Tag Archives: writing

NaNoWriMo: It’s Alive!

1 Nov

NaNoWriMo officially started at midnight last night and I was all geared to go, had my writing utensils and tablet to hand and was getting in the Halloween spirit by catching up on this season of The Walking Dead.

I was alseep before we hit midnight in my time zone, down for the count because of the excess of Halloween treats I had consumed.

Therefore today NaNo has been all I’ve been thinking about until I’ve got some free time to really sit down and write.

For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, the goal is simple. Write. That is the one commandment. If you reach 50,000 words by the end of November you are officially a “novelist.” For many, this is a chance to try something new, a new way to approach writer’s block, or a simple way to pound out 50,000 words worth of post-secondary essays.

For me, it really set a deadline on something I’ve wanted to accomplish my whole life — to create the skeleton of a novel that I could later come back and revise. After all, the 50,000 words don’t need to be good words.

However, I didn’t want this exercise to be fruitless. So I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to flesh out the plot and characters that my NaNo will be based on and I’m happy to say that I got a lot more done than I thought I would. I am still nowhere near where I would like to be, but hopefully by the end of the month I will have hammered out that 50,000 words and will be able to continue forward with the monster I have created.

So look forward to some somewhat irregular updates on my progress and setbacks, or at least a place to commiserate with fellow NaNos.

Word Count as of 2013-11-01: 1536

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Is Social Media Killing the Essay? A Musing

1 Feb

Combing through my inbox backlog can sometimes be a bit tedious, but then I find something in one of the mailing lists or newsletters that I subscribe to that makes me question my position on certain subjects. This morning I quickly skimmed through the January 24th issue of EdSurge Instruct, an independent news and community edtech newsletter.  

 In the issue was a blurb directing me to check out the article, “Art of essay-writing damaged by Twitter and Facebook, Cambridge don warns.”

I myself am an active twitter user and found my first reaction to be a strange one. I hadn’t even READ the article yet, and I felt offended. If I had to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 with how active I am on social media on any given day, I would probably say about a 6. I use it a fair bit, but I am not reading every single tweet or post on my timelines, I subscribe to a fair amount of education-related content, so it’s not like I use the platforms to simply kill time. I’ve written quite a few essays during both of my undergraduate degrees and feel that I am a fairly competent writer and conveyer of my thoughts. However, blogging and tweeting are not the same thing as writing an essay. If I came at blogging and tweeting in the same way that I approach essay writing, I would be “doing it wrong.”

Upon further perusal of the article, this Cambridge professor is hypothesizing that because of modern social media students are arriving in post-secondary institutions without the skills to write a proper essay. After spending my teaching practicums in junior high and high school settings, I would have to agree. But to a point. In my experience, yes, the twenty-first century student is mostly unprepared for the writing of a proper academic essay – but it is not due to social media. When I set about asking a class of grade twelve students if they knew how to write thesis statements I found myself faced with thirty-four blank stares. Not a single one of them even knew what a thesis statement was. So I set about starting from scratch and put my students through a whole essay-writing workshop. Should they have known how to write an essay before this point? The simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer is murky. Depending on (and if!) these students were headed off to post-secondary institutions, did they really need to know how to write an academic essay? In Alberta, many high school students head off into our booming trades sector. Many head off into sciences and engineering. And yes, a few of us head off into the arts. I know that being able to write an essay helps me in everyday life in many ways. It helps me compose emails to my coworkers, write up work procedures, blog, tweet, and even make announcements over the PA system at the Royal Alberta Museum. But it is not the ability to write an essay that helps me with these tasks.

Social Media isn’t killing the essay. We, as teachers, need to start teaching these skills in a twenty-first century context. But that’s a whole other post.

Social media platforms do not lend themselves to the essay format and vice-versa. Which brings me to the questions that EdSurge wanted me to ponder in regards to the article.

What is effective writing? Is a lack of what’s traditionally been considered “good” prose a disadvantage in online communication? Or is the opposite true? What are the most effective ways to  connect with–and persuade–different audiences? What do you think?

What is effective writing?

To me, effective writing, is writing that is well-written and that can catch my attention. No matter how well written the piece is, if there is no personality – no charisma – to the piece, I’ll be thinking “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read) and moving on. Effective writing also needs to have a purpose. WHY has the writer chosen to write this piece? Have the introduced me to the 5 W’s? (Forgive me, I’m an English teacher – The Who, What, Where, Why, and When). Has the piece been written with an audience in mind? In my case, my audience is my twitter followers, people who stumble upon my blog, or potential employers. I need to keep that in mind while writing else I dare stumble into unfamiliar territory for my audience. And if it is unfamiliar territory, I need to provide enough background information to entice you to read further. Has the information been organized in a logical manner? Can I follow this person’s argument?

Is a lack of what’s traditionally been considered “good” prose a disadvantage in online communication? Or is the opposite true?

Again, I return to the personality of the writing. If a writer’s style  has caught my attention, I am willing to overlook the occasional grammatical error or spelling mistake. Everyone makes them. There’s probably more than a few in this post. To paraphrase my linguistics professor, If you can say it and it makes sense, who’s to say it’s not grammatically correct? If you can parse the person’s speech or text and still derive meaning, does that mean it’s ‘wrong’? Most grammar is innate and is always evolving. This is why we end up debating the oxford comma, possessive nouns, and passive and active voice. Just because a set of rules been prescribed does not mean that that is the way that we are actually using the language (this is the essential argument behind descriptive versus prescriptive grammar).

In online communication, sometimes grammar has to be thrown out the window. Participating in my online course can sometimes be overwhelming by the sheer numbers involved. With over 30,000 people enrolled, posting from all over the world, it can take some time to sort through all the posts, especially when many posters are English Language Learners. But regardless of someone’s mother tongue and grammar, if their ideas are valid and intriguing, is that putting them at a disadvantage? I would say no. Others may disagree.

Sometimes a quick blog entry can be more effective than a long-winded one, grammatical mistakes and all.

What are the most effective ways to  connect with–and persuade–different audiences?

To me, the most effective ways to connect and persuade different audiences is to know your audience, write honestly, clearly, and with your own voice.

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