Reflections on Writing

As a writing tutor, I tried to be as honest and straightforward about my assessments of student writing as I could while supporting the art and act of writing and helping writers to see where they had room to improve.  This made me a very polar writing tutor: people either loved sessions with me or they hated it and never returned.  If I got lucky, students who hated it realized that they needed the level of candid feedback that I provided and returned for more sessions with different pieces of work.  If I got extremely lucky, the writers that I absolutely reveled in working with returned time and time again.  That is not to say that I did not enjoy each and every single session I had (there were bad ones, but 90% of them were enjoyable).  But the quality of the writing and the talent of the writer allowed me to engage on a much deeper philosophical level with several students over time, getting past mechanics into more complicated issues like flow, thesis development, voice, and assertiveness.

I have not offered to read many of my classmate’s papers in the MSIM program, partly because it was no longer my job, but partly because my group work and the quality of the writing that resulted from that work discouraged me.  It is not that I am dealing with more English as a World Language speakers (some of whom have a better grasp of the mechanics of English composition than I do!), but that I am left unimpressed by the devotion to the art.  I recognize in many of my classmates the same tendencies that I wrestled with as a writing tutor: an aversion to the skill of written communication in general, a lack of interest in complete development of ideas, and no realization of the power that the written word holds.  Again, I do not imply that these are bad writers — there is no such thing – underdeveloped, perhaps, where skill can be improved, but never bad — only that they seem detached.

The problem is this: the MSIM program is a professional program, and a core competency for professionals is to be able to write.  By this, I do not mean the ability to string words together to make a coherent sentence – it is a much higher level than that.  It is the ability to use words to convince, to argue, to assert, to discuss, and to realize.  I do not demand that they enjoy the act, that they pine for the days when they can pick up the pen or sit down at the keyboard and write.  I do not even demand that they do so frequently (the program does, but I don’t).  Instead, I demand that they respect the process and that they devote themselves to nothing less than the best they can achieve.  Half-hearted is not sufficient.  I prefer no complaints, but I will tolerate those within reason, for not everyone is as interested in writing as I am.  If I am to hear whining the entire quarter about how we have to write a paper, I am unlikely to be interested in working with that individual again, for such reactions are uninspiring and indicative of more than they might think.

This is not a complaint post – far from it.  I am not bemoaning my peers, nor am I taking any stance in particular as to the technical quality of their work.  I have merely realized that my skills in writing have influenced my perception of my peers.  I have also realized that perhaps I have failed at something small but nonetheless significant: it was not simply my job to promote the art and act of writing as a writing tutor, but to carry this effort on.  I owe this in part to Kevin Desouza, associate professor at the Information School, who tirelessly offers on a weekly basis to both his Change Management and Finance classes to read any writing sent his way so long as it is mechanically correct.  His devotion to his students and to supporting them is above and beyond some of the other classes I have taken here.  This is neither good nor bad from a program perspective, but from the perspective of a tutor who has, perhaps, let the art slip, is inspiring nonetheless.