Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mistakes I make...

which my students could probably learn from.

I started writing an essay comparing and contrasting community and tribalism in my classroom.  I breezed through the introduction because I knew what I wanted to say and how I intended to say it, and started rocking through the second paragraph.  I stopped and re-read it, and somehow my earnest if uninformed essay about sociological structures had turned into a tongue-in-cheek review of the movie The Breakfast Club.

What I was missing is consistency--in this case, consistency of both subject and tone.  (I get playing with tone in a single piece; I'm pretty good at it.  So I know what I'm saying when I say that this was an inappropriate shift in tone.)  Everything I'd written was good, and they're similar in subject matter, but the movie critique (spoiler: the movie does not come out looking good.) has no place in the paper I'd set out to write.  When I tell my students, "Only make your paper about one thing," this is what I'm talking about.

The way I usually achieve consistency in subject in my formal writing is by using some kind of pre-writing device.  I like graphic organizers, and have come across some doozies in my brief but eventful time as an English teacher.  (I've also come across some real crap.  Shaping a Venn diagram like an apple and an orange may make a good visual gag for about 3 seconds, but it doesn't change the fact that Venn diagrams are bad pre-writing organizers.  I wish I were making this example up.)  Choosing a graphic organizer based on my intent for the piece helps me decide on the ultimate structure of the writing.  It also helps me stay on course throughout the pretty long and sometimes tedious process of actually writing the work.  It's like building a building: you pick a frame based on what you want the building to be, and then you build that.  From there, you add all the necessary bits to make it a house, and not just a neatly-stacked pile of girders.  If you have something cool that you want to explore further, that's fine.  The house still needs a shed, or a garage, or perhaps an interactive art installation.  But please at least consider the possibility that the middle of the living room may not be the best place for it.

The way I achieve consistency in my informal writing, like this blog post, is mostly I don't worry so much about it.  I keep it short, and if I have crap that doesn't actually support my original thesis (for example, I'm terrified of zombies and velociraptors, and have made significant life decisions based on the need to protect myself from them.  When the time comes, I hope the raptors go after the zombies.), I don't worry too much about it.  After all, this isn't intended to be a high-quality, published work.  If ever I turn it into one, I will engage in significant re-writes, in some places, probably starting from scratch.

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