You can never learn too much about communications
That’s one of the many reasons I’m passionate about College Summit, a national organization that promotes college-going cultures in disadvantaged high schools, and, every summer, helps 25,000 rising high school seniors prepare to apply for college.
This year, I joined an awesome group of 48 teens and 24 adults (pictured above) for a 4-day extravaganza of college counseling, essay writing, rap groups, financial aid education, and even some partying! The five young people in my writing group all completed draft application essays, and I’m proud to have helped them meet that goal
And one thing we demonstrated (again!) along the way is that, to be authentic, you have to break some rules.
Can You Teach Writing “By the Rule Book”?
- The College Summit rule book starts with authenticity and respect. The students write self-explorations (free writes) and discuss them, as a way to unearth the themes or experiences each student wants to write about.
- The default high school approach to writing starts with rule book that contains real RULES (which my students cited): An essay must have 5 paragraphs. A paragraph must be long to be good. Never start a sentence with “but.” Never write a sentence fragment. (Even Microsoft Word will bust you for that one!)
We carry a similar set of false rules into our adult relationships with public speaking: Big words are better than small words. Complex thoughts are better than simple ones. Speaking without notes is better than speaking with them. Walking around the stage is good, but using your hands is bad, etc..
If It Doesn’t Serve You, Throw Out the Rule
What gets lost in all this is the point, which is to communicate something important and true — whether your audience is a professional conference or a college admissions officer.
If a rule helps you communicate more powerfully, by all means go along with it. But if the rule puts a barrier between you and the person or persons to whom you wish to express your thoughts and feelings (the folks you’re talking to!), reject the rule and focus on reaching people.
That’s not always possible in high school, of course — the name of that game is graduating, and hopefully going on to college.
But those of us who hold down jobs can break more writing “rules” than we generally do. You’ll write and speak with more ease, that way; and your audience will thank you for it!