by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh
I wanted to be a writer nearly all my life, and I wanted to teach almost as long. The words, the stories, and the emotions of writing were fascinating to me. How could these symbols be arranged to have so much meaning? As a child I wrote whimsical stories and poetry, and as a teenager I used writing as an outlet for my angst. I loved the writing, but it was not so easy to love the mechanics.
I dropped my grammar and usage class in college because it seemed too clinical and it was a little scary. I studied literature for the lyricism, not the nuts and bolts. I had a notion that if you knew what was under the hood, writing wouldn’t seem so attractive and mysterious. My professor urged me to sit through the rest of the classes that semester, and the next semester I retook the class. I got an A.
What I didn’t understand then was that the mechanics are part of the craft. Without a good understanding of how language is constructed, it’s difficult to make the words behave as you would like them to. I’ve had students who tell me that they are artists and that the words just flow from them. But more often than not, they have difficulty portraying these beautiful and complex thoughts into a coherent format for their audiences. A good artist knows the ingredients in paints and the construction of a well-made brush, and a good writer knows the ingredients of a well-formed sentence.
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