Friday, July 11, 2008

a writing workshop, part 1

This is the reprinted text from a series I am running through the Lifetimemoments blog... If you wish to participate as offered - please go there. LM BLOG LINK

The written word is a powerful thing. It can evoke a vast array of emotions, memories, images. It is, however, an extremely difficult skill to master, though it remains both basic and elemental, needing only your mind and nothing more. Even while we have shifted substantively to computers, the written word retains a vintage pureness.

It is no secret that I make my living through words. I read thousands of words every day - funny ones, stilted ones, angry ones. I write thousands more. And as these words dance before my eyes, I am constantly honing my writing. While I have not by any means perfected it, I thought it would be worth it to pass along a scrappy version of what has worked for me.

And so, in this workshop, I will be writing a few entries that build upon each other for effective writing. By design, this is not meant to be limited to journaling on layouts. We will focus on general writing principals that are applicable to any medium you choose. From those overarching techniques, you should be able to extrapolate what you need to apply it to your scrapbook pages. I will end with a scrapbook journaling entry - but that will be the very end.

I invite you to join me. I will give assignments for those of you who care to participate. And if you request it, I will give feedback, and if appropriate, constructive criticism. Sometimes I will rewrite your entry to simply illustrate how the particular principal applies.

I give you full disclosure though. I do not favor academic formalities and I probably won't cite a single grammatical rule in all the weeks we do this. English is my second language, and I have always been surrounded by accents, word usages, and verb tenses that are often correct - in Chinese. But making their way into English, the words sometimes sound "off". Perhaps since I still sometimes think in both Chinese and English, and because this mixed cadence is in my everyday reality, I probably have a much higher tolerance than most to formal errors (and an equally low tolerance for those who would mock those like my family). My thoughts are based upon my experience alone. Some English gurus may take major umbrage. If one seeks textbook precision, I promise you this workshop will disappoint. Instead, I simply (and humbly) proffer my thoughts developed from the sheer years of working, training, winning, and yes, losing, based upon words.

So, if you're still with me, let's get started.

The initial steps to effective writing are so obvious that they are sometimes overlooked.

Define your goals and your players.

What are you writing? Are you writing a report? A journal entry? A letter? Does the item you are writing require a certain tone? Are you to be neutral? Adversarial? Or are you trying to advocate a position?

Who is your speaker?

And who is your audience? A friend? family? A loved one? A Judge? Someone who hates you?

Each and everyone one of these possibilities has a profound impact on the tone of your item - and thus, the words you will choose to present it.

So, now - pick a topic - define your goals - define your speaker - define your audience. Write it down if that will help you.

* I will pick ---- a pet peeve ---- automatic check out machines at the stores. YES. oooh. I can feel my blood pumping now.

* I will do various goals, speakers, and audiences to illustrate what I mean by
how it differs.

Make a 30 Second Outline

Eventually, an outline may not be necessary. But in the beginning, its a good exercise to train your brain to follow the process. After you have gone through the exercise of defining your goals, your speaker, and your audience, ask yourself, what do I want to say? Pitch it. Subject matter descriptors only. 30 seconds. That's all you get to set the parameters of what you will be writing. Get the topical words out. Fast. The speed is designed to force you to spit out what is sitting at the forefront of your thoughts (and thus, which likely comprise the core of your feelings on the issue). Since we will not be writing any books, 30 seconds should be plenty for the exercise.

Ready ... set ... go!!

* WENDY'S EXAMPLE: impatience, broken, never works, overly sensitive, discomfort, unfamiliarity, time waster, stubborn, rude, personal space, stopped


I am sorry to break the news that good writing takes practice. A lot of it. Over and over (and over and over) again. The good news is that it does not need to be on the same topic. But there is a reason professional writers keep journals, blogs. Continuous practice makes these "rules" become habitual and innate - your brain will moves through the steps at light speed. Eventually, you should be able to sit down and pound out a very good product first try, very quickly. But you must practice first.

My hardfast rule. There is never a final first draft. This is closely followed by my second hardfast rule. I like the throw up method of first drafts (sorry for the crudity of the title). Meaning - the best first drafts result when you sit down and just spill, WRITE. Write what comes naturally. Don't think about it. Don't edit it. Just get it out and on paper/screen, whatever words pop into your mind even if they look like they don't match. Let yourself go and just write what comes to mind. Stop when there are no more words.

Do it now. Skim your goals/plan and your 30 second outline. Nothing deep. You don't need to memorize it. You are just giving yourself a (very) quick refresh. Your brain should now be primed with the key elements of what you are seeking to convey but nothing more - just that "hint" that hovers at the back of your brain. Now, quickly, before that wears off, write your first draft on the topic you chose.

* If there is a line - if you are not comfortable with technology or computers, please don't do self checkout. If you are not able to handle more than one task at a time, please don't do self check out. Invariably, you will stare at the machine for a minute or two between items as you take out reading glasses and read instructions carefully. finally run the item. bar code wrong way. read some more. bar code still wrong way. please don't slam the machine. bar code wrong way. you have to put it into the bag. they don't like when you don't. don't sit on the scale. please. bar code!!! machine thinks you are stealing bceause you press skip bag too much. no clerk there to clear you. frozen. stare at machine. 20 minutes. seven people behind you. your bar code is still the wrong way. i'm late. why did i think this was good idea to stop in on way home from work. not fast.

Next session, we will start to put some structure on this. I recommend you actually have a draft of something in front of you to work with. The edits will make much more sense (and stick better) as you actually put it into practice and see the results. See you next time......


Sonya said...

I read this article the other evening whilst trying to unwind for the day... i just want to say your amazing :) Thank you for taking the time to write such an article, when I do have a free moment I'd like to sit down and join in. :) so so informative!! Thank you dear.

Anonymous said...

I stumble upon your blog accidentally through SCS. First finding out that you are an Asian female (I, myself, am one too) thought I should check out your blog. What I found is really interesting. Thanks for sharing. I’m looking at your older posts and now I am lost, is there another posting of the “A Writing Workshop, part 1”? I tried clicking on the Life Time Moment Blog link but it says - The page cannot be found. Seems like we have similar interests; I like to sew too. My mom taught me when I was young. I like to craft too – just not as good as you. But I’ve always want to improve on my writing skills. I grew up in the States – CA to be exact but I feel my writing can be improved. At times, I’m embarrassed about my writing skills (traumatized by a professor’s comment). I’m trying to get over that by forcing myself to write. I post weekly reports for one of my girl’s class. That requires a lot of time and discipline – time that I rather spend on crafting. ;-) I also feel that a lot of my Asian “friends” and family expect a lot from me since I grew up here. Anyway, to cut this short, I would like to read more of your writing series. Is there another link or another entry that I miss? Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Lin T.

P.s. I was looking for your email address to private message you but couldn’t so, I’m posting this here. But I don’t know how to receive mail from you. I guess I'll just have to check back.

wendy said...

hi lin!!

thank you for stopping by my blog. wow. i can totally relate to a lot of what you wrote. this post correspondended to a post on the lifetimemoments blog and was intended to be the first in a series. the lifetimemoments server crashed about 2 weeks ago and they lost the blog. I will be posting more in this series but have not done so, as the blog has not come back up yet. I will definitely update on this blog too when its ready to go again. if you wish to contact me, my user name at both SCS and lifetimemoments is wendychang. Please feel free to pm me at either place.... :)

Anonymous said...

Be patient with me, I'm still trying to find how to PM you via SCS. I found your gallery - neat stuff. But haven't figure out how to send you a message.


日月神教-向左使 said...