You Don’t Actually Hate Writing

Whenever I’m asked to list my interests (which I feel happens more often than you’d think), “writing” always pops up, alongside reading, going to the beach, and eating cupcakes.  I’ve been listing writing as one of my interests for as long as I can remember.

It should come as no surprise that my heart breaks a little bit every time a student tells me he or she hates writing. Oof. Hate is a strong word. I hate animal abuse. I hate racism. I hate the Holocaust. I hate sugar-free cupcakes (what is that?!) I feel like there are a lot of things more hate-worthy than writing, and yet, every month I get handful of students who flat out tell me they hate writing.

You know what, though? I’m skeptical. I have a sneaking suspicion that students don’t actually hate writing. I think they’ve just been taught to think they hate writing.

Think about it. Many people have very negative experiences with writing early on, particularly in school. How many of you have had a teacher use writing as a punishment, a la Bart Simpson?

I’m ashamed to admit that even I used writing as a punishment during my brief life as a middle school teacher. When I had kids in detention I’d make them write out MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I also made them listen to Queen (which I didn’t actually consider punishment, but they did). I’ve since realized what a mistake that was. How could I use something I love as punishment? I see now that it would have been much better to have had them just help me with cleaning the classroom or something along those lines. Writing should never be used as punishment, and kids don’t learn how to be better behaved because they’re assigned to write. Just look at Bart.

You might also think you hate writing if you’ve never really received adequate feedback. I consider inadequate feedback to include feedback that only focuses on the negative and never points out the positive. Admittedly, sometimes it is difficult to find something truly positive to say about work that really needs a lot of improvement, but students need timely feedback that discusses what was done well and what needs improvement. If you’re constantly told bad things about your work, or worse, if you never hear anything about it at all, then of course you won’t associate good feelings with that task. Your teachers owe you detailed constructive feedback that focuses on what needs improvement and what was done well.

If the bulk of your experience with writing has been completely based around preparing for standardized tests, as is the case with a lot of recent high school graduates, you might think you hate writing. After all, with all of the testing requirements each state has to abide by these days, many teachers don’t have time during the school year to let their students write creatively. I volunteer with kids and a few weeks ago two really awesome, smart kids I work with (9 and 12) told me they hate writing because all they ever do is practice for the FCAT (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and that they never even get feedback on the practice writing they do. I asked them if they thought they’d like writing if they got to write fun things like stories and songs. Of course they said yes, but with so many arts programs getting cut in schools it’s getting harder and harder for kids to get exposed to creative writing early on.

Here’s the thing, though: you like movies. You like music. You like TV shows. You like video games with killer story lines. You do like writing, even if you just like it when other people are doing the heavy lifting. If you hate being the one who is doing the writing, you might just hate your past experiences with it. How good would it feel to work really hard at getting better at it, and succeeding? After all, you know you’re going to need to be a decent writer in your lifetime, even if the extent of the writing you do is limited to business emails and memos.

Here’s what I think: if you put aside your “hate” for writing long enough to form some new experiences with it, you might be surprised. I, myself, have always had terrible experiences with math (and I’ve even uttered that I “hate” math on more than one occasion), but several years ago I had no choice but to put aside my feelings about math and get help. In order to graduate from college I had to pass this big state math test and I hired a tutor. With the one-on-one attention from the tutor, I learned that my real problem with math was that I just didn’t understand it, and no one had ever taken the extra time to help me overcome the hurdle. It frustrated me to be forced to do something I didn’t understand. Remember, it’s cool to ask for help. If you work toward getting better at writing, your distaste for it might ebb.

Challenge yourself to write something, anything, this month. Ask someone for some feedback. Do it while you’re doing something else you enjoy, like listening to music or, um, eating a cupcake. Give it a chance. I don’t think you really hate it. Save your hate for terrible things, like the 21 Absolute Worst Things in the World.

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About Jaclyn Sullivan

I'm a full time Instructional Designer and a sometimes adjunct professor of English Composition. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and I'm a published fiction and non-fiction writer. Check me out on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaclynmsullivan I'm a big fan of post-modern literature and swear by the lessons of Kurt Vonnegut. Some of my favorite writers include Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, Grace Paley, Flannery O'Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Raymond Carver. I like Tom Waits, Andrew Bird, actual birds, pictures of cats, actual cats, animals in general, polka dots, exercise, iced coffee, reading, writing, tv-viewing, the Internet, and food. I dislike rain on days when my hair looks good, sweating, t-rex arms, public bathrooms, books being made into awful movies, and when The Walking Dead is on hiatus.
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7 Responses to You Don’t Actually Hate Writing

  1. I started writing poetry at a young age but no one ever gave me feedback so I stopped. Now I feel like I miss it. Thanks for the information and motivation Mrs. Sullivan. Now I’m inspired to get pack to the writing pad.

  2. Josh Pistello says:

    I actually enjoy writing, during my years during high school I did a handful of creative writing that I found enjoyable. It wasn’t songs or poetry it was short stories that I found peaked my interest, now I know I don’t want to pursue a career in it all but it is something that I believe everyone should get to enjoy like yourself.

  3. Michelle Macone says:

    I never really thought about writing as something to be deemed positive or negative. I always saw it as a vital medium through which it was necessary to communicate effectively with. Writing has the potential to be exciting or mundane based on ones perspective of it. I personally see it as a tool in which to grow in. Therefore, I enjoy it.

    • Michelle, I think you’re absolutely right–writing has many possibilities, and like everything else, sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it can be a drag. It’s great to approach it with the most positive attitude possible. I’m so glad you enjoy it!

  4. Harley Falkoff says:

    I would never say I hate writing as a whole, but if it’s not creative writing, I certainly have a distaste for it. I don’t like reading news articles, whether it’s good or bad news and that goes double for actually writing those. I don’t like writing about specific topics because it’s a convergent form of writing for me where there’s only one solution to the problem of “How can they understand my point of view?” And as said in the article, I don’t like punishment writing, which is pretty obvious. The problem is 90+% of writing assignments in school, even higher learning at a design school like Full Sail, are not creative writing assignments. I’ve had 4 classes so far without a single chance for creative writing. Even in Psychology of Play, all the writing I had was about specific topics. Even this comment is about a single topic and it kind of hurts me to continue writing it. But I want help with this kind of writing; how can I make such a convergent medium for me into one that appeals to my tastes? I couldn’t do something creative like write this in Shakespearian English or use portmanteaus for every other word because then it wouldn’t portray the message I want to get across. This article explained a lot about how one could not “hate writing” but it sure hasn’t helped me gain a liking for it either…

    • Harley, thanks for your comments. The goal of this particular blog post wasn’t necessarily to help you gain a liking for writing, but to encourage you to open yourself up to the idea of taking pleasure in writing. So many people say they flat out hate it and are unwilling to give it a chance, and I find that that often comes from previous negative experiences, thus the creation of this particular blog post. I’d love to know what you consider creative writing, and what kinds of creative writing opportunities you would like to see in your classes at Full Sail. It’s important to understand that teachers design assignments with certain learning outcomes and goals in mind, and that generally requires extreme focus on certain topics, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative with your approach. What kinds of assignments could a behavioral science class give that would be considered creative writing? Creative Writing for Film and Digital Cinematography does allow for students to write creative fiction stories of their choosing, but that is a Creative Writing class. Its’ goal is to teach elements of fictional storytelling. What message do you want to get across? What kinds of creative writing do you practice in your spare time? It’s important to define what you understand to be creative writing and how you believe it could play a role in your classes at Full Sail. I personally feel that we allow for a lot of creativity in English Composition, but I also believe it’s important to give my students guidelines and parameters so that they can succeed at meeting the class objectives. English Composition has different goals than Creative Writing. Try to come to this class with an open mind, and don’t let previous experiences with writing cloud the way you see every writing assignment.

      • Harley Falkoff says:

        The issue is my own, I’m sure of that. To me writing about a topic has only one path. One solution, just like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s mindless and completely directed. This doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t have to think; I just have to make my point. If I could make up words or write using strange grammar, it would be entertaining. But because grammar and spelling are graded and reflect professionalism, I could never do such things with a writing assignment for any class outside of a poetry or fictional writing course. If I were to say go and write a paragraph like the following, I would get very little credit, regardless of how on topic I was.

        A profile: side view, obscured. Glimpses invoke the curiosity. Of all the views, it is of the importance. Shining, glowing, and showing, the sight is unhindered. No falls. No walls. But hidden still, the secrets and faults. Abstained or refrained? Perhaps en-framed.

        This paragraph tells far more through its poetry than an ordinary paragraph but also keeps on topic. But writing like that for my assignments in English Composition would likely end with me not passing the course. I don’t like being formal, but being informal doesn’t mean I can’t be professional. The discrepancy is when another mistakes my informal style to being “lazy” or “immature” when I’m likely thinking more about each line or even each word than most. For example, I tried to write in second person for an assignment in high school, and followed every direction and hit every key point, but still lost significant points for being “hard to read.” These forms of creative writing are still topical, but change the perspective and make the reader think more. Shouldn’t that be praised in a class about writing?

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