Friday, February 25, 2011

Drip by Drip

So I'm sitting here listening to the drip, drip, drip of melting snow falling from my roof.  Constant, steady, but ever so small. And as I need a topic to write about this week in my blog, I begin to think...

Writing can be like that drip, drip, drip. The most obvious comparison would be that our writing inspiration comes drip by drip. But for me right now, I like to think of it a little bit more as my writing process. In all honesty, I'm not working on my novel right now because  I just don't have the time. My "writing" is taken up by my homework for my classes. I anticipate, however, that my situation will change when the semester is over in a couple of months.

In the meantime, I try to think about my novel and "plan" out my revisions in my mind. Drip. I learn about the things that (don't) work from the novels I have to read for class. Drip. And I work on my writing skills through the research and papers I write for classes. Drip.

So, just like a rain barrel fills with water one drip at a time, a finished piece of writing develops one drip at a time, which can happen even when you aren't physically working on it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Passion in Writing

Whew, this week has just flown by. I realized today that I forgot my post this week. But something was reaffirmed to me in class this week: the best writing always comes from something you are passionate about.

I was presenting on a novel I had read, and was sharing an insight I had that was different from every other critic out there. I had several people in class tell me that there was my paper topic because I was passionate about it. It reminded me of a similar experience I had in a criticism class during my undergraduate work.

We studied several short stories and three styles of criticism at a time, and then had to write a paper using one of the styles. There was one story I read that I absolutely hated. I hated how it was written, and it hit a little too close to home for my comfort. Anyway, I racked my brain trying to come up with a paper topic, and I just kept coming back to this story and one particular method. I balked at it for as long as I could, but finally just wrote the paper. It was one of the best papers I have ever written. The professor was even impressed and recommended me to the honors committee.

Passion is not the same as liking something; it's all about feeling strongly about it. That could even mean that you feel strongly about writing something down or a certain way more so than about the topic. I don't know why passion makes it better. It could be that because you are passionate about it, you are more willing to put the time in to get it right, or even that you have all your ducks in a row before you ever start. But whatever it is, passion always makes the strongest writing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Realistic Persuasion

So, for those of you who don't know, I taught high school English for two years, and I plan to return to teaching as soon as the right job fits in with my schedule and priorities. In other words, I'm looking for a part-time, close-to-home job, and I haven't found one yet.

But in the meantime...I think a lot about things I'll do or change when I get back into teaching. This morning, I had this brilliant idea and thought, "I need to write this down so I don't forget." Then I thought, "Hey, I need a blog post. Why not kill two birds with one stone?"

So you get my teaching idea, and I have a permanent place to store the idea. I'll probably never come back and look at this post again, but having written it down will help me commit it and its details to memory.

Anyway, I was thinking about how almost every secondary grade has a core standard concerning persuasive writing. And standardized tests require it too (i.e. UBSCT - Utah Basic Skills Competency Test - for one). But most of the time, students HATE these assignments/tests because they are unrealistic for them. Inevitably, the topics are ones they care little about, or have no opinion on. Thus, the "passion" necessary to be fully competent is lacking.

So here's my brilliant plan: assign them to persuade someone to get them a specific Christmas gift. I have also decided that when I teach writing again, I will teach it as a triangle: every piece of writing must consider audience, purpose, and genre. These three aspects all work together to create a strong piece of writing. When I teach, I will pick two of these and allow my students to decide the third. For this assignment, I would tell them to convince a loved one [audience] to get them a specific item for Christmas [purpose]. They can choose whatever genre will be most successful for that person (most likely it would end up being something like a letter or note).

This assignment could be flexible enough to accommodate the student who wants a new phone, or the one who wants "world peace." It would allow for a variety of discussions about what makes something persuasive (anticipating and addressing counter-arguments, data, compromises, etc.). Anyway, it would be a more realistic situation than what most students are forced to write today. And having learned the passion in this assignment, they will be able to "fake" the passion on standardized tests or future assignments because they will understand the successful techniques.

So what do you think? Any suggestions on how to make this assignment stronger? Or other "persuasive" assignments you gave or received that were particularly successful?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Literature of Value

I was trying to explain something in class last night that I've always kind of known, but I didn't have a very good explanation for. In trying to talk through my thoughts, I came up with some great terminology. This is probably a concept you are familiar with, even if you've never heard it spoken before. My terminology is classic of value vs. academic classic.

I think every one of us can name a book we read "because we had to," but admittedly, we really didn't like it. Maybe we even questioned the point of it. Then there are other books we've read that we come back to over and over because they always contain something new for us.

Last night we were talking about The Picture of Dorian Gray and how its themes and moral dilemmas are timeless. Shakespeare is the same way. I compared that to something like Ulysses by James Joyce which even the critics agree is not read for its story, but instead to "figure it out:" to try to reveal all the literary allusions, and the experimentation with style, and its revolutionary effect on the novel, and...and...and. In other words, unless you are in an advanced English studies program, you will never read it. Hence, an academic classic.

I just cannot fathom anyone writing something for the sole purpose of confusing and frustrating his/her readers. But according to his own word, that is essentially Joyce's purpose. That way he guaranteed he would be immortal.

So most of us probably aren't writing "literary" pieces per se, but I would contend that the best pieces of fiction (and nonfiction) have literary elements to them. Look at Lord of the Rings. Written as a piece of fiction decades ago, but still as enjoyed and applicable today. Fifty years from now, will people still be reading the Twilight series?  Probably not. Not that it isn't a fun series; I personally quite enjoyed it. But I read it purely for pleasure, and there isn't much of a literary element to it. Harry Potter, on the other hand, although primarily a "fun" piece of fiction, still has the age-old good vs. evil theme complete with its tragical aspects, sacrifices, and loss in the midst of triumph. So I would guess that one will stick around for a while.

So how will your writing be remembered? Valuable? Academic? Or simply forgotten?