Journal: Theory & Writing

I began working on my graduate degree in January, and the following journal is based on the first class session for Theories and Applications of Teaching Composition. We started our semester by discussing the relationship of theory and teaching composition. If you have anything to share or want to discuss… please do so in the comments below!

—–

Theory is defined as a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be; a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.

Considering this definition and the readings, theory has a large role in teaching composition. Up until I began my undergraduate degree in English, I did not understand how theory had a place in writing… when I look back on my education, theory was present the entire time – I just didn’t realize I knew how to identify it. Writing was always just a hobby, a way to get the ideas and demons out of my head and on paper. It was just, and still is (but with more meaning), my form of therapy.

What is the role of theory in our teaching practice?

The role that theory plays in writing can be flexible – there are many ways to go about instructing someone to conduct a task. Understanding theory and how to apply it to each unique situation in the classroom helps everyone – instructors and students alike – become more versed in a craft. With writing, I never realized how theory really comes into play until a few years ago when I began tutoring.

Do you have a theory or set of theories about writing and teaching writing? 

When I began this course, I feared I did not have enough experience as a teacher like my fellow classmates, as I have only tutored in the academic setting. In fact, until this class began, I did not believe that I had a pedagogical background. I am discovering it has been there, waiting to be uncovered. I’m beginning to understand this desire to teach has been here all along, and I have to reflect on my life as a writer to even begin considering what my teaching theory could be. To be honest, I never thought I had a set of theories about writing and teaching writing until now. It brought a lot to light for me, and helped me identify and physically write what a couple of my theories could be. The beginning of my running list is below:
  • Writing is therapy.
  • There is not one end-all-be-all way to write a piece. The beauty about writing is that it’s flexible and can vary from person to person.
What experiences and knowledge have led you to your current theoretical stance?

Why write? Why teach writing? Why develop theories about the writing craft? I have always asked myself “why write?” but never started to think deeper than my obvious answer… because it’s enjoyable. That’s why I write – because I enjoy the craft. The other two questions I never really considered until now.

Pondering the how and why of teaching composition, I’m discovering my principles began to take shape when I took a course to become a tutor in the University Writing Center (UWC). Looking back, I feel like I can barely remember the studying and researching that was done to prepare myself to become a peer tutor, but after conducting a year of tutoring sessions with fellow undergraduates, I could clearly see my path as a writer would be to help others and educate them about the craft.

Specifically about the two theories I stated above (my running list)…

  • Writing is therapy. Many who write can funnel their passion creatively, or use research as a way to find the answers to their pressing questions. In my experience, journaling has been a savior on its own. I can spend a few moments a day writing out what is bothering me or what makes me happy. I also enjoy challenging myself to put a creative spin on my words when freewriting.
  • There is not only one way to write a piece. After I trained to be a tutor for the UWC, I realized I would need to adapt the way I assisted each individual student. Some learn better by seeing, then doing… and others learn better by simple instruction. Even though I would begin each session the same way – breaking the ice, asking them questions about the piece, and have them begin reading aloud – I would often find myself ending the session a different way every single time. This alone helps me learn to adapt to unique situations in an instructor position, which I believe is very important.

(Photo credit: http://fab4fan.wordpress.com)

The Power of Proofreading

The Power of Proofreading

It’s no secret: I have always enjoyed writing. During the past few years, I’ve discovered I have a knack for professional and technical writing. I know, it seems kind of boring at the surface… but I love it. I enjoy creating how-to guides, drafting emails to colleagues, and editing/revising professional documents to make sure they are as clear and concise as possible.

During my undergraduate studies, the course I completed have helped me improve my craft tremendously, and I still use many of those practices I learned in the classroom today. This includes how to draft letters and emails to clients  and colleagues, as well as how to communicate clearly with other professionals.

From my experience as a writing tutor, I realize writing is not a strong point for everyone. That’s OK – that’s why I’m here. :) In all seriousness though, I have one tip that can save you when communicating through writing.

PROOFREAD.

It is absolutely necessary to proofread your messages before sending. Start to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it… before the words come out. When it comes to communication through written documents or over the internet, you have the upper hand. Take the time to proofread your message. I promise it will save you time and embarrassment in the future.

I cringe when I receive an email with bad grammar and spelling mistakes. Well, I cringe when I see bad grammar and spelling mistakes in general. I feel that to get your point across and be respected, there is little to no room for errors when communicating with colleagues. Now, I’m not saying I’ve never made a mistake and sent something without proofreading… but when I have, I learned my lesson almost immediately.

Before I send out any email to a client or colleague, I proofread it once or twice. I can guarantee you I catch something every single time I give it another look. I search for spelling and grammatical errors. Sometimes to double-check myself, I even paste the draft into MS Word to run a spell check if my mail client doesn’t offer the service. I get embarrassed when I send an email to someone and it has errors throughout the draft. When I receive an email like that, I won’t lie to you… I can’t take it seriously. The sender did not want to take the extra time to proofread for mistakes or make sure their message is clearly conveyed.

Don’t be afraid to ask for someone to read over your message.

Always have a fresh pair of eyes look over a document, no matter the length. Even if you are an expert writer, I guarantee you will miss something if you don’t take the time to proofread or have someone else double-check your work for you. In my last job, my co-worker and I would read emails out loud to one another to make sure we a) sounded clear and concise and b) found any/all errors. Granted, this doesn’t help catch spelling errors, but that is what the second pair of eyes (and spell check) is for.

Another scenario: the company I used to work for added another fellow English major to our staff, so we had two in-house writers with proofreading skills. The marketing department would constantly rely on both of us to proofread documents for errors before it was published. Also, we could use each other as a fresh pair of eyes. Every single time we read each other’s work, we would find something the other didn’t find before. See, even two English majors made mistakes – but we were there for each other to correct them before anyone else read the material.

When in doubt, Google it.

I do understand that grammar and spelling may not be a strong skill many people have – but with the internet, I don’t believe anyone can use that as an excuse. Even I use Google to double-check myself on occasion. Chances are if you have a question, someone else does too, and they’ve gone on the internet to find the answer. The internet is a wealth of knowledge, so don’t be afraid to use it.

I am a huge advocate for using the internet to do everything. Shopping, connecting, communicating, writing, researching… you can do virtually anything on the internet. So, when you’re having trouble getting the spelling right or you’re not sure if you’re using a word in the correct form, open up your browser and head to Google.

The moral of the story: always, always, always remember to proofread.

Read over your email a few times before you send it. You might find a spelling error or that you can better phrase a sentence. If it makes you feel better, just remember that even the best writers make mistakes. If you need some help, feel free to contact me. I can guide you along the way and be that second pair of eyes you know you will need sooner later. Good luck!

Writer Wednesday

Writer Wednesday

For Writer Wednesday, I wanted to share a poem I wrote a while back with you. As always, feedback is encouraged!

Make Yourself

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.

Literacy and My Life

Literacy and My Life

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.

A Writer’s Nightmare

A Writer’s Nightmare

I won’t lie. I groan, wince, and kind of die a bit inside when I see those three little words when I’m looking for feedback on a piece of writing…

“That Sounds Good!”

Ugh, what a nightmare.

Reader response sessions, or peer workshop days, often make me excited for the chance to receive educated feedback. Unfortunately, I seem to run into the same problem: feedback that simply states “that sounds good.” That last one makes me shiver; leaving me to wonder what in the hell can I do with this? Where do I improve? What parts aren’t clear? There has to be something else they want to tell me!

I remember from my first writing courses peer response days very well. Maybe this is because I feel robbed once I was given my first draft back. When I give a response to a peer’s work, I tend to spend a significant amount of time pouring over their draft while the recipient barely makes a mark on mine. Even though I felt confident about my writing, I still would get discouraged the minute my eyes fell upon that one, dreadful phrase: “that sounds good.” It could be peppered in with useful comments and suggestions, but I would still grimace.

In my experience, peer response has not always been very helpful. I asked some fellow peers how they felt about reader response sessions and we have come to the same conclusion. Peer workshops simply do not help; however I have found throughout my college experience that there is in fact hope – but not until I reached 300-400 level courses. Perhaps this is because it was not until then I was surrounded by other writers who take the craft sincerely. The fact that a draft “sounds good” is not up for discussion. Writers want to know areas of improvement, if the draft is clear and concise, and if transitions are used effectively, among other things.

Now that I’m out of college and writing in the real world, I finally feel like I receive constructive feedback when I share my writing. Writing in the workplace is a bit different from the classroom and I am lucky to work with people who are not afraid to voice their opinion about my writing. It’s very important for people to give feedback without feeling like they are tearing down the author, and I can understand how hard that can be at times. I often find myself thinking of ways to politely tell someone their piece needs work, but I try to remember how much I appreciate the honesty. It doesn’t come from a bad place – it comes from a helpful place.

I believe the biggest reason for a lack of response is that the reader is afraid to actually write what they really think. We are naturally concerned about others and their feelings, and the easiest thing to do is tell the writer that everything “sounds good.” One of the two people will walk away from the session empty-handed, and this should not be the case. “This sounds good” is a phrase that is generally unheard of and not accepted when it comes to reader response in these courses. The point of a peer workshop is to get feedback on a draft – this means the reader must question the writer. The reader must engage the writer to get the missing pieces. We cannot improve as writers if we are constantly told our work “sounds good” and we aren’t challenged to advance our writing skills.

(Photo credit: http://www.thepoetryworld.com/gallery.asp?ImageID=14175&Ink-Pen-Hand)

The Power of Proofreading

Why I Blog

Why do you blog? Does it really matter to you who reads your blog? Inspired by something I read through 20sb.net – Why You Should Blog, Even if No One is Reading – I wanted to share with you all why I blog, and why it’s important to me.

I have written since I was a young teenager, but I have blogged since high school. I wrote in journals, notebooks, printer paper – anything I could get my hands on. Hell, I still to this day prefer to write with a pen in my hand. Anyway, we got the internet when I was in 8th grade, in 1997-98 (yeah, I lived in a reaaaaaally small town, we were a little behind…). When I was a freshman or sophomore, I started using one of those LiveJournal blogs – that was the first platform I ever used to tell the world what I was thinking. I have since gone and deleted all of my old blogs to start fresh with this website. When I went back to read the blogs I had posted, I realized I was such a whiner. I mean, really. I was one of those brooding lovesick teenagers who whined about the boy who didn’t want me or who broke my heart. First, I’m so glad I got out of that stage sooner than later. Second, I can’t believe I posted that kind of crap for everyone to read! But see, here’s the thing… at that time, it wasn’t crap. It was how I felt. I was candid. I didn’t think before pressing “publish.” I let everything out without thinking twice. Sometimes, I wish I could do that again and not worry about the consequences.

Being trained as a professional writer, I find it hard to just write and not edit myself, and not think things through twice once I’ve reread my work. It is so difficult for me to just let go and hit publish on a new post. I write it out, and I read it a few times. I edit it a few times. I sometimes will go through and just completely trash it after I’ve spent a few hours writing (what I end up calling) crap. I am learning to not write for my readers (if there are any, that is), but rather write for myself. I’m trying to go back to the days where I would write candidly and just press publish. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care who reads my blog – I really do. I want people to enjoy what I write, and keep coming back to read more. As a writer who wants to become a published author, I strive to have many read my work. Of course I do – I want you all to buy my first, second, and even third book (if I get that far…)!

So, now that you know a little more about that… why do I blog?

I blog for therapy. I blog to organize my thoughts. Even though I constantly feel the urge to edit, I blog to break that habit. I have posted more than ever for a few reasons. I am becoming more comfortable with posting my candid thoughts. I’m starting to not worry so much about my (sometimes quite conservative) family reading  my (sometimes) controversial thoughts. I blog to become more comfortable with myself and my writing style. To me, this is the first of many steps to getting a book started and published. It has become more important to me to develop content and post my thoughts/feelings/desires/opinions here. This is my blog. Not yours, not your mother’s. Not your sister’s, brother’s, cousin’s, boyfriend/girlfriend’s… but mine. I can post whatever the hell I want… because it’s mine. You may not always agree with what you read, but if you can value that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, we’ll get along just fine. That’s what I enjoy about reading other blogs out there – everyone thinks and writes a little differently than the next person. That’s what makes this whole process so beautiful.

My website has become the home for my writing. Like every good home, there is love, and I love my writing. I love to share my writing with my readers, even if it’s one person, a hundred, or shit, thousands (that would be awesome!). I yearn to nurture and mold my craft to become something great, to get a sense of accomplishment. I already feel accomplished not just for having one published poem, but being able to have an outlet to share my thoughts, feelings, goals, and life you. Again, this is my therapy. As I work to become more relaxed with sharing my writing, I hope you will continue to join me. Thanks for coming along on my journey.

Peace! <3

 

(Photo Credit: http://mbatemple.com/169/mba-essay-writing-tips-2)