Writing Challenge, November 2015


Writing is hard, both as is hard work and as in difficult, writing in a foreign language doubly so and writing while surrounded by small children triply so. It also tickles several of my personality flaws, I’m a bit of a perfectionist which makes it hard for me to publish things that have errors, I have problems finding suitable topics because I can’t write without having at least something to say and a lot of the things I want to say are too difficult and finally I’m introvert which makes me less motivated to write because I’m not really that interested in communicating with strangers.


Lang–8 is a poor man’s language tutor

Lang–8 is a web site where you correct sentences in your own language and get corrections on your own posts, it’s both great and terrible at the same time. It is a wonderful opportunity go get structured feedback on your writing, but there are also a few problems.

It takes a lot of time to correct posts in you own language, but that exposes you to other reviewers and makes you realize there are a lot of really bad corrections, and even good corrections tend to make the sentences parse and move on instead of trying to make them idiomatic.

I also have a tendency to write the same kinds of post which means I keep using the same sentence patterns over and over.

Google is a poor man’s concordance maker

I used Google a lot to check that what I’ve written actually occurs somewhere on the web [1], usually I didn’t even have to click through to the actual web page, the snippets in the search results are good enough most of the time. I caught a lot of errors this way which probably increased the quality of the corrections I received on Lang–8 (many reviewers pounce on the most obvious errors in a sentence and ignore the rest).


Since I don’t have a language tutor my original plan was to post one sentence per day on Lang–8, but it turned out I don’t like writing single sentences. In most situations there is some kind of context and writing is not only about producing grammatically correct sentences but also about how you put them together.

In the end I wrote a paragraph per day, spending ~ 45 min, but this exhausted my high-quality time (the hour between when the kids fall asleep and when I get too tired). This is not counting time spent agonizing about topic choice or time spent correcting posts in my native language on Lang–8 in order to get many corrections on my posts.

That said, this was probably the most fruitful learning activity I’ve done in a long time. I got many good corrections and the process of writing also made me find out things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  1. Of course people are wrong on the web as well so that is no guarantee.  ↩


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