I have just made the startling discovery that I can turn you into a better writer.
As you may have seen in my About page, I’ve recently become a Technical Writing professor. There’s an old saying some of you are probably already thinking about that goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I’ve been doing for years, though — I’m actually pretty good at it — but I’d only barely scratched the surface until I started teaching.
Technical Writing is a fascinating topic to teach, too. Oh, don’t get me wrong, technical writing is an incredibly boring process and profession, but for a professor it becomes a fascinating challenge to figure out how to teach these essential real-world skills (dull as they are) to a bunch of kids who have no interest in taking an English class in the first place.
My challenge was made easier by having a bunch of amazing students. Before I ever met any of them, though, I spent months trying to figure out how keep their attention, how to make them care, how to package my years of experience and natural talent into a product they would actually buy. Over the course of this blog I’ll talk a lot about that process, about the topics that struck me as crucial and the clever little tactics I made up to make my material more engaging, but in our first class period I discovered what I had to offer they would really be interested in getting.
My audience consisted of programmers and engineers and Biology Majors — really brilliant people, but not people who cared about writing. They were in an English class only because it was required of them, and it was required of them because, whether we like it or not, writing has become a critical part of our everyday lives.
So there before me, that first day of class, I saw a room full of students frightened and frustrated by the reports and essays and documentation they had to do in their Major classes (and will have to do in their jobs once they graduate), and here I was supposed to force them through an English course consisting of more than a dozen serious writing assignments, including a big ugly semester project.
They didn’t know that yet — most of them had only vague guesses what technical writing might be, and no clue at all what to expect from the class — but I knew what it required, and I knew how they would respond when they started looking through the course schedule’s due dates. Before they could do that, before they could decide with absolute certainty that this was going to be the worst class in the world, I stepped up in front of them, and I told them what Technical Writing had to offer.
This class is going to teach you how to do the writing you have to do every day. This class is going to teach you how to do it well, and how to do it with as little effort as possible. This class is going to strip the specter of fear from the blank page, and make professional writing just about as frightening as sending an email.
And that’s what this site is going to do for you. Unstressed Syllables is all about taking the anxiety, the confusion, the helplessness — the everyday stress — out of your writing projects. It’s about breaking down writer’s blocks, and converting blank pages into fill-in-the-blanks forms. It’s about making programmers and floor managers and photographers and housewives feel as confident with a pen as we English Majors and Technical Writers do. It’s writing advice for everyone.
And the site is called Unstressed Syllables because you’ll find that focus in every article — a dedication to making you better at any kind of writing. I’ll have articles here about poetry and prose, blogs and business letters, tutorials and tech manuals. If you’re only interested in one or two of those, that’s what the categories are for. I’d encourage you to read it all, though, because ultimately good writing is good writing, and every moment you spend thinking about it makes your writing better…and easier!
Of course, practice makes perfect, so you can expect exercises to go with the advice: contests, writing prompts, template tests.
Even if you don’t want to do the homework, though, I encourage you to participate in the discussion. If you’ve got a question, ask it. If you’d like to suggest a topic or request a review, contact me. You can leave comments on any of my posts, you can participate in the discussion boards, or you can just send me a private message. Whatever method works best for you, works for me. But writing is about feedback, writing is two-way communication, and I encourage you to let me know what you think as you read through these pages. Let me know what works, what doesn’t work, and how this advice impacts the writing you do every day.