"I'm not going to need to write after school."
"Reading is boring and I barely even do it for classes now"
"Writing is just hard and it's not like I need it anyways."
"It's not like anyone actually reads these days. Everything becomes a movie or TV show."
I hate to break it to you, but you're going to spend the rest of your life reading and writing. So grab a drink or a snack, because this is about to be a very long blog post.
Before you get any further, I want to make a disclaimer. This blog post was initially born out of a lot of frustration I was feeling. At the time, I was struggling to work with content from several of my writers and dealing with questions that wouldn't have existed if people read my emails properly in the first place.
That has since subsided. Kind of. I've graduated since first writing this, so I don't feel those immediate frustrations anymore. Having nearly seven months away from when I first started writing this has given me a lot of time to consider how I want to explain this concept, especially when it seems like so many people think otherwise.
I've revised and edited this a few times before this final version, which is already an example of putting writing skills to use. While it is different because I maintain a blog and not everyone does that, it's still a nod to how important writing and polishing is and how often I use it.
I can't count the number of times I've heard people say some variation of the quotes above. Especially when I say that I'm a writer or that I read for fun.
For some reason, it elicits the desire in other people to tell me whether or not they could do the same thing. Usually to some effect of "Oh that's great for you but I could never do that." And the question is - why not?
First of all, I think that's downplaying a person's capabilities. Everyone has it in them to read and write well. It just depends on your definition.
How do you define "well?"
I'm not saying that everyone should be reading 500+ page books and discussing the impact that classic literature has had upon modern media as a result of neglecting to account for differences in time (although that would make for an interesting conversation). I'm not even saying that you need to like reading or writing.
Really, you just need to understand the basics.
*gasp* Yes, the avid reader and writer said that you don't need to enjoy these skills. And that's because there are times when I haven't enjoyed them.
Just because I read and write a lot, doesn't mean I always want to. There have been plenty of books for classes that I've dragged myself through or skipped entirely (sorry, professors). Papers that needed to be written that I put off until the last minute because I didn't want to write them.
Also, liking something and being good at it are two different things. I like photography, but I'm not very good at it. I like driving, but my best friend can tell you that I'm really not great behind the wheel. I like video games, but my reaction time and coordination aren't always the best. But I have the basics down, so there's room for improvement.
My definition of "well" in this case is this - being able to read comprehensively/critically, and being able to express yourself accurately in writing.
For starters, reading isn't considered a difficult skill. Most people with access to education have learned to read from a young age. Even those without access to education might have learned some basics because they need it to get by. Reading just isn't hard.
We read things all the time. Captions to social media posts, tweets from celebrities, gossip about those celebrities, recipes for new meals, directions to new locations, even just looking around your house, you're probably reading more than you think.
You're never going to stop reading things. No matter how advanced technology gets, you're still going to to read things. And of course, I could apply reading to a lot of areas - time, body language, social dynamics - but for the sake of simplicity, we'll stick with words.
The most basic goal of reading is to understand. At its core, that's the purpose. As children, we learn the alphabet to understand how to put together words. Then we read the words to understand sentences in picture books. Then bigger books with bigger stories. Then you might read an advertisement and understand what it's saying. You read instructions from your parents about how to defrost chicken because they're running late from work. You learn to read to understand.
Reading well - by my definition, reading critically - is knowing what is being said.
Not long after reading, we learnt to write. It's replicating what we read so that we can both understand and create. We start by tracing alphabets that get strung together to make words, which grow into sentences. Learning to write gives us another form of expression and communication.
When you think about it, even children who can't write the alphabet yet will grab markers and scribble across pages, handing them to you with pride. They've written you a note. There aren't any letters or words, but the concept of writing to express oneself is already there. And so we cultivate that by teaching kids how to hold pens and form words and how to move their fingers across a keyboard. We give them a way to communicate with us when talking can't or doesn't work.
Writing well is about being able to express yourself accurately for the occasion. If you're asking about a job opportunity, you might say "I would like to inquire about a posting I saw online." If you're upset with someone, you might reply with "K." If you're slightly intoxicated and feeling flirty, the number of vowels in your words might look more like "Heyyyyy, aree youuuu uup?" Those are all different ways of writing, and all of them have expressed themselves clearly.
You don't need to string together 50+ word sentences (which I can be guilty of) that overflow with poetic excellence to be a good writer. In fact, most writers are judged by how simply they can express something. If you can communicate effectively through writing, you're already most of the way there.
Now it's just about fine-turning that expression.
why is it important?
There are so many people my age and older who have told me that they don't see the value in these skills or that they don't try because it's too hard and will never be important. I don't know where they get that mindset from, but it saddens me to think that there is an entire group of people who think this way.
Somehow, we've lost the idea that reading and writing aren't important skills, as if we don't use them all the time. Sure, it's not always ink quills and snail mail anymore, but we do read and write every day.
When I looked up "skills employers are looking for" on Google, oral/written communication was consistently one of the top skills sought after. Why? Because it shows how well you can work with other people. Sending emails to bosses and clients, writing reports and proposals, putting together important presentations for work - that all requires good writing skills.
You can't do those things well if you don't learn to read and write well. Reading to understand others and writing to be understood by others.
Not having the skills to read critically often leads to misunderstandings on some part. We get upset about a text we misread. A news article might take on a completely different meaning. Instructions from our teachers and bosses could get lost entirely. We might even get tricked by a scam email going around. All things that could be avoided if we took the time to make sure we understood what we were reading.
On the flip side, having good writing skills allows us to minimize misunderstandings. Being clear about what we're saying and feeling helps convey the right message to another person. We can impress someone with how professional we sound. It can also make for shadier sub-tweets about that annoying person who sits across from you at work or in class.
Beyond the classroom or work, reading and writing are still just as valuable. It's not about using them for a grade or positive performance review, it's about communicating.
Society hasn't evolved to a point where reading and writing are completely unnecessary, so why aren't we putting in more effort into honing skills we use every day?
easy for you to say...
Writing is "easy" to me because I've spent a lot of time practicing it. I've been fortunate enough to have good teachers who cultivated an enjoyment and solidified my basic understanding so that I could build upon it. Did I cry through 7th grade English grammar? Absolutely. Am I a better writer for it? Yeah.
Believe me, there are plenty of things I've written that are absolutely awful. I've had people tell me to rework portions of my papers and my fiction because it's not good. And that's fine. I'm always improving as writer, and I still don't always make sense.
Even as a reader, there are so many times when I've gotten something wrong and not realized it. I've made mistakes when reading. I still struggle to make sense of things I read. None of that means I don't have the tools to be a critical reader.
And let me be clear that being an avid reader doesn't mean I always enjoy what I'm reading or enjoy having to read. One of the reasons I didn't become an English major was because I was afraid that it would ruin my love of reading. Ultimately, it wouldn't have been a good fit for me anyways, but I did choose something else because I didn't want to spend as much time reading. Plenty of readings for classes have bored me and have caused feelings of dread. And sometimes I have to read things that I just don't understand (hello philosophy class).
I'm only good at it because I've practiced. Like anything else, you can't get good at it if you don't practice. Having the basics works if that's where you choose to stop, but there's always room for improvement if you're willing to put in that effort.
room for growth
If you're one of the people who struggles with reading and writing because it doesn't come as easily to you, that's perfectly fine. Not everyone needs to be at the top of their game. Finding what works for you can be just as helpful as memorizing half the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Slow down when reading. Often times, we misunderstand because we go over something too quickly. We might think we got the message, but there's room for error. Slowing down helps us to focus on what the words are actually saying and what they mean.
Read out loud. Something doesn't make sense in your head? Try saying it out loud. I do this all the time when I'm confused because it helps me to take in the message in a different format. Reading out loud can often be helpful for people who are more auditory too. I've had friends who learned by having material read out loud to them, and studying was all about having someone to read notes to.
Looking for the goal. When it comes to confusing or long pieces, it can help to look for the main point and then skim the rest. That works for this blog post too. In most cases, the goal should be pretty clear. If you've read it over multiple times and still don't get it....well, that might be the writer's fault.
Write like you speak. This can be helpful for people are able to talk really well but struggle to sound the same when writing. It's not always the most professional, but it can help you figure out how to express yourself in the written word. Say what you're trying to convey verbally, then write it down. With practice, you'll find it easier and easier to communicate with the written word.
Do I understand it? There are times when I write something and spend so long staring at it that the words start to lose meaning. In these cases, I read out loud too. Hearing it can be all I need to know if I make sense. And be objective. If you heard someone else say this, would it make sense to you?
I'll repeat it again - you don't have to like it or be good at it. You just need to understand the basics.
People think that liking to read makes someone a better reader. I can tell you from experience that it's not true. I've met and talked with readers who love the experience but struggle to understand what they're reading. And that's perfectly fine. Reading is unique to each person, and some people need to work harder at it than others.
I like reading, and yet I'm not always good at it either. There are plenty of times when I've misread or misunderstood things, like when I thought "The Haunting of the Old Photos" was "The Haunting of the Old Ass Potatoes." Or how I only learned this year that "surf and turf" means protein from the sea and from the land.
And by no means do you have to go out and read books now. I mean, I would love for you to do that, but you don't have to. You can apply critical reading skills to other things and that's perfectly fine.
Similarly, I'm not always the best writer. In one of my first college papers, I said that "Margaret Sanger is a prominent feminism," and to this day, my friends and I reference it. There are plenty of typos and grammatical errors in my writing too. And I don't always make sense when I write, even to myself.
It's okay not to sound eloquent. It's okay not to use flowery language. It's okay to use programs like Grammarly to help you sound better. At the end of the day, it's about making sure you're communicating in the way you want to be perceived.
I know this was an incredibly long post, but it's something close to my heart and I've wanted to talk about it for a long time. Given the chance, I could probably talk about this for hours and cite even more reasons why it's important to have critical reading skills and good writing skills. But for everyone's sake, I will end this here.
My hope is that this made you think a bit. I hope it encouraged you too.