Getting Better At Writing


I agree 100% that practice makes perfect when it comes to writing, and that 10,000 hours is a minimum threshold for achieving genuine expertise. However, my sad experience has been that people who have not devoted the 10,000 by the time they graduate from college never get any better at constructing good sentences.

Anyone can get better at constructing paragraphs and larger written structures with additional practice later in life, but I am convinced that there is a “critical period” for learning to write good sentences and that this critical period closes in the early twenties.

Comments

  1. Pramod says

    I dunno if this is true or not. However, I can’t help noticing that for a scientist you make an awful lot of dogmatic statements unsupported by evidence.

  2. geocatherder says

    I disagree. I was a decent enough writer when I finished my undergrad program at age 21 — earning A’s in my English classes — but a couple of decades of writing and critiquing engineering documents after that definitely refined my style. Finally, the process of taking graduate courses in a science discipline and writing an MS thesis under the tutelage of the most demanding advisor in the department has REALLY taught me to write.

  3. julian says

    but I am convinced that there is a “critical period” for learning to write good sentences and that this critical period closes in the early twenties.

    Wooohoooo!

    Absolved of responsibility!

    Woot!

  4. Beaker says

    I agree 100% with your link. However, spending serious time writing benefits the brain no matter what the age of the brain. Perhaps there is a window of plasticity or pruning that closes by the early 20s that allows exceptional writing. Nevertheless, anybody beyond that window still benefits from the act of changing brain activity into language. Good sentences can be produced at any age.

  5. krisrhodes says

    Simply not true, I returned to finish my undergrad at the age of 25 and my writing has improved substantially since then.

  6. says

    I have a lot of pet theories swirling around in my head too, comrade. However, before I decide to inflict them upon the world I try to consider how it may affect others to read them. I feel as though saying something with certainty, when really I have none, bares enough resemblance to lying that I should avoid it. Saying the kind of shit you did in this post could be potentially discouraging to people who are trying to better themselves, especially people who were not lucky enough to have educational opportunity early in life. It is an asshole thing to do.

    chebang:

    Your ability to learn *everything* heads south after about 23, genius.

    Is there a meaningful measure of ability to learn? In order to take your comments seriously you need to provide one. IQ is as close as anyone has gotten, and it isn’t a very good system.

  7. Chebag says

    Yes. The meaningful measure is, wait for it, learning new shit. IQ may say something about relative capacity to learn but it is not a measure of learning, labpartner.

  8. Narya says

    More or less. I could only throw in my experience, which is (a) anecdata and (b) an outlier, for an assortment of reasons.

    I think that reading a lot–particularly a lot of well-written prose of any kind (I like fiction, not everyone does) and thinking about what makes it good helps one’s own writing as well. People who don’t read a lot (or, probably who only read stuff that’s turgid or obfuscatory) will have a harder time of it. The single best resource for learning to write well or improving one’s writing is Howard Becker’s book on finishing one’s term paper, dissertation, etc.; he really helps the reader think about how to say whatever it is he or she is trying to say, w/o the bullshit.

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