Having just filed an essay with a publisher, I am again amused by how much I have come to enjoy making “corrections” to my own writing. I reworked a piece I had published thirty-three years ago in a national periodical, and now I did five edits in the past week before I was willing to release it.
In teaching college freshman writing, I irritated many students because I kept expecting more of them the better their writing became. One woman, greatly frustrated, put it: “Dr. Alcorn, I just don’t get you. You finally accept my fourth draft and give me a B. So, I know I can write. Then you return the first draft of my next paper, and I know it was much better than the final draft of the last paper.”
This results from the bar having been raised, and it is the student who earned the raise. The student succeeds on one level and earns the opportunity to grow into the next. Some supposed I had missed errors on earlier papers and only now catch them. I noticed them and had made mental note to watch for their repetition or correction. We work, together, first on the most intolerable and let pass for the while the lesser. A C-paper in week one becomes a D-paper by week two. Successive papers must be significantly better to earn a better grade.
After having learned to teach writing in high school (i.e., as the teacher who is learning) and experience as an editor, I changed my language in teaching college students because I had changed my perspective. I stopped talking about “mistakes” that had been perpetrated and referred to needs to be met with solutions. There were no longer “errors” but weakness that need to be strengthened. There is nothing wrong with submitting a poorly written (first) paper, because the student thus establishes a baseline from which student and teacher work together.
Perhaps the most profound concept I had to teach my writing students is what I had myself to learn: You cannot write well until you first write poorly. You must first make, well, mistakes in order to learn by making mistakes. Once mistakes no longer scare you, you can afford to use the word because they have become opportunities to learn.
In writing, our task is to write what we know. But we can’t know what we know until we write what we suppose we know. You don’t know what you think until you read what you wrote.
It’s a crazy feeling when you begin to rejoice upon finding mistakes in your own writing (better you than your readers). When you do, you know you have become a writer.
No person can very often be right on the first attempt at anything substantial. You have to be wrong before you can be right. How many times does one need to wrong before becoming right? As many times as it takes to get it right.
One of the most profound realties I learned in doctoral research is the value of the null hypothesis. The experiment that fails succeeds in establishing as fact that a thing cannot be done and no one else needs to try, and this becomes a worthy contribution to the field of study.
There was a point in my life when I tried really hard to be “spiritual” and became only religious. I became discouraged that as hard as I tried, I kept committing the same sins. Then when I finally seemed beyond a particular sin, I became aware of a yet worse sin. Or, it was an old sin but it bothered me more. It seemed the more moral victories I experienced, the more miserable I became. I began to think that the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 7 just for me. Until I factored into my thinking that inasmuch as the same man wrote Romans 8, it must also be for me.
As I grew some spiritually and morally, I became less oriented on sin (perhaps obsessed with not sinning) and more focused on righteousness.