3 Crucial Writing Skills We Always Forget to Teach

17 Sep

The Georgia State Writing Test has a rubric that measures students on four categories: ideas, organization, conventions, and style. These skills may all be important stepping stones to great writing, but let me ask you this: when was the last time you asked someone why they loved a favorite essay or story, and they said, “What really gets my juices flowing is when ideas are cogent and nicely organized, the grammar is correct, and the author varies his sentence structure and uses an impressive vocabulary!”

Yeah, right. Organization, grammar, and sentence structure may make a piece of writing intelligible, but they have very little to do with what makes a piece of writing great.

Because at Deep we believe that my students are capable of something much greater than merely intelligible writing, I have invented a new rubric for them that measures artistic merit, rather than mere competence. This rubric requires that their writing be three things:

  • Vivid. As in, full of juicy, telling, laser-targeted details rather than lazy generalizations or safe clichés.
  • Unique. In the true sense of the word–as in no one has ever, or could ever, say anything like this. Said another way: demonstrating a specific and memorable voice.
  • Fearless. As in, honest (in the artistic sense, not necessarily the literal one) and willing to embrace humor, say unusual or unpopular things, be frank, challenge common beliefs, criticize oneself, and/or approach difficult topics.

I will be scoring students’ work on a pass-fail basis: students will be expected to work with peer and mentor feedback until their writing demonstrates all three of these qualities.

What do you think of this rubric? What else makes great writing? How would you encourage students to aim for brilliance, rather than just competence?


7 Responses to “3 Crucial Writing Skills We Always Forget to Teach”

  1. teeceecounsel September 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    I personally love writing too. I agree with your points, just as they are. I believe that everyone can be vivid or find clarity and fearlessness by paying attention to details of thoughts and imaginations, believing them and being true to the uniqueness or oddity, even if it challenges existing patterns or conventions. Great post, I’m rebloging! 🙂

  2. Dan Dunnagan September 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I love the idea that vivid, unique, fearless writing will necessarily engage readers, but this rubric seems limited by its reaction to the state’s. Nobody loves an essay or story just because it bubbles with imagery, uniqueness, and spunk. All of that, along with ideas, organization, conventions, and style, serves the purpose of communication, that is, bringing people together. The test of any writing is whether the people you want to speak to stop and listen.

    I love the Deep readings because I find myself listening intently when I’d thought I came to be supportive, not to be supported. Now, how can we put that in a rubric?

    • thatwritinglady September 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Dan! I agree–I think that’s what I was trying to get at with the “unique” requirement; it’s my feeling that if something is rich with voice and written from a unique point of view, it’s bound to be a compelling read. Still, it’s so hard to describe what makes people stop and listen to a piece of writing. I played with adding a category of “meaningful” or “interesting” but it seemed too hard to nail down…

  3. tchistorygal September 20, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    As usual, your article made me think. You chose important qualities that make writing truly stand out. As you think about using these ideas as a rubric, what are the shades from excellence down to horrible? By making these distinctions, the writing student knows what is keeping them from achieving the excellence they want to achieve. So often in writing what we find is that the thinking is unclear, and I think it is the thinking you are trying to improve here. It’s a great endeavor!

  4. alundeberg September 22, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I love the rubric! So many students play it safe– unaware that we really want to hear what they think, not what they think we want to hear. This rubric encourages taking risks. If I were to use it in class, I would add it to the standard rubric– because all of the “boring” stuff is necessary for good writing. One thought is to include a category for playful organization–use of flashback, starting in the middle, etc. this might help them break out of the typical beginning, middle, end routine.

  5. love September 24, 2012 at 5:01 am #


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  1. 3 Crucial Writing Skills We Always Forget to Teach | Wise Counsel - September 17, 2012

    […] 3 Crucial Writing Skills We Always Forget to Teach. […]

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