University Writing Center Blog

Posted on March 3rd, 2017 in Writing Strategies by Jennifer Mahoney

by Jennifer Rojas, Peer Consultant, University Writing Center

“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”–Stephen Fry

I want you to imagine yourself differently when it comes to writing.

Maybe you don’t see yourself as a writer. You may feel like you are a bad writer—you struggle with grammar, commas, flow. At some point, a paper came back covered in red ink (what felt like so many mistakes).

Yet, you may be writing more now than ever before. Text messages, tweets, or Facebook posts. If you are like many others, you don’t think of those texts or posts as “writing.” Certainly not the type of writing expected in school and professional life.

But isn’t it? Emails have been a mainstay of business communication for at least the last decade, if not more. Text messages are quickly gaining popularity as a means of communicating with clients, coworkers, and supervisors. An increasingly global economy collaborates through Google Docs, Prezi, or other programs to get work done.

Why don’t more of us consider these as writing? Writing an email to your boss or as a cover letter for an application requires just as much focus as on audience and purpose as the traditional research paper assigned in class. Tweets can have more punch than a whole paragraph. The difference, to me, lies in the perception of writing as a talent vs. writing as a skill.

Or, according to Stephen Fry, the difference between thinking of yourself in terms of “a writer” vs. “I write.”

It is absolutely okay if you don’t see yourself as a writer. Not everyone does. But I challenge you to imagine yourself as someone who writes. And as someone who writes, you can sharpen your skills with practice. I won’t argue here why working on writing well is important. (Check out Michael Beck’s blog or this one from Life Optimizer if you still need convincing.) Just don’t imprison yourself with the idea that you are stuck with your current writing skills.

Seek out opportunities to work on your writing skills when you don’t have a grade or a job hanging in the balance. Give yourself that freedom to try. Maybe you’ll stumble, but maybe—just maybe—you’ll succeed.