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Better Writing through Reading

Grammar got you down? There’s a solution.

“We know that grammar lessons alone do not improve writing much, if at all,” writes Gregory L. Roper in The Writer’s Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better Writing (ISI Books, 2007).

But why?

“The readers don’t need it,” he explains, “because they hear the good sentences and mimic them, and the non-readers never get good sentences in their heads through mere grammar study.”

The current “pedagogy of exhortation,” as Roper calls it, is meaningless; “long and deep reading is the only sure way to improve writing.”

I suppose my own experience bears this out. As a child, I spent most Saturdays in the basement of John Steinbeck Library. What I hadn’t read by dinnertime I’d check out—along with another half-dozen or so books to get me through the week. During junior high and throughout most of high school, my family didn’t have a TV set, so my time was pretty much equally divided between books and Dungeons & Dragons—and reading books about Dungeons & Dragons. (Girls clearly weren’t an option.) And I had a couple of amazing English teachers in high school, when, during summers as a truck driver, I managed to down a novel a day while waiting for the next load of wheat or barley.

Roper’s theory explains how writing has always come naturally to me, I guess. And why it is there are so many people with communications degrees who can’t, well…communicate. So go ahead. Pick up a book. You might actually learn something.



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