Writing doesn’t seem to be an easy piece of cake for most young people. Some of you must have experienced the drudgery of thinking and pain of struggling when attempting to write. Paper overspread on your desk, pen held tightly in your hand, but not a single piece of idea appears in your mind, not mentioning finishing anessay at one go. At the sight of the empty paper, you may feel uneasy at first, then a little worried, then somewhat anxious, finally insanely desperate… This is not exaggerated or distorted but bloody genuine when we are trying to write in English, or even write in our own mother tongue. Writing has always been a big challenge for mostof us, but will it still be the same tomorrow?
It is commonly believed that those who are capable of writing are smarter, nobler and more knowledgeable than the common people. The great writers peruse elaborate and abstruse treatises (大作家考究修辭、語法、謀篇諸方面的繁復、艱澀的條條框框)on Rhetoric, Grammar and Composition. They think broadly, and they write frequently.For us average learners, those great works they write are as gold enclosed in chests of steel and locked beyond power of opening. The great writers’ talents, power and faith in writing encourage us on the one hand, to imitate; startle us, on the other hand, to stop, on the long journey of learning to write. Our self-confidence is crushedinto pieces when finding the great works are too good to be repeated.
Despite these unpleasant impressions, we still have a lot of reasons to take this awkward situation seriously, especially when we are discussing “Writing in English” as a college course for this coming semester. Before conducting systematic study, some primary considerationsmay inspire you to predict the chief concerns of our course.
These considerations may fall into several questions for group discussion. For example, why is writing such an indispensible task for our English majors? Why is writing this torturing for most of us? What is writing in nature? How can we improve our writing competence?
Thesequestions are quite easy at the first thought but very complicated in nature when thought twice. It’s like meeting some seeming acquaintance you think you know well in the morning walk, you immediately have no idea what his name is when opening your mouth to greet. Obviously, you don’t know him as well as you have thought.
To these questions, no satisfactory answers or systematic explanations have yet been given. Therefore, a writing practice can also be assigned in this week for each question, since so large space for further discussion exists there. So can’t we say you are free to choose one that arouses your keen interests to finish a 100-word composition after this class, can we?
Now let me give you some time for your live discussion. By the way, how long do you need to discuss completely and thoroughly for the above-mentioned questions? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Or half an hour? A week? Ok, I’ll give you fifteen minutes to organize the seminar. Then I will ask several comrades to give brief presentations on these topics, ok? Let’s go!
Ok, after listening to our dear comrades answers, I would like to present mine for your consideration.
Purposes for Writing
From pragmatic point of view, we humans are trying to reach some goals no matter what we are working on. When working hard, we mean to earn bread or get social acknowledgement; when attending match, we mean to win the game or enjoy ourselves in activities; when going to college, we mean to get a diploma, a graduation certificate… Goals or purposes serve as a finger-post on the road pointing in the right direction.
We English majors are mostly writing in school for studies purposes. Night out of ten, weEnglish majors express ourselves in journal writing to record our living, or demonstrate our learning in tests to prove ourselves. In school, we learn how to write different genres, including short answers to questions, essays to guidelines, research papers as graduation thesis… In advanced class, we write a description, to illustrate; a narrative, to tell a story; expositive, to explain a process or explore some unexplainable phenomenon; argumentative, to argue for a point of view; a book review, to summarize a book we read. We write sentence fragments, paragraphs, even whole essays to develop answers for questions in the format of a course paper or research paper. All in all, writing is our life, and our life is writing.
It’s not all. In the future, after graduation, writing might even help you more than you can imagine, especially when you want to work as teachers, editors, journalists, translators, professors, researchers, or writers. Writing will become an indispensable quality for better career developments andfurther education opportunities. Teachers and professors need publish essays or personal works to prove they are qualified; editors need revise other’s writing content; researchers and writers must publish their scientific reports and literature bestsellers to get fame and wealth.
For most intelligent workers today, writing is a tool in thinking, working and being. It’s a bit like in the ancient times, the warriors or knights always held a sword in hand to survive the harsh battle to win their dignity and lives. Today’s intelligent workers need to have a pen in hands, this writing competence to survive the modern life. If the warriors wanted to conquer and win the battle in the past, they needed sharpen their sword against the woody jungle or fierce enemy. If you want to survive in the modern challenge in an information era, you have to work even harder in improving your writing competence to prove you to be much quicker, smarter and more powerful than others.
Therefore, we either write for now or for future.Writing seems to be a steady way to reach to success and better being. (To be less stressful, we may mention poetry composed for fun or novel creation for life enlightenments!)
Writing in nature
Before starting the discussion, we present a blank-filling exercise as a warming-up. Look at here. A part of the sentence has been taken away.Could you complete this by filling in a word, some words or even sentences according to your comprehension of what writing is really involved?
English writing is ____________________________________.
The possible answers vary. Writing can be a mystery or a real treat. Writing can also be your headache or torture. Writing can bring happiness, enjoyment, as well as stress and embarrassments. You can either feel it impossible to do or very demanding to handle, or sometimes nearly killing you. The answers vary because we are different and our writing competence is different. We read differently and respond differently. We have different language learning ability. In addition, our life experiences are not the same. We have distinct characters and personal quality. How could we respond similarly to this issue?
Moreover, different answers are still possible if considered from various perspectives. If not about how we feel but about what writing really is, many versions of descriptions may still come out. A may think writing is kind of mechanical reflection of the world around us, something like the reflected image in a mirror. B may hold that  ; writing is kind of release of people’s emotions, something like the hot magma in an erupting volcano to show the earth is live. C may assert that none of first-mentioned are reasonable and writing has nothing todo with philosophy but people’s brain or mind. He may describe writing as a kind of energy consumption or product of their imagination. Well, that’s a big challenge. How could we explore writing without knowing what writing really is?
Let’s go to library and look it up in some reference materials to see what we will have.
The fundamental meaning of the word “writing” , if Oxford Dictionary is opened, goes like, “the activity of occupation of writing(esp. books)”, which apparently can’t help much for us to know it’s nature.
The following explanation could be found if Bai Du searching engine is used. In the entry of
“writing” many versions of definitions can be detected, of course in Chinese. They go like:
A lot more scientific and credible definitions can be found here.
(If condition permitted, 2 short video clips could be displayed.)
Now, let’s stop here. We’ll not continue to read Baidu encyclopedia any longer, or you may be misled that you could learn writing theory by using web material. What you shouldn’t forget is that web is only one of convenient and reliable resources for references.
In our class, writing can be grasped in this way.
Writing is a kind of artistic creation/technology of organizing language symbols and signs to describe, to narrate or to argue (which is, of course, able to be expanded to exchange information, to entertain, to inspire or to educate, etc.).
Pay attention here! Two words (creation, technology) are presented for different consideration. Writing is a kind of life manner when artistic inclination is emphasized when literature-like contents are composed; it’s also akind of skill promotion process when technological inclination is stressed in perspective of scientific research or writing training. Both terms are reasonable in specific case.
Writing is greatly different from speaking. Speaking is acquirable in daily life but writing may be learnable in school; speaking always involves dialect variations thatrepresent a region or social status, while writing is more restricted and generally follows a standardized form of vocabulary, grammar, structure, and organization; speaking is often spontaneous and unplanned while writing is mostly planned and can be changed through editing and revision before an audient reads it; speaking is usually informal andrepetitive while writing is more formal and compact and progresses more logically with fewer explanations and digressions(遞減，下降); speaking implores simpler sentences connected by lots of ands and buts while writing uses complex sentences with connecting words like “however, who, although and in addition”. Therefore, it’s very controversial to saywriting is like speaking with pen instead of mouth. This statement only makes a little sense when we want to comfort those who feel writing as impossible task to believe writing is not that difficult. Can you speak? If you can, then you can write. Writing is like speaking, only with pen instead of mouth.
How to improve our writing (competence)
Since you want use your pen as a sword to fight in this world, you must learn how to sharpen it. When you sharpen a long and iron sword, the fir st thing to do is to lay a reliable hone on the ground against which your sword will be pressed and sharpened. The next thing is to pay endurable effort to work on it. You keepsharpening for an extremely long time and work at it very painstakingly to get a sharp sword. You have to stop here and there to check it. You may want to find some wooden chunk or other hard stuff to cut to see whether it works.
The constant comparison and study of Chinese and English is that efficient and nice hone you lay to sharpen your sword, to hone the blade thin and sharp. As Chinese, English is only our second language. The second language acquisition is extremely different from our first language, our mother tongue. We study our mother tongue automatically and naturally. We don’t seem to feel so much trouble in learning listening, speaking, reading and writingChinese as we do in learning English, do we? On the contrary, we find impossible to memorize so many English vocabularies; we are not accustomed in combining English sentences according its grammar; we can’t make sense strange proper names of western world. Learning seems to be rather urgent task in case of everything that appears in a second language. This is very different situation from the first one. So we need to compare the second language with our mother tongue.
Being aware of this, we’ll find English and Chinese are quite different in many aspects. They are two diametrically different linguistic systems in phonetics, morphology and syntax, because we Chinese dine differently, dress differently, and think differently from those English. If we want to have a good command of their language, we have to be prepared and knowledgeable about the difference of these two languages.
This is, as you can imagine with your common sense, a gigantic project. You’ve got to develop the related awareness and keep studying about those differences in any level. But it’s not over.
Writing skills are the necessary quality for a good writer. You can’t count on writing a good essay without knowing any writing skills. How can you choose from alterative words to best depict the writing object? How can you make your writing coherent and consistent since you are trying use long text and many paragraphs to state one single central idea? How can you use more vivid and more efficient language to write as to attract your audience? So, writing skills matter a lot if you want to be a good and efficient writer.
You can learn these writing skills from our text books, or experience them in your personal practice. Sometimes they are not easy for in-experienced writers to understand because these skills are delicate and slippery. Read more and understand better about these slippery eels when you plow in this writing land. Keep full alert when teacher is explaining what they are and how they look like. When you start writing you’ll find their traces here and there. Hold them tight and don’t let go if sometime you grasp some in your hand!
Finally, to improve your writing competent, constant practices are indispensable. So practice, practice, and practice! Practice makes perfect. Practices make you have personal experience for those theoretical principles. They don’t exist unless you try them by yourselves. No matter what kind of writing assignments they are, “guided writings” or “free writings”, the best response is to pull your socks up and practice to create your own new world with a pen in hand！Then, don’t practice once for each assignment. Try to write the same topic for many many times until you feel   ;it right to say the good essay is not done with writing but completed with revising! So you need a lot persistence and patience in improving your writing competence.