By Tobias van Schneider Published February 6, 2020
As a kid, I hated writing. Teachers made sure of it.
School was all about “correct” writing. It was focused on technicalities. There was little room for excitement or personal expression. The times writing didn't feel like a chore, it was used as punishment. As a kid when we misbehaved, teachers would have us handwrite a copy of the school rules.
Writing always felt like something I *had* to do, but didn't want to. As a child, many things grown-ups do don't make sense. Writing seemed as terrible as doing taxes.
This feeling continued into adulthood. I knew I wasn't a good writer. It has been drilled into me with a lasting effect.
It took me almost 20 years to fall in love with writing. Today, writing makes up a huge part of my work. And even better, writing has become something I do for fun, for relaxation. Can you imagine if I would've told this my younger self?
But what changed?
First of all, I changed. I developed my own personality and way of thinking. I now have a point of view. I didn't have this point of view when I was young, and school wasn't very much about encouraging me to have one either.
Every time I tried to write something as a child, I got called out for the mistakes I made. Words I misspelled, punctuation errors or grammar crimes I committed. And even if I didn't make any basic mistakes, teachers told us to write in a very old-fashioned literature kind of style. Long sentences, complicated words, loaded with decoration and ornamentation.
I now understand that there is no "wrong" writing, only ineffective writing. And sometimes effectiveness can be passed on for style.
Writing is a tool to communicate a message. It’s a tool that can be approached from many different angles. The technicalities of writing (the rules we made up in our language) can be bent in either direction to make it work. Sometimes, to be effective, we have to break rules in a creative way to stand out. And in other places, effective writing means making it ineffective on purpose (take corporate/legal speak for example, it’s only “effective” for those who understand it).
Hemingway’s writing was quite controversial in his time for its almost amateur-seeming simplicity. James Joyce famously wrote the longest run-on sentence at 4,391 words. William Faulkner’s writing was like a stream of consciousness, often without proper grammar or sentence structure. None of these writers wrote “correctly,” yet we consider them some of the greats.
"I can now enjoy writing while knowing that I don't have to be 'good' at it, as long as I'm effective."
Ironically, most of what school taught me about writing would be considered rather ineffective in today's times. Today we reward clear and concise writing. If you work in business, marketing, design or advertising, a clear and simple writing style is what gets you the job.
There is a lot of room for how you approach writing, and there is only one scenario in which you can consider it being "wrong.”
Writing is “wrong” when it's ineffective within the given context.
Your writing is ineffective if people either don't respond or respond differently than you anticipated. In both cases you have room for improvement, but there are rarely clear-cut rules on how to get there. Style and tone play into it, but it depends on the medium and the audience as well. It may seem right until it’s executed and proved otherwise. And that’s the fun part – seeing what hits the mark and what doesn’t, learning how to write words that resonate.
I enjoy writing now because I can see how I can have an effect on people. A well-written email can translate directly into me landing a big job. An ad I write for one of my products can translate directly into sales.
And on top, writing helps me think better. Sometimes I just do it to get my thoughts out of my brain, because I can better see them when they're on the page in front of me. I can now enjoy writing while knowing that I don't have to be "good" at it, as long as I'm effective.
What they failed to teach in school, a lesson lost beneath red markers and strict rules, is that writing is a superpower.