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Saturday, January 21, 2012

writing, not about

okay, so here is what i don't get. i'm at a cafe, drinking coffee (shocker, i know!), checking email every two seconds, googling random MTV VJs from the 80s, etc...whatever...and all around me people are doing the same thing—except with one difference: on their table is like a half-eaten muffin or bagel resting undisturbed on a plate. i have a plate on my table, too, but i've long since wolfed down my food in a sort of first-meal-after-being-lost-in-the-desert kind of flurry (even though my last meal wasn't but an hour ago). i mean, how does a person order a peanut-butter brownie and just sort of pick at it...just sort of take a few bites before taking one of those slow, knowing sips of coffee while gazing peacefully into their book....while that delicious goddamn brownie just sits there, barely tasted, just waiting to be scarfed down in a self-loathing fit of this-is-so-fucking-good-i-can't-even-be-bothered-to-chew?

i mean, there is this girl who is always at the cafe i go to and she will literally sit there for like two hours, periodically nibbling at her oversized white chocolate macadamia nut cookie...ignoring it for 10 minutes here, forty minutes there. and when she's ready to leave, she'll simply reapply the saran wrap to it and place the cookie in her purse. did i mention this girl is 17! i mean, fuck me! a teenager has more self-discipline than i do? really? i mean, it's a bona fide miracle if i can simply make it from the cafe's counter to my table with at least one bite left of whatever piece of sugar-crack i just ordered. and, really, is there anything more pathetic than being that guy? the dude who walks to his table...not 15 seconds after ordering...a coffee in one hand, empty plate in the other...his face blanching from pink to red to fuck-head as tries to choke down the cinnamon roll he just inhaled. his eyes watering. his cheeks stretched out like a goddamn chipmunk's.

oh, and you should see me on the days i'm not on a diet.

words, big

i love words. i've always been interested in learning and expanding my vocabulary. it would seem to follow, then, that my writing, my discourse would be infused with lots of impressive lexical utterances. but that doesn't follow because, while yes i heart words, i also love THE LANGUAGE OF NATURAL THOUGHT. and, thus, i only use grad-school-y type of words when they fit naturally within the sentence, when they serve the broader goal of clarity and force and concision. my advice for young writers is this: develop your vocabulary, but not at the expense of your prose's readability. a big word is awesome, but only because it trims the fat: the bigger the word, the more little words and modifiers it "sums" up/contains/embodies. this is somewhat of a tricky point to grasp, so let it linger in your mind before giving it a final "yeah, he is TOTALLY right (or wrong!)!" for now (jesus, how condescending do i sound right now?!?), just try and notice how the fancier the word, the less it has a one-to-one synonym with another word (EXCEPTIONS GRANTED). and that's the kicker: we use big words to preserve a forward flow, to (paradoxically) heed the less-is-more principle. instead of lots of little words that accrete into a big idea, we can use a big word that operates as a verbal container for all those little words. (now for some aspirin.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012


In his self-efficacy theory, Bandura distinguishes between outcome expectations and efficacy expectations, a distinction which may have important bearing on understanding how students learn to write. He suggests that individuals will perform a task successfully if they know what behaviors will produce desired outcomes and if they evaluate themselves as capable of performing the necessary behaviors.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Peter Elbow on writing

The best writing has voice: the life and rhythms of speech. Unless we actively train our students to speak onto paper, they will write the kind of dead, limp, nominalized prose we hate--or say we hate. We see the difference most clearly in extreme cases: experienced teachers learn that when they get a student who writes prose that is so tied in knots that it is impenetrable they need only ask the student to say what she was getting at and the student will almost invariably speak the thought in syntax which is perfectly clear and lively, even if sometimes inelegantly colloquial. If the student had known enough to "speak the thought onto paper" and then simply cleaned up the syntax, the writing would have been much better than her best "essay writing."