After a few years of teaching writing, I finally asked my students a question I’ve been getting at for quite some time, but never really put into words before: what is a good writer? Now that I’m out of the classroom and will be for a while, I’ve got a chance to reflect a little on what I learned from asking the question. I can’t necessarily share their answers directly because of various policies about student work, but to summarize a lot of the answers, a good writer, to them, was a persistent writer. Someone who just keeps on going and going. I admit that lately, I haven’t done much of that myself. At a certain point, I put down my pen or stopped typing and just never really picked it back up. Habits are like that. You can do the exact same thing for years until one day, you don’t. I was a habitual writer until I wasn’t. There wasn’t any particular reason why; no grand lessons to be learned or anything– I just stopped.
This, then, is my attempt to rectify the situation. I’ve had a knack for writing that I built for quite a while. Quite a long while, in fact. Since I was teaching first year composition at the university level, I went back once to look at my own first year essays. I either had kinder teachers than I am, or the standards were very low where I got my associates degree. My writing was terrible, but I somehow passed my classes. I saw writing, at the time, as a challenge: I knew what I wanted to say, so the question was, how could I get that across clearly to another person? So I kept at it and practiced and learned until I was a fairly good writer. Those skills don’t ever really leave (it’s somewhat like riding a bike), but they can remain dormant for years.
I didn’t completely abandon writing, of course. I went for and completed a master’s degree, but writing for classes– even for graduate school classes– is not exactly the same as writing for the enjoyment of writing. And, now that I’ve finished my graduate work, the path forward is one big question mark. I’ve decided, then, to pick up where I left off, as much as I can anyway, and continue to write. That’s the plan for the time being: no particular aim in mind, no particular agenda, just writing for the sake of writing: writing to get back into the habit of writing. I might add something to my students’ views of what makes a good writer. Persistence, yes. Practice certainly helps as well; however, I would add that the other thing that can make a good writer is the ability to come back to it. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to keep writing again. After all, writing is an active process and it is far easier to be passive; however, that’s just an inclination toward laziness that all of us have. For my part, I’ve decided to use the time I’ve got and this space to keep writing. And maybe that will make me a good writer, too.