Hey, Newbie! Stop Writing!

Hey, Newbie! That’s right. You. Yeah, you. Stop writing.

You heard me. Stop writing. Right now. Just stop. You done? Good, now we can move on.

When I teach composition, I start out the semester by telling the students that I have one rule about writing. That it’s a simple rule. I get in front of my classes, and I tell them, “Under no circumstances, do I ever want any of you to try to sound like writer.”

Because that’s not the point. That’s not the point of all this. That’s not the point of writing. The point of writing isn’t to show people who verbose you can be. It’s not to let people see how extensive your word-hoarde is.

The point of writing is to communicate an idea as clearly as possible. And the best way to muck that up is to try to sound like a writer.

Case in point: compare Jane Austin and Stephen King. Apples and oranges in many cases, yes, but my point is that King is clearer than Austen. His ideas are clearer to grasp.

For instance, the first line of Pride and Prejudice reads, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” and the first line of The Gunslinger is “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed him.”

Genre, vocabulary, tone, time period, all that notwithstanding, which of these sentences communicates its idea more directly?

I’d have to say King’s. It’s more direct, more straight-forward. Sure, Austen’s is pretty, but she sounds like a writer.

And in terms of communication, that’s bad.

Back in the Day

I started this blog on Christmas Eve 2009. I thought I was a good writer. I thought that I had some pretty good ideas. And I did. For the most part.

The problem was that I considered myself to be…a writer.

That’s right. I broke my own cardinal rule. It took a lot of time and a lot of posts for me to realize that my early stuff was damn near unreadable. It wasn’t just because I was long-winded–which I was. It was because I had no idea how to write for the internet.

I was so used to writing academic papers that I had no idea what I was doing when it came to conveying simple ideas anymore. It took me years to be able to find my right style.

And now? Reading this is pretty much like having a conversation with me. I’ve found my voice. I’m so much more comfortable in my blogging now that I don’t feel like I have anything to prove.

Reading tons of blogs helped with this. Reading Syp’s Bio Break, Gordon’s We Fly Spitfires, and Matt’s World of Matticus helped me a lot because those bloggers are all very distinct because they’re not trying to be writers.

They’re trying to be people.

People on the internet don’t like to read.

They like to skim. So write in short sentences and equally short, scannable paragraphs. Break your ideas up into bite-sized chunks that people can take in snippets and tab away and get some work done before coming back.

Take that five-paragraph essay stuff…and stuff it. Take the idea of holding your best idea until last, and hold it out like a matador’s cape–right out in front of you. Let that be the first thing people see. And don’t be afraid to have a simple post. Sometimes, a good list-post or a few hundred words in a blurb is all you have to say on a subject.

So say it.

No One Likes a Smartypants.

Don’t try to sound intelligent. Don’t try to put on airs. Don’t try to make yourself out to be more awesome than you are.Don’t try to make them think you’re somebody you’re not.

Because in this hobby, we’re branded by two things above all else: our writing styles and our personalities. Both of which will determine whether you make it or have to take your ball and go home.

My point is that if you’re not a funny person, don’t try to be. If you’re not an analytical person, don’t try to be. If you’re not dry and snarky, don’t try to be. People stick with bloggers because they’re people. Because we like interacting with one another. So be personable, be friendly, tweet a few folks, and write like a human being.

For me, when I try to be dry and snarky, I come across as a dick. So I’m bubbly and friendly and happy as much as I can be. That’s who I am. It’s who I am on the internet, and it’s who I am in real life. My online persona is really just me–a heal-slinging, magic-using, robe-wearing, lightsaber-wielding, better-looking version of me.

There are a lot of bloggers out there. And most of them, no one ever reads. Why not? Because they sound exactly like everyone else.

And you know what’s cool about you? You’re not just like everyone else. You don’t sound like anyone else. You have ideas I can’t have. You have thoughts on games that you need to share. So break away from the crowd and make people pay attention to you.

Just don’t do it by trying to be a writer. Because then you’ll get an F.

Know a newbie blogger? Send ’em our way! The Newbie Blogger Initiative is going on all month long! Don’t be a stranger!

Teaching Literary Modernism in Under 4 minutes

Tomorrow, my world literature survey begins studying Modernism.  Luckily, I have what may be considered an unhealthy attraction to this literary movement, which could be because the first graduate course I ever took was on Modernism.  I just get all giddy when talking about it how depressive and fragmented (yet brilliant!) modern literature is.

Because of that, I wanted to share with you the video that I intend to start class with tomorrow morning.  It covers pretty much all the bases my lecture will, plus, I just love these kinds of videos. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s safe for work.

I hope you enjoy it!


A Professor’s Job

professor.gifOne of my favorite things to teach in my literature surveys is Confucius’ Analects. The text never ceases to amaze me because of just how relevant it still is.  Despite being somewhat archaic in style and diction by today’s standards, Confucius really hit on some ideas that most of us would do well to meditate on.

In particular, I’m taken by one simple adage in which he describes a particularly engaged student: “When he is told one thing, he understands ten.”

When I read that, I just stopped.  I read it again.  And again.

“When he is told one thing, he understands ten.”

Wow.  Just wow.

Rarely has just a single sentence so accurately encompassed my outlook on my profession.  Despite my being against old school elitism, I take a fairly traditionalist look at the classroom.

I want to be as close to my students as possible, but not at the expense of their education.  I want to be there for my students and help them along in any way I can, but I’m not going to hold their hands.

A student at the college level, especially in online universities, must take an active role in his or her own education, and any professor who coddles by oversimplifying concepts and spelling every last detail out is doing everyone in the classroom a disservice by eliminating the need for discovering ideas on their own.  If students only get the one thing they are told, they are essentially wasting time. They are not actively engaged in their own education.

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Academic Elitism: How Ideas Are The Same Everywhere

college-textbooks The college I teach at is fairly small.  We broke 1,000 students last year, and should break 1,100 next year.  We offer a number of four-year degrees, and many of our students head off to graduate studies after commencement.

And yet, there is a disconnect between the local population and the school, not to mention people who move into the school from larger areas or institutions.  They don’t see the academic community that many faculty members try to promote, or more accurately, they scoff at the idea that our college could have one at all.

This is not a problem just at my school, either.  Lots of people look down on smaller institutions, including community colleges, as though the academics are subpar, as though the ideas that a smaller school’s faculty have are any less valid than those from a larger, more prestigious university.

The thing is, though, that those people are entirely wrong.  And not just that, their mentality has a lot to do with what’s wrong with higher education right now because they place more importance on the professors’ pedigree and publications than they do the students’ education.

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