Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Writing Teachers’ Favorite Words of Advice
All writing classes explore many of the same issues and strategies. What makes each class unique is that every professor has his or her own take on how to bring students into the writing process to help them own the experience. Writers need to realize they already have the faculties needed to be good (or better) writers, but writing instructors know certain strategies and practices can help.

Reflecting on this individual perspective that a writing teacher may bring, I wondered about the different approaches that those us who teach writing at MUM bring to our writing classes. All of us bring a Consciousness-Based approach to the understanding of writing–that writing is both a self-reflexive and self-referral process (see archived postings about this approach), but what are some of the specifics that we individually emphasize in our classes? I decided to do a little poll of my colleagues to see what advice they offered.

Nynke Passi offers this sage advice: “My first point is always: to observe, to see the world as if for the first time and really pay attention to what things look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like, then describe.” What I love about Nynke’s advice is that it applies as much to life as to writing. How wonderful it is to move through life open to and aware of what’s around us. I love walking through the world and soaking in the color, the sounds, the smells. We can take these experiences and express them directly through our writing. Our glimpse of a willow tree brings us color, form, and movement. If we move among the waving fronds, we feel texture and breathe the fragrance of the leaves and bark.

Jim Fairchild comments in a similar vein: “Write about what you know; write about what you enjoy.” This advice keeps us from making embarrassing mistakes of content. If we write about willow trees having the same effects as aspirin if ingested, we haven’t done enough research; we can, however, still write about the knowledge and experience of willow trees that we do have (and we can always research the relationship between willows and aspirin). This advice nicely parallels Nynke’s because we do know our own experience, and our expression of these experiences is more compelling when we are describing what we enjoy and what we truly know.

Terry Fairchild brings his writing advice back to who we are as thinkers and communicators, in fact, who we are in the world. He offers this advice to writers: “To communicate precisely what you believe and feel, even to yourself, you must cultivate your language and writing abilities. Without these skills, everything you think, say, and write will only be a vague approximation. Developing the way you use language is taking responsibility for what comes out of your mouth, onto your paper, and even what circulates though your brain; it is saying, I want to express myself clearly, powerfully, and with grace.” This advice draws us truly and surely into a love of language that stays with us. We cannot help but be better writers when we are inspired by the way words shape meaning in a sentence. We can then transfer that command of language to our own expression and attain that clarity, power, and grace in our writing as Terry describes.

Terry later added a particularly apt quote from Nietzsche: “Those who know they are profound strive for clarity: those who would like to seem profound…strive for obscurity.” We should all post this quote above our desks (well, on our desktops) and read it on occasion.

I’ll end with another thought from Jim: “Be as brief as possible.”

Enough said! 


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