Can you teach writing if you don’t write yourself?

‘Read, observe, listen intensely! — as if your life depended upon it… Write your heart out’. – Joyce Carol Oates

When I first, tentatively, started blogging, unsure of an appropriate voice, I read some valuable advice, paraphrased here:

Exclude all words that just don’t add anything. This was the very best piece of advice I read when I first started blogging. Carefully re-read posts that you have written and try to remove all the extraneous words that add little or nothing.

With this in mind, I wrote prolifically, in my own voice, developing a minimalistic style which helped me distil the essence of my learning experiences into (I hope) clear, concise posts, clarifying my own thinking in the process.

I find myself impatient with the sort of pretentious writing described in this article by June Casagrande. The kind of writing that’s filled with extraneous words and repetitive phrases which you need to read and reread to discern meaning… Or simply let your eyes skim over (or off) and move on to something else.

‘Try to leave out the part that readers will skip’. – Elmore Leonard 

Casagrande’s article led me to this one by Steven Pinker and onwards to his newest book The Sense of Style, which was what inspired me, for the first time in years, to think about a different way of writing and to play with the piece in my previous post.

‘I don’t give a shit what’s in your head. By which I mean if it isn’t on the page it doesn’t exist. The connection between your mind and the reader’s mind is language. Reading is not telepathy.’ -Jeanette Winterson

As the quotes indicate, I’ve been exploring what famous writers say about the writing process, largely uncovered via Brainpickings excellent curation.

As in the case of all worthwhile inquiry, this led me to further wonderings…

– As an educator, how do you inspire your young writers?
– Do you write?
– Can you teach writing if you don’t write yourself?

‘Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work’. – Ezra Pound

… or written anything at all?

‘To get started, write one true sentence’. – Ernest Hemingway

10 thoughts on “Can you teach writing if you don’t write yourself?

  1. I’m currently attempting to write my second blog post when distracted by the “ping” of my mail with this post. Perfect timing! To your quotes I will add “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth
    Thanks for your ongoing inspiration. Writing isn’t an easy endeavour for me, but I feel it is a worthwhile one.


  2. Why I read your posts:
    You care about your topic
    Strong feelings; honest statements
    Words matter to you
    Your writing makes me think and question

    George Orwell said the “scrupulous writer” will ask himself at least four questions in every sentence: “What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he or she will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thought provoking as per usual. I often wonder if all those teachers who tell students to write endless essays could actually write one themselves? I have never really seen many. Another reason I started blogging, although I probably still need to work on my wofty writing style.

    As an extension of your argument, I wonder whether you can teach reading if you yourself are not a reader?


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