Philosophy for Learning How to Write

Anyone can learn to write well. Half of learning how to write well is realizing that in fact you have a lot to say—you just have to develop some techniques for accessing that stuff.  The other half is realizing that the same words on the same page can be perceived in very different ways by different readers.  So my job is (1) to give you LOTS of experience writing and provide opportunities to write about things that have some potential to be interesting and (2) to give you lots of experience seeing how your writing is read by others.  I also need to introduce you to the world of writing in college.   You might think of academia as being a new culture about which you have to learn what’s expected and valued.  Every culture has its own language, and I can help you learn it.  Now, YOUR job is to approach with an open mind the opportunities to write that I provide you but also to take risks, to ask questions about what I’m asking you to do, to make suggestions regarding how you learn best, and to take yourselves and each other seriously as thinkers and writers.

In order to write REALLY well, you have to read well.  You need to learn how to read for meaning, to read to understand where someone else is coming from.   There’s nothing really mysterious about this process.  I will give you a number of tools to help you read for the main idea of a piece of writing but also to do what we call "close reading":  to read with an attitude of questioning as well as empathizing.  You’ll also learn to read to steal from other writers—not to steal ideas but to steal techniques that you like, that make your own writing more powerful.