OPINION // The Wrong Way to Write

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Written in the spring of 2013 for my Advanced Media Writing class. “The Wrong Way to Write” was a fun piece because it explored a topic I already had questions about and held a personal stake in. Interviews turned into brainstorming sessions on ways the school could improve its organizational structure, giving me more experience with conversational interviews. Although it would have been easy to whine about shortcomings I saw, I strove to give each department a fair representation and seek a solution instead of just complaining about a problem. Skills used: Feature writing, research, interviewing.

When you want to write, you don’t want to be wrong.

It’s the common dilemma for those who want to pursue writing at Taylor: What’s the right way to write? They have three choices: English creative writing, journalism/media writing and professional writing. They all sound like chances for honing skills and preparing for the future—how could students choose which is best?

Better question: Why must they choose? When one department prepares students to write for multiple media, another guarantees publication within a semester and the third allows writers to find their voice, students shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality to meet technical degree requirements.

In chatting with students in these majors, I know I’m not the only one with confusion about distinctions between the departments and the lack of integration. I entered Taylor as an English education major, but soon learned kids weren’t my calling. (Although it didn’t help I was mistaken for a 10th grader on my first day in the classroom.) I needed to make a decision: which major to major in? I flirted with English and professional writing for a time, which included several literature courses and the professional writing intro class. I was shamelessly two-timing in an attempt to find true love, but I found it in media writing in an impassioned—and loud—late-night discussion in the Union and have been faithful ever since. I love developing skills in design, production, web and photography along with my writing. Professor and department co-chair Donna Downs echoes one of my career aspirations: “The goal [of the major] is to become an excellent storyteller across many media forms.”

The objectives of the other two departments are admirable as well. According to a statement from the English department, their students must “work to develop and refine their written voices and styles in order to articulate the unique imaginative perspectives God has given each of us and to use those perspectives to explore what it means to be human.” The Professional Writing department states its focus is on students’ publication experience in college: “By the time they have finished four years in the program, they each will have filled a portfolio with published devotions, book reviews, vignettes, feature articles, interviews, testimonies, scripts, short stories, editorials and, in many cases, actual novels and nonfiction books.”

Students attest the departments are achieving their goals, too. English student Lydia Gosnell lauds the mentorship of her professors and the time they give her to perfect her pieces. Professional writing student Amy Green credits her major for teaching her how to write the query letters and book proposal that have led to bylines in at least 10 publications and four juvenile fantasy novels with Warner Press.

However, no department has a perfect formula. (A formula wouldn’t be becoming of three creative departments, after all.) By nature of a program meant to give many skills, my media communication degree tends to cover more breadth than depth. Professional writing students have cited repetitive content and too much emphasis on becoming published. Creative writing classes excel at artistic writing but not so much at functional writing.

The problem is exacerbated further because students have few opportunities to branch out from their individual departments. At this point in time, the only required integration is that professional writing students take a few media communication courses. Otherwise, the only occasions to explore more approaches to writing are in a limited number of electives. Instead of dividing opportunities, why not allow writing majors to try classes from each department to better pursue their career goals? I have benefited from knowing how to query articles from professional writing and understanding what authors have done before me from the English department.

Professional writing major Kari Travis goes so far to suggest only one writing major is needed with different concentrations, but that may push the problem to the other end of the spectrum—putting students in a major they don’t like with a smattering of random classes not fitting their interests or needs. Keeping each major but allowing each department to share their strengths will fill in the weaknesses of the others.

Logistical issues like the majors falling into two different schools may prove a challenge, but perhaps Dr. Moshier’s recent announcement of restructuring schools will help. In addition, the not-so-secret complication of faculty politics between departments (which I witnessed firsthand when changing my major) complicates the matter further. Fortunately, representatives of each department have been meeting to talk through their differences for several months now—I hope it will only lead to friendlier relations and greater collaboration.

In short, this is a call to better the good things TU already has. Division between departments and competition for students will never strengthen our university. And when schools want their students to write (and to write well, to find jobs after graduation and to be successful alumni), they don’t want to be wrong.