Explorations of Style offers readers an ongoing discussion of the challenges of academic writing. The ability to formulate and clarify our thoughts is central to the academic enterprise; this blog discusses strategies to improve the process of expressing our research in writing. The flexibility of the blogging format allows me to explore writing instruction in a way that is more permanent than that found in the classroom and less permanent than that in a book. My key strategies, resources, and principles are used to ground discussions of more specific writing issues. Those writing issues will be ones that come up in my teaching or that are raised by readers. As I move back and forth between new writing questions and established principles, I will have the opportunity to revise and refine my own approach. My ultimate goal is to create a working approach to academic writing, one that can be entered at multiple points and one that can shift in response to my interactions with students and readers. In addition to offering my approach to academic writing, I hope to use the blog to present the broader context in which I think about academic writing. By attaching links to recent articles, I will engage with ongoing conversations about issues such as the future of graduate education; the practices of writing instruction; the state of academic publishing; the role of English in global academic conversation; the notion of grammatical purity; and the way that technological shifts may change our relationships to academic texts.
This is probably one of the coolest writing-related videos I’ve ever seen–and will, quite clearly, be a helpful tool in truly illustrating the revision that happens throughout the process of writing. Enough said. Just watch it!
Many people, including my students, think that teachers have it easy—our day stops at 3 PM, we don’t work in the summer. Last Friday an eighth grader overheard me whisper, “TGIF.” Then he asked sarcastically if I was going to run home after school and read a book. I wanted to shout, I WISH. Endless meetings, grading, lesson planning, parent communication, in addition to life stuff—dog walking, laundry, food shopping, bill paying, email, cooking, cleaning, calling the landlord about the dishwasher, calling the mechanic about the rattling noise in my Ford’s engine, going to the dentist, going to the gym, updating my voter registration, whatever it is that given day—it all slices away at the precious minutes left in each twenty-four hour period for working on my novel.
~ Jennifer De Leon @ Ploughshares
Yesterday, at the college where I teach, we hosted novelist Greg Spatz, who read from his new novel, Inukshuk. The book is great–read it if you haven’t–and Greg’s reading was fantastic, but my favorite moment came during the Q&A. A student in the crowd–one of my comp students, actually–asked Greg how in the hell somebody goes about starting to write a novel. I love that question. It gets at the heart of how non-writers think about writing. So much of the contemporary literary scene is writers talking about writing that it’s a delight to hear from someone whose interaction with literature is first, foremost, and only as a reader. The question betrays this sense of wonder that something as large, strange, and whole as a novel can ever simply emerge from one person’s mind.
But even better than the question was the answer. Greg said–and I’m paraphrasing here–that starting a novel is like walking into the middle of the woods with an ax and starting to cut down trees, trying to make a path. It’s not an efficient method, he said, but it’s the way it works. You hack away. You get lost, start over, forage for morels and fiddlehead ferns, make a fire out of sticks. You have to start somewhere, and there’s no map, so just start. Swing at something and feel the metal edge bite in. Go, keep going, and maybe, eventually you’ll figure out where you are and where you need to go from here.
There are any number of “productivity” tools for writers available online and off, not to mention tricks and tips in every writing guide and magazine. I ignore those, for the most part, but some discussion around a new tool could be useful for sharing with our students to talk about the impossibility of a “one size fits all” approach to writing (for instance, I openly admit to my students that part of my own process — which seems to be working — includes pausing to play Flash games on my laptop, taking walks, and daydreaming).
In an interview with The Guardian, novelist Helen Oyeyemi said this when asked for a writing tip:
Download the Write or Die computer application. When you activate kamikaze mode, the screen lets you pause typing for about 45 seconds before it begins deleting words you’ve already written. Because, sometimes, fear is the only motivator.