since I rarely if ever use them (accept when I really, really, really have to). What made me a stronger writer, if I am even a writer to be deemed ‘strong’, is my keeping of notebooks, journals, just sitting down and bloody going for it. Not being concerned with a grade or someone’s reaction, but just writing. Looking back on my development with composition, and writing in reaction to texts, I can honestly say I’m one of my favorite teachers.
It wasn’t some point quantity I was after when keeping journals in college, it was the feeling of filling a page, that I eventually knew I could fill one, two, five, seven pages in a day. So, truly, my point— teach yourself to be a “better” writer by just writing, and writing a lot. Become familiar with your style and be open to reactions both from yourself and with whomever you share your work. It’s your work, make it your own! Make your study and routine your own. You are your best teacher. You always have access to your teacher, so use your teacher. Make him/her work for you, ‘cause the onus is always, always, on you.