Posted in Miscellany

writing students who can’t write

“As a journalist,” I tell my despairing students, “you are finally in the storytelling business.” We all are. It’s the oldest form of human communication, from the caveman to the crib, endlessly riveting. Goldilocks wakes up from her nap and sees three bears at the foot of her bed. What’s that all about? What happens next? We want to know and we always will.

Writers! Never forget to tell us what’s up with the bears. Manage that content.

William Zinsser writes about content, long form journalism, and his students who don’t seem to get that sentences follow one upon the other building something sequentially. That difficulty with logical reasoning isn’t just in the writing, but also in the thinking. His explanation is that students are exposed to too much short random information. But I wonder whether it isn’t that logical reasoning is rarer than people think. Studies show how easily people’s views changed when primed by words or images. So much of what we think is inchoate and unconscious, justified after the fact. To recognize that and think carefully takes much patience and awareness as well as what we ordinarily think of as intelligence. How common is it?



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

2 thoughts on “writing students who can’t write

  1. You’re quite right that it’s uncommon, but at the same time logical reasoning doesn’t get much air space in classrooms, and because it takes a lot of time and effort to help each child master it, it gets left to one side. I find it’s a major problem among my students and they are supposed to be the cleverest in the country! But give them a lot of material and they will struggle to put some order to it.

    I’m sick – I just love that sort of thing. I also enjoy untangling knots in wool, string, necklaces and electric cords…..

  2. Linear logic: hard to do, a brand new hominid capacity, and so much less “normal” then metaphorical (or sense) logic (which is what all students do and often think of as the only kind of logic there is). I’m beginning to suspect that the real art in creative writing is jamming the heart of sense logic into the body of a much smaller and weaker linear logic. A bit like threading a small bone needle with a flabby old (but wonderfully coloured) balloon.

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