Putting Your Voice into Your Writing

Today, I was reading from "The Writer's Presence", the textbook I used for one of the most influential classes of my college career: Advanced Composition. The professor, Dr. Cash, was a petite elderly woman with a commanding voice. She was not unkind, but she had high standards and very clear expectations, and her interest in her students was only to teach us the proper way to write. During the first hour of class, she gave us a 10-page packet of writing rules, including several pages of "unforgivables". "Unforgivables", as Dr. Cash called them, were writing errors and habits which she detested and would not allow or overlook in her students' essays. If any of our weekly written assignments contained 5 or more "unforgivables", we would earn an "F" on that particular paper. How would you feel if you were Dr. Cash's student?

Although I did not warm up to Dr. Cash, her style of teaching worked to my benefit. At first, I was afraid of the "unforgivables", but as I completed the assigned readings and submitted my first few essays, I started recognizing the errors and bad habits in my own writing. I met with Dr. Cash every week to have her look over the drafts of my writing assignments, and when she found "unforgivables", she marked them out with a strong black mark and a disgusted look on her face, but she also pointed out the well-written portions of my work. By the end of the semester, due to Dr. Cash's instruction, I had matured as a writer and a reader. Here is an excerpt from the introduction to The Writer's Presence that I hope will encourage or inspire other writers to consciously work on improving their skills while enjoying expressing themselves:

"In many respects, voice is the writer's 'signature', what finally distinguishes the work of one writer from another. Consider how quickly we recognize voice...whenever we read a piece of writing, we ought to think of it as an experience similar to listening to someone speak aloud. Doing so adds drama to writing and reading... "To be distinctive and effective, a writer's voice need not be strange, artificial, or self-consciously literary." (p. 3)

I hope you will embrace the challenge of using and refining your own voice in something that you write today.


You wouldn't happen to still have a copy of those rules for writting?
Wow...good points. I would like a copy of the "Unforgivables" also. I'm doing essays and it would be very beneficial. Thanks for the quick article.
Yes, Andrea, I still have the rules for writing. I kept them as a useful reference! I only have a hard copy of the list and it is 10 pages long, so I won't be posting the whole thing on my blog, but if you're interested or have any specific questions, I would be happy to share some of the rules with you!


Shannon L.

Dedicated, Enthusiastic College English Instructor

20+ hours
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