Imagine a place where all roads are numbers. Imagine a school where all the kids sit in order of their heights and all kids greet each other in alphabetical order. Imagine a neighbourhood where kids no longer play but only have play dates. Imagine a country where all tunnels are the same height and all bridges are the same width, where all buses are numbered and all underground trains are tagged with alphabets. Imagine a river with clearly cut banks in straight lines and trees that bend on cue with the wind.
We all know at least some such places. It’s super easy to navigate your way in these spaces. But once you have navigated well, what do you find?
I don’t know but when I read some well-made prose I come across nowadays, I feel like I’m inhabiting such a place.
There are some patterns I have come to know.
The five paragraph essay. The thesis statement. The argument. They all come and bombard you at the very beginning of articles. All begin with introductions and end with conclusions. The anecdotes bite, the great quotes stand like rich cousins awkwardly at a poor wedding, the questions that start the piece meant to pique our curiosity fail to wake the dormant reader’s spirit.
They always say what they want to say quite directly at the beginning without much ado. More points to them if they manage to sell their point of view and clinch the argument at the end.
The good. The efficient. The correct. They help to navigate. They minimize the possibility of mistakes. But have we learnt to become too efficient living and writing in such ordered systems?
Students learn writing through their question prompts. Sometimes the prompts read longer than the essays themselves. The path is clearly charted out for the least deviation of the essayist’s spirit. There are repeated drafts. Revising and revising the same piece over weeks and weeks keeps kids busy. They don’t have time to look around and absorb and create disorder.
There are alternate systems in our world but few of these work well. Like narrow lanes with no names or numbers and no maps where kids run freely all day and people throng the streets at all times not having their nine to five jobs to confine them. In these systems, the enthusiastic ones learn writing through imitation from reading others or by learning essays by heart in answer to question papers with less than one line of prompts. Only the best produce coherent pieces by charting their own way. The rest are lost.
One system encourages efficiency and mediocrity while the other only produces a few token creative spirits obliterating possibilities in much of the rest.
Perhaps there are other ways to learn writing well. We just need to find them.