by Nicole | Oct 10, 2012 | Life, Personal, Professional, Tips and Tricks, Writing
No witty introduction to this one – we’re diving head first today!
I work in Corporate America… and I can’t tell you how many times I want to claw my eyeballs out of their sockets with the nearest sharp utensil when I read a terrible email from a colleague. Why does this happen? I have to assume a lack of proper preparation for workplace environments is to blame.
Over the summer, I took a course about teaching technical communication. Because of that course, I have narrowed down the area of college writing I want to teach – writing in the technical world for engineering and science students. I think it’s important for students bound for a corporate, professional workplace after they graduate understand how to effectively communicate through writing.
Our world has most definitely reached the digital age in recent years – communication will never be the same as a result. It seems that we, in corporate environments, converse with our colleagues over email and IM systems more than we pick up the phone. I personally like this, because I find it easier to be more concise with my words and convey my point clearly. Granted, there are some times where it’s always better (and easier) to pick up the phone or schedule some face time with your co-workers, but it’s essential to corporate success that people understand how to communicate through written words.
Some tips I’ve come to hold near and dear when composing work emails, documents, and more are as follows. If you can remind yourself of these when writing a co-worker, you’ll be off to a great start.
- Keep it simple and be quick, clear, and concise as possible. Short and sweet is the best way to go – you don’t want to bog your readers down with pages and pages and pages to read. Explain your message clearly, be concise, and be sure to get to your point as quick as you can – if you are a busy person, you should assume your reader is just as time-poor as you are.
- Write as you would talk – except use the proper version of your language. Your voice is what the reader will hear when they read your message, so make it conversational. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, either – these are your words, and you are attaching your name to the message… so own it!
- Break your message into short paragraphs and avoid long sentences. Reading words on a screen can be daunting for some, and easier for others. Accommodate your audience – breaking up your paragraphs and keeping sentences short will allow your message to be easier to read. I tend to get overwhelmed when a colleague sends me a long email and it’s all in one paragraph. I have literally copied and pasted it into a Word document to break it down, so I can receive their message a little more clearly. Think about this the next time you don’t use paragraph breaks!!
- Maintain a positive tone. It’s tough to read emotion through written word sometimes (especially in text messages!), so it’s important to be positive throughout your message. This will help your reader see the point you’re trying to make without negativity.
- PROOFREAD AND EDIT BEFORE SENDING! I will say this over and over until my students understand this must happen EVERY SINGLE TIME a message is sent to someone through written words. I won’t lie – I’ve caught some serious typos or found that my message didn’t make sense when I reread it before sending. I suggest reading your message to yourself out loud to see if it makes sense. Things seem to read differently when you hear them aloud versus when they stay on the page. Don’t hesitate to have someone take a glance too – a fresh pair of eyes can catch things we don’t the first few times around.
Of course, there will be exceptions. Case in point, my boss and I are very close – if someone read our emails, you’d be able to tell that right away. We use emoticons and sometimes shorthand, but most of the time we keep it super professional – our company records all communication for legal purposes, so we want to be sure we’re professional when on the record. We start with the usual address (“Hi Nicole,”) in the first round, but then usually it’s a conversation back and forth in the replies that follow. The important thing here to be sure you gauge your audience and use communication to accommodate accordingly.
If you have questions or want more advice about writing for work or your professional environment, let’s chat!
by Nicole | Oct 3, 2012 | Education, Life, Past Blog, Personal, Poetry, Writing
Well, this is embarrassing. I haven’t been updating like I should. I have let things get in the way of writing for me again. That changes today. For those who know me, I’m
somewhat a perfectionist when it comes to sharing my writing. I need to work on being more candid on my blog, because that’s what it’s for, right? So, here we go again. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. :)
I am in a poetry course this semester, studying under the Indiana Poet Laureate. Thus far, this class has helped me change the way I view writing poetry. I’m becoming unafraid to share my works-in-progress, and learning to better embrace critical feedback. Last night, we were discussing readings about revision. A few things grabbed my attention, but especially the notion that we have to stop being nice and sweet throughout our poems. This is me, completely. My poems are generally whimsical and fluffy and nice, leaving me with either a longing or a warm, fuzzy feeling. But sometimes we need that harsh reality to shine through. That darkness is everywhere in our lives, and we shouldn’t sugarcoat it when we share our experiences with others by way of writing. We have to stop letting our good manners get in the way of being raw and rude. Our poems can mean so much more if they have that bite or sting. That means it’s real. If it provokes emotion, then we’re on our way to a good poem.
Revising is something I’ve talked a lot about on here in the past.
TL;DR: I revise as I go and that’s kinda bad for my writing.
I need to learn “first vision, then revision” (wise words by Lynn Emanuel in her piece “In Praise of Malice: Thoughts on Revision”). The idea of getting it out on the page without trying to revise immediately is key. I’m beginning to learn that I need to put a piece of writing away for some time before revising it, because the person I was when I wrote that poem is not who I am now, in this moment… or even five minutes from now. Something new will come along, either through education or experience, and I can apply that to an editing/revising session down the road. In fact, I pulled out a poem I wrote 12-13 years ago for our “X-Treme Revision” process in my class. I read through it and like the thought of it… but my age shows in my writing. I look forward to sharing it later after I complete this process with my class.
There is another poem I am working on for our packet project – this basically is an assignment that will track our revision process. As a class, we all took an oath to revise this one piece of work over the course of a week for a minimum of one hour each day. I will be tracking my progress and will probably scan my revisions so I have them saved electronically – I will be glad to share with you. I always enjoy seeing how others revise or get from one point to the next with their writing, so I hope you will find something useful out of my experience. Also… I urge you to give me feedback – I want to know what you think of my work. Tell if if it sucks, tell me what I need to work on, tell me what you’d change if you were the author… I don’t like hearing “this is great, don’t change a thing!” (See my earlier post on peer response sessions.) Side/end note: one thing I struggle with when it comes to poetry is knowing when it is done. When do you stop revising a poem? When do you call it done? I don’t have an answer for this yet, but I hope to get closer as my poetry improves.
by Nicole | Apr 25, 2012 | Education, Life, Past Blog, Professional, Teaching Composition, Writing
Since I was young, I have enjoyed reading and writing. What I didn’t realize until recently is that throughout my childhood, I was on the path to become literate. To me, literacy has changed a great deal since I was young. For example, my family did not have a computer in the house until I was in 7th or 8th grade. I often wrote with pen/pencil and paper, in the confines of my room. It was a private thing for me – I had many journals in which I would write about what happened that day at school or at home. It was more of a release versus a mode of communication (like it is for me today). I remember when my small town finally had internet access (dial-up, but still exciting… ugh, it pains me to say that I was excited about a dial-up internet connection when today I won’t settle for anything less than a super-fast connection) – I would walk just under a quarter of a mile to my aunt’s house and use her internet. I would also go over to use her word processor on her computer – I would create a newsletter, pretend I ran a newspaper and report the local news or anything that was of interest to me. In fact, I remember calling it “Up-to-Date News.” Moving forward through school, I found a special connection with my English classes because we were prompted to write about what we studied. Same for history – those two classes required papers and essays. It continued to be a passion through the rest of my teen years, and now that I’m almost out of my twenties, it’s how I want to make a living. Funny, these recollections… means so much more now that I understand my literacy path.
So, what is literacy? It has always been, to me, the ability to read and write coherently, to communicate effectively, and has been a part of the educational process. I think of my literacy history and then think about it from a global perspective: there are still places around the world that do not have internet connections or even computers… whereas today, in America, it seems the average family has multiple computers, a fast internet connection, and many books, magazines, or newspapers to read every day. And if your home doesn’t have some of these things, there’s a local library you can visit to feed your literate soul.
Thinking about how I became literate… my parents were adamant about encouraging me to read and write. Perhaps their parents were the same way with then, and so on, and so on throughout the family tree. I can look at this from many informational perspectives – historical, sociological, case studies, pictures/graphics, and even family artifacts. History tells me people learn to read and write because they were taught… and those before them were taught, and those before them were taught. It’s evolution to me. We, as humans, learned to communicate through signs, symbols, grunting, etc, since the beginning of our race. We use the past to improve present literacy, looking back and seeing how our ancestors performed basic literate tasks. We have adapted in some ways, and evolved from there. This takes me straight into the assumptions we discussed in class. Learning about literacy involves the changes we want to make and how we want to act on it. I have tried to remove myself and act as a spectator in recent years to how my literacy has evolved. Case in point – I have loved to write with a pencil and paper, and that started as doodling with crayons. Now, I can’t go anywhere without my computer because I use my word processor as my form of writing. I do still enjoy how a pen feels in my hand and how it touches the paper – nothing will, to me, ever replace that feeling. I can just type faster than I can physically write, so I tend to favor the computer over the pencil/paper type of writing.
Another point… we were discussing in my other class about revising as we go while typing a paper. I am absolutely horrible at removing the internal editor. I find myself constantly editing as I go when typing… but when I write freehand with pen and paper, I don’t edit as I go as much. Going back a little further and thinking about my speech classes during my early years as an undergraduate, I found myself writing freehand my ideas for my speech, then going and typing them up. That’s when the editing would come into play – while I was rehearsing the speech, I would notice myself changing what I wrote down freehand because I could better organize it on the computer. Or, I would consider how I speak compared to how I write (informal versus formal), and then change the direction of my speech to either formalize or take it down a peg so others could relate to the topic.
My literacy is still changing and evolving. I can personally attest to the statement we made in class – “being literate helps create membership” – I find myself drawn to those who read and write every day, and create conversation based on what we write about. This is one reason I love being back in school – I’m surrounded by individuals who love to read and write as much as I do, and we tend to look at the reasons from historical, sociological, philosophical, and political perspectives. Intellectually speaking, literacy has completely changed me as a person – I have to ask myself: “where would I be without literacy?” I may never answer this, and to be honest, I don’t want to. I’m glad I was brought up in a literate household and was pointed in that direction.
We were given some questions to answer following one of our class discussions – they are listed below.
- Given our discussions in class or what we’ve learned about ourselves as a literate person, what areas would I like to spend more time investigating? I would like to look at my life as a literate person from the historical and sociological perspectives, and weave the readings/discussions in to back up my personal evidence that says I am a literate person. I would also like to look into the literacy rates of sex offenders specifically – the topic of sex offender rights (or lack thereof) has been a great interest for the last few years.
- What do I know about literacy now that I did I not know about literacy before I walked into class tonight? The differences of literacy history between classmates – we all have similar beginnings, but every single person is different and their backgrounds are varied.
- What do I know about literacy now that I did I not know about literacy when I walked into class the first night? I had the undergraduate course for writing and literacy a few years ago, so I assumed I would have a good jumping off point for when I walked into this class. I’m noticing that I was not as critical when it came to studying literacy – I’m beginning to see the elements of thought as real-life application and can apply it to literacy studies now a lot better than what I ever could before.
by Nicole | Mar 25, 2012 | Journals, Life, Past Blog, Personal, Writer Wednesday, Writing
Freewriting, to me, is the ultimate way to begin any piece of composition. It prompts the writer to get their thoughts out and on to the paper. Freewriting helps the writer to organize their thoughts before starting the final draft. The key to freewriting is to not stop writing – no matter what. Why is it when I write… why do I always want to stop, contemplate, and revise what I’m writing.
Peter Elbow tells us in his book Writing Without Teachers that I shouldn’t revise myself as I’m writing. Goodness, I believe that is my biggest problem. (Wow, see, I just did it with that sentence, editing it as go.) I have to stop the madness sometime if I’m going to expect my future students to understand and work with a freewrite method/model. If I can’t make attempts to break my habit, how can I in turn 1) teach the model when I am not perfect and 2) help others learn the model and break their own bad writing habits?
I want to write about my writing habits for a while. I have found that revising as I go is not effective when trying to compose a piece of writing. I often get frustrated, find myself staring off into space while I try to think of a clever way to reword a sentence, and I don’t make progress within a small period of time, versus where I could end up if I would just write off the cuff and not worry so much about the revision process. I think that’s the editor in me, and the drive to write a document once and only have to lightly edit it. It is hard for me to turn that off, but when I do, I can plainly see the success. I notice I get further, I have more written down to potentially draw additional ideas from, and I don’t have to do as much work.
So I must ask myself… why do you work harder instead of smarter in this case? Come on! The answer at first is obvious – I’m an editor. But I need to dig deeper than that. Why do I enjoy editing? Refining a rough draft to get closer to a finished piece gives me a great sense of accomplishment. So, why won’t I just get closer to the finished piece to start, and then go from there, revising as I need to once the first draft is complete?
Once I do have a draft together, I usually print it out, read through it once, and then cut up the paragraphs if I feel there isn’t a solid flow throughout the entire piece. I have a rough time getting to that step, though, unless it’s personal writing. Writing for my undergraduate degree (the first few years, that is), I would often procrastinate and turn documents in as is, and hope for the best. More times than not I would get the grade I desired, which would lead me to believe I was okay doing this process, and could keep going. I’ve learned in my last year of my undergraduate degree, I needed to take more time to develop my writing. Perhaps this is because I began tutoring in my last year of my undergrad degree, but either way, it helped me achieve a better result: a good grade and satisfaction. Before, I would just turn something in and hope for the best, but at the end of my senior year, I knew I was turning in something quality and would deserve the best.
What changed? What did I do different? I spent more time on a project. I was organized from the beginning. I still struggled to stop revising as I wrote a paper, but would have my fellow writing tutors or my boyfriend proofread for me. By the way, he’s an excellent writer, although he won’t admit it often enough. I enjoy reading his work – he’s very intelligent when it comes to tech-centered ideas and video games. He always manages to put a creative spin on things. I sit here and wonder to myself, does he freewrite when composing his blog posts, and at the end of the piece, revise then and only then, or does he revise as he goes along? I know he has me proofread and edit for him on occasion, but I have never asked him this. I do wonder what his process is… and now that I sit here and think about it, I’m kind of mad at myself for not asking him this sooner. I suppose we will have to have a discussion when I get home this evening!
Anyway, back to revising as I go… how do I turn it off? How do I stop the urge to edit while composing a document? I need help with this. Maybe Elbow’s practices will stick with me. I particularly enjoy the concept of allowing four hours to work on a piece and breaking up the first three hours into two sections: the first 45 minutes and the final 15 minutes. This might actually help me concentrate more on getting the writing done versus making it perfect. I need to remind myself that this comes later, not first. I bet I’d be more productive with this approach, and then in turn, I could teach my future students this model and get their feedback. Does it work for everyone? I’d imagine it doesn’t, just as there is no one standard way to write. But I do believe that following Elbow’s suggestion will help writers, both struggling and expert, improve their craft.
I love both revising and editing – sometimes I have to remind myself they are two very different elements of the craft. Revision – re-seeing a document and making changes as necessary to fulfill requirements, whether it be substance or flow. Editing is different. And there are different types. Copy editing, editing for grammar and spelling and punctuation, editing to add a creative spin, and more. This is the part of writing I really enjoy.
Write, write, and write. I hardly spend time writing for pleasure anymore, and I really should, as it is my form of therapy. The fact of the matter is, I always find something else to do, or something else that needs to be done. I’m making time for reading more fiction, so why can’t I stick to my proposed daily writing schedule? How I wish there were more hours in a day, to accomplish everything I want… but by the end of the day, I end up giving up because I’m tired, work has worn me out, my eyes can’t bear to read another word, let alone paragraph or page. This must stop. I remember I used to tell myself “you make time for the things you want to do.” I should start telling myself that again. I have many things I want to do, and writing at least for an hour, or even 30 minutes a day is one of them.
Does the above help me gain clarity about freewriting and my own habits? I do believe so. It has helped me to point out what I believe is a top flaw in my own writing: revising as I go, editing before a document is complete, etc. Sure, I rambled a bit, but I think I was finally getting somewhere regarding revision. Is this a breakthrough? Quite possibly.
by Nicole | Nov 16, 2011 | Life, Past Blog, Poetry, Writer Wednesday, Writing
For Writer Wednesday, I wanted to share a poem I wrote a while back with you. As always, feedback is encouraged!
Make yourself – no one else can. Run away
if you must, with intentions to move
forward, never looking back. Let your dreams
be snatched away. Kiss love goodbye
by not abandoning future endeavors down a
heart-bursting path. Compose your life
in a single line, only to live by those words.
Know it is okay to disappear.
by Nicole | Sep 13, 2011 | Life, Past Blog, Personal, Read & Speak, Reading, Writing
Since I was young, I have been in love with books.I began reading when I was very young, right after I turned three. By the time I started kindergarten, I breezed through every book at a quick rate. From then on, I could hardly be found without a book in my hand.
Learning the alphabet, forming letters into words, and reading complete sentences on my own were the most important things I could have learned at that young age. I excelled in the “Book-It” programs (a sponsorship my school held with Pizza Hut where students had to read a required amount of books to win free pizza and other prizes). I couldn’t stop visiting the library. I remember reading plenty about Abraham Lincoln, panda bears, the Civil War, and plenty of fiction.
When I was in elementary school and challenging myself to read every single book in the Baby Sitters Club series. I probably read the first 100 books, including all their ‘summer specials’ – longer stories about the characters and their summer vacations. Reading these books started my real love for reading anything I could get my hands on. I got to the point where I could finish one book each day – driving my mother crazy, as I would always need a ride to the library.
As I was growing older, I started to mature in my reading material choices. I loved the required readings in my classes in middle and high school, such as Hatchet, The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, and A Separate Peace. Understanding Shakespeare was also a large influence on me, as it prompted me to read and write much more, especially in poetic settings. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, the Odyssey, and many other works have made me feel confident that my literacy stretches far and wide.
Everything I learned over the past 20 years have prompted me to continues my education and keep expanding my knowledge of literacy. Last year, I started a book club with my best friend. We both share a love for reading, and it became a way for us to stay close after she moved 3 hours away.
People keep saying books are dead, books are becoming extinct, books won’t be around much longer. I beg to differ. There is nothing like holding a book in your hands and turning the pages with great care. The smell of a new book is so comforting. Even though I own a Kindle (which I love, by the way), I alternate between reading physical and electronic books. I have a stack of books on my bedside table, waiting for me to peel the edges of the cover off the printed paper. There is not a feeling quite like the one I get when I am able open a new book I’ve been waiting to read.
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