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  Brad's Teacher Writing: Solving the Mysteries of Writing
 

 
 

Solving the Mysteries of Writing

Writing can be a mysterious process: from the shared ingredients found in language, a writer produces words worth savouring. The recipe is not an easy one to follow. In great cooking, the chef’s hand is crucial; in good writing, the writer’s hand is as well. Worthwhile writing can be done by most, but it requires care and attention to some established processes in writing. Writers need to gather knowledge, make generalizations, and craft words.

     Although the first step is crucial, students of writing often forget it: writing comes from experience with and knowledge of the world. Pay attention to the events around you. Walk more and look carefully at nature, then name what you see in words. Observe the sky and see Vancouver grey, tinged with pink at the horizon. Note milky white ice on puddles after a cold night and listen to the sound they make when you crunch them under your boots. Read the paper, spending time to know the events that shape our world. Look for the good news: the new cures for childhood leukemia; neighbours helping neighbours; the first mandarin oranges of the fall. The more a writer looks at and sees in the world, the more that writer will have to say. Getting the experience we need for successful writing is a task we can only do ourselves and is a critical source of the raw materials we need for our writing.

With good raw material, writers can move on to the second step: making generalizations that can be formed into topics for paragraphs and essays. After observing the Vancouver sky many times, we may notice the rich variety of colours and cloud formations. The essentials of the essay or paragraph are already available to us and, with work, can be formed into good writing. For a paragraph, we might talk about the beauty of the sky on a summer’s day; for an essay, we may describe the varied skies seen over the course of a year in Vancouver. A paragraph about the summer sky, describing in words its blue colour and distinctive kinds of clouds, could be 150 words or more. An essay, however, needs more raw materials and a broader generalization. The topic could divide, in this case, according to three distinctive Vancouver skies. Each of the skies would have its own paragraph and its own description made out of the materials writers have collected through their experiences. Thus, our raw materials bring us the generalizations we need for our paragraphs and essays.

Once our generalizations are made, the hard task of crafting our thoughts into words can begin; it is here that our reading, our study of grammar, and our daily practice can pay dividends. Read good writing every day, for writers copy the style and function of sentences they admire. We may know grammar very well (and we should, of course), but may not spend enough time noting where we have seen its most effective uses. Good writers offer us a demonstration of the grammar we work so hard to study. It is a gift to us, their readers, and it is free for the taking. We can practice putting our own thoughts into the grammatical structures they have created. If we have spent a part of every day writing, perfecting our grammar, and copying what is clearly the best writing, then our writing can only improve. From this point, writers are truly on their own: putting the words on the paper is probably the most mysterious part of the process. Often, writers find ideas coming out that they have only dimly considered before. Writing itself is a kind of thinking and so all the work we do to make the words come smoothly assists that thinking.

Following the steps outlined here will help to make good writing a bit less of a mystery. Good writers spend time observing the world and noting what they have seen in order to add to their catalogue of materials useful to writing. With these materials, writers are more easily able to generalize and thus create writable topics for their paragraphs and essays. And, at all times, writers practice putting their thoughts onto paper, modelling their work after the grammatical structures of the writers who have produced the finest work. As a good chef makes a tasty dish, so too the writer makes a savoury dinner of words. (735 words)

—Brad Hyde  November 15, 1999

 

 

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