No no no—not me. Me I love writing. And reading too. My apologies for the title if it offended you, because normally I refrain from using the H-word, specially next to one of my favorite words (others, in case you were wondering, are food, baseball, farmer, and leader). So what’s the deal with such a blasphemous title? I know, as a Texas A&M University writing consultant I should never say such a thing—and I never do.
But my clients do.
Before arriving in Aggieland—Whoop!—I consulted in the University Writing and Rhetoric Center at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). Director Dawn Janke asked that we consultants in the first five minutes ask clients how they felt about writing. You know the answer we got over 90% of the time, so I don’t need to say it: [see blog title].
Now, such spiteful language about my Beloved aint just a Californian thing. I know this because I ask my Texan clients how they feel about writing. I do this outta habit, and I care about hearing the answer every time. For some reason the last client who told me she H-word writing has stuck with me. Can’t shake the moment that she enunciated the final –ing. @writingconsultants: been three days and the #session is still trending in my cerebral feed. Hence, this conversation we’re having about writers’ frustration with writing.
I truly care about how developing writers view the writing process. It’s as if the writing process and I share a heart, and when someone talks bad about it, I get all hot and sweaty and clutch my left shoulder. A client should never say the H-word in the same sentence as writing. Never. I understand why it happens, and when it does I don’t let the client know that, when they do say the H-word, my heart skips ten beats and for a moment I black out and shake hands with God.
After the darkness has passed, I ask the client for details: Please tell me what it is about writing that makes you H-word it so? And always the client gives these two reasons: 1) they are no good at writing, or 2) they believe they’re no good at it.
That I’m a writing consultant means I enjoy people and am on a mission to create better writers—not better writing: Thank you Stephen North. What’s cool, though, about bearing the brunt of the H-word, is I can relate. You see—I H-word math because 1) I suck at it, and 2) I know I suck at it.
To lighten the mood, after we settle in and are ‘bout ready to work, I tell the client one of my shortcomings and hope he or she finds it comforting to know that I, too, H-word something. I notice if I quickly change the subject then the carrel becomes calm, devoid of that awkward silence. Sports, music, weather—all excellent topics to divert attention and rid the room of negativity that H-word carries.
But by far my favorite thing to do is tell them a story about how I’d a never been a pro baseball player had I never practiced fielding, running, throwing, and hitting. Practice, practice, practice. In fact I practiced so much that when I awoke in the morning I was covered in dirt, grass stains, tobacco spit, and held a Louisville Slugger. I practiced how I wanted to play—and so it goes for writing: write, read, write, read. Practice!
After the story I ask, Do you read books, newspapers, magazine, backs of cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, ingredients of kitty litter? Then I suggest to them, To become a better writer, a better communicator, it’s very very important not only to write every day, and to read twice as much, but to do these voraciously and with purpose. But don’t just read to read, and don’t just write to write, I add. Read for fun, yes, but also make it a point to learn something new about yourself, not Kim Kardashian or Ryan Gosling. Dig deep and unlock a door that’s been covered in dust since birth. So many exotic places exist in your brain, and it’s time to find them. Time to travel the world and beyond. I act this way because, who knows?, maybe I'm the only one that knows the secret—that writing and reading secure you a first class seat to anywhere. (I hope others know the secret!)
Consultants . . . We must eliminate the H-word from our clients’ vocabulary. If we never ask clients how they feel about writing, about reading—and not writing and reading for school or work—then we do a disservice to them, to ourselves, but more importantly to our writing centers.