Monday, November 4, 2013


In our readings for this week, the subject revolves around, you guessed it, digital literacy. Specifically, though, it is mostly focused on the use of visual media and its impact in our own lives. I feel as though it doesn't need to be argued that visual media has seen a boom unlike any other with the expansion of the Internet. From its humble foundings based in cat meme's and the early days of YouTube, it has grown into a behemoth that encompasses how many people live their day-to-day lives--and it represents a fundamental shift in how we view privacy and relationships. It has manifested in such services such as Vine and Instagram,  which exist solely to share visual media and creations with the world in a quick, easily-digestible form factor-- and also which are but a few examples of how our sharing culture, and the role of visual media in our society has changed us.

And so, back to our readings. According to Hicks, literature itself is concerned with the study of media. I was always told that writing visually and viscerally would help me get my point across. With the introduction of digital literacy and its growing presence in the classroom, our students' writing could definitely benefit from the introduction of visual media, especially considering Hicks assertion of what visual media can do to our writing: "decorating our story, illustrating a concept, or illuminating our viewers through the combination of media elements” (110). Having our students able to read visuals as literature is a lesson that can be learned from such an assignment.

In terms of our Digital Literacy Narrative, the readings helped me understand that I have to be diligent about not placing images and using them on the side, but rather putting them there for a direct purpose and in a meaningful way. They cannot be add-ons, but must remain instead an integral part of the overall product. This will be really interesting because to be honest, I'm still drifting on what I want my DLN to be. Like the spoken word poem/video we watched in class, I looked at my literacy narrative and saw a potential for a spoken word poem. I have already worked meticulously over this poem, making sure each individual emphasis, pause, and word has a meaning that is important to the whole piece. Turning that into a video without simply tacking on some cheesy music, however, is going to be the challenge.

It is true, however, that if I feel as if this is a good idea for my future students, then I must do this, and do it in a way that does not cheapen the experience. I want to create a visual that is simplistic, and accompanying music that matches the overall mood, but I don't want it to get in the way of the words I have spent hours meticulously putting together. I take poetry very seriously, you see, and I am rather a novice at using visual media outside of tacking them on to PowerPoint presentations. Using the information provided in the readings, however, I will hope to make great strides in creating a meaningful video for the class to enjoy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

Original Paragraph:

I was able to grab a hold of a few of her writing assignments, many of which centered around basic writing prompts for the grade level (i.e. argue for/against school uniforms, argue for/against technology in the classroom). She finds most of them boring, or generally uninspired. Like Smagorinsky (2010) states:

"...the problem with research papers is that students write on remote or uninteresting topics and that better topic selection will produce better papers" (p. 160)

For these assignments, she is prompted to turn in not only the final draft of the paper, but also the outline, rough draft, and any other related paperwork. Through examining her work as well as her grades, I was able to determine that Nailah has a working understanding of the conventions of grammar that is above and beyond what many students in her grade possess. She also has a firm grasp of what ideas are valued in the classroom, such as the ability to write a coherent argument, persuade, inform, etc.

Revised Paragraph:

A common issue in contemporary education is making lessons and texts relevant to a generation of students that often remain uninterested with the subject. In fact, Smagorinsky (2010) writes about the use of research papers:

"...the problem with research papers is that students write on remote or uninteresting topics and...better topic selection will produce better papers" (p. 160).

It is a given that a more engaged student body will put in more effort into the writing process and therefore produce better work. This is the challenge of the modern classroom. Likewise, in my personal conversations with Nailah, she had expressed that the assignments that she was given were, for the most part, boring or generally uninspired. They consisted of the typical argumentative/persuasive essays revolving around school uniforms or technology in the classroom, and were generally re-used year after year with minor tweaks. For these writing assignments, she is prompted to turn in the outline, rough draft, and final draft of the paper. Through examining her work and her grades, I was able to determine that, although Nailah is inherently uninterested in the assignments, she has a working understanding of the conventions o fgrammar that is above and beyond what many students in her grade possess. She also has a firm grasp of what ideas are valued in the classroom, such as the ability to write a coherent argument, persuade, inform, etc. However, it would be unwise to assume that students like Nailah will continue to produce high quality work if subjected to more years of un-engaging assignments. Therefore, it is important to realize that we must either create assignments that matter to the students or allow students the choice to create assignments themselves.


Surprisingly, I had a very good time revising this paragraph, because I was able to spend so much time on one small portion of the work and really hammer in the details. In the original paragraph, I had received criticism about the placement and introduction of the quote, as it admittedly seemed a little abrupt and jarring without a proper introduction. Also, I personally felt as though the ending of the paragraph tapered off a little bit and didn't really have a solid conclusion. Why was I writing about the difficulties of modernizing essay prompts only to end in how wonderful Nailah's writing was. Needless to say, it didn't exactly click. In my revision, I tried reordering a few of the concepts, giving the quote a proper introduction, and creating a new conclusion that tied into the use of the quote. The lessons I take away from this revision project are the same lessons that I want to make sure my students understand--that my writing is a process and is always improving. There is never truly a stopping point unless you throw away the paper and never revisit, and there is always something rewarding inherently about fixing your own errors and making a work better. In our reading for this week was this concept of writing for the reader, and I agree that this is precisely the reason why outlining, drafting and clarity are important things to accomplish in my own writing. By embodying the habits of good writers, and being an active writer myself, I will be better equipped to help students find flaws in their own work and correct them.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shitty First (and Second and Third...) Drafts


As a future English educator, I would like to say this: I have now edited this piece 37 times since I wrote my "last" sentence, and it is still, as Hemingway put it so eloquently, shit. So let's get to it. The reading for this week focused on the one ugly, beautiful, irrevocable truth that all writers know deep in their wiry little hearts: when your page is blank, whatever is coming next is going to be the worst thing you've read all day.

I think we've all struggled with that reality at least a few times in our lives. How can we help ourselves? We've been raised through a system that promotes an idea about writing, and that idea is that a good writer writes only in permanent ink. A good writer doesn't have to scratch words out. A good writer never worries that his "backspace" button will break, because goddamn it, he or she never uses it. Think about it. How many timed writing tests do our students have to go through? Does timed writing really promote writing as a process? Does it give us much room to revise, to revisit, to grow?

I'm glad the reading tackled this subject, because it is a relevant one to any and all students of writing (and I would argue that that includes all of us). We need to understand something about writers: "They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the 
snow" (1). And if that is something that professional writers agree on, that is something we must make sure our students understand. They cannot be discouraged from being able to re-do their work. They must comprehend the fact that writing first drafts are more akin to piling up sand for later use than forming a castle.  They must realize, through our insistence, that spilling words onto a page oftentimes looks less like a masterpiece and more like spilled words. If we instill in them this idea, and strip away the fear of that first draft, I believe that they will write. And then we can focus on improvement.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Such Thing as a Final Draft

I often worry about one major thing when it comes to grading papers (and no, surprisingly, it isn't "time").

What I worry about is fairness.

I can tell when writing is bad-- when it is unclear, lacking purpose, overly verbose or overly concise. The only issue I have is recognizing writing that is good. What is good writing? With so many changing definitions and so many interpretations of good writing, how can I possibly be as fair? This isn't a math problem, where I can choose to only accept the final answer as a strict right or wrong. It isn't necessarily testable like the science lab reports all of us used to do in high school. The subject that we teach is inherently malleable, flexible, and subjective. How do I assess the writing of my students?

In The Six Traits of Writing by Spandel, a sentence near the very beginning that helped put my mind at ease was this: 
"When we think assessment, we usually think grading or testing. This is a very limited view. Assessment is looking within." (4)
The last part of that particular quote really strikes me. Looking within what, exactly? I believe that true writing assessment takes into consideration the writing, viewing it not as an end, but as a tool to look within the student--to truly understand the thoughts and ideas behind the writing, rather than just the writing itself.

I had a professor a few years ago who said this to me: "There is no such thing as a final draft. What you turn in will always have the potential to be revised, because writing is a process." It took me a long time to realize exactly what he meant. What you turn in for a grade may be the final chance you get at receiving the grade for the course, but writing is a process of revision, rethinking, rewriting, reimagining, re-doing, and reawakening. All drafts, in the course of things, are rough. Some may be rougher than others. Walt Whitman released nine editions and revisions of his magnus opus Leaves of Grass, working at it for 33 years of his life. Similarly, we as teachers must understand that the drafts the students turn in should not be viewed as the end of that particular road, but as simply another stepping stone towards even greater writing, and greater self-discovery.

It's eerie how well this concept fits in with the surge of digital literacy education in classrooms across America. Although I had never had the experience of truly experiencing digital education, the core purpose of digital literature rings true with the opinions expressed thus far. According to Hicks:
“Digital writing tools allow teachers and students unprecedented access into the writing process. From blog posts that accumulate into a collection of work, to draft upon draft of revisions that are automatically stored in a wiki’s history or in an online word processor, students are increasingly able to easily archive and return their work over time” (108).
The key take-away is in that last sentence. Returning to their work. How we grade may be subjective, and how we teach may change, but what all teachers need to understand is that their class is not the sole provider of literature and discovery. Their class shouldn't be the end. Your teacher's desk is not a place where ideas come to die. It is a place to spark discussion and growth--and if all teachers would keep that in mind, I believe grading papers wouldn't be so bad after all.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Writing Instruction (and Destruction)

Writing is a multi-step process.

I don't think that first sentence was very controversial. In fact, I don't think it's controversial at all. You'd be hard pressed to find a writer who claims that writing doesn't involve any sort of planning, or drafting, or revision. You'd be harder pressed to find a less divisive opener. I'm really patting myself on the back here.

Likewise, learning to write is a multi-step process.

Now at this point, I must be pulling your leg. I've made two relatively universal, outright boring, non-controversial claims-- and not only that, but I've given them their own paragraph. Why? Well, listen:

Those concepts are relatively simple sounding. I think most people would agree wholeheartedly. When Jesus commanded humanity to love thy neighbors and enemies alike, I'm sure his followers were all for it. But then they got back to their homes and saw that insolent enemy neighbor not taking care of his weeds again, ensuring that the remainder of the day would have to be spent guarding my prize-winning lawn from the infestation next door. Thanks, Dave. Life is always more complicated than it seems.

And so, my point: if we all agree that learning to write is a multi-step process, why do we go about teaching it as if it isn't? Writing in many schools is a barrage of five-paragraph instruction and regurgitation, utilizing a form that, while effective, has been beaten to death and drained of its creativity. The writing these students produce is standardized because the instruction is standardized because the tests are standardized. What we demand from them is not a love of writing. It is the ability to be clear. Is that important? Absolutely. But unfortunately, clarity is only one step of the ladder.

The readings this week illustrate the same inherent frustration of many who realize that this system cannot and should not last. We expect our students to learn to write like this, never fully realizing the potential connection between writing in the English classroom and personal writing, only for them to throw it out when they reach college. Professors don't want to read that kind of writing. Nobody does. Most importantly, the students don't want to, either. This is why the inquiry based writing instruction is, albeit imperfect, a breath of fresh air to writing instruction. It emphasizes student involvement, de-emphasizes stringent rules, and fosters avid writers. In our reading, it is written: "students will be prepared to meet the demands of writing in a world with constantly evolving conventions and expectations, because what they know about writing is not static; they've learned how to learn about writing" (Ray, 247).

I particularly like the relationship between this and the integration of digital literacy, which is finally being recognized in classrooms all over the country. Our readings acknowledged that “creating a web-based text is very similar to creating a print-based text” (Hicks, 36). With an emphasis on drafting, planning, and revising--along with an increased consciousness of audience and purpose--digital writing (such as blog posts like this) can definitely be incorporated in the classroom to reinforce the idea that writing for class and writing for fun can and should overlap.

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote,
except for money." - Samuel Johnson
It is with this in mind that the mini-lesson becomes so crucial to the writing workshop. This form of instruction is quick, and, if done well, can grab and retain the students attention. In the long run, teaching students how to write through explicit instruction is definitely not as effective as allowing students to explore other works and model and adapt techniques through interesting and engaging reading. It is through a systematic adoption of inquiry based instruction and attention-grabbing lessons that our students can learn now only how to write, but why. It can help them understand that writing isn't just a grade-- it is a way to explore & discover, to convey, and to conquer.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Teach is to Change is to Grow

I believe that at its fundamental level, all teaching revolves around the concept of change. Change of the self, of the student, of the act--those are crucial for all types of learning, and through that change, comes growth. Let me explain:

Heh. Apple. Get it?
Teachers are the guardians of transformation. During the most tumultuous time--youth-- teachers are there, for many hours a day, as oftentimes the only adult with the possibility of extended adult influence outside of parents. I don’t think we, as a nation and as a people, realize that invaluable potential for growth, and the importance of our teachers to the future of our children. A good teacher can provide the spark that starts the fulfillment of a student’s goals, aspirations, and desires. A bad one can be equally devastating. And so, when people say that anyone can teach, I say, true, it doesn’t take a particularly special type of individual to stand in front of the room and assume the position of a teacher. But to not only be present, to be alive in and with the room, to inspire the thirst for knowledge in a group of often uninterested, misguided, or apathetic students--that is quintessential to a good teacher. And such a positive influence, responsible for so many future voters, citizens, workers, and creators can work wonders in the long run, even if it is not immediately apparent in the short run. In this way, teachers are the harbinger of change.

And that is what a teacher must embody. A common contemporary issue in education is how our education system can properly prepare the students for the adult world, considering the fact that we often have no clue what this world will look like down the line, or even what it will look like at the end of next week. So, I say to the teachers of the world, and to the administrators, and to the communities and parents, teachers must embrace change. They must be second students of change the same way our students, our children, have been born into it. To remain a stagnant rock in a river means eroding away. It is a mistaken belief that the world is stagnant, and that the students must be shaped, much like putty, to fill the box that has been pre-made for them. To say that teachers must prepare the students for the adult world is ignoring one crucial fact: that, although we are all participants in it, they have the capacity to become the creators of that world; they have the capacity to create their own box, to solve the problems of their world--and each and every one of our students deserves that chance.

All of this may seem overwhelming. What is one teacher, a small cog in a looming system, to do? The answer, unfortunately, is that there are countless struggles, both in and out of the classroom that stand in the way. But that doesn’t mean teachers cannot embrace change now. That doesn’t mean that teachers, as individuals, can’t create lasting impact within these confines. Teachers cannot lose hope, or be worn down; that is imperative. And what does embracing change look like in the contemporary classroom experience? It means allowing students the room to grow in whatever capacity they view as genuinely useful, even if teachers can’t understand the immediate value of it. It means assuming the values that they, as a student body, assume. For example, if digital literacy is a growing part of their world, and our democratized, participatory culture, who are teachers to deny in the classroom that which is essential to the lives of their students?

Students will be stubborn. They, as a whole, have grown weary from the system of public education. They have grown tired of being told what to think, and how their thoughts are unimportant, misguided, or irrelevant. While it is true that not each and every one of a student’s varied desires are worth pursuing in the long run, it is nothing short of a tragedy when a student is convinced that their desires on the whole are without merit. But a simple act, a change of stance, a willingness to embrace the fact that the world is changing and that our students are changing in ways that we sometimes can’t understand, is the first step in a long, arduous, but invaluable journey to becoming a good teacher.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Case Study Interview 1

Student: Nailah (N)
8th Grade Gifted Language Arts

*I chose Nailah because, although I see her reading in class and staying relatively on task, I had not, up until asking her for this interview, ever seen her speak in class.*

E: Hey, thanks for sitting down with me and being OK with me interviewing you. I don't need your social security number or anything too personal, I just wanted to talk to you a little about your reading habits and uh, stuff like that. I notice you read a lot in Mr. Peek's class. What book is that?

N: Uh it's a book called Vampire Kisses 3. It's OK I guess.

E: So what other reading do you do? Like, outside of just class readings?

N: *Long Pause* I really--I mean, uhm, I like Harry Potter. I've read all of those. I like Historical Fiction and Paranormal Romance or Fiction. Fantasy and stuff like that is alright.

E: And what about besides books? Do you like texting with your friends? Or, you know, go on Facebook, Twitter, or thing's like that?

N: I mean, yeah. I go on Facebook and uh, I like texting with my friends and stuff. I don't really like Twitter or anything.

E: Yeah, me neither. It's, like, idk, all the rage apparently.

N: It's weird saying I'm following someone.

E: Just a little creepy. Are you caught up on Bad Boy? **Side note: Assigned reading is Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers**

N: Yeah, I finished that already.

E: You like it?

N: Not really. I mean, it's alright I guess.

E: It's a little different than...what you've said you enjoy reading out of class. It's impressive you finished, though. OK. How about your writing? Do you do any writing outside of class?

N: *Pause* I write short stories. Like, I'll go and uh, in class I'll write down something in my notebook and then go home and write stuff. I like writing poems, and you know, essays and stuff. I don't know. I do them when I have time.

E: That's really impressive. I uh, don't know if it's cool to say this, but I was worried that I'd have to really push you for answers, and you've been awesome. Like, in terms of your reading and writing, it's definitely awesome that you do it outside of school and stuff. I could tell that you enjoyed reading, I just never really hear you speak up much in Mr. Peek's.

N: Yeah, I mean...I don't know. I like writing and reading.

E: That's awesome. It really is. Hey, so thank you again for letting me sit down with you. I'll be getting to know everyone over the year, so thanks for putting yourself out there for this interview so early on.

Digital Literacy in the Age of Slow Computers

It's natural to be afraid of new things.

We want to be assured of things. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. When I try something in my future classroom, I would love for all of my lessons to be crafted from sound research that took years to compile, but the world moves quickly, and things that mattered to students 20 years ago, sometimes don't now. Things that matter to students now may be irrelevant even quicker than that. The students we teach are an eclectic bunch, ever-changing--constantly finding themselves, losing themselves, and uncovering entirely new personas. Our classrooms need to be fluid, and we need to be fluid. We can't allow ourselves to be left behind by the advent of their interests, their changing world, and their adaptability.

At least, that's what I wanted to write about before my field experience.

Don't get me wrong. I still believe what I wrote up there. I always tell the truth, even if I lie. But I realize that maybe, I need to be a little more cautious not to assume things I don't know about. The statements made above take for granted many things that I now realize may require a little more insight than my blanket advice to embrace change. I am, above all, naive. The concepts in our reading this week are particularly telling. I wrote last about the benefits of technology and digital writing in classrooms. I talked about the democratizing effect of the internet, and how students can not only use the internet as tool, but as an entirely new medium of exchange. For many schools, this is the way to go, and they can be on their way to a brighter, technologically inclined future by the end of next week. For others, it's a little easier said than done.

Admittedly, finding a way to fit in to my field experience has been a challenge. Washington-Wilkes Middle School is in a completely different environment from my own upbringing in New York City public schools. Washington-Wilkes is a middle school and a high school combined into a single building. It is the only school in the entire county, which is a tight knit community where all the teachers know all the mothers know all the administration know everyone but me. The students that make up my class are mostly rural and from financially struggling families. It's the kind of county where paddling is still allowed as an acceptable form of punishment in primary and middle school. No joke. Kind of crazy if you think about the day and age, and what is acceptable in a public school.

My mentor teacher is a man named William Peek, and a very nice person. William is also an authoritarian in the classroom. He is very traditional in his teaching style, rarely using anything but lecture to explain information, and he rules with an iron fist. He threatens to write someone up in every block at least once (except maybe in the gifted course). The kids, admittedly, can be rowdy. They can be troublemakers, and sometimes putting yourself in the position of the premiere authority in the room and not their friend is important to get the message that there is no nonsense. Writing instruction still involves the instruction of the five-paragraph essay, another concept which they will have to throw out once they reach college.

In our reading, it is said that: "Through engaging in multimodal productions, students have the opportunity to adopt new aesthetic notions of visual rhetoric, performance, and embodiment constituting identity construction" (Beach, Thein, Webb, 58). I wholeheartedly agree that it is imperative that the students learn to express themselves an adopt new ways to interpret and create concepts. I agree with a lot of what I've been learning about in our classes and our readings. Call me a bright-eyed and naive youth, but I want to believe in that. I'm just not seeing it. Washington-Wilkes has very little funding for anything that can be used as effective technology teaching tools. The computers that they do have are slow, and scarce. Some of the students themselves may not have access to a lot of those resources at home. While William's 8th grade class is equipped with an ActivBoard (sort of like a SmartBoard, or touch screen/projector combo), it is rarely used for more than just a projector, because the computer monitor at the teacher's desk is not functional.

Students are not allowed to have a phone on campus at all. While I'm not quite gullible enough to believe that this rule is strictly adhered to, it is worth noting that many students do not have one. While other schools in Georgia worry about whether or not computers, phones, tablets, and e-readers are replacing the book, the students here have no choice but to accept the books and teacher-centric lessons as the only form of education they will get.

The availability of digital resources that are necessary to help these students succeed in the real world is shaky at best. And that sort of difference between schools such as Washington-Wilkes and highly-funded schools in more well-to-do areas hinders progress not only for them, but for the education system as a whole. For how can I wholly embrace the implementation of digital literacy education on one hand, while struggling with the reality that many other schools are struggling to get decent computers?

Works Cited:

Beech, Richard, A. Thein, A. Webb. Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The World Needs More Digital Literacy (and Togas)

The internet is good for many things: connecting people who want to be connected, connecting people who don't want to be connected, providing the opportunity for people all over the world to laugh collectively at the same video on YouTube, and, most importantly, democratizing our society.

Yes, it happens to do that, too. Let me explain:

Like this, but with an absurdly large number of people,
and presumably fewer smiles.
Think back to the beginning of democracy. In a place known as Athens, Greece and in a time known as Ancient, the idea of direct democracy was beginning to flourish. Humans in the area had set forth a system of government that required every individual (so long as you were not a woman, child, or slave) to meet and vote on the laws proposed by the central rotation body of 500 men. This system made it illegal to not participate in the legislative process that shaped society, even though meetings of all citizens under the model of Direct Democracy must have been a logistical nightmare.

The setup of this system, however, had an interesting effect on the values of the society which created it. Because the idea behind this was to give everyone a voice, oratory skills were among the most highly regarded skills. To be able to stand in front of your fellow citizens and speak your mind in a way that was persuasive was important. However, once the population size increased to the point where convening to vote on every law was just impossibly inconvenient, later democracies would follow the Roman example, and elect representatives to vote on those laws for us. That's how the United States and other democratic republics today are set up, and oratory skills among us commoners, though valuable, are no longer as essential.

So what does this have to do with our readings? What does this have to do with the contemporary American classroom? How does this relate to us, the internet, and how we communicate? I'm just one man! Slow down with your questions, and listen:

I almost miss Xanga.
The Digital Age is changing our society. The internet, through resources such as blogs, wikis, YouTube, comment boards, and social networks, has given everyone a voice. When men were given a physical voice in Ancient Greece, the emphasis on the ability to speak persuasively was incredible. And now, when every man, woman, and child with access to an internet connection and a working keyboard is given a voice online, is it at all surprising to see that Digital literacy is now being seen as an important facet of our English classes? The only surprise for me is how slowly we are to adopt this form of literacy. In our readings, it is written: “Media and digital literacies are rapidly being recognized as more important for language arts teachers to address, given the importance of students joining or our online and digital ‘participatory culture’” (Thein 38). This participatory culture is something that has grown much more rapidly than our classrooms have grown to accommodate it. Digital writing in school for me was never seen as anything more than a tool to get information across. It was not viewed as a medium of exchange that could ever stand up to the literary quality of classic paper and print.

But I think it's high time we embraced the use of digital writing in our classrooms, and I am glad to see more emphasis placed on it. Will digital writing eclipse novels, poetry, and other classic forms of writing? Of course not. But to ignore that the times are changing (and that our students and their interests are changing) is the wrong course to take. The questions now are: Which aspect of digital literature will we want to teach? How will we responsibly guide our students into "good" and "bad" digital writing? What do those terms even mean? Those are questions that can be debated, but I feel as though we must move past the question of whether or not digital writing has a place in our schools. The moral of the story? Grow or die. I think we, as responsible teachers tasked with the duty of preparing our students for the world outside of school, should grow, and allow our students to grow along with us.

Works Cited:

Beech, Richard, A. Thein, A. Webb. Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Literacy Narrative (with no Semicolons)

Style over substance. It's a dirty phrase. If writing had seven deadly sins, prioritizing style over substance would be at least three of them. I knew it was wrong, of course. Everyone did. It was drilled over and over through high school essays, reports, portfolios, and the like. What writing needed was purpose. It needed a point, and the longer a writer dragged it through the dirt, the duller it would get.

But I thought I was good at writing. I don't mean the "I'm-a-teenager-and-I'm-good-for-my-age" good, either. The way I wrote with a wanton disregard for anything anyone could consider a purpose,  I must have thought I was glorious. Teachers would always tell the class to avoid so-called "fluff" writing, which was an obstacle to writing anything worth reading, but the reason I thought I was so good was because they never caught me. I went years, a decade, producing grade-A style-over-substance fluff. I had no idea what I was writing about, who I was writing it for, why I was writing it at all. But I wrote. I had a general mastery of the language. I could use semi-colons correctly. I always proofread my work, and I made sure I used words that I heard from men and women much smarter than me. I was a sucker for aesthetics--achieving that was my goal, and as far as I was concerned, it got me through my classes just fine.

It's hard to pinpoint one exact moment when I hit the realization that the sort of writing I was producing didn't make me happy. I was happy to please my teachers with my mastery of language (most of them, after all, were concerned with getting their students to pass the next upcoming state exam). It was mining for information, neural connections, over and over, for the purpose of a letter on a page. But the writing process itself was painful. It was tedious, boring work. My love for writing, which had ignited under the pressure of my voracious reading during my early years, did not die out quickly. Rather, it was crushed, slowly, bit by bit, as if run over by a particularly slow-moving train. Years of schooling wore me down to a finely polished, five-paragraph producing nub of a writer. With my formula, I produced the maximum score on both the AP Language and AP Literature exams. I did decently on my SATs and ACTs. I also missed writing to write.

When I got to college, I started reading again. It had fallen into a lull during my high school years, after years of pretending I didn't love to learn turned me into somewhat of a problem child. *Add-On* It wasn't until I entered my first Creative Writing course at UGA that I was given just the right ratio of structure and freedom to really explore the depths of my own writing in conjunction with reading. The class revolved around weekly prompts that were based on the reading for the week (which usually consisted of one novel or novella per week). Sometimes they were broad, creative, and left a lot of room to roam. Other times they were specific responses to the text. Such prompts could include things such as:
  • Continue a story using the first paragraph of the novel, heading in a completely different direction
  • Complete a story in 20 minutes in a room with no distractions
  • Write poetry which is based on lyrics. Then, remove the lyrics from the poem.
  • Write a story in which you manipulate the order of time and chronology.
...and other such starting points. It was the juxtaposition of these fascinating books with the writing prompts that connected the two in a way I wasn't fully cognizant of. *End*

I started getting into satirical writing. I was dissatisfied with the status quo of my own life and of society. I loved how social commentary could be achieved through the use of storytelling, with stories that draw parallels between our worlds and the worlds of the text. I read Vonnegut's body of work (which I'm still working on finishing now) and I was inspired by his simplistic writing style, and sharp witty dialogue. After reading Mother NightSlaughter-House FiveBreakfast of Champions, and his various short story collections, I read a quote from him which read,

"Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

Also, as a side note, he happens to look like a cross
between Albert Einstein and Mark Twain
I don't know why that spoke to me so clearly. I had teacher after teacher tell me how being stylistic for aesthetic's sake would only serve to make your writing pretty and empty, but to hear it from someone I admired as a writer was different. Not to say that semi-colons don't have their use, but I knew I would throw them in there just to feel intelligent for knowing how to. They often served no purpose. I looked at my sentences. Many often had little to no purpose. That was why I wasn't happy writing. What did it matter how pretty my words were when they had nothing to offer? Why would my audience want listen to me, when even I didn't want to listen to me? To be honest, I'm still working on being happy with my writing today. To be even more honest, I may never reach that point. But to know that I am trying to reach that goal is enough for me to enjoy writing again.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jetpacks and Hurricanes

It took me longer than I'd like to admit to choose the name for this blog.
I told myself to choose a simple name, preferably something I liked or enjoyed doing.

I like desks that are tilted towards me at a slight angle for ease-of-use, but that name is rather cumbersome. I like stickers that peel off without leaving sticky residue, but all those names were taken. I like the way helmets make me feel secure. I enjoy learning about things that have no immediate relevance, and imagining scenarios where the knowledge would prove invaluable. I am awed by the raw power of hurricanes.

I like jetpacks and freedom.

God Bless America.

(I was close to choosing Jetpacks and Hurricanes, actually.)
But I also like the simple things, like how a stick of graphite wrapped in a dead cedar tree can inspire much of the same awe.

So, welcome to Wooden Pencils.
Hope it turns out alright.