Software Advent Calendar 2023 / 19 / Writing; the most underrated skill in engineering (Part A)
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
This post (more like a personal story) is dedicated to my high school teacher, Mr. Gavriilides, for believing in that hidden skill, I didn’t know I possessed!
“What if I can’t write?”
I was a high school student when I realized I couldn’t write an essay. While in kindergarden we didn’t get the proper training. So when I changed schools, during high school, there was this old-school, demigod linguistics teacher, teaching one last class before his retirement. His goal was to teach us how to properly right essays.
He started by giving us a small test, to see how skillful we were in writing. I knew, straight away, I would fail. Mine was probably the worst essay in class. So, the next day, when the results came back, I was scared shitless. The teacher handed us our essays, full of red ink and corrections. I have gotten an F, maybe less! He said to the whole class that writing is a journey and regardless of the level we were at, we would improve during this class. I thought the torture was over, but when the class was done for the day, and we were preparing to leave, he called me by name:
“Apostolos! Can you please stay back. We need to talk”. Humiliation was close, I could feel it in my bones. When everyone got out, he approached me. “I have seen your essay. You can do better than that”.
I tried to interrupt him to make excuses, but he didn’t let me.
“Let me finish. This is OK. We can fix it, easily. From your essay, it is evident that you have a concrete opinion on the subject; you know what you want to say. But you are trying to frame it in a very complex way, which makes it hard to formulate the right sentences and let your thoughts flow on the paper. We fix that, and you will write wonderful things!”.
I was speechless. There he was, a master of the Greek language, a renounced teacher, telling me I could write great things. Until then, all I knew was that because I didn’t have proper training in the past, the writing good essays ship had probably sailed for good.
“When I try to write, there are two or three ideas in my head simultaneously. I want to say everything in the same paragraph and then things get messed up in my head, my train of thought is lost, I get stressed, and then the time is up”, I explained.
“I want you to get this essay at home and rewrite it. Use small sentences that will not exceed one line. Give yourself one hour. It doesn’t matter if you do not finish it. Just come back tomorrow with what you managed to do, in this one hour. We will talk more”.
When I got home, I spent one hour doing what my teacher told me. Surprisingly enough, I completed the whole essay in one hour. One full piece of paper. Then I thought: “What if I do it again for another hour, improving my last version”. This time I had 1,5 pieces of paper, in less than one hour. I did the whole exercise a third time. I was happy with the result. The next day, I took all four versions back to my teacher. “I kinda cheated!” I shared without being able to hide my pride. “I did the re-write exercise three times. I hope it is OK. I brought everything with me. Here they are. The numbers on the top are showing the progression”.
He took them in his hand and quickly browsed through the text. Then he turned to the class. “There are four versions of the essay I gave you to write during our test. Apostolos took the time and re-wrote it three times. This is why writing is a journey”.
I never stressed over an essay again. I still think I am a mediocre writer. Only now, I am writing a lot. Posts, notes, journals, thoughts on academic manuscripts, on pieces of paper, or post-its. Everywhere there is a space, is an opportunity for a great note. A note that, in the future, can become, a great essay ❤️.
NOTE: This introduction ended up being more extensive than originally intended. I will follow up with a new post, sharing great resources on how to write effectively, as an engineer, executive, and scientist.
That concludes our post for today! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! See you sooner or later 🖖.