I have been listening to Ann Pachett’s essays in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by which she means, I take it, her marriage to writing as well as to her second husband. I have read several of her books—she’s a first-class novelist. In her essays about writing, she is writing about the art of writing fiction. God bless her for her novels.
But I want to re-contextualize her generally sage advice within a different frame, the one to which I have devoted my adult live: encouraging others/students to write the way they breathe, speak, sing, or dance. In a way, my thoughts are contrapuntal to Pachett’s. She is writing about writers, in spite of her disclaimer, in the Romantic tradition—people who are set apart from the quotidian.
I resist this tradition of imagining people as writers and non-writers. I know that was not Pachett’s intent—she doesn’t seem to have thought about writing, like speech, as a gift that belongs to all of us rather than only to those of us who are “writers.” This tradition is grounded in social class stratification, marking “artists” off from the rest of us.
But if we imagine that she is talking about writing as a right rather than a privilege, much of what she says could improve the way writing is taught in academic environments. I am going to comment on only one.
You learn to write by writing. Write a lot. Get into the flow of writing, and you will move forward. This simple truth is complicated by genre theory and dysfunctional teaching, much of which is unwittingly grounded in social class reproduction.
I’ll skip my link to social class reproduction about which I have written extensively on this blog, in articles, and in Going North, Thinking West. So to genre theory:
Pachett is writing about the uber-genre: fiction. But in a certain sense, she is also writing about writing, that literacy gift that should be available to all of us but which is through the educational industry denied to the working classes.
Still, Pachett, a writer with upper-middle-class origins, offers advice that writing teachers should heed. If you want to bring writing into your lives, you need to write and write and write. And you need to choose your readers/commentators wisely. Writers need to read their readers rhetorically. It would help if they are able to read their readers within a larger social construction that reserves for circulation writers from the privileged social classes—and from the gender and racially privileged classes [that’s me]. And don’t go to school to learn how to write.
I have been teaching and mis-teaching forever, swayed by my desire to be accepted in the field (and thus, ventriloquating thoughtless verities, like the importance of argument). I want to push the opposite: please, let’s help our students fall in love with writing. And get rid of these junk readings and useless discussions. Stop pretending that you are teaching your students how to think. Perhaps think instead about how your induction into higher education has taught you how not to think while thinking you are thinking.