Writing by James R. Coggins

The trend was obvious early on.

• Grade 1: four A’s, four B’s, and a C in Writing.

• Grade 2: six A’s, one B, and a C in Writing, which was “not so well done.”

• Grade 3: seven A’s and D in Writing: “Anybody that can get A’s in every subject should be able to write better.”

• Grade 4: six A’s, three B’s, and a C in Writing. “Jim’s writing is still not as good as it should be.”

• Grade 5: four A’s, four B’s, and a C in Writing. “Jim should try harder to improve his writing.”

• Grade 6: three A’s, four B’s, and a D in Writing. “It is unfortunate that Jim’s careless writing has spoiled an otherwise excellent report. His writing is still poor.”

• Grade 7: five A’s, a B, and a C in Writing.

• Grade 8: Five A’s, three B’s, and a D in Writing (including an E in first term).

And so, of course, when I grew up, I became a writer.

The anomaly can be explained by the fact that the teachers were grading what could properly be called “penmanship” rather than writing ability. My excuse was that my ideas always flowed faster than my pen and that I was far more focused on what I was trying to express than on a minor detail such as the look of the individual letters. The result is that my handwriting today is illegible to anyone but myself (or perhaps a doctor). 

On the other hand, I have since learned enough history to know that “penmanship” should not be taken lightly. In earlier centuries, when all business and government records were written by hand, business schools stressed the importance of penmanship. In those days, when records had to be read and understood by people many months’ travel away or possibly many years later, accurate writing was essential. Sloppy penmanship could create business and legal disasters. As hard as it is to believe now, skilled clerks could produce writing as uniform as any typewriter or computer can deliver today.

The same is true for literature and even the Bible. Without scribes who could accurately and clearly make copies of cultural and sacred texts, these valuable writings would not be available to us.   

Today, we have computers to provide the clear records that humans used to be able to deliver in the past. Computers are even supposed to provide spelling and grammar expertise. Without computers, I fear that many modern people are barely literate. If we ever happen to find ourselves in a world with no electricity, we might be unable to communicate. We could find ourselves back in the Stone Age or the Dark Ages. I wish now that I had applied myself more diligently and learned to write better when I was younger.

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is www.coggins.ca
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2 Responses to Writing by James R. Coggins

  1. Nancy J. Farrier says:

    James, I remember those grade school days when I had to stay in during recess to practice letters or numbers that I wasn’t getting right. They had to be so perfect. I just wanted to get them done. Great post. Thank you.


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