The other night I came home to an urgent message on my Facebook page from our student government. A local legislator was recommending closing the state universities branch campuses as a cost saving measure. I was upset and felt it was important to make my voice heard, so I dashed off a heart-felt message to the legislator. When I posted my letter on Facebook, I realized my mistake; I hadn’t used all the skills I espouse in my tutoring sessions.
When I read over my letter, I saw each mistake and misstep as if circled with the dreaded red pen. A sentence fragment here, a missing word or misplaced comma there. The most horrifying part was that I had written about my experiences being a writing consultant. Oh no! What had I done? A better question is what hadn’t I done? I am ashamed to say the list is long.
First, I had not done my research. I wrote a letter based on one source of information. If I had explored the topic more deeply I would have discovered that closing branch campuses was unlikely to be considered by the University of Washington. More research would have lowered my anxiety, but it also would have allowed me to put more energy behind the salient point; investment in higher education benefits the state now and in the future.
The second thing I had failed to do in my haste and anxiety was to read my letter aloud. If I had read the letter out loud, I would have caught many of my mistakes. I could have heard when my sentences lacked clarity, when I was being wordy, and when I had written an incomplete phrase.
This was an important piece of writing. It wasn’t academic, but because of my audience I knew it needed to be professional. My letter needed to be clear, concise, and well organized to grab the proper attention, but my feelings got the better of me. I stared at the glowing screen until I had convinced myself it was just right instead of taking a break from this writing. If I had given myself some time away from the screen, I could have brought fresh eyes to the piece.
This was a personal piece based on my values; I knew what I wanted to say and believed that was what I had written. I believed this so deeply that my mind filled in words that were not actually written on the page. If I had used my best practices I would have shared this deeply personal piece with one of my coworkers, or fellow writers. My writing would have been stronger had I sought feedback.
I have since gone back and revised the draft I posted on Facebook so I can confidently send it to my senator and other representatives in my state. While I remain embarrassed about sending the first draft of my letter to the legislator, I feel reaffirmed in my tutoring practice. Had I used the advice I offer students when I work in the Writing Center, my letter would have been stronger and I could be confident that my message was received as I intended it. I learned from my mistakes; I will be more careful in the future, but you knew that already.