5.25.2009

3 Small Lessons in Writing

Writing is a weird thing for me. I do not particularly look forward to writing something. However, when I begin—really after I’ve already worked through some of it—I actually enjoy it. Unfortunately, you won’t find any profound pieces of literature here, at least not from me. At the same time, however, I’m not completely useless.

There are three writing practices I have learned that greatly influence what and how I write. Interestingly enough each comes from a different level of schooling. And away we go…

Boring
Can you remember the flashcards? What about the anticipation waiting for recess? That’s where my first lesson originates—second grade. Mrs. Anderson was pretty cool; she was my second grade teacher. She even had her picture in the newspaper when she had a baby. Why do I remember that? Sure it was a big picture, but maybe I’ll have to admit there may have been a second grade teacher crush. I hadn’t given that any thought until I wrote this and remembered how excited I was to see her picture. Moving on.

We were in writing groups at the back of the class with Mrs. Anderson. Our assignment was to write 10 sentences about (?). My paper was the last to get graded, but it was the (nameless) guy’s work before me that taught the lesson. His ten sentences all started with the word “I.” Mrs. Anderson wrote in big red letters across his big lined brown paper: BORING!

So, lesson number one: use different words. I get pretty concerned about that now, and always have. I check how many times I use a word in a paragraph and try to keep from repeating it throughout a paper. It does help. Probably the most common example I find in my writing is starting sentences with “The.” So, I always have to go back (proofread people!) and make necessary adjustments. It is important to use different words to keep your writing from being BORING!, especially when you have something worth writing about. This leads to my second lesson.

Tell ‘em
This isn’t anything novel. I’ve heard it plenty of times in classes, on TV and read it in books. In High School, however, this was the first time I heard it. From all places this lesson came from ROTC. Yes, I would wear my uniform weekly. For a while I was ready and looking forward to joining the Marines. In the end I didn’t like the idea of someone yelling at me. So, I got married (dudum, crash).

I have no real contextual memory of this lesson other than it came from Colonel Elder. He was explaining the best way to write a paper. His instructions were: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

Yep, don’t forget to have a good introduction to setup your body and complete it all with a great conclusion. Thanks Colonel; I’m still trying.

KISS
The final lesson that haunts and inspires me is from my days at STC (back then called STCC). Mr. Edwin DeCock taught English rhetoric at the downtown McAllen campus. There were a couple of longer papers due for the class, but the bulk of our work came as weekly essays. He would give an argument or question about some political or social concern. Our task was to formulate a response in 100 words or less. That may sound easy, but it was a challenge. You couldn’t write a rinky-dink answer. It had to be thought out, it had to make sense and completely cover the question. So, I had to learn to choose the exact words I wanted.

I had no idea how easy it could be to fluff a writing assignment—and how easy it is to recognize such fluff. The most common word I recognized overused was “that.” For example: I am reading a blog post that John wrote. It c/should be: I am reading a blog post John wrote, and loving and appreciating every bit of it (emphasis added…and made up).

Finding those words can help slim your word count if that is something you’re concerned with. More than that it really helps you focus on what you really want to say. In my reading I’m convinced half of the writing population 1) doesn’t know that rule 2) doesn’t care about it or 3) doesn’t agree with it. Either way, the world still spins.

I have learned another important lesson here at Perkins, but I’ll share it with you once I have more time to practice and make sure I can do a great job with it. So, all you blogging, letter writing, sermon preparing, Bible study forming writers please let me know what you think.

Stay blessed…john

1 Responses :

My lessons for writing: diligence, discipline and hard work.