I know, I know. How many times have we been told throughout our academic careers that we need to try new things, “to take chances, make mistakes, get messy”?
I think every sports coach ever has the poster “You miss 100% of the shots you never take” hanging in their classrooms or locker rooms. Do I really need to harp on the many reasons these are good for us? Yes, I do because, in reality, many of us are too afraid to take any important risks in our writing, especially if it’ll be graded.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’d rather stick to what I know. However, I got the chance to learn new writing skills in a class on reviewing children’s literature. I had never written anything close to a legitimate book review before, but children’s lit is one of my favorite topics, so I was able to take small steps forward, using content I already knew as my foundation.
In order to succeed, I had to learn a different style of writing. Most reviews are fewer than 200 words. Therefore, I was forced to get “to the point” while still being extremely detailed and analytic. Every word counted. For me, that was a tough requirement. I like taking my time to get my point across, but I couldn’t in these reviews. It was a tough skill to learn, but I can now transfer that skill to my academic writing.
I also had to be more aware of my audience. Reviews are meant for a variety of people (not just a teacher) who want to know if a book is worth buying. A review should always be interesting. I’m used to academic writing, which, honestly, can be pretty bland. Writing reviews forced me to find ways to keep my writing interesting, and once I learned how to do that, I could adapt that skill to make my other academic writing more exciting.
I didn’t know what to expect in a class about writing reviews. I did it anyway. I recognized that I needed to expand my writing skills to include new styles. Because I had the courage to submit myself to uncertainty, I gained confidence in myself as a writer and signed up for a fiction writing class this semester.
I had never written fiction before (unless you count some really bad Harry Potter fan fictions). Before this past year, I was certain I was awful at it and wouldn’t waste my time working at it, even though I was always secretly very interested in writing fiction. It turns out that I’m actually not that bad at it!
As sappy as those motivational posters are, they do have a point. We have to continue expanding what we know and how we write. We write, and so we evolve and adapt and learn.