Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's be Honest - You're a Lousy Writer

Ouch.  Was that really necessary?

Well, if you ever want to become a good writer, then yes, it was necessary.

Alright, I would never say it quite that way, but I have reviewed many grants and other writing samples, and it's the hardest thing to have to tell someone. If the basic writing is solid, it's easy to talk about structure, objectives, graphics, voice, flow, and responses to the scoring criteria. Having a discussion about poor basic writing skills, though, is very difficult.

I think it's hard for several reasons.  First, people take their writing very personally. Criticism about someone's writing feels a lot like criticism of them personally, even when it is not. Second, basic writing skills are the hardest to develop if a person doesn't already have them. It takes time, focus, effort, and patience. Someone who is a lousy writer can't just become a good writer overnight. Sure, it's possible to become a good writer, but not in a week or through a single revision cycle. Finally, anyone who comes to me with a writing sample usually assumes and thinks he is a good writer.  There's an identity and self-esteem issue in the mix. Getting through that without destroying the relationship and dashing a person's writing hopes and dreams is like navigating through a mine field in the middle of a dark night, while blindfolded, during a rainstorm.  Your chances of success (See?  I'm not a complete pessimist.).

Still, knowing about any shortcomings in your basic writing skills is critical information if you're going to get any better. Writing is a craft that requires constant improvement. Everyone makes mistakes when they write. That's why we learn to proofread our own work and sometimes employ outside proofreaders, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about writing that is grammatically incorrect more than 20% of the time or that is riddled with punctuation errors. That kind of writing will not improve without a focused effort to learn what's wrong and to fix it.

Then, you have to practice writing.  Work through critiques and revisions, and practice some more.

At the same time, you need to read a lot so you can see examples of excellent writing of all kinds and allow the millions of structural variations to become part of your own language repertoire.

My suggestion is to find a friend or mentor who is already a good writer, and who will tell you the truth.  This is no small task (for the reasons I cited above), but it's essential if you want to become a good writer.

Anything worth doing requires effort.  Writing is no different. Get an honest assessment of your skill, and then don't pout.  Get busy making your writing better.


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About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.