A few years ago, I had written an email to a teacher at my child’s school. The response I got was quite unexpected: you write really well for someone who studied math. When I first read the response, I chuckled. Over time, I became more and more aware of the same reaction from others.
What does it mean to write “well” anyway? As a person who is a self-proclaimed math geek, do people expect me to make grammatical errors or use simple sentence structure? Do we have different expectations of writing competency for those who are strong in the maths or sciences? Should I expect gifted writers to have trouble with basic calculations?
There is a big difference between writing well and being a creative writer, in my mind. I am not sure that I would ever be able to weave a story together like some of my favourite authors. Robertson Davies could paint a picture with the details in his stories. John Irving captured my imagination with A Prayer for Owen Meany. If you haven’t had a chance to read that novel, I recommend that you do. He truly weaves together an amazing story. While I can put sentences together and communicate ideas, I don’t have the gift of storytelling. However, according to some, I can still write well.
I always credit my ability to write with my love of reading. Yes, I love to solve a math problem and I still find calculus exciting and fascinating (I am sure there are those of you who shuddered at my reference to calculus), but I also love good writing. I was the kid who had the flashlight under the blankets because I HAD to finish the novel. I would become so immersed in the stories that I would forget about everything around me. I would laugh. I would cry. I would finish the story and then read it again. I loved new words, and I tried to write like some of the authors I read.
Just as with most math skills, I think writing (especially good writing) takes practice. In high school, I took an English credit that focused on grammar and writing. At the time, I hated it. There was no reading in the course. We had to learn grammar rules. We had to edit. We had to share our writing. Looking back now, I know that I learned a lot in that class, but at the time it seemed like torture. I wonder if I should thank Mr. Winterkorn for his patience with me. Probably.
So go and write. I hope that I can continue to write “well”, even though I don’t consider myself a writer (or a mathematician for that matter). I will also try not to hold any preconceptions about writing ability based on math skills. How about you?