Look up “Learn to Write” online and you’ll be treated to handwriting models and steps in creating calligraphy—one letter or character at a time. They’re great for helping children, second-language adults needing training in the English-Roman alphabet, and even artists for whom symbols are a fertile design field.
But when we start putting letters of the English alphabet in sequence—to form words and larger pieces of language supposed to have meaning, why is it that (beyond tweeting and texting), so many people hate to write? Do the following attempts at humor on the topic shed any light on the pain triggers?
So why do most people find it so disagreeable to write—-and write—and write? Here are some possible reasons:
Writing can be a long, tedious chore that connotes endlessness. When you’re writing academically or professionally, there are always deadlines to meet. Pressure creates tension. And once you’ve delivered the specified amount of writing by the due date (or embarrassed yourself by missing it), there’s always the next time limit to worry about.
Writing is often an assignment, a paper required by unreasonable academics—or an obligatory report to deliver to supervisors at work. Perhaps you’ve been told—and even believe—that you learn how to write by writing. That notion is as trustworthy as “You learn how to speak by speaking.” How can such “truisms” possibly be true? Perhaps you’ll learn “mechanics”—how to make markings on paper or type or text (or for oral skills, how to use your mouth and vocal cords to produce sounds). But how can “just doing it” ever teach you to write (or talk) effectively in today’s world?
Writing presumes perfectionism—in grammar, spelling, mechanics, and other details—especially word choice, phrasing, and style. But over-the-top meticulousness is exhausting. It can stop writers from producing anything at all. It also seems to invite irrelevant or picayune criticism, another obstacle to overcome. And the commentary, grading, or reactions you do receive are often so subjective that they indicate little about the “quality” or potential effectiveness of your writing. Are you or is someone else is a writing perfectionist? Try telling yourself or him/her that “Done is better than perfect.” It’s wasted effort.
Writing interferes with what interests you now. It becomes a hurdle to doing what is more useful or productive in real life. And it has so many steps—gathering information (researching), brainstorming and then organizing data and thoughts, writing a first draft, editing it, getting feedback, revising, polishing, and so on and so on and so on. Again, the process has no end.
Writing your ideas or thoughts to turn in or post exposes you to critique. As expressed in jokes or cartoons on the subject, modern attitudes toward writing lead to ridicule of grammar & punctuation (mistakes), dysgraphia (the writing counterpart of dyslexia), texting or tweeting (preferred by many to connected text), the editing process, writing requirements (for academic grades or pay), virtual or real-life distractions, and all the excuses (reasons to procrastinate) people make when they believe they “have to write”—or else.
Writing may be physically painful. Ernest Hemingway said “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Much of the agony comes from fear—of becoming empty-headed, of getting hit by the Great Writer’s Block, or of failing and “losing it forever” (your memory, your ability to think, or your creative energy). And it hardly helps to assume that the only two purposes for writing are  to evoke response and  to persuade. What if these attempts to dictate results are not your intents at all? And what if worrying about how your readers will react, which no one can predict with confidence, becomes the source of your anxiety about—and pain that comes from—writing?
Nobody is really going to read or consider what you write, anyway—no matter how “perfect” or instructive or true it is. How likely is it that the assigning professor, who may hate paper grading, or the business manager that needs your writing for documentation will be grateful for, inspired by, or empowered when armed with the results of your labor? And if you post, it’s unrealistic to imagine that your potential audience is going to slow down enough to get the meaning of what you write, let alone to “take action” in the direction you want. Aren’t mobile device users infamous for their inability to stick with any piece of writing for the length of time it takes to get its message?
Want to read other writers’ reasons for shrinking from the writing process? Among the many available, here are three of the most typical blog posts (articles) to look at:
"Why Is Writing So Difficult? Here are Three Reasons,” by Erin Sturm
"Why You Hate Writing,” by Robert Bruce
So what are the “Two Simple Ways to Relieve the Pain” promised in the title of this article asking if you “Hate to Write?”
Write for a Specific Purpose—& Nothing Else.
Usually, if you have to write or text, it’s for a defined and particular purpose—to get something you need or complete a transaction, to communicate vital bits of information at work or in daily life, or to finish a required or desired task. But what if you find yourself writing for other reasons—to please authority figures, to fulfill an assignment, to compete with others for attention or other benefits? Then the process is likely to become a chore—until or unless you disregard the reasons you hate writing and give yourself a real (personal, constructive, healthy, or inspirational) purpose for engaging in it.
To ease the pain, keep in mind the reasons you are writing. Collect the words you need to achieve your purpose. Put them in order without the clutter of irrelevancies or repetition. And when you’ve written what you need to say, stop. Print or post or send it out. Then it’s done. If you want to write something else, start again with your specific purpose.
Find a Model for How You Want to Send Your Message. Then Adapt It to What You Want to Say.
In elementary or second-language writing instruction, language learners and new readers are helped by “Guided Writing” procedures. At “0” Levels, they’re taught to copy words that others have written. Beginners are urged to fill in the right vocabulary for their own meanings in the blanks of grammatical templates. More fluent writers are invited to look well at concise examples of the kinds of writing (definition, description, explanation, process, narrative, comparison, opinion, persuasion, etc.) they may need to complete a task.
Is what you need to write based on a common format that follows a formula? There are many books, chapters, and websites that provide models for (auto)biographies, (work) memos, short notes, reports, applications, resumes, (business or personal) letters, and even legal documents. Simply choose one or more examples that fit your intents and purposes. Adapt relevant grammar, vocabulary, and phrasing so that it expresses your meaning. Check it, revise, (polish), and send. “Writing from Models” is likely to provide comfort and reassurance. It will streamline your processes so that you don’t have “reinvent the wheel” every time you’re faced with a blank page or screen.
And while you’re writing, don’t hesitate to search for and copy what you need. Don’t have exactly the right word or phrasing to express your precise meaning? As soon as any word comes to mind, look it up in a thesaurus or online dictionary. Choose the best vocabulary item or expression while you compose. There’s no need to worry about so-called “plagiarism”—defined as “close imitation of an author’s language and thought with representation of that work as one’s own for self-serving profit.” Such a legalistic definition hardly applies to “writing for a specific purpose according to models.”
Remember—the English language belongs to no one person. All of its many thousands of words, phrases, and sentence structures are there for the benefit of those who want to use them for honest and beneficial purposes.
Finally, as samples to get you started, here are excerpts from two Authors & Editors “Written-Language Skills” texts:
If you click on their titles below—and download (and print out) the pages, you’ll get shortened sections for “Reading-Based Writing Instruction” with general steps for you or your students to follow:
Read the models (narratives, explanations, directives, or other pieces).
Check that you “got it” by responding to comprehension items.
If there are exercises meant to prepare for writing, do them and check your answers. (These might include conventions like capitalization, punctuation, or spelling; or organizational tips).
If any, do a dictation, a proven versatile tool for assessing or building overall writing ability.
If it’s offered, take advantage of any additional mini-writing lesson.
WorkLifeEnglish: Reading/Writing 3: an Immigration Story. Chapter 1: The Arrival lets you choose the ending to the narrative “A Long, Hard Trip” that better corresponds to your own sense of reality. Then you can insert capitalization and punctuation in a typical paragraph on the topic; do a little spelling of relevant vocabulary; take dictation; and finally write your own story with little effort, while you’re still “feeling the writing style” of the models. As an extra, there’s “Guided Writing” designed to help you write step-by-step instructions.
WorkLifeEnglish: Reading/Writing 3: an Immigration Story: Chapter 8: Health & Illness, pages 103-107, 111-114, begins with a story called “A Nutritious Diet.” After understanding the concerns of its main character, you’ll choose the better resolution for your tastes. Then you’ll practice punctuation and spelling in a paragraph to correct, in fill-in exercises, and in a dictation. An added section provides guidance in compiling lists and writing recipe instructions.
WorkLifeEnglish: Reading/Writing 4: Cross-Cultural Communication, Chapter 1: Beginnings, pages 4-11, starts with visuals and four “Everyday Stories: Common First Problems”—with comprehension checks for pre-writing instruction. By answering questions about others’ and your own pieces of writing, you’ll “get in the swing of it.” It will feel natural and easy to describe your own situation in a satisfying process designed to evoke positive, useful feedback.
Work/Life English: Reading/Writing 4: Cross-Cultural Communication. Chapter 3: Dealing with Problems offers a warm up with visuals illustrating vocabulary. They you’ll read and understand four paragraphs about “Safety & Emergencies” that give advice on what to do in difficult situations; make use of “Main-Idea Questions,” work on past time-verb grammar; and use chronological order to advise others—with little effort, while you’re in the “[writing] zone getting the hang of it.”
Though you’ll be focusing on the particulars in the above and any comparable “writing lessons,” they’re likely to “get you in the mood” to write your own info or ideas through suggestion. Their steps will boost your writing fluency. Then you can go beyond the texts by seeking out, understanding the meaning of, noting the format or style, copying, and adapting what you find and appreciate to your own purposes. And with that hope—whew. I’ve finally put to rest yet another laborious piece of writing.
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About Work/Life English
For over 35 years, Work/Life English has been dedicated to improving the lives of native and non-native English language learners. We offer a comprehensive range of fun, effective English language improvement lessons, strategies, and activities to help adult education ESL educators successfully engage their English language students and improve their English competencies, leading to a host of positive effects in students’ professional and personal lives. Better English, Better Life. For more information, visit www.worklifeenglish.com.