“Please Sir or Madam, would you read my book?
It took me years to write, would you take a look?
…I want to be a paperback writer.” The Beatles
Aren’t we all potential paperback writers? Don’t we all dabble in this madness called writing because we have a voice that cries out to be heard? Whether it’s a blog, a Facebook post, or the next bestseller, I like to believe that all voices deserve to be heard in writing, which is why it breaks my heart when someone comes along and steals that opportunity and drive from a writer.
As a writing instructor, I hear over and over again from my students that they have been discouraged somewhere along the way. Constrained by archaic formats or constricted by lifeless writing prompts, they come to me with little faith in their abilities. I hear over and over again from these students, who are now juniors and seniors at university, that they used to love writing when they were young, but somewhere along the way, they began to despise the process.
Why does this happen?
I can accept pedagogical approaches that come and go, because I believe that all scholars throwing their theories at us like wedding rice believe that what they have declared truth, is truth. Or at least helpful. Sometimes a lackluster curriculum or state mandate can affect the level of creativity we offer and the value we place on the end product.
What I can’t tolerate, however, is when another instructor forgets that the focus of writing is not its surface-level garments of grammar, but instead is its core, its content. What is being said is as important, no—more important—than how it is being said.
Recently a student confided that a former instructor had read a very personal essay that she had written, yet she had no idea what he really thought about it. This particular essay was an emotional narrative about the loss of a child. Page after page filled with heartbreaking moments, yet the only comments by the instructor were grammar corrections.
Another student came to me for help with a paper from another class, and when I complimented him on his creative and very descriptive writing style, he shook his head. “I’m not a good writer, because my grammar is horrible. This teacher doesn’t care about content; he only cares about grammar.”
What has happened in our profession that we can no longer see the forest for the trees? How have we forgotten that it is an honor when someone shares their writing with us, and that we cannot separate the writer from the written?
Words begin in the heart, and they don’t always reveal themselves in a pretty fashion. But what they reveal should be respected and honored. Those who teach should remember the passion that once inspired them to teach what they love, and they should remember that the writing they are privileged to read may represent a person who has fought through many demons to courageously put those words on the page.
And those of us who write should never let anything squash our passion for doing so, because our readers need to see our boldness, our idiosyncrasies, and our struggles. They need to know that all voices deserve to be heard, and all voices bring a powerful story to the table.
My goal as an instructor is to build, build, build up my students, so that they see the value of their ideas and stories. Every voice deserves to be heard, paperback writer or not.
And I would like to think that Paul McCartney agrees with me.