Tag Archives: writing

Anniversary!

It’s the anniversary of my blog!

Not on WordPress, as I started on another platform for six months before discovering WordPress. But I started this journey on my 45th birthday. I actually started with my fitness blog, it wasn’t until I got to WordPress that I decided to split into two. And now, two years later, how do I feel?

Well, I feel that I don’t blog enough! The writing often gets pushed to the back of my life, when I meant it to be a priority. I freely admit that sometimes at the end of a long day, it is simply easier to stare blankly at the tv until bed time than it is to make my fingers move across the keyboard. And I have been reading a LOT recently. Which is good in theory, but I will push EVERYTHING in my life to the back burner in order to read just one more page…..and one more…..then, well, can’t I just finish it??

So now, on my 47th birthday, I am reaffirming my desire to make writing a priority.

I truly doubt life will get easier, but I will try to prevent the writing to being pushed around. Not that I will stop watching tv, of course, but I can type while watching–doesn’t that drive my husband nuts, that I can hold a conversation and still be typing!  I am slightly dyslexic and slightly ADD, but there are some upsides: I can multitask like nobody’s business! Focusing on simply one thing, now, that is the hard part. IE: I am drifting off course. Back to the goal of my blog being a priority, I will work on making that goal a priority!

 

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I found this article on our local paper, the Kennebec Journal (KJ to us locals). I thought it had many good points, particularly about every generation being “the end.” Lord knows my husband has been complaining about “kids today” since his mid thirties. Written by a professor at the University of Maine, it makes a strong case that the next generation might just be okay:

When people find out that I teach college writing, they tend to respond in one of two ways:

1) They become self-conscious about their language use and (jokingly, assumedly) ask me not to correct their poor grammar (I don’t) or

2) They commence a litany of complaints of how “these kids today” can’t write, assuming that I’m eager to jump in and share examples of students’ poor writing. (I’m not.)

Equating writing with grammar and lamenting a rising generation’s use of writing are two recurring practices that scholars of Rhetoric and Composition find themselves working to correct. I don’t negate or ignore the existence of poor grammar and literacy crises.

I do, though, appreciate opportunities to extend the conversation into the nuances of rhetorical grammar and into the long history of perceived literacy crises.

Grammar rhetorically

There are grammar rules in the English language that establish some objective right-or-wrong writing situations. Grammar, usage, and sentence structure conventions help make our writing understandable. Often, though, we continue to abide by specific mandates scrawled across our memory in red pen. For example, I often hear students recounting a rule against passive voice: it’s not allowed.

It’s often true that writing something in active voice creates a more vivid picture in the imagination. “The chairs were set up quickly” does not offer a mental image as much as “The tuxedoed groomsmen quickly set up the chairs.”

However, approaching grammar rhetorically means making choices about what you want to say and how you want to say it to your audience. What do you want to emphasize? If it’s all about the chairs and no one cares who set them up, the passive construction above works best.

There are many contexts in which passive voice is better than active, and many more examples of grammar and usage edicts that don’t always hold up. We should consider usage rules as factors that play into but do not mandate how we write.

Literacy crises historically

Observing the poor writing ability of youth has been an American tradition at least since the 1890s, when a committee at Harvard published several reports on the atrociousness of Harvard students’ written themes. The postcard fad of the early 20th century also set off literacy alarms — people were using abbreviations and shorthand, to the detriment of long-form letter writing.

In the 1970s, a widely circulated Newsweek article titled “Why Johnny Can’t Write” reported on the crises of literacy education in the U.S.

Today, I listen to complaints about students use texting abbreviations, not knowing how to diagram a sentence, and more. I find many what-is-this-world-coming-to conversations about writing borrow from the language and sentiment of older conversations. Many young people do not have adequate resources for achieving literacy standards that could help them succeed, and I am an advocate for literacy education.

I think it’s important, though, to acknowledge that these problems aren’t new. College students today communicate in contexts and media that may make their writing look different from past writing, but that’s not within itself new (or a crisis). Rather, reading student texts is an opportunity to look at how textual literacy is deeply entwined with visual literacy and digital literacy; it’s an opportunity to foster awareness of what changes across contexts; and it’s an opportunity to appreciate student creativity.

It’s why I love my job.

An English professor at the University of Maine at Augusta since 2014, Elizabeth Powers teaches introductory and advanced writing courses, and coordinates a writing lab which allows her to work individually with students on their writing skills. Powers’ scholarly focus is on Rhetoric and Composition, especially rhetorical theory, visual rhetoric, and writing center studies.

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ReBlog: The Publication Coach

Everyone gets criticized. From our dress, to our manners, to our actions, and-definitely-our writing. Especially once you send out manuscripts hoping to gain acceptance and publication. Knowing how to handle this criticism is very important, if only for our own sanity. Laying awake nights chewing over mean phrases is no fun. So when I saw this blog from Daphne Gray-Grant on her Publication Coach blog, I thought I would share. Especially since she references one of my very own books, The Writer’s Chapbook (which was in the pile Dad got me when I became an English major).

Advice on handling criticism:

 

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article on handling criticism…

What to you do when someone criticizes your writing? Put your hands over your ears? Argue with them? Criticize their writing?

In a recent Brain Picking‘s post, Maria Popova summarizes how some of the great writers of the 20th century figured out the best ways of handling criticism. Her source is the 1989 George Plimpton book titled The Writer’s Chapbook.

I particularly liked the advice of Truman Capote (pictured above), which was:

Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.

And I also appreciated John Irving’s backhanded compliment to critics everywhere:

Listen very carefully to the first criticism of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the reviewers don’t like; it may be the only thing in your work that is original and worthwhile.

But perhaps Thornton Wilder offered the most acute prescription for criticized writers:

The important thing is that you make sure that neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head and take part in the composition of your next work.

As Wilder suggests, however you decide to react to critics, it’s important that you never allow them to stop you from writing…

 

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A Matter of Perspective

It’s the first thing you do when considering a story.  Whose point of view should the story be told from?

There are so many choices; unless, of course, the character has been knocking at your door for weeks waiting to be let out. But even then, do you tell it just  from that character’s viewpoint, or do other characters get to sneak in their thoughts? Narratives are quite elastic these days as more and more writers push the boundaries.

Many writers choose first person point of view. I read once that “newbie” or freshmen writers like to use that  POV as they feel closer to the storyline and character. I think that maybe the reason that I have never really enjoyed the “I” viewpoint. I have certainly never used it, not wanting to get tagged as a new or “underdeveloped” writer.

However, last week I was re-reading a series by Elizabeth Vaughn and for the very first time I truly appreciated the first person narrative.  In the story, the main character, Lara, was taken out of her familiar city and made to live with plainsmen. The plainsmen had a different language, and very different customs from the city dwellers. As Lara learned–and made mistakes–so did the reader. Because we knew no more than her (and her city rules seemed familiar),  we were as lost in the new culture as she was. That made the story much more personal and interesting.

Elizabeth’s later books, set in the same world, are a mix of point of views. In the three later books I read, the narrative was a mix between the two protagonists. This point of view worked nicely for the later books, as they were not set in the two separate cultures.  This made her choice to use Lara’s first person view  in the earlier book even more clear.

I have read many books with a first person narrative (it does seem like a popular choice) but they never really seemed to need that POV.  A clever writer often drops clues–things the character sees but doesn’t realize the meaning– so that you may figure out the tale before the main character,and those are ones I enjoy getting into. Haven’t you ever yelled at a character for missing the obvious clue? Of course, clever writers do that no matter the POV.

Now that I have  finally appreciated the “I” as a writing style, perhaps my next story should be done that way? What is your  favorite narrative style?

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As Promised:

a Two minute Free Write on Why I think I want to write…

ok, so what did i get myself into? I don’t know that 2 minutes is long enough. I write cuz I keep having these ideas; not sure that they are GOOD ideas, but I want to get them out there anyway. Do I want to be famous? Not really, I don’t like the attendant noise that comes with it. Would like to write but have no one know who I am, is that possible these days?  huh. Those ideas always seem to flow except for now that I am trying to explain myself. argh. I do love the flow and play of words, it makes me so happy when it turns out just “write” and I get so frustrated when it…..ALARM!!

Whew. Sadly, no one took me up on my challenge. Maybe I should challenge a few others? And, it is as I wrote it except for the punctuation and capitalization. I really don’t capitalize unless forced to!

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Why? A Challenge

Why do we write? So many reasons….

or maybe….

or how about….

perhaps that one is a bit lofty for me.  So I am throwing out a new challenge: a 2 minute free write on why we crazy people think writing is such a good idea! By free write, I mean set a timer and let your fingers go. Of course, punctuation and spelling may be fixed afterwards 😉 Once more, I do have some specific people to challenge, but please, if you want to join in, link or post your free write 🙂 I love to know why others write; dabblers, professional or others! But I challenge:

LaToya @ Creative Gem

Louise @ Babygatesdown

Louise @ curvylou

Eileen @Eileenon

Alex@ Still life with a Grad Student

I will post mine next Tuesday, along with any others that link with me.

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Friday Fictioneers

It is Friday again! People the world over sigh with relief the work week is over……and jump for joy because we are Friday Fictioneering! Stories from all over the globe are pouring in to the inLinkz led by Rochelle. Check them out. Yes, that was an order.

Janie sat back and surveyed her garden. Tucked into a corner of the roof, she had managed a tiny jungle.

She heard him coming, the uneven steps indicating his level of drink. Janie ducked her head before turning to look. The light from the dying sun framed him, huge and leprous with a dragging foot. Large, callused hands clutched his bottle and his ugly sneer  increased as he viewed her colorful sanctuary.

He came around the lattice framing, the glare of the sun leaving him. Once more he was her father, a worn man dragged down by life and drink.

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the dusty road

   Jerry leaned against a tree, his bones shuddering in joy as he sank down. Dust coated him: the creases in his jeans, his  ragged rucksack, his worn face. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, blocking the packed dirt road stretched before him.

A memory of a fresh breeze cooled him. Birds singing and children laughing, yelling as they played.  Splashing water; slippery rock  cold under his toes.

“Jump, jump, jump,” his buddies chanted as he climbed to the highest  rock, clinging, until he fell more than jumped. The April water was  icy. Alan went next. Then Greg, until everyone had shown they had the guts.  Water slid out of Jerry’s hair, down his face and dripped off his chin as he watched the others jump. Greg almost landed on him, a few kicks pushed Jerry out of the way.

Wheels rolled by, chain clicking as the rider pumped the pedals. Sighing, Jerry opened his eyes, letting the memory slide away. There was a long way to go yet.

 

This is my weekly flash fiction, this time with more words (177) so nicely given to me by Flash Fiction For Aspiring Writers.  Such a luxury after holding myself to 100 words! Although that provides excellent training in parsing one’s words. This prompt is brought to us each week by Joy, check out her blog to learn more and join the weekly prompt. See the other stories by the Aspiring Writers here

I am a bit late this week, I try to do it every Friday, but although I started this on Thursday, Jerry just didn’t want to coalesce. And I spent Friday with my Mom, and I think that is a good excuse 🙂  Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

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suggestible

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February 22, 2015 · 4:00 pm

Story Day

So my first story is not actual fiction piece. Rather it is a light hearted report I wrote for a class I recently did on Coursera. For those who haven’t heard of Coursera, it is a first-rate resource for online learning. It is free, the classes come from around the world ( I am taking one from Paris, from Edinburgh, and from New York), and it has subjects on almost every subject. A extraordinary way to expand our horizons.

I chose this as my first class because, well, it has been a long time since I tried to learn anything new. Outside of work, that is. I enjoyed it so much, I was sad when it was done. It had zombies and flying mules, not to mention many ideas on how to get ideas into your head: and keep them there. For writing, I particularly liked learning about the diffuse method.

                         A Girl named Sam: A Rather Autobiographical Story

This is a story about a girl named Sam. She hadn’t been to school in over 20 years, and suddenly, it occurred to her that she ought to. Sam had been in retail for those 20 years, and she just couldn’t stomach any more. But what to do?  Where to go?

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