A Writing Instructor’s Job Description

In Paragraph City we have two sorts of job descriptions. One description belongs to contracts and much attention is paid to them except when we do our jobs. The other kind are unwritten and we live our professional lives by them. This is that kind, for an instructor of writing:

  • You will teach the student how to think, including such fundamentals as whole thoughts/whole sentences and the observation that perfectly chosen verbs and adverbs and adjectives require. You will teach reflection by teaching narration, and in cause-effect you will set in motion in your student the great philosophical “Why,” including the why that others ask but also the why that the self asks, painfully and curiously and thankfully. You will make possible the Other and the Mirror by teaching your student to make comparisons and to contrast. You will require the student to have ideas, to organize information and emotions around him, to identify questions worth the unraveling. You will insist the student has a self, that this self has a unique voice, and that one human voice written down into words can change this humanunkind.
  • You will teach the student how to listen, largely by being the listener. You will read what your student has written and what she wanted to say but didn’t and what she didn’t know she had to say, and in doing so you will hear her in ways that she may have never been heard before. You will tell your student what you hear when you read him, and ask him to think about how close to the truth he has come, or could come.
  • You will instill in the student an unending dissatisfaction with everything she will ever write, and those who understand writing properly will come to realize that perfection is ahead of them, ever beyond the next rewrite, and that life is optimistic, always available to be made better in the next revision.
  • You will teach your student that she can discover what she has to say in the act of writing it. That this marvelous, supple, infinite mother tongue is the most powerful tool a mind can have, so much so that when writing well it seems the mind serves the language as often as the language serves the mind.
  • Your lessons will show your student that we are lonely, isolated, distant beings all adrift like leaves on a stream, and that our words are all we have to bring our lively, thoughtful lives together. You will tell him that being understood is a miracle of multiple dimensions, waiting to be enacted between his words and his reader.


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