writing

The Writer’s Dilemma: Part 3, What am I Even Saying?

As usual, there are great gaps in my postings; the last few weeks have been full to bursting with countless projects at work as well as wedding planning for my sister’s upcoming wedding (and shoved in their somewhere horrific is a couple days spent in unfathomable sickness). However, I recently have been thinking about the last installment of my writing tips posts. While I have not done much writing lately, I have missed the activity and am attempting to return to this wonderful pastime.

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But, as I do, I find myself struggling with what words to say. I have fallen out of the practice of writing and subsequently have found it difficult to return. Perhaps there is some superhuman out there who is a natural writer; but everyone I know and every author I have read who talks about the process of writing has iterated again and again that writing is hard and takes practice and dedication.

Part of this practice is considering what your biggest flaws in writing are and seeking to correct them – that is how I came to recognize this final topic of this series: non-specificity.

I believe that foundationally the other two topics I discussed (redundancy and leaps in logic) arise from this issue. A person tends to repeat themselves and make leaps in logic when they are unclear about what they are talking about. During my first semester in college, the main critique I received on my papers was that I wasn’t sure what I was talking about. Not in that I didn’t understand, but that I hadn’t taken the time to define what I wanted to say.

So, the question I had to ask myself was – what did I want to say? (more…)

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THE WRITER’S DILEMMA: Part 2, Why Your College Philosophy Class Matters

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It’s not uncommon to hate your college Philosophy 101 class.

This isn’t surprising, considering most philosophy classes at that level are taught badly by professors who care more about their own personal philosophy than helping students learn about the subject (a stereotype which is sadly true more often than not).

The failure of introductory philosophy courses is probably one of the biggest failures in college education.

I could go on about how the McDonaldization of degrees, and how the philosophy class is just one example of this…increasingly focused on efficiency (large classes who are reading summaries rather than primary texts), calculability and control (emphasis on exams – particularly online – with right or wrong answers rather than essays), predictability (focus on the syllabus and requirements rather than fostering an open learning environment) . . . .

Like I said I could go on. . . .

My point is, the failure of philosophy classes is the failure of teaching students how to read, how to think, and – ultimately – how to write.

My freshman Fall semester of college I took two courses The Good Life and Western Civilization I. These required honors class were intended to fulfill that Philosophy 101 class. We read Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Epictetus, Plotinus, Virgil, Homer, and many other great philosophers – all primary texts (we had the hard task of trying to decipher Aristotle without a handy summary of what some academic thinks he meant.

Once again, I digress (my mind is unfocused today, for that I apologize).

The point is, time after time I would receive papers back with glowing reviews for my writing style. Yet, these papers were also typically B grade papers. Why? Because I did not adequately explain my argument, I made leaps in logic, I did not carry the reader through my writing well.

Well shit.

How does a person do that? All those missed steps in my paper were filled in my head, but it didn’t occur to me to explicitly explain them. Wasn’t it obvious?

No.

And that’s why I needed my philosophy class.

Those dull. Tedious. And – in my opinion – badly written books.

Ugh.

But what those books did was teach me how important it was to define my thoughts, my arguments, and my words.

Perhaps not so tediously though.

The 10 Step Process of Turning Bs into As

Beginning freshman year, I began to learn how to write without leaps in logic. The best part – this doesn’t just apply to college essays. I have found it useful in content writing, in my personal blog, and in my creative writing.

No matter what you are writing you want your reader to understand it. So, without further ado, here is the process I developed that allowed me to avoid getting Bs and start getting As.

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The Writer’s Dilemma: 3 Tips to Avoid Redundancy in Writing

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During my high school and college years I was the person to go to for editing papers. No matter the topic I had a knack for tightening prose (unfortunately, this generally applied best to other people’s work and not my own). It was a win-win situation too. I loved digging my teeth into a paper and making it pop, and my friends and family got free editorial advice.

A lot of my natural talent came from my love of reading. I gobbled up books and developed a taste for which ones were good, which ones were candy, and which ones ought to be spit back out. However, my natural talent and refined taste could only take me so far in helping my peers with their papers. It would take a lot of practice and learning on my part to be able to spot and edit beyond style, grammar, and punctuation.

Fortunately, early on in my college years I encountered several brilliant professors who taught me tips and tricks for developing quality content. During my freshman year I consistently received papers back with comments praising my style but disappointed in the substance.

The three substance based dilemmas I struggled with the most were:

  1. Redundancy
  2. Logic Leaps
  3. Unspecific

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of the most helpful strategies I learned to resolve these writer’s dilemmas. These methods transformed my writing and have allowed me to play fairy godmother when I edit other people’s writing.

So without further ado . . .

Tiny Little Syrup Bottles – Or Three Ways to Eliminate Redundancy

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Pier Walks

Silence was a prison no more
Noise no longer chaos
Conversation held no power
When a gentle effervescent space blossomed

Around Hobbesian anarchy reigned
Horns honked, demanding the right to occupy space not their own
Trash piled on corners and in crevices
Reminders that decay would approach

But within. . . within
A simple kiss was all – forming a new contract
Releasing from the heavy dictates of mortal codes
As silence swarmed around, resisting

Aimless wandering in the quiet
But, the quiet is better with you

Fragment: Scarlet

Eyeballs with lids peeled back

Thoughtfully wander across the room.

Blue, Brown, Grey, Green, every-

One rests staring at me.

 

I’ve been caught!

Red handed — literally!

A saw covered in sticky platelets,

My soul laid out like that guilty Plantagenet for all to see and condemn.

 

My own eyes turned downward at the ragged stumps–

Where my legs once were–

Now just sharp bone, tangled

Veins and crimson.

 

Questions begin to erupt like magma.

Coming to the surface, turning into destruction and lava,

Lascivious commentary.

Crude descriptions of this madness.

 

But I merely sat,

The pain numbing into complacency

Because —  just for a moment —

I was freed from the tyranny of thought.

Froggy Memories

The frog — startled by my presence — skipped across the surface of the pond before diving into its safe abyss. My mind tripped as well, following him momentarily into the comforting depths of memory. Flickering momentarily to a childhood spent in stealth and frog traps. Time smeared back to those innocent days, free of humid worry and heavy doubts.

Common frog (Rana temporaria):

“Dispossessed of its objects, space was swarming”

A Forest Tale | by Gabriel Isak:

“A Forest Tale” by Gabriel Isak

I woke with a start. Cliche I know. But that’s what happened. My room was dark, of course, what had I expected? The silence spread out, blanketing the darkness with peace and sleep.

But I was not asleep, and something roiled in my stomach – the silence was not covering my mind. It did not encourage me to slide back into sleep. Instead the tightness of my stomach forced the peaceful silence away; turned the darkness into an ominous suffocating entity.

After a few minutes of silent desperation I sat up. I was being illogical.

“Men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.” I shattered the silence with my basic, philosophy one-o-one, syllogism.

“Being afraid of the dark is only the continued fear from primordial time, an evolutionary impulse meant to keep us safe, continuing into the present through millennia of superstition and myth.” I spoke out, my words restoring logic and order.

What had forced me into this state of wakefulness at….two in the morning?

A dream probably….one I could not recall. I had spent too much time orienting myself.

A light breath escaped my mouth, the muscles through my neck and shoulders released, and my eyes fluttered shut. I could return to sleep now.

To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil (1)

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