“I’m not a good writer…”

This started as an email to someone, and just thought I’d share it with you.


Anytime you want to meet and go over the nuts and bolts of a blogging let me know…and by-the-way…

Your statement “I am not a good writer…it bugs me :)

The first time I wrote something that was not for school it was for my blog…so I went 40 years without ever writing something for me.  It was because “I was not a good writer.”  School told me that, not me, and I believed it.  School taught me that nobody cared about my thoughts, what mattered is whether I had a capital letter to start off each sentence, if I had commas in the right spot, it taught me that I screwed up because I used a  :  instead of a  ;  and I should never, ever…you know…use things like these –> …  just because, well…cuz I like how they look.

School taught me that I needed organized paragraphs of five sentences each, and I should never start a new paragraph until I have included at least 3-5 details supporting my topic sentence in the previous one.

Worst of all…I mean worst of all…how could you even start without pre-planning!  Ahhhh…your writing will be so disorganized and how could you start writing if you don’t know where you you will end! Your essay will be chaos.  Even double worst of all is not only will your essay be in chaos, but your grade will suffer!

“That’s not how they do it in the real world Paul.”   Sorry for the flashback.

I don’t ever remember being taught how to write by someone who wrote for the “real world.”  Come to think about it I don’t think I have ever been taught by, or have even known a teacher (face-to-face) that writes for the real world.  How could any of the advice that I have been given be possibly considered credible?

How could a teacher be considered a credible source of information if they don’t practice the subject they preach?  History teachers…when was the last time they acted like a historian and did some original research.  Science teachers preaching about doing labs…what are they experimenting with right now?  Writing teachers…what have they written in the last year?  Math teachers…ummm math teachers…fine, I have no idea what a math teacher would do besides teach and I sat through 14 years of math classes, how could I not know that?

The blogging process for many teachers is the slow unraveling of what you were taught in school was wrong.  Teachers were good little students, they did what they were told, did well at following the rules, and then grew up to become teachers and instill those rules into their classroom so that they will in turn produce good little students–doing the same damn thing that some teacher did to them to their students.  Blogging for many teachers is not just a re-birth in learning how to love to write again, but it is admitting that you are wrong.  The rules that you teach by are wrong.

Remember the damage that your teachers have done will not be undone by just starting a blog.  Almost 40 years of feeling like “not being a good writer” will not disappear even in your first year of blogging.  But it is that first year that will be most valuable to you.  You will learn again what it is like to be a first year teacher struggling, you will learn again what it is like to be a struggling student who feels like everything they do is a failure, but most important, you will feel like everything you do sucks.  That will allow you to re-connect with every troubled kid who sits down to talk to you, and every staff member who feels like they have lost control and simply does not know how to dig themselves out of a situation in which they feel is hopeless.  That feeling of inadequacy, and persevering through it  has changed my every interaction with students.

You are wrong that “You are not a good writer.”  You just don’t know it yet because you are still echoing the rules that were put in place way back when by your elementary school teachers.

By the way…I wrote this email here:

standing desk

I stood up the entire time, I put my foot up on the stool top, it’s not for sitting.  And yes, I did just clean my desk.  So much for those teachers telling me I had to clean my desk and sit down.  I also spent the entire post listening to music, the kind that I was told would be so detrimental to my thinking process, the song that is on right now is this:

I also at some point decided to time myself.  I set the timer to 90 minutes, then again to 30 minutes, and again to 30 minutes.  I may not consider myself a “bad” writer anymore, but I am still pretty slow! Stopping to continuously sneak slices from a pumpkin pie (eating while writing ahhh!) might have slowed me down. I could not have done this in a 45 minute writing prompt time limit, and it makes me realize that I should not expect my kids to do the same.

If you are reading this it is not because I listened to what I was taught…it was because I ignored it.

What do you have to got say about that teachers?

Click here for advice that professional writer Kelly Armstrong gave my students


  1. In keeping a personal journal, unknown powers of my own thinking process become focused and liberated. Most of the time, these powers are not best utilized by showing and explaining what I know to someone else. I write to explore. Even in my correspondence, my writing meanders and second guesses, usually trying to grasp at the latest idea I’m struggling with.

    Is this the way we’re taught to write in school? Too often I feel like we force students to think in right and wrong dualities, where the purpose of writing is to impart some truth rather than to explore something intriguing (not to mention grammatical rules). Too often the teacher is given the task of judging whether a student’s work is useful or not for the student’s own purposes.

    Of course there are developmental restrictions on an student’s cognitive and emotional ability to take the reigns of learning for him or herself. But it seems like, in many cases, teachers unknowingly arrest development in retaining students from more complicated ways of seeing the world. I’ve been enjoying William Perry’s scheme of intellectual and ethical development in regard to these issues.

    Thanks for the great read. Take care, Paul!

  2. We had a writing trainer (arf, arf) from Teacher’s College tell us last year that real writers always carry notebooks around so they can write all the time. They always pure plan and never sit at a computer and just start writing. Computers are for publishing. When I told her that I had a book published (yes, I am a real writer), I never used a writing notebook, and always started by writing on the computer, she said it was different if I was writing a how-to book. Sigh. I allow my kids to start right up on the computers. Most prefer it that way. And you can check out my “real book” here: http://www.iste.org/store/product?ID=2292. How’s that for shameless self-promotion? ;). Paul, keep pushing all of us. Maybe we will stop hearing people say what they can’t do!

    1. I was listening to an interview with a “real writer” on NPR and the interviewer asked if they carried around a notebook. The answer she gave was “If the idea is that important, I don’t need to write it down to remember it.”

  3. Very powerful piece…especially after starting to discover my own voice with my blog…I had seriously forgotten that I CAN write…and that I have a lot to say…

  4. Love this! (And why’d it take me so long to find your blog?)

    I thought I was a bad singer until a friend taught me to sing. I thought I was a bad dancer until I began contra dancing. The University of Michigan had me convinced (temporarily) that I wasn’t much good at math, even.

    I apparently wrote pretty bad papers for school, but that’s the one thing I never stopped doing. I wrote in my journal most years until I let this Internet thing take over my life (temporarily). And my book will be coming out soon. (Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers comes in large part from blogs. I have a playingwithmath page on facebook and blog at Math Mama Writes.)

  5. Ahhh Sue…what is the connection between homeschoolers and contra dancing! :) Well at least amongst those doing a certain style of homeschoolers 😉

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