May 24, 2022

In middle and high school, I was really good at the mechanics of writing.

I found it easy to memorize the mechanics of capitalization and punctuation — that book titles were italicized and poem titles were written in quotation marks; that the period goes after the parentheses in an in-text citation.

Absorbing this information and never making that mistake again came easily to me. Maybe I’m a rule-follower and this is how it manifested itself.

But I noticed that my ability to follow these mechanics of writing also became a proxy for the quality of my writing. I got the impression that teachers would see that my formatting was solid, and then assume that my writing was solid as well. The technically sound presentation of my writing was enough to predispose them towards thinking the writing itself was good.

I feel like this is what it took for me to be good at school. Because, truth be told, I was pretty good at school. I was good at playing the game.

But what the game entailed was being able to follow little rules like this. And maybe more importantly, to care that I was following these little rules right. That was the part that came naturally to me, and that’s what made me good at school.

It’s interesting that school optimizes for people who can do these sorts of things. Or perhaps, it’s that people that are good at these sorts of things are praised, and care extra about school because they find that the world rewards them when they engage in academics.

Were my essays particularly good? Probably not. But the punctuation was superb.