Showing posts from 2015

Today's Creative Writing Prompt

Creative Writing Prompt                                   Sara Tusek, Instructor
Photo Story: 375 words minimum
Write about this photo. Don’t be too concerned with the structure; let your imagination take over. Be sure to give your story a title.
1.Study the photograph below. Answer these questions: ·What is happening in this photo? ·Where was it taken? At what time of year? ·Who are the people? Why are they here?
2.Think for a few minutes, then write a story (narrative) about the photo. ·What happened just before the photo was taken? ·What will happen next? ·What significance do you see in the colors?

Writing a syllabus

Yesterday I put in a full day's work writing my syllabus and lesson plans for my Fall 2015 Developmental Writing class. It was grueling but satisfying, restricted but creative.

What's fun about this exercise is that it allows me to project my actions into the future and analyze the precise timing and order of instruction that will result in optimal learning for my students. Knowledge is usually cumulative, so my syllabus should be structured like a staircase, with each step adding skills and information.

Unfortunately, the staircase analogy fails to capture the zig-zagging nature of learning. It's next to impossible to explain one fact or piece of information without bringing other bits of knowledge into the discussion. Teachers famously go on tangents; students may make fun of the tangents and see them as flights of fancy or evidence of the teacher's inability to focus on just one thing, but in truth, the tangent is often more important than the original point.

Why? B…

Song for Lonely Roads by Sherwood Anderson, 1876-1941

Now let us understand each other, love,
Long time ago I crept off home,
To my own gods I went. The tale is old,
It has been told
By many men in many lands.
The lands belong to those who tell.
Now surely that is clear. After the plow had westward swept,
The gods bestowed the corn to stand.
Long, long it stood,
Strong, strong it grew,
To make a forest for new song. Deep in the corn the bargain hard
Youth with the gods drove home.
The gods remember,
Youth forgets.
Doubt not the soul of song that waits. The singer dies,
The singer lives,
The gods wait in the corn,
The soul of song is in the land.
Lift up your lips to that.

Memoir as an art form

I love memoirs. They combine the most fascinating elements of fiction with the best aspects of first-person experience. They are true and not-true, specific and universal, full of fact and full of fancy at the same time. They distill the most telling detail of a moment in a person's life and make that detail one that every person can embrace as his or her own. One of my favorites is Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory.

A memoir is not an autobiography. It is not exhaustive, not chronological, and not filled with verified facts. Because it is the personal experience of the author, imbued with the caveat that it is a memory rather than a list of events and places, a memoir need not be unduly sparing of the feelings of other people whose lives touch the author's: people are less likely to sue the writer of a memoir for slander or libel, since the haze of gentle memory hangs over the memoir like a protective shroud.

Wikipedia's article on the genre of memoir says this:


Teachers who care too much

For the past 30+ years, I have been a teacher. I've taught writing, career development, English literature, conversational English, human resources, sociology, grammar, psychology, communications, history, journalism and economics. I've coached people for standardized tests (TOEFL, SAT, ACT), helped people write resumes, and taught people at church schools as a volunteer.

Thousands of people, ages one to 76, have been my students over the years, and I have cared about the future of each one of them. That's a lot of caring, maybe too much.

All good teachers have this in common: they become very involved in their students' development, far beyond whatever the subject being taught. That is, the relationship between student and teacher extends past the simple exchange of information that most people (those who aren't teachers) imagine is the purpose of teaching.

Here are three truths for committed teachers:

1. Teaching begins hours before the class and goes on hours (ma…

Turning a corner

Writing, like any other skill set, develops in fits and starts, not gradually.

That is, when you decide to improve your writing skills, you may labor for weeks or months with little obvious progress. It's analogous to climbing a big mountain: the small steps feel like nothing, but added up, they get you to the top of the mountain.

Then, almost miraculously, your writing takes a great leap forward.

But in truth, this is not a miracle, in the sense that miracles cannot be explained through the laws of nature. The great leap is simply the visible manifestation of the hard work you have put into improving your writing skills.

Last night, my Wednesday night class made a collective great leap. I asked them to complete two different in-class assignments: a carefully-constructed paragraph on their favorite holiday and a complete essay on which class they plan to take after they finish my class.

The improvements were impressive. The paragraphs (for the most part) were competently composed,…

Editing is not as much fun as writing

I thought for many years that I'd like to have a career in book editing. It seemed useful and interesting to help authors perfect their writing.

I have a good sense of grammar, syntax, and composition, as well as a large vocabulary and wide range of general knowledge. These are tools that any editor would need, I reasoned.

Editing seemed more stable that writing, where the pressure of deadlines and meeting a publisher's demands are one's daily lot in life. The editor is really in an ivory tower, away from life's hustle-bustle, sitting in a quiet place with a blue pencil and polishing someone else's hard-won prose.

Then I wrote a novel. It was pure pleasure from beginning to end. My imagination was untethered, and my heart was free to come out into the open.

Then I started to edit that novel. And am still editing that novel. It is hard, tedious work.

Now maybe it's because the novel I am editing is my own, so every mistakenly-placed comma, clumsily-worded senten…

Slogging Along

The college semester is usually 15-16 weeks long. In my Developmental Writing classes, we are over the hump, having 8 classes behind us. And you can feel it in the air--we are definitely slogging along.

Merriam-Webster defines "to slog" this way:

": to keep doing something even though it is difficult or boring : to work at something in a steady, determined way : to walk slowly usually with heavy steps"
This is about right.The work of improving writing is surely difficult, though I hope my class is not too boring. My students (the ones who are still with me, not the ones whose life experiences caused them to stop coming to class) are working in a steady, determined way.

Our collective steps as class and instructor feel slow and heavy, as we enter into the second half of the semester and tackle the required "research project": a short research paper on an essay by Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue," or one by Sherman Alexie, "Superman and Me" (stude…

From bad to good to great

The path to become a great writer is very simple: from bad to good to great.

1. Bad

Everyone starts as a bad writer. Writing uses such a complex set of skills, and calls for such a high level of coordination of these skills, that no one can do it well at first attempt.

Writing skills from the left, or logical, side of the brain include the proper use of rules of grammar, spelling, sentence structure, paragraph structure, and essay organization, to name the most basic. These rules are complicated and often self-contradictory.

You could compare this to learning the rules of a competitive sport like football or rugby. It takes time and effort to establish these rules in your mind and to know when and how to use each rule. Learning  such sport rules in isolation by memorization is not enough, either--you need to study how coaches and referees have applied them. To extend the analogy, you need to study how others writers have applied rules--you need to read!

Writing skills from the right, o…

How to write: just do it

I have been teaching people how to write for quite a while now. There are as many theories about how to teach writing as there are teachers. You can read thousands of books that outline techniques and exercises that will help people become more proficient and skilled at writing.

My theory is simple, and my technique follows closely: just write. Write in a variety of styles, for a variety of purposes, to a variety of audiences. In fact, what you write is not so important as that you write.

This is not a philosophy that my students accept without protest. Many of them do not want to write anything until they are sure it will be perfect. They want to instead spend time with stand-alone grammar worksheets with one right answer, hoping that if they can master enough worksheets, they will get good grades on them (they hope) and, somehow, magically learn how to write well.

But I believe that grammar worksheets, while morale-building if you can get the hang of them and get all the answers rig…

Another writing prompt

Today's writing prompt asks you to write a  very short mystery story (3 pages).

Study this photo and answer these questions:

1.  who are these girls?

2. why are they running?

3. where are they?

Then consider these questions:

1. who lives in the house with the red tile roof?

2. what is for sale in the big white building?

3. what is in the fountain to the right?

Writing prompt for today

Imagine that I am your writing instructor. Here is the writing prompt for today:

Type of writing: narrative (story). Length: 325-375 words (about 30-40 sentences).

Consider the photo above. Write a brief answer to the following questions:

What are these people doing? Where and when was the photo taken? Is there anything unusual in the photo? What do you associate with the shapes and colors in the photo?
Now develop your answers into a story. Use descriptive language (sight, sound, smell, touch). Here are some questions to consider as you build your plot, characterization, and setting:
What are the characters' wants and dreams? Where are they from, and where are they going? Why are they here now? What happened just before the photo was taken? If you were in the photo, what would you hear? Smell?Who is taking the photo? When your story is complete, review it for mistakes. Make a clean copy and send it to me as a comment on this blog. I'll be happy to read it and make comments!