Friday, September 23, 2011

Just Write Poorly. In Public. Every Day.

Seth Godin has some advice about writing:
The reason we don't get talker's block is that we're in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn't, and if we're insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker's block after all this practice?

Writer's block isn't hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly--you don't need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.
So, are you having your students write every day? In public? I know I'm not (although I'm starting to have them write a bit).

I think we're often overly concerned about the quality of our students' writing, and whether it's "good enough" to share. Now, to be clear, I think our students should be concerned with the quality of their writing, and should strive to get better at communicating their thoughts. But if we let the worry about what others will think get in the way of having our students write more, and for a larger audience, then we're doing them a disservice out of fear.

This begs the question, of course, about how much our teachers are writing. Particularly our Language Arts teachers, but really all of our teachers. If it's so important for our students to write, how come we're not modeling it?

Do you write every day? In public? Why or why not?


  1. Creative work seems more difficult than synthetic.

    Combining and restating the ideas of others is a good stage in developing writing style. The difficulty arises, though, in the inevitable plagiarism of such synthesis. Classroom presentations to students inevitably involve synthesis of all the material we've used in preparing the lesson. If I write it down, I can be caught for using the words of others. It is easier for me to talk to my students, as long as I know I'm not being recorded, much less recorded on video.

    As teachers, we work hard to eliminate plagiarism in students' work. By avoiding writing ourselves, we gingerly skip past the problem for ourselves. It's another example of "fear of failure." If we plagiarized, we'd be ridiculed or worse.

    Taking these issues in hand, teachers would definitely help their students by being willing to reveal their own steps to improve in writing. Demonstrating progress rather than perfection, getting back up when we fall, that's the skill set students need. It's true for all aspects of learning, including writing.

  2. Algot - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It seems to me that if you feel it's plagiarism when written down, it would still be plagiarism if you said it verbally and didn't give credit.

    I agree that we as educators need to do a better job of demonstrating progress, not perfection. But I think that's something many educators are not comfortable with - showing that they don't "know it all" in front of their students.

  3. Plagiarism is still true in the spoken word, just as you say. Without a record of it, though, we won't be challenged.

    I am a big advocate of regular teacher and student writing. I believe that targeted teaching materials are much better than reliance on a textbook. Home grown materials provide more effective links between the local school/community and published material from others.

    Students also benefit from being part of a "pilot" where the project's outcome is going to involve their own work, their judgment of the "text."

    If they can do some of the fact checking, all the better. It will involve them in the kind of work authors need to do at all levels. Knowing that their contribution will make an impact on subsequent classes can establish their reputation, too. It is a culture building process.

  4. Karl,
    I was drawn in by your title. I have a problem with poor writing--my own and others'. I do write daily and a time or two a week publicly. Most of my students publish blog posts at about the same frequency.

    I'm not sure I could stand myself daily, but your post is encouraging and challenging.

    This afternoon I am planning to grade some blogs/glogs my students created. I plan to give many of them bad grades for the careless errors made. Then give them credit back after corrections are made.

    For me, the public audience is enough to at least try my hardest to avoid mistakes. However, for some of my young teens, the grade on their report card seems to say more than the reward of publishing careful writing. (I HATE what grades have done to the education of our young people!)

    Thanks for a challenging and thoughtful post,


  5. Thanks Denise - I have a problem with poor writing as well. I have a bigger problem with no writing.

    Glad to see you have your students writing often, and publicly.

  6. Just so, Karl. Just so. We should write whenever we can and wherever we can. And if you ask a student to write something, you'd better be writing, too.

    Algot - Yes, it's hard. But it's worth doing - worth giving credit, or citing, or modeling what that should look like. It gets easier the more you do it. So let's not let our students get out of school without doing more.

  7. Is this not what we do in primary school when students are learning to write? We encourage all approximations and teach the way as we go. Cheers.

  8. I really enjoyed this post. I felt it gave me the extra push I needed to open my own blog account. I think that students who experiment with writing are far stronger than those who avoid writing and as a teacher I guess it is time to take some of my own medicine. Thanks again!

  9. I'm so glad you advocate encouraging freedom to write poorly and a lot before expecting perfection. I cringe when I hear teachers complain about spelling and punctuation when they're holding a fourth grader's initial writing effort that is packed with great concepts, language, and voice. Thanks for saying it so well.

  10. Your title, “Just Write Poorly. In Public. Every Day” caught my attention. I think it is true that I often overly concerned about the quality of my writing and hesitate to write because English is my second language. I feel that I am not able to convey my points clearly no matter how hard I try. However, your suggestion encourages me to try regardless of whether it is or is not “good enough” to share in public. If I do not try, I will not get better.

  11. Karl,
    Currently I am a curriculum and instructional coach (amazing the titles "they" can come up with). Last year I was the literacy coach. As a National Writing Project teacher consultant, writing instruction is always at the forefront of my thoughts. I am writing all the time, but I am guilty of not allowing that to be transparent for my students. No, without students, I am always sharing my writing with the teachers I coach. Teachers need to become more comfortable with the notion that writing is thinking and without incorporating writing regularly you are unable to assess their thinking. Thank you for the post. Only through writing will we become better writers!
    Jen C

  12. Mr. Fisch,

    This article has motivated me to become a better and more effective writer. I'm very shy when it comes to writing, because I feel very discouraged after I post or turn in an assignment; my thoughts in my head are that the teacher is snickering at my work, laughing at every mistake I make. Hopefully, the world can see this post, because honestly, it will encourage more kids to write, helping them to improve their skill. This method doesn't just have to work in writing, the more you work at anything the better chance you have to improve. Your article relates in a strange way to Mr. Carr's blog, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", because kids spend a lot of time relying on Google; this will make them less likely to be succesful in typing because they might just copy and paste documents. They won't ever experience real typing. I have already started to type much more this year and after reading your post, I'm inspired to dramatically increase my grammar and punctuation skills by the end of the year.

  13. Robert - I'm glad what I wrote helped motivate you. It's easy to get discouraged after turning something in and getting feedback that sometimes makes you feel like you didn't do a good job. But keep in mind that the feedback that teachers give you, and hopefully others, is designed to help you improve, not to make you feel bad.

    I think it's great that you're going to try to increase your grammar and punctuation skills, those are important to help you convey your thoughts to your reader. But make sure you don't get overly concerned with those, as you want your thoughts, your voice, to come through as well. Your voice comes through nicely in this post, and if you bring that passion to your writing, you will do great.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. Mr. Fisch,

    While although I agree that we should be writhing every day and that teachers should be modeling good writing skills I am not sure that I agree with writing in public. I think this not because I am afraid of being criticized in public, but because I think writing is more of a personal expression of who I am and what I think. I don't feel as though the world needs to know what I think every day. If I start writing in public every day people will not care what I have to say because it is there all of the time. On the other hand, if I save my public writing for every once in a while, I think people will care more and my writing will mean more. Take my English class for example, if everyone posts every day it just loses meaning and becomes dull. If however, every week or so I read a post it is more interesting, I will enjoy it more, and I will learn more. The same goes for people's posts around the world, too much information, becomes boring and I lose interest. I believe writing is an important skill and I think the more I practice the better I will become, but I do not think writing in public everyday is the answer. I prefer to keep my personal expressions, personal.

  15. Mr. Fisch i like the ideas you have in your writing. This article very much relates to me very much because in school i am blogging almost every day. This also connects to my education because my whole class also has to blog and many other classes have to blog and then present one of our blogs on Friday. I'm not sure about everyone else but as we present more in class, and some other students may also feel this way, i start to fell more comfortable speaking aloud. Many other places in the world there are news writers or blogger’s speaking their words and views on things to every one in the world who wants to see. A question i have for you is, do you like posting on a blog and do you ever comment on others blogs? Overall you had great points and this article made me really think about my life and education.

  16. After reading Just Right Poorly. In Public. Every Day. by Mr Fisch I initially agreed with the article other than some minor thoughts. The article describes an idea that writing once every day poorly will eventually make us better writers. I believe that my first grade teacher had the same general idea about writing because she made us write about something that we did in our free time. She did this once every week. The only problem I have with Mr Fischs' blog post is how would you get any better at writing if you don't get any critism. You would just be practicing something wrong. To end the post I leave the question "Is writing frequently really making you a better writer?"

  17. Jack - I certainly agree that you should be writing in private as well, and often that is a better place to write. I wasn’t trying to suggest that all writing should be public.

    But I think you’re wrong when you assert that if you start “writing in public every day people will not care what [you] have to say.” I think it’s exactly the opposite. When you start writing in public, often (not necessarily every single day), then you’re showing a commitment to engage in a conversation with the wider world. And when people see that you have good, interesting, thought-provoking things to say, they will want to read more.

  18. Alex - That is one of the great things about writing – and speaking – in public. The more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be writing and speaking all the time, but I think that if more folks got involved in the world around them, which often requires speaking up (in writing or orally) in public, the world would be a better place.

    Yes, I like writing on a blog, and I feel it’s worthwhile (otherwise I wouldn’t do it). And, yes, I comment on other blogs, although not as much as I’d like (that pesky time issue) – but I continue to work on that.

  19. Joseph - Thanks for commenting, Joseph. I guess I’d respond with two ideas.

    First, yes, I do believe writing more often, even if you’re not getting criticism, will make you a better writer. Do you play any sports? For example, is practicing free throws (or whatever) without a coach right next to you worthless? I agree that having a coach next to you is better, but the very act of practicing, of consciously thinking about what you are doing (in this case, writing), you are going to get better at it, even if you don’t have someone coaching you.

    Second, if you write in public, and often, and write good stuff, you will start getting feedback from other folks. So the “coaching” if you will starts to generate itself organically. You just have to put yourself out there.

  20. In your post you said "I think we're often overly concerned about the quality of our students' writing, and whether it's "good enough" to share." Jan Smith tackles this on her class blog with the following notice:
    "Please notice our successes, not our mistakes.
    Our blog is a invitation to see what we are up to. Some of our work will be polished, and some will be in draft form. Please honour our attempts. We are learning!"
    I think it is a great statement--reminding the readers of her blog what learning is all about. I just thought it seemed relevant here.

  21. Joseph,

    After reviewing all of the responses, I had to write about your insight to this. I often have to write for my work and many of my college projects. I am beginning to believe that I can write a lot, but can I write better? I suspect I am simply writing a lot and not making any real improvements in my underlying writing skills. I am hesitant to admit this, but as I do have an assignment to write often, I guess I have a license to write poorly, just as the article suggests.

  22. In "Just Write poorly. In Public. Every day" I appreciate how you related talking to writing. You are so right from a very early age we talk and talk until we get it right. So your point is that just as we learn how to talk by repetition we also can learn to write more effectively, more clearly and more concise by doing it over and over. You demonstrate that you are a philosopher by expressing the opinion that more teachers would produce better students if they allowed them to just write instead of just expecting them to write perfectly.

  23. Absolutely love. And agree. And have shared with teachers at our school who sometimes need help explaining to parents why we don't spend more time correcting each and every misspelled word in our students' blog posts.
    I wrote a similar (at least to me it is similar post) on my "yoga blog."

  24. Dear Fisch,
    I will agree to disagree on what you said. I beleive that writing is a massive and competitive skill that we as students must all learn, but there are some extents that we as a comunity must relize and fallow. The hard part about writing in public is you have to know that it will never go away and will always be looked at in the future by people you won't want looking at it. My prospective on this article is that there are better ways to write and practice writing skills that puting it on the internet. The only reason I am in the internet comenting on blogs is that I am a student and must be apart of the world wide web to succeed in the future. Overall, I know where I stand and that is what I want for the students in America.

  25. Mr. Fisch -

    I absolutely agree with your post about the need for everyone to write more frequently. Writing is a critical skill in pretty much any profession, but it is horribly overlooked by most people.

    I have seen too many formal documents, news articles, emails, professional correspondences, etc., that have poor grammar, blatant spelling errors, and an obvious over reliance on electronic Spelling/Grammar checkers.

    A big part of the problem is many teachers are poor writers. They encourage students to focus on quantity rather than quality, and tell them to drown their writing in adjectives to take up more space and ‘be descriptive’, even though such writing achieves the exact opposite effect. This kind of instruction produces writers who are incapable of being clear, accurate, and concise, and it’s not even really their fault, because that’s how they have always been taught.

    Your post made me think about ways to encourage my students to write more. I want them to practice and improve without worrying so much about a grade or creating a ‘polished product’. Rather, I want writing to become as natural as talking, and for them to develop a high comfort level with writing. Due to the technical demands of writing that casual speech often ignores, I think that as students become more fluent writers, they will become better communicators. And the value of that result should be obvious to everyone.