Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why Wasn’t I Taught To Write?

I managed to get through high school, college and seminary without really learning how to write. Most of my teachers and professors were more concerned with my properly formatting footnotes in research papers than submitting a well written paper. I remember them correcting my misuse of colons or semi-colons and parenthesis when footnoting a citation rather than whether or not I could spell, construct a coherent sentence, and write a flowing paragraph. I even managed to win a Senior English award in high school, graduated third in my college class, and comfortably finished in the top half of my seminary class, without ever having a “writing” course other than a required bone-head “composition” class in college which I tested out of before the end of the first semester of my freshman year.

While working on my Doctor of Ministry Paper I finally started to to think about how I wrote. My two readers emphasized editing not only for theological content but also for style. They noted every misspelling, split-infinitive, and use of the passive. They emphasized brevity and economy of words, teaching me that writing less was more difficult than writing more.

Now I find myself on what appears to be a road leading toward learning more about the craft of writing. Less than a year ago, while on its campus for a colloquy, I walked into the Cokesbury/Campus bookstore at Union Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (before the institution changed its name) and saw a text that started me on my trek. While browsing the shelves, I noticed William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. It was a required text for a Doctor of Ministry seminar.

Writing my Doctor of Ministry project paper was the most difficult part of my own Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. By the time I was writing my project paper I had not taken an English Composition Course since that first semester of my freshman year of college, over twenty-five years before. I was not used to the exacting requirements of my two readers and could have used some help. Since my own D.Min. program had not included any required texts on witting, I eventually bought and read a copy of Zinsser’s classic as a way of filling what I considered to be a gap in my education.

Not long after I started reading On Writing Well I began asking myself “Why was I not required to read this book in college, or in seminary?” I found Zinsser’s advice, examples, and suggestions extremely helpful. When I finished On Writing Well I wanted to read more about the craft of writing because I had started to think of myself as a writer, not a good writer, but a writer nevertheless.

I have taken a few more steps on my journey of exploring the craft of writing since that day when I walked into the bookstore, each step represented by a different book or experience. While my trek is only beginning, I hope to reflect on some of those steps here in Summit to Shore.

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