Writing my previous Unearthed post made me remember the other reason I decided to become an actuary. I remember saying to one of my teachers, “I’ll never have to write another essay again.”

I find it somewhat ironic, then, that I’m now effectively writing as a hobby (quite apart from the fact that most of my work involves writing, or talking, these days). It’s made me wonder whether it’s me that’s changed, or whether there was something wrong with my education. It’s a bit of both, I think, but more that my writing education didn’t work for me.

I was addicted to reading, as a child. One of those children who read at every available opportunity. And yet, I hated English, all through high school. Partly because I had managed to convince myself that because I was good at maths, and not quite so good at english, that I was bad at english. And partly, because the way english was taught then – a forensic examination of text to find the author’s real message, was completely foreign to the pleasure I got from reading.

One of the things I’m enjoying (very surprisingly to me) about blogging, is trying to figure out what makes my favourite blogs so readable, and how, therefore, to improve my own writing. I love reading pretty much every one of jo(e)’s posts, even though her life is completely different from mine, for example. But what makes them so readable? I don’t really know the answers, because I never learned to examine writing that way at school. But I do wonder whether teaching me that kind of critical thinking would have made me enjoy English, and also made me like the idea of writing, rather than spending 20 years realising that my love of words included writing as well as reading.

Maybe because popularity suggests poor writing, to many english teachers, analysing writing for readability, let alone popularity, never seemed to happen at school. You seemed to more analyse it for the ability to pile as much meaning as possible into one line. And while that creates text that you can read and re-read, there are other legitimate aims for good writing.

I imagine that, as with many other skills, a very good writer is instinctively good. But, I’m sure a journeyman writer, like me, can be taught to write better. I learned surprisingly little about how to write well at school. Or at least, I don’t remember ever being taught anything useful. All I remember is that I used to lose marks because I made my essays as short as was allowable.

But right now, I’m enjoying trying to learn to write a bit better, just for fun.

  8 comments for “Writing

  1. September 25, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    I hated English at school and my English teachers seemed to universally hate me. Yet I would get up early before school so I could write, and I always had a book on the go. I was never very good at exams and felt that English was mainly taught to prime us for the exam questions (although in retrospect I do sympathise with the teachers about this because they have so much pressure to get students through exams). English was taught as if there were “right” and “wrong” answers as there would be in science. I always felt baffled by this, as if I had read a completely different book. At university, the “pack as much meaning into a sentence as possible” approach drove me mad. I remember a lecturer once telling us we all should have “got” that Benji (sp?) in The Sound and The Fury was actually Jesus Christ. I remember thinking: “Can we just give over with the obsessional analysis?!” The day I became a better writer was the day I forget everything I learnt on my English Literature degree!!

  2. September 25, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Heh – I meant “forgot”! Looks as if I “forget” more English than I realised!

  3. September 25, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    I don’t know that I’ve ever met an actuary before. When I dropped out of year 12 maths to do biology instead, my teacher said ‘in twenty years time you will regret this decision’. And of course I don’t. Except that I’m curious about numbers now in the way I’m curious about a lot of things I don’t know. I’d never want to do a job that involved anything more than very, very basic adding up.

  4. September 26, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Well, i certainly think you *can* write — non-fiction at least.

    English was my favourite subject at school. After two years at Ruse, I knew that all i wanted to do was to drop science, talk to my friends, and read and write novels under the desk. i wasn’t bad at maths (i could have done 3 unit but didn’t), but hated science. I now wonder, after working for a health organisation, if i might have had the smarts to become a doctor — if only science had been taught in more of a wholistic, big picture way, as opposed to an atomised, rote kind of way at school.

    i had a similar experience to TC with chemistry. i wagged the chemistry trial in the HSC so i wouldn’t have to sit the final chemistry exam. The science mistress was absolutely aghast; she said, ‘what are you going to do with your life?’ i said, ‘an arts or communication degree’, which is exactly what i did.

    it might interest you to know that english is taught quite differently at a tertiary level now (and probably in some schools). when i tutored in english at uni, we struggled to undo all the bad learning kids had imbided at school — like what the author *really meant* and talking about Hamlet and his family as tho they needed to be in therapy.

  5. September 27, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Funnily enough I had the opposite experience at Ruse. After a couple of years I hated English, despite always being a voracious reader and gravitated towards history and science and ending up more in science.

    Like PU’s actuarial studies I very much had the feeling of doing physics because I would never have to write essays again, but then later discovered I enjoyed it, even if I wasn’t that great at it. So you blog to get practice.

  6. September 27, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Elsewhere, I’m in awe of someone with the strength of character to not do an HSC trial exam. I was far too conforming at that age.

    Interesting that I’m not the only one who subsequently realised that a subject being badly taught didn’t mean it wasn’t intrinsically interesting.

  7. October 19, 2006 at 12:52 am

    Just practice. Every day.

    Do it. And write for yourself. Blogging is perfect.

  8. April 26, 2007 at 12:03 am

    Well no doubt you’ve heard it but for the benefit of visitors to the site – give them the detais of a population and an actuary can tell you how many will be dead in five years. A Calabrian actuary can give you their names and addresses.


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