Tag Archives: writing

Watch your language . . . please?

So there’s an argument on social media somewhere. Doesn’t matter what the argument is. There are two sides to the argument, even though the issue itself may have many sides. You try to make a third point and are swarmed by angry hornets, maybe on one side or maybe on both.

Poor you! You’ve just been unfairly mobbed! It’s a witch hunt! Thought crimes! There’s no room for moderates any more!

What do you do? Retaliate, of course. Of course you do. Because on social media, you have to think fast and act fast. You take advantage of your brain’s superpower — and it is indeed a superpower — of quickly assembling meaning from a group of facts, of seeing patterns. And you respond.

But now you’re somebody else’s angry hornet.

For most folks on social media, the solution is simple: go offline, get a cup of tea, call a friend and vent, smell some flowers, or do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Come back later when you’re calmer, or move on to some more pleasurable activity.

But there is one group of people for whom I have a higher expectation: public writers and bloggers. You, my dearies, are the ones that upset the hornet’s nest in the first place. This isn’t a value judgement. Sometimes a situation calls for a swarm of angry hornets.

But if you are writing for the public, if you set those hornets off accidentally, that’s on you. That’s your mistake. If you’re complaining about thought police and whatnot, and you’re doing it honestly (you don’t have a hidden agenda, that is), but not looking at where you might have gone wrong, you’re only compounding the mistake.

Me? Who? Me? I didn’t do anything wrong! I was just saying what I think!

Yes, you did do something wrong. You were careless with your craft. And if someone is kind enough to point it out to you, for heaven’s sake, pay attention! Put on that thick skin that all professional writers must have, and look past the sting of the comment to what the person is really saying. Writers mess up, all the time, but if we look honestly at our mistakes we will always improve.

Now, when I say you were careless with your craft, what I mean is that you didn’t bother to get to know your audience. And that’s Rule #2 for persuasive writing. (Rule #1 is “Consider your purpose” and Rule #2 is “Consider your audience”.) No matter how good of a writer you are, you will never have a full understanding of the depth and breadth of your audience’s viewpoints and life experiences.

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So why am I saying all this right now? Is there a specific piece and writer that set me off? Yes, there were two or three or four. But rather than go into the specifics, here’s what they did wrong.

  1. A respected Second Wave feminist who actually had something important to say about #Metoo but erred in using the phrase “witch hunt.” There were no actual witches in Salem, but there are plenty of people who sexually assault and harass others. This matters because some of the people who are actively fighting to maintain the status quo, such as Gamergater types, are also using the phrase “witch hunt.” Is it fair of people to accuse you of guilt by association? No, of course not. But, as a master wordsmith, did you really intend to align yourself with Gamergaters?
  2. Same feminist who is apparently getting into arguments with millenial feminists and wrote an article to defend herself against the claim that she is a “bad feminist.” This broke Rule #2, “Consider Your Audience,” because her message will be received positively by some audiences (anybody who feels defensive about being called a “bad feminist”) and with anger by others (millenial feminists who don’t feel listened to).
  3. A writer of an ostensibly progressive paper who started her article complaining about social media is a brush fire — which is true — and callout culture is a problem — also true, but lost me in the middle when she started talking about “thought crimes.” For some reason, although George Orwell coined the phrase to attack authoritarian governments, these days it’s mostly used to shut down conversations about racism, sexism, ableism, and the like. I paused in my reading of the article to wonder, “Which side is she on, anyway?” and then, “Should I bother finding out, or do I have better things to do?”

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To go all meta, let’s look at my purpose and audience in writing this piece.

My primary purpose is to provide an alternative perspective to a problem we’re all complaining about (other people being annoying on social media) and also to advocate for craft in persuasive writing. This is a bit of a follow-up on a series I started several years back on persuasive writing for activists and have yet to finish.

So far so good. But let’s be honest: my primary audience is imaginary. I wrote it for every single author who’s ever started a pointless argument over a topic that actually needs attention, and who, when called out, takes it personally and attacks back. This is what I’d say if we were in the same room and I had their undivided attention.

So there’s also a secondary audience: every writer everywhere who has to write for an audience of human beings. My condolences.

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Keep writing, but for the sake of your craft . . . mind your language!

scoobydoogang01

-Kristin

 

 

 

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In defense of outlines

I. Introduction

A. Anecdote

B. Not taught in elementary and middle schools

D. Benefits of outlining

E. Call to action

III. Why not taught

A. Scare students

B. What teachers do instead

1. similar to outlining but without the Roman Numerals

2. ex. “mental map”

3. [note: research and give examples]

4. My opinion: this mystifies the writing process

II.  Benefits of outlining

A. Makes the writing process easier – manageable chunks

B. Helps with anxiety

1. There is something on the page

2. Numbers and letters make you feel like accomplishing something

3. Psych yourself into thinking you are not writing

C. Benefits for procrastinators

1. [Anecdote]

2. Can leave writing until the last minute

D. An aid to research

1. Lets you know ahead of time what research may be necessary

2. Lets you know what the gaps are in your research

3. Can take notes and cut and paste right into outline

4. Big screens are a plus. Do not attempt on a cell phone.

5. Old fashioned paper works too.

E. Organization is flexible

1. Often your first idea for organizing doesn’t work out

2. Easy to move around, add new categories

3. Word processors often have tools that make it even easier

F. The more complex the writing assignment, the more helpful

1. [Anecdote]

III. Call to action

A. Bring back outlining!

B. Not for everyone, indispensable for some

C. Yes, I am a geek for writing an entire essay in outline form and posting it to my blog. (What can I say? Organization pleases me.) If you read this whole thing, maybe you are too.

IV. Bibliography

A. [Find sources on any studies re: outlining]

B. [Find sources for any examples of mental maps, etc.]

Inklewriter in the classroom

I’m volunteering in my son’s fourth/fifth grade classroom, and we’re putting together a Choose Your Own Adventure based on the Iliad and the Odyssey. It’s been a whole lot of work but even more fun! That’s because we’re using a free online tool that’s just amazing.

Here’s their website and their description:

At inkle, we believe it takes great writers to tell great stories.

That’s why we’ve created inklewriter, to help writers tell interactive tales with the minimum of fuss. inklewriter keeps your branching story organised, so you can concentrate on what’s important – the writing.

inklewriter is a free tool designed to allow anyone to write and publish interactive stories. It’s perfect for writers who want to try out interactivity, but also for teachers and students looking to mix computer skills and creative writing.

Yep. On the first day in the classroom, I logged on and started typing, based on student feedback. It turned out that the protagonist was a 12-year old thief from Ithaca, happening upon the Trojan War. After the first paragraph, I entered two options: investigate or run away.

The next step was to organize the students into groups, and work with each group. Because the tool is so flexible, I didn’t have to do it in the order the story branched.  Instead, I assigned groups based on location and student interest. The groups were:

  • Battle of Troy
  • Sailing with Odysseus
  • Sirens
  • Death
  • Hades
  • Mount Olympus
  • Modern Day

(I fought valiantly against having a Modern Day category, to keep it in ancient Greece, but the Percy Jackson contingent was just too darn excited.)

After I got the Battle of Troy group started, I moved on to the Odysseus and Sirens groups. I typed in their pieces and added the necessary links from one section to another.

As you might imagine, it got pretty complicated pretty fast. But that was OK, because there are some awesome tools. For instance, there’s a map tool, which shows you a tree of the story structure, with one box per paragraph. You can click on any box to see the path that gets you there, and you can double-click on it to close the map and get straight back into the story in that exact paragraph. There’s also a searchable panel of paragraphs to the right, and it shows you any loose ends (options that lead nowhere) and paragraphs that aren’t connected to anything. That makes it really simple to unattach one paragraph and re-attach it somewhere else.

Smooth, elegant, intuitive, easy.

Not that the process itself was easy. Keeping track of student drafts, making sure all the students knew what they were doing, and making sure the students all had something to do — that was hard. Fortunately, the classroom teacher is experienced and basically fabulous, and I was able to work with students a handful at a time.

After the Battle of Troy, Odysseus, and Sirens groups were mostly done, I moved on to Death, Hades, and Mount Olympus. By then I had figured out how to manage groups a little more easily. I brought a packet for each group, containing their planning and rough draft documents, and I handed it out at the beginning of each session and then collected it at the end, to review and enter their drafts.

One thing you wouldn’t know unless you were a classroom teacher is that the kids all finish up at different times, produce wildly varying quantities of work, and require either no support or intense one-on-one support. Again, thank goodness for a classroom teacher who knows how to manage that kind of thing. For that last category I did scribing — that is, they spoke and I typed or wrote.  I love doing that, because my hope is for every student to grow up feeling confident about their writing, and scribing is an important tool for some.

After that, I worked with the Modern Technology group.

At some point, the work of entering and organizing the student work got ahead of me, and I ended up taking some time off to enter it. But once I had done so, I was ready to show it off to the class! That was so fun. The teacher chose students to read passages, alternating between girls and boys, and when we came to an option the class voted. We went through about four storylines and then we cut it off.

The best moment? Seeing the smile on the face of one of the students I had scribed for, as that student’s work was read.

There is still work to do. I had the challenge of how to help the students edit not only their own work but also its connection to work that came before and after. To do that, I printed a hard copy of the story-in-progress that I had copied into a Word document.

Copying it over was complicated. I titled each section with the name of the student who had written it, the group they were in, and, if they had written multiple sections, which one it was. At the beginning of each section, I used bracketed text to indicate where it had come from, and at the end of each section, I used bracketed text to indicate where the options led.

Then I handed it out, group by group, to be checked over by the students who were done with their first drafts. Students who were still working on their first drafts kept on working.

Now I have some new text to enter and some edits to make. I’m looking forward to it!

inklewriter-release-banner

Days 4-8 of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on a fanfiction workshop for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, Day Two, and Day Three.

Day 4: Starting the Rough Draft

On Day 4, we started the rough draft.

10 minutes: General comments

I started off with some Q&A and then gave some general comments about writing and myself as a writer. As show and tell, I brought some work that I had done when I was in fourth and fifth grade. I talked about how I had felt embarrassed about my own writing, but how, looking back, I see my work in a much more positive light! I talked about how one of my biggest mistakes as a young writer was asking others their opinion about my writing and emphasized the importance of practice.

5 minutes: Freewrite activity

I actually didn’t do this activity, but should have. It should have happened at the beginning of every writing day!

5 minutes: Check-in and review

I asked the kids to get out their “Some Ways to Start Stories” worksheet and look it over. I asked where they were at. Some kids were done and ready to write.

20 minutes: Rough draft

We got started on the rough draft! Many kids were stuck, so the teacher and I went around the room and talked over their character, setting, and ideas for starting the stories.

20 minutes: Sharing

A few kids wanted to share to the whole class, so we did that, and then we did some sharing in small groups.

Day 5: Continuing on the rough draft

Day 5 was a lot like Day 4.

10 minutes: General comments

I made more general comments about writing, gave encouragement, asked questions, and checked in.

5 minutes: Freewrite

30 minutes: Rough draft and cover page

Some of the kids finished up here and asked what to do, so I asked them to start working on a cover page with name, title, and illustration.

20 minutes: Sharing

The Days I Didn’t Do (But Should Have)

I thought this whole thing could be wrapped up in eight sessions, but ended up coming back for more, because half the kids finished when I expected they would, but the other half were still working. I expressed my surprise to the teacher and asked what to do, and she told me it’s always like that. What a challenge. I don’t know how teachers do it!

Instead, I asked the kids to start in on editing. Bad plan! It meant the teacher and I were rushing around the classroom on the one hand helping out kids who were stuck and on the other hand helping out kids who were editing.

If I do this workshop again, I’ll ask the teacher to help me prepare some activities for the kids who finish up first. They could write a sequel, or a second story, or a character sketch, or a setting description. Or they could pair up with kids who were stuck and give suggestions.

Next up: Getting to the Ending

 

By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

Day Three of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, and Day Two.

Day 3: A Flurry of Activity

Day 3 was a mad dash to get the rest of the prewrite exercises out of the way so the kids could start their drafts the next day. Some of the kids had already jumped in to doing drafts, or started in the middle of filling out worksheets. Others were struggling to fill in worksheets. None of the kids filled in any of the worksheets all the way, but all the kids got some details to use in their stories.

Overheads:

Handout:

5-10 minutes: Review of Day 2

I answered various questions, told the kids we STILL weren’t doing rough drafts yet, checked in about the other worksheets.

5-10 minutes: Talking about setting

I showed the overhead “Setting and the Five Senses” and we brainstormed some kinds of setting details for each sense. Then I showed the overhead “More About Setting.”

15 minutes: Setting worksheet

I handed out the “About the Setting” worksheet and kids started filling it out.

10 minutes: Ideas for starting stories

I showed the overhead “Some Ways to Start Stories”

10 minutes: group discussion

Kids broke up into groups and started talking about their story ideas

Next up: Diving right in!

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day Two of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, and Day One: Introducing Fanfiction.

Day Two: The Prewrite

On day two, some of the kids were ready and raring to write, but we had some preparations to do first. Our school uses a writer’s workshop model that includes a prewrite, rough draft, and final draft, so everyone was familiar with the concept of prewrite. We worked on getting rough ideas for character and plot.

Handouts:

5 to 10 minutes: Talking about being a writer

I talked more about what it was like to grow up reading and writing, and how I had written fanfiction as a child before the word fanfiction was even invented. I discussed writer’s block a little bit more. Then I touched on the idea of using established characters but changing their names, to make the story more their own.

5 to 10 minutes: Group Discussion

The kids broke up into small groups and discussed their characters. Everybody picked a character they would like to use and decided whether they would like to use the character’s name as is or change it.

20 minutes: All About My Character

I asked the kids to think up as many details about their character as they could and write them down. I also suggested that if they didn’t know the answer to a question that they make it up. I explained that they might not use all those details, but the details would help them imagine the characters better. Next time I would be a little firmer on this and require the kids to make up three details.

Once they had gotten a start on that, they broke up into small groups and talked about their characters.

20 minutes: Where’s the Story

I discussed common types of plots. Then I asked each of them to write down three types as story ideas. They didn’t have to use one of them, but they could.

As the kids were working, the teacher and I went around the classroom talking to kids who were feeling stuck or weren’t sure their ideas would make good stories.

By the end of day two, most of the kids knew who they were going to write about and what kind of story they were going to tell.

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids and Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round.

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

On the first day, I introduced the concept of fanfiction and started in on the prewrite process.

5 to 10 minutes: Introducing myself

I introduced myself and talked a little about what it was like to be a writer, and what kinds of things I had written. I had learned from my Writers in the Schools experience that having a bit of an “author glamour” helps keep students engaged and interested. I also touched on writers block as a lead-in to the next activity.

5 to 10 minutes: Warmup

This idea came from the teacher and is great! I handed out half-sheets of lined paper. The teacher took a wastepaper basket and put it on the front desk. The students wrote for three minutes, then crumpled the papers and threw them toward the basket.

Of course the question came up: “But what if I like what I wrote and don’t want to recycle it???” I gave them The Look and then said, “Okay, fine, but then you don’t get to play basketball!”

10 minutes: General concepts

  • Fanfiction means writing a story using characters from a book, TV show, or movie.
  • It’s great practice for writing short stories using your own characters.
  • Since many books, TV shows, and movies are copyrighted, there are various laws about what you can and can’t do. Writing fanfiction in a classroom but not publishing it is called “fair use.” Just like you cite sources when you write research papers, it’s important to say which book, TV show, or movie you used.
  • Examples of two authors who wrote fanfiction books and then went on to write their own novels: Kij Johnson and Vonda McIntyre. I showed them my copies of Kij Johnson’s Dragon’s Honor (Star Trek novel) and The Fox Woman, as well as my copies of The Entropy Effect (Star Trek novel) and The Moon and the Sun.

20 minutes: Brainstorming

Then we brainstormed a list of books, movies, and TV shows that the kids might like to use, and the students broke up into groups to discuss the ideas. Each student then picked one they wanted to use.

We ended the day with the kids full of energy.

Next up: Day Two

Entropy Effect and Dragons Honor