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Why Do So Many People Think They Can Write? Part Two

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 9, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWow. I had no idea that what I thought was a one-off screed would resonate with so many of you. Clearly, a lot of us have dealt with those who think can bust out a novel on the spot. One commenter made the excellent note that people can write, but not all of them can write well.

I thought about the comment again this past weekend. I was on a business trip. Our tasks require an intense amount of teamwork. When it’s not time for me to do my part of the task, which is based in writing and research, I want to pitch in and help out everyone else. I always feel guilty if I’m not pulling my weight.

I was doing the usual and pitching in, but one of my bosses took me aside and gave me advice that I’ve never heard before:

You don’t always have to pitch in. The [other members of the team] are doing what they’re doing because they’re good at it. You can rest so you can keep doing well. Don’t feel guilty–if they need help, they’ll ask for it.

So I took a break and got out of the way. I admit that i felt guilty, but my boss was right. When someone needed help lifting a recliner (long, long story), they asked me.

When it came time for me to do my thing, I was rested and ready. The people I was working with trusted me to do my job, and that was a beautiful feeling. I had the client’s goals, I had my materials, and I was set. That doesn’t mean that other members of the team didn’t give me feedback, but their feedback wasn’t based on the fact that they thought they could write as well as me. Instead, they were offering feedback from their own business perspectives. I freely admit that I don’t agree with all the feedback, but it’s way easier to handle constructive criticism when you know that the person giving the critique obviously thinks you’re capable.

Photo of Herman Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, and John Houseman during the writing of “Citizen Kane,” 1938. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Why Do So Many People Assume They Can Write?

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on January 29, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen people start questioning funding for higher education, they often take dead aim at the humanities, assuming that the humanities aren’t as useful as, say, marketing. What makes the humanities such an easy target?

I think much of it stems from arrogance, in that so many people think they can write. Stringing words together seems easy, and companies don’t always invest in skilled writers because they think they can do the writing themselves.

That’s not always the case. How many times have you seen a company brochure that goes on and on without any awareness of who the audience is? Or blatant grammatical errors? Or misapplied sales-speak? Or blatant logical fallacies? (Campaign brochures whose arguments rest on the slippery slope fallacy, I am talking to you!)

I’m not a master writer, but writing calls for a base level of competence, one that goes beyond the ability to spell words correctly. A writer needs to know spelling, grammar, history, logic and even psychology. Companies wouldn’t dare attempt to tackle computer programming themselves, but they’ll change the words of a writer with the utmost confidence that “anyone can do it.” The words of a writer aren’t sacred–far from it–but writers do not pull stuff out of their butt. In order to write well, a person must also be able to read critically to find evidence and assemble an argument. Writing may not be as difficult as being a doctor or a physicist, but it isn’t a place where you can cut corners or offer low wages.

Image of typing in water from 1926, Bundesarchiv from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.