Writing Advice from the Wall Street Journal

Well, it’s not exactly from the Wall Street Journal. Thanks to Chuck Wendig’s blog post on the subject, I was able to read a lovely article about the way teachers are trying to get kids to use words differently.

Yes, I do think it’s lovely. And yes, I understand what teachers are trying to teach kids to do. And yes, I think they’re going about it the wrong way.

First, the article. It was brilliant. Props to James R. Hagerty, who follows the advice he writes about and eschews the so-called ‘bad’ or ‘boring words.’ Take a look, I’ll still be here when you get back.

You can also consider the objective quality of the article, separate from its satirical element, via these words.

I think it’s cool that teachers are actively trying to teach kids to be better writers, and to use more of the English language. One of the greatest aspects of English is the vocabulary at our fingertips. But the important thing about writing is to use the correct word, not the most interesting one. And that is something that the teachers of the article are failing to teach their students.

I went through a phase where ‘said’ was a banned word for me. I thought there were so many other great dialogue tags out there, why not let them shine? But much better writers than me have come up with the answer. ‘Said’ is an invisible tag. The eye skips over it. It’s only there for reference, when we need to remember who, exactly, said (proclaimed, sniveled, ejaculated) what. It doesn’t need to jump up and down, waving its arms in the air. And that’s what 5-dollar words do.

Despite the fact that I don’t think they’re dispensing great advice, I’d say – let’s NOT tell these teachers what horrible people they are. Most of the kids they teach won’t pursue writing even as a hobby, and even fewer will pursue it as a career. And those that do will soon learn that ‘banned words’ are a bogus entity in the English language, thanks to that great pit of advice called the Internet. We’re not talking about a BA or MFA course here. I can appreciate a class which focuses on making my child think in different ways, even if I don’t completely agree with the method.

I’d like to finish with my favorite quote from Hagerty’s article:

Second-guessing famous authors was tricky, Josh cautioned: “It’s almost as though they’re given a free pass” to flout the rules. Josie submitted that she wasn’t sure they should get that pass.

Her brother winced: “You’ve got to remember,” he lectured, “most of these guys are dead.”

And my favorite quote from Wendig’s post:

Context is more meaningful than painting up your words to be pretty.

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