The Myths and Realities of Writing Well and Great Writing

Among students, parents and teachers, there are a number of myths about writing that we weigh in on here. Are great writers born, not made? Is there one definitive way to learn how to write? For answers to these questions and more, read on…

Myth: Writing well is a gift.
Reality: Writing well is a learned skill.

Many people believe that great writers are born, not made – a most unfortunate misconception. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, students are taught to write through a structured process. With consistent formal instruction, extensive practice, and helpful feedback, most students can become proficient writers.

Myth: Writing well is often thought of as a single special skill.
Reality: Writing well is the cumulative outcome of mastering a large number of skills.

Good writing starts with a student having a clear idea of what they want to say and the type of writing they need to use. Many times students are given a writing prompt from which to begin the writing process. Are they trying to inform (expository writing), persuade (persuasive writing), narrate (narrative writing), document research (research reports), or report (journalistic writing)? When they write, students need to apply grammar and vocabulary skills. They need to organize their paragraphs around a single thought, to organize an essay around a collection of tightly organized ideas, and to structure an essay that succeeds in purposeful communication. Successfully writing an essay demonstrates mastery of all these skills and the ability to use them all together.

Myth: There is a single writing process that all students should follow.
Reality: Most students follow the writing process in their own unique way.

This myth might come from confusion over the teaching of the writing process. Time4Writing teaches a writing process that consists of pre-writing, writing, revising, proofreading, and publishing. Formally learning and using the steps is a reliable technique to create quality writing. In reality, most students adapt these steps in a way that works best for their individual learning style. For instance, many students find it easier to brainstorm as they write, especially since word processors make it easy to reorganize their thoughts. Then, after writing the first draft, they will create an outline to tighten the essay structure and start editing and revising based on that structure.

Myth: Brilliant writing and story-telling is probably teachable.
Reality: This one is debatable. Many great writers share some common traits that come from within and simply cannot be taught.

The most common characteristic of great writers seems to be that early on, they start to read differently than the rest of us. It’s often been observed that the people who grow up to be writers start studying the writing craft on their own. Not only are they voracious readers, but they also tend to be intrigued by how authors put stories together. Do they use short or long sentences? Lots of details and modifiers or are they concise and matter-of-fact? How do they handle point of view and what insights do they provide into characters? There is some interesting literature on “reading like a writer.” And while these skills of analyzing an author’s style and technique can be taught, most authors explain that they started down this path on their own.

While your child might not become the next Shakespeare, the bottom line is that anyone can learn to become a good writer. From their first sentences to complex essays, children can hone their writing skills throughout the years. All it takes is a little motivation and lots of practice.