When I began working as a consultant for Elon University’s Writing Center last spring, I was slightly unsure of myself. I knew the tools and tricks of academic writing, but explaining these concepts to others as though I were a certified expert in the craft seemed a daunting challenge.
But having been at it for a few months now, I feel like I’ve learned something about myself, my fellow students and the state of academic writing at Elon: Writing will still be important after college. Academic writing won’t be.
There’s a tremendous range of opinions concerning academic writing at Elon — some find it engaging and fulfilling, some loathe it with a passion and some regard it with dull apathy.
I can understand the bitter outlooks on writing because I’ve also felt the frustration of writing on a topic that simply doesn’t interest me. Still, as a consultant, I find it heartbreaking how often I encounter writers who constantly sell themselves short. They’ve tried to learn proper writing, they say, but they’ll “just never be good at it.”
I believe this problem stems from faults in perception between the individual student and the system itself. Academic writing teaches us that there are clear distinctions between “good writing” and “bad writing,” and as such, we assume that these distinctions can be used to label “good writers” and “bad writers.”
Students who judge their writing based on how many marks the professor made in red ink are more likely to approach future writing with indifference or, even worse, hostility.
The issues facing students who struggle with writing may appear technical in nature, but they really concern a lack of confidence and perseverance. And while you might think that attitudes toward academic writing are isolated to college, the truth is that writing is prominent in many modern careers, and those who dislike writing in college will carry those perceptions with them even after leaving Elon.
But the prevalence of writing after college is what makes academic writing so essential.
Years after leaving college, relatively little academic writing will still be pertinent to your life, but writing as a practice most certainly will be. Rather than assuming that poor writing makes a poor writer, consider each piece you write as a learning experience, a proverbial stepping stone to a time when how you write, rather than what you write, will carry much more weight.
Your performance in academic writing may define you as a student, but it hardly defines you as a writer. It’s true that some are naturally more inclined to writing than others, but the desire to improve is most important.
Academic writing may seem fruitless at times, but even the uninteresting assignments can help establish your future identity as a writer. It can be difficult to confront your own faults without losing heart, but the effort is certainly worth it.