Which Writing Practices Are the Best?

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how new media and collaboration change how people learn to write. I mean, in the age where everyone is connected, writing takes on a whole new level. You can upload your writing online and have strangers from all over the world look at it and critique it. 

But what did people before the Internet do? How did they improve their writing skills?

For some reason, I think of Benjamin Franklin and his autobiography. In it, he talks about how he learned writing prose by repeatedly copying passages of books by his favorite authors. Apparently he did it so much that by the end he was able to memorize sentences and create new ones based off of them. For some reason, I’ve heard this a lot from older adults who write. They tell me that copying books is the best way to develop a voice and improve in prose. And as much as I’d like to try it, I don’t think I have the time or the paper to write every word down. My dad has suggests I use a thinner book.

The interesting thing is that when I ask my writing professors, they don’t really say the same thing. They tell me that it is a good idea, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Instead, they give me writing textbooks and inform me about writer’s talks. Which I go to, and they help a lot. But it always makes me wonder, what kind of advice would young writers give?

Has new media changed the way we learn how to write?

I feel like nowadays people would tell me to write in a blog in order to improve my writing. Which is so interesting because no one would have said that ten years ago. And as technology is changing, it’s also changing the style in which we write. Older writing practices seem to value tradition and structure (hence the copying of classics) while newer writing practices value novel ideas and collaboration.

But which one is better?

I think when people tell you different things work for different people, in some sense its true. Some people can’t handle old styles of writing and would much rather learn how to blog.  But I have a theory that different practices will give you different techniques. Blog writing really helps with purposeful and honest writing because you’re directly interacting with a community of readers who won’t hesitate to respond to you. You have to be intentional with what you say.

With textbook writing, it teaches you the fundamental basics of how to write based on a standard of writing created by wise old writers from the dawn of time.

If each type of practice taught you a specific aspect of writing that you couldn’t learn from the others, wouldn’t it be worth it to try ALL the practices?

It’s like nutrition. You can’t only eat one thing. You have to have a variety.

If that is true, then there are a lot of practices that I need to start doing.

 

And it is done……

This quote is so very appropriate.

The clock right now says 4:53am.

I’m in such a surreal state, but I can gladly say that I have finished my e-portfolio.

This class has been such a joy to take. It taught me how to love writing; even when the process was dreadful. In fact, I don’t see the process as so dreadful anymore. I’ve become used to it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing so much these past few days that it’s become a norm for me. But even before that, this class has opened up my eyes to what writing is actually like.

Now when I have to write five paragraph essays or write research papers, I’ll have a plan of action. I’ll have ammunition in the form of articles like “Shitty first drafts” to keep my head in the game.

I think the greatest thing this class has taught me boils down to one thing: make a plan and do it.

In so many instances in my life, I’ve been afraid to try things simply because I do not know where to start. But this class has helped me overcome my fear of writing by giving me tools to take on the massive behemoth that is my conscience. I find that when I make plans, make sketch drafts, and just do it, the fear of failure doesn’t seem so bad, and I end up with a nice paper or in this case, a portfolio.

Speaking of which, here is the link!

http://choirachelj.wix.com/my-e-portfolio-life

 

It’s been one wild ride.

 

Songwriting vs Regular Writing

For the past month, I’ve been working on a song called “Got Your Back”. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s about staying together and helping each other out when times get tough. Now song writing for me has always been categorized into a separate type of writing than “regular” writing. Somehow in my brain, adding music to a collection of words automatically made writing these words different than regular writing. But lately, as I’ve gotten more experience with writing lyrics for songs, I’ve realized that writing lyrics in many ways is similar to any other writing process.

For example, you have to what you’re trying to communicate. The more I’ve been reading my own writing, and reading other people’s writing (my roommate takes an English class and she lets me read other people’s essays for her peer review sessions), the more I’ve realized that you really have to know what you’re trying to say. A lot of the times, professors and teachers have told me that my writing can get really broad or vague. And this is true, but I never really knew why. Through my gateway course, I’ve found that my writing gets so broad because I don’t really know what I’m trying to say (this ties in with my previous post about mindless writing).

You also have to make sure that the words flow well together. You don’t want any awkward sentences that sound weird when you read/sing them. Sometimes I try to phrase things to get in all the little details, and what ends up happening is that I get a really awkward sentence. It’s the same for songwriting. Of course, songwriting focuses more on the sounds that words make together because it’s too corny if you rhyme all of the words, and it doesn’t sound good when you don’t rhyme any. I guess it’s all about that balance. Adding some rhyme helps the lyrics flow, but having some words not rhyme makes the song feel more organic because too many rhymes can make it sound unnatural and overly constructed.

When I was looking up quotes for songwriting, I picked out the image above because it really rings true for me and how I write lyrics. Sometimes, I write lyrics simply to rant, or communicate anger to someone (because I don’t have to guts to say it to their face). If you look at my lyrics, they’re all filled with the word I. It’s always I this and I that. Sometimes you would think that my lyrics are more like diary entries. They’re a way for me to express my thoughts. But the problem is that I do it too blatantly. I have forgotten that writing lyrics is also an art form, and that the words we choose, in order to communicate our feelings and ideas, can be crucial to the overall tone of the song. Like Janine Turner said, “I have always written poetry, but I have never applied it to songwriting”. I’ve never tried to write lyrics in such a way where I thought of it as poetry. And it’s honestly because songwriting is more of a way to share what I’m thinking rather than to express what I’m feeling. Or maybe it’s both but I’m just not doing it in an artistic way? I think I haven’t really thought about these things when I write the words to a song, and it’s something that I really want to try. If writing well means writing intentionally with a conscientious mind, shouldn’t I do the same with writing lyrics? What kind of words would I come up with then?

The Power of Being Present in Your Writing

As we’ve been thinking about how we’ve grown as writers this semester, it got me thinking a lot about my style of writing, which got me thinking about the words that I use. In class, we recently came upon this online writing tool that basically deconstructs your writing for you and tells you all of the things you need to watch out for. It’s kinda like going to the doctor, but for writing instead. Surprise surprise, I got “flabby” (they use weight terms) for most of my paragraphs, save for one random “fit and trim”. I knew that it was going to happen. For me, writing was sort of a way for me to blab about whatever first came into my mind. Thinking about what I wanted to write was always so much work for me. No wonder I wasn’t particularly fond of academic papers. They never understood why my writing was so confused and broad.

But through this class, I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to different types of advice and ideas about writing from authors of different fields and experiences. Through peer revising, I started to realize that I had to take my writing seriously. Now I’ve always treated writing with importance, but if I speak with all honesty, I would never really think while I was writing. I would never stop to ask myself “What am I trying to really say here?”. Instead, I would mindlessly type the first thing that came to mind for the sake of filling up space and getting a grade. I took Ann Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” to heart (even before I read it) and convinced myself that it was okay to be a bad writer because everybody’s writing was bad in a first draft. It just happened to be that most of my academic papers were first drafts.

I’m trying to be mindful, not mindless
http://mayawpaul.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/mind-full-mindful.jpg

It’s kind of a dangerous mentality. On one side, you’re giving yourself the freedom to write without letting the critical voices get to your head. But it also allows for you to turn in and have people read whatever crap you wrote and then reason with yourself that it’s okay because “all writing starts out bad”. I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to even change as a writer because that would take work, effort, and the possibility or risk of failure: three things that are incredibly difficult for me to overcome. I always want the easy side of things. The road less traveled is the road I avoid the most. I never push myself or challenge myself to become better in something because I convince myself that “this is just who I am, and I can’t change the fact that I’m a bad writer”. But I’m slowly starting to realize that writing is a fluid skill that is always up for improvement, as with everything else in life. It’s something that’s important to me, and I see it’s power and influence through viral articles, academic papers, and the like.

If the power of the written word is great, and it is something I greatly admire and appreciate, don’t I owe to myself to at least try?

That’s what I’ve thinking about. Isn’t it funny? I’ve actually been thinking about the words I use when I write. I’ve started thinking about why my sentences tend to sound awkward, and why I use certain words more than others. By taking a moment to just think, my attitude about writing greatly changes as well as the process itself. I take it more seriously, therefore creating better quality work.

The power of being present is something that I greatly strive to achieve. In a culture where it’s so easy to be passive and hide behind all our technology, we lose the chance to be present as active participants in our own writing and lives. I’ve been letting my “I don’t have time and I don’t care and I’m not good at it originally so why even bother” attitude stink up my writing and it’s time for me to let it go.

If the attitude changes, perhaps the writing will change as well. One can only hope.

Showing Not Telling

So lately, I’ve been trying to write a novel.

I know, that sounds kind of pretentious. I actually don’t like it when people are like “Oh yeah, I’m a writer.” It makes them sound really cocky. I think true writers shouldn’t brag about their work or talk about current projects in a way to brag. If its really good, the writing should speak for itself, right?

Lately as school and other things have been catching up to me, I constantly found myself pushing back my desire to write fiction. I kept telling myself I would do it “when I had the time”. But after finding out that one of my old middle school friends recently published a book this year, it kind of gave me the initial push to really take my writing seriously and make it a primary commitment instead of wishful thinking.

So a couple days ago, I started planning out my book, figuring out my characters, and I wrote a couple pages. But something I noticed as I was writing is that I write too simply. It’s hard for me to show and not tell. I guess it’s because I write the way I talk. I like telling stories, so when I write, I shape my sentences and my words as if I’m telling a story to someone.

I actually never noticed it before until my roommate inadvertently critiqued my work (she was saying it as a compliment). I gave her one of my short stories to read as a way to gauge how interesting my stories were. I sat in anxiety and excitement as she carefully read the story over. It was funny because it felt like a really long time, when she was only reading a couple pages. I guess that’s what happens when you’re really nervous about something.

After she was finished reading, she said “I really liked it! It feels like someone is directly telling me this story.” Now although she meant it as a compliment, I immediately felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I remembered the famous words “show, don’t tell”.

http://nevillekiser.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/show-dont-tell.jpg

All my life, people have always told me that phrase. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to have as a skill set, and yet it is difficult for me to do. I find myself instinctively writing stories as if I’m talking to someone. It makes me sort of envious of people whenever I read their work and the words really paint a picture.

So by attempting to write this book, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to learn how to really “show” something instead of telling it. A lot of writers give the advice “write everyday”, and I think that even if I don’t know how to do it now, if I write everyday, I’ll hopefully improve.

But does anyone have any substantial tips or advice on how to “show instead of tell”? What kind of strategies or word choices do you use to really get a reader to imagine or visualize your story? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

My hope is that the more I do it, the better I’ll get. Writing isn’t something you get better at just by daydreaming about it.

 

The purpose behind the E-portfolio

I’ll be honest, its hard to think about a project that’s so far ahead. Especially when there are these two massive projects (ahem re-purposing, re-mediating) before me. But I’m actually super grateful that we have to do this. Because I have no idea what this E-portfolio of mine will look like. Or what it’s even for.

I mean, I know that its for our grade, but beyond that, I haven’t really started on what it will be to ME. I think the first two questions that we’re supposed to think about got me the most.

They are:

How do you want to present yourself as a writer?

AND

Who is your ideal audience?

Now these two questions are difficult because they’re related. I can’t think about how I want to be presented without thinking about who I’m going to be presented to. But which factor do you let dictate the other? Ugh, the struggle is real. The thing is, I may not tangibly know how I want to be presented, but I do want to be presented in a creative, funky, unique manner. I want my website to emulate my character. Kind of like a blog site but more professional? But the problem is that my ideal audience will most likely be a corporate audience. Having an online portfolio is a very valuable thing. Nowadays, people also put in their site names as a part of their resume. It gives the recruiters a chance to see more of who they are and what skills they have. I mean, part of me thinks that’s why a lot of us chose to be writing minors, so that we can get a better chance in the work world. So which one do I pick? The creative, diary like portfolio that functions as a personal memoir of all my work OR the corporate one, in which I create a portfolio with a job recruiter in mind? It’s hard to choose.

I think the best way, would be to do both. Showing a recruiter a boring website would only shoo them away. Showing them the real me through my work will ensure that when they hire me, they would be hiring me because they like me for ME (kind of like dating, but not).

So back to the questions. I want to present myself as a versatile writer who uses her creativity to adapt to different types of writing. I want my portfolio to be very colorful and quirky that when a person reads my portfolio, they would instantly know from the visuals and the writing that it’s me. My ideal audiences are the people who will hire me, so that they can better a better sense of who I am and what I am capable of, but it will also be for myself as a memoir of what I’ve accomplished and everyone who is interested in reading my work. For the recruiters, it would be a way to tangibly see a part of my resume. For myself and those who are interested, it would give them a sense of how my writing developed and hopefully improved over the course of a semester.

For these specific purpose, I want my portfolio to have a design that is very classy, clean, but colorful. I want it to contain slightly odd and witty titles and tabs and for it to be filled with interesting and fun works of media that I have created. I want a variety of media, not just writing. There would be videos, music, pictures, anything that would reveal something about my character. Maybe that could be a potential theme of my portfolio? It would be like “putting together pieces of the puzzle” or something. Or maybe it could have a mirror theme where I “reflect” (sorry for the pun) on the past semester. I think having a broad theme to encompass it would be cool and helpful. Especially when I have to think about the layout and the design of the site.

What do you guys think? Should I have a theme or not? And is it smart to target the portfolio to both job recruiters and for people who just want to enjoy some good writing and media?

Re-purposing “The Ring”

When our group got together, we talked about the possibilities of our re-purposing projects. Now while I had a couple ideas, I particularly wanted to change up my eight page paper on the symbolism and meaning behind the ring. It was something that was interesting to me and I could see how it could be re-purposed into a magazine article whereas I had no vision for my other idea, which was my paper on how children’s books have deeper, greater meanings. And as I talked with my group, they gave me a good idea about changing it to a magazine article for feminists or older women. This was interesting because originally I had an idea to do it for a  teen article like Seventeen. But as I thought more about it, I realized that it was too big and great of a topic that it would seem unsatisfactory to just casualize it into a teen girl article. I wanted to add the history and the implications and culture that had come with the ring. Which was why I decided to cater it to a different audience-an older, more educated audience such as educated, feminist women in their twenties or thirties.

The eight page paper I had written was written in a Lloyd Hall Scholars English class where we had to take one ordinary object and describe its wide spectrum of meaning to show how one simple thing could have infinite meaning behind it. It was written like a typical college paper with a thesis and was organized with paragraphs and such. But I plan to re-purpose it by adding visual media in my article. I also hope to change my tone, giving it a more personal narrative structure to portray the article as a discussion between my readers and I. This way, I can also add my opinions and experiences with the ring and how I view it in society. Since the article would be written for educated, college women, I would be able to talk about feminism and how the ring has a sexist history. I want to talk about the implications of the ring based on its interesting history.

Personally, this project is much more interesting to me than my other possibility. I wouldn’t have known what to do with my children’s book idea because the essay was on The Lorax and how it’s underlying meaning was on global warming. I thought of a possible article on Reader’s Digest that would maybe talk about how children’s books these days have a lot more deeper, adult geared topics that might fly over children’s heads. I could have written an opinion article discussing whether or not it was unnecessary  for authors to put deeper, underlying meanings in children’s books and whether or not that was effective. But that didn’t seem as interesting to me, and I didn’t really know what audience I would be writing to either since it talks about children’s books from an adult perspective. So instead of going with my Lorax essay, I decided to go for the topic I was more interested in. After all, we’re going to have to come back to it again when we re-mediate it.

Why I Don’t Read the Way I Should

It’s nice to read something that really makes you question your entire method of doing things. The most recent readings that we did really made me think about what I was doing well, and what I was doing that needed more work. Actually, what they really did was make me feel kinda stupid that I wasn’t doing these kinds of things while I was reading.

Last week’s readings were about how writing has become more part of the economic workforce and how we value it more than reading these days. This week’s reading talked about how to read well, how reading and writing influence each other, and why reading is equally important as writing.

I think the things that seem to stick out the most is that the readings both allude to the idea that reading and writing go hand in hand. One influences the other and vice versa. It made me realize that all this time I was so focused on writing, that I had neglected to think about my reading skills. Because reading and writing is a continuous conversation between the writer and the reader, it would make sense that reading skills are just as important.

Usually, I write the way I think or talk. The words and tone that I use are very similar to the conversations that I share with people. I never think about what my purpose is, who would be reading it, and what message I want to communicate. There was never that kind of deep thinking. And sadly I think that it reflects in my reading skills. Haas and Flower explain that good reading is characterized as “the ability to read the text on several levels, to build multi-faceted representations.” When experienced readers read, they go beyond the text and try to connect all these difference facets of information. They take ownership of their learning and understanding. But in many cases, especially in the college context, many students are focused more on the content and are trying to gather information based on what is being said.

Personally for me, I don’t really read this way for a couple of reasons. First of all, its difficult when you’re so used to just reading for fun, or reading to gain information. It takes way too much brain power to really think about what we’re reading. And because it’s even harder to do that when readings don’t apply to me or don’t interest me, it becomes harder to motivate myself to read intentionally with purpose.

Second, our classes don’t really focus on understanding and deepening our sense of the material. We basically just absorb a ton of information, and are expected to regurgitate it all out in either an exam or a paper. Instead of thinking about what we’re learning, we tend to just memorize as much as we can and hope for the best. Maybe if teachers or professors emphasized the importance of discussion and exploring the material, rather than getting a good grade, then maybe we would be learning this in a more multi-faceted way.

Writing and reading are like mirrors. Each one reflects the skill set of the other. The more I read these articles and studies on the connection between reading and writing, the more I realize that I can’t just focus on one and forget about the other. I’ve been neglecting my reading skills, and in turn, it has taken its tole on my writing.

The question is, what active steps do I take to get better? How can universities teach reading the way they teach writing? Maybe they should start a reading program. I’d be interested in that.

 

The Passion Behind the Voice

I’ll admit, the cold weather did try its best to steer me from going, but I had never gone to the literati book store, and I was interested in what a professor would have to say about writing. So I doubled up all my winter gear and made way for the cold. I have to say, the trip was worth it. Not only did I get a chance to see a really cool bookstore, but I also got to listen to the refreshing words of Maria Cotera, a professor in the Women’s Studies department.

One thing seemed to stand out among others.

Image taken from www.michigirls.com
Image taken from www.michigirls.com

As Cotera spoke about her mother’s influence as a writer who “wrote on the margins of knowledge”, she described how her mother would write in McDonald’s while her children played. She attributed her mother’s dedication to her passion. Even despite the fact that her writing was supported by grants in a “bootstrap” way, she continued on to write two books…BY HAND. Cotera said that this was what drove her to write as well. She was always looking for “a story that hadn’t been told”. This was what led her to search for undiscovered transcripts of a Latina author who had been forgotten over time.

For Cotera, writing is more about a communicative art, as an avenue to tell the untold, forgotten stories of the past. She writes whenever she can, unlike the white ivory tower image of writing in a special room, and although she agrees that academic writing can be boring, she says it shouldn’t be. If there is passion, it should seep into the writing and make it through to the reader.

As I was listening to Maria Cotera, this whole passion seeping in through my writing really spoke to me. Many times, I think of writing as that white ivory tower experience. And when I don’t write in that situation, I almost feel cheated, or like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Many of my writing desires stem from wanting to tell stories that I’ve come up in my head. While the telling stories part is similar, it’s different from Cotera because she is focused on real stories that have been buried in the past. To me, that sounded fascinating, almost like following a treasure map for untold aspects of the human life. To be honest, it made my reason for writing stories sound kind of selfish. But it also made me wonder what it would be like to be that passionate and driven about my writing, or writing for a purpose beyond myself.

I always tend to write random stories “for the sake of writing” because as long as I’m writing, I should be getting better, or so I think. But this probably explains why I get so easily distracted when I’m writing, or why I am prone to giving up on what I’m writing. Maybe if I were to find or create a story that I was so passionate about that it was gnawing at my conscience daily, then I would be able to make it through and finish a project. Professor Cotera reminded me that I can’t just write mindlessly. I have to write passionately. Until then, I have to find a story that really captivates me.

An Unsettling Motivation

As a person who is not very comfortable with writing, I always wondered what it was that made me draw back to this desire to take what was in my head and write it on a piece of paper. If someone had asked me why I write, I would probably say it was because of pictures in my head that wouldn’t go away. But after reading George Orwell’s Why I Write, the motivators described started to hang over my thoughts and made me question my “true” motives.

It was the “sheer ego” that struck me the most. In general, I knew that there was a motivation in artists to share their talent with the rest of the world and be acknowledged for it. But for Orwell to say it so blatantly as the first motivator surprised me because I didn’t expect him to mention it. It was refreshing for him to mention the very carnal, obvious desire to be known first, instead of the typical love of art. As I thought more about it, the idea was unsettling because it directly pointed to a negative quality of humanity. And it made me wonder if a writer’s motivation is less about the art of writing, and more on promoting the self, which sounded depressing to me. I felt like I was re-entering into the very thing I had tried so hard to escape from.

As a student interested in composition, I surrounded myself with talented teachers who all told me of the tough world of an artist. In the beginning, I would laugh it off. But the more they talked, the more I realized how bitter a lot of these people had become. Orwell describes “sheer ego” as “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one…there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.” This struck me so much because it was what my composition teacher had talked about when she tried to convince me not to be a composer. She described how she had sacrificed everything, even pushing her family to move around so that she could meet with professors and compose. She said it was a selfish, bitter lifestyle that made the heart hard, and she wanted me to stay out of it. In the end, I couldn’t handle it, and I gave it up.

It’s uncomfortable to think that all artists who are successful and famous are all vain and selfish people whose sole ambition is to be recognized and remembered. And yet it makes me wonder that if these people didn’t have that kind of ambition, would they have been able to reach the top? Or would they have given up from the beginning, like me? To be honest, I’ve definitely been motivated by the “sheer ego” that Orwell described. So I wonder how much of this is true for everybody. Is it a necessary motivation in order to survive the world of creative arts? It would be too much of a generalization to say that all writers write just for the ego. There are probably different levels to how much of it is ego and how much of it is the love of writing. Because if it were all just pure ego, somehow I feel like the writing wouldn’t be as genuine. There has to be some appreciation of the art form. But I think Orwell is reaching an honest and unsettling point that deep down inside, we all have that desire to be known by others. I just hope that becoming a writer doesn’t make me vain and selfish, because that is unsettling.