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Where Does The Ability To Write Well Come From

By Author: Adam Ross
Total Articles: 119

Most people can write, and do regularly. We write notes to the milkman, letters to friends, and things like that, and some people write in diaries, keep journals, and even write letters and articles for newspapers to print.
Some write well, and others less so, but how do we come to be able to write well, and how do we define writing well.
I should say that writing well means writing something that can easily be understood by a reader or readers. It means being able to use a wide variety of grammatical structures, or let us say that it means having sufficient grasp of grammar to be able to express yourself in any way you wish, and in ways that are appropriate to the purpose of the writing and its readership.
Of course, a note to the milkman might well fall under this, but I think we should take our starting point something longer, consisting of sentences and paragraphs - something longer than a note.
Being able to write well also means having the ability to use punctuation in correct and appropriate ways that conform to our expectations of what that means. It also means having an adequate range of words - vocabulary - and being able to use these words in ways that are generally agreed upon by educated readers and writers, and it means being able to spell them correctly.
I have been told that I write with a certain amount of proficiency, even that I write well. Writing comes easily to me, but I often wonder how I acquired this ability - if it is acquired - if it is learned or indeed can be learned, much less taught, and since I teach writing for a living, these are important questions for me to find answers to.
So, I will begin with a question: How did I come to be able to write well? Of course, one question is quickly followed by another and another and so on. Does my ability to write stem from an unusual acquaintance with the rules of grammar? Does it have anything to do with the way I was taught grammar at school? Have I what is sometimes called an innate ability - something that I possess rather than something I have learned to do?
I really can't answer that last question, for obvious reasons - I have no way of knowing, of testing to find the answer, and more than that, I wouldn't know what to do to find out or what I would find out to let me know I had been successful in my quest to find out. I will, therefore, leave that question.
Similarly, I can't recall how I was taught to use grammar at school; it all happened too long ago for me to remember what happened in my English classes. All I do remember is that I was invariably top of my classes, first at primary school, and later at high school. I wrote essays which successive teachers read out to the whole class, sometimes to the whole assembly of the school.
However, I should say here that as writing is an essentially man-made, synthetic ability, learned after speech has developed. This is to say that we are not born, I don't think, with the ability to write, whereas we are born with the ability to learn to speak without specifically being taught how to utter words that are intelligible to others.
Writing is something we have to be taught - we are taught to read; to recognize letters and the sounds they represent in speech, and the way they associate with other letters to form words; what those words mean, how they are used, and the sound that represents them in speech; we are taught how to read.
Writing is a close companion to reading, and we probably learn how to write at the same time as we learn to read. Essentially, we first learn to copy shapes of letters and make the sound the letter signifies. From there, comes a series of 'steps' that leads us to learn how to write words, and then, whilst learning how words associate with other words to form sentences in the systematic way we call grammar, to connect thoughts and write the sentences that express them; we learn how to write.
That still doesn't address my earlier question: How did I come to be able to write well? If my ability is not an innate one, it must be learned. But if it is a learned ability, why does my writing differ from the writing of others? Could it be that, having read a lot, I can imitate or approximate styles more easily than if I had not read as much?
Have I internalized the grammar of my language more fully than others, or is it just that I can use it more easily, which might amount to the same thing.
I am inclined to think that my ability to write reasonably well, reasonably easily and quickly does stem from the reading I did earlier in my life. That and practice, for I believe that the more I practice - the more anyone practices - the more fluent and accurate I get, and the more easily I am able to compose and write.

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