Category Archives: Articles on Writing

I’m certainly not the first to write about writing, but I like to think that a few of the articles in this category contain untouched points about the wonderful world of composition.

Guidelines for Reporting News

(Link)

An article written on Suite101 on the steps involved in successful news coverage.

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How to Come up With Story Ideas

I wrote this on Suite101.com. (Link)

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Tips for Writing Rough Drafts

I wrote this on Suite101.com. (Link)

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Making Writing a Less Stressful Process

I wrote this on Suite101.com. (Link)

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The problem with Internet English

The problem with Internet English

10/5/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

I have always been one of those hopelessly traditional people that capitalizes their text messages, makes sure to use apostrophes correctly when writing an e-mail and says “whom” in message boards. That is my confession: I’m behind the times enough that I still care about mechanics on the world wide web, though I do slip up from time to time. (This article, I’m sure, will have its share of errors.)

It is as if there exists an alternate form of language online, one I’d like to call “Internet English.” Open up a web browser, and all of a sudden, capitalization and punctuation becomes irrelevant. “Your wrong about they’re opinion” is just as fitting a rebuttal as is “You’re wrong about their opinion.” Another strange convention: Caps Lock has now become the standard means with which to make an argument.

It would be quite simple to attack those committing such errors and say that they don’t know how to write. And yet, they do know how to write. The people who e-mail you NOTES THAT LOOK LIKE THIS aren’t bad writers, necessarily; they just figure that mechanics don’t carry as much weight online as they do on paper.

It’s that perception that I take issue with.

There’s always been a battle of sorts between the “grammar hounds” and the “anything goes” writing schools. One says that dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s is imperative; the other says that what you write is more important than the exact form of your words.

I used to consider myself a full-blooded member of the former group. What did it matter if I had missed a semicolon here or there? My idea was there; my evidence was there; the story was complete.

That was when the internet started to develop. The more I surfed the web, the more I tended to discriminate based on mechanics. If a company advertised that their product would “get u in shape 4 school,” I tended to pay it little attention. If an e-mail said that “YOU HAVE JUST WON A $14,000,000 USD IN THE NAIROBI NATIONAL LOTTRY,” I would quickly delete it and move on. Slowly, I was becoming the kind of grammar policeman that I had used to detest.

Internet English arose out of a simple truth: online, we tend to pay less attention to how we write. Unfortunately, as I came to realize, we still pay close attention to how others write on the internet. Though most of us wouldn’t stress over accidentally posting “I liek that” instead of ‘I like that” on Youtube, we still turn up our noses when that mistake is made by someone else. That’s the danger with writing online; although one’s writing might get sloppier, the same standards for grammar and mechanics hold on the internet as they do in a book or a newspaper.

Is it wrong of me to ignore someone’s writing when it is riddled with mechanical errors? Should I be chastised for skipping over a one-paragraph, all-caps rant? Perhaps. But the simple truth is that grammar still makes a difference on the internet, if only because readers are still just as sensitive to errors and slipups made on the web.

Everyone has the right to use “Internet English” to the fullest. But don’t fault me if, looking through a message board or an online petition, I pay less attention to passages that pay no attention to grammar. It’s a condition I was born with.

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Ten Mindless Minutes

Ten Mindless Minutes

A Short Example of Freewriting

10/1/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

[The following was churned out between 11:35 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. one Wednesday evening. It is a freewritten piece, meaning that I typed more or less continuously for the duration of the exercise without pausing and thinking about what to say. Thus—given that I wrote without stopping to think or correct an error—what you’ll see is as rudimentary as drafts get. I don’t offer this as a piece of polished writing, but as a raw look into the fun of the freewriting process.]

 

There is something inherently dangerous about writing a freewritten piece. I do not even allom myself to go back and use the bacspacke key, as you will soon come to realize; indeed, the best I – or, to put it more frankly, I don’t even stop to let myself k think. Tat is the beuty of the freewrite. Your mind has no time to interfere with the thoughts going from your soul to th page; you simply go on and write down what you can, whenever you can, about whatever comes to your mind—oru out of it.

I allow myself no pauses when freewriting, as you’ll also come to realize. Yes, this makes for rather shoddy writing, but nobody expets you to crank out a bestseller when you’re not even allowing to delete any words. Sentencese come out fragmented. Thoughts spurt out of your mind in pieces. But engrained within those rocky causes and sentences are some truly wonderful metaphors and ideas and… just good writing, really. And it can take a freewritten piece to unlock that.

I have given myself eight more minutes of writing. IT helps, of course, to be able to touch type when writing these pieces; I had bought a keyboard that would let me do the job a little faster, so here I am, typing as fast as I can. I have no idea what my next sentence wil be, any more than a homeless person known swhat food they will eat the next day. But that is the joi of it. There is danger to it—oh, you have to learn to laugh off the sentences that come in and make absolutely no sence—but there is job to it as well. If you know what I mean. Perhaps it’s time to begin another paragrp.h

FReewriting, in case you have not heard of the process, as I said early, is a matter of writing without allowing oneself any time to think—or take their hands off thke keyboard, or take their hands off the pencil, or the pencil off the—you see where I am going, and likewise, that I am not stopping to edit. (That makes for some horrible writing – oh, I’m sorry! I accidentally hit the backspace key there. I credit it to a reflex action ;blame my inner critic. Do not worry. I will make many more orrors to make up for that.) Where was I? Ah, yes; the freewriting process. You see, whet whole idea is that you are here writing without allowing yourself so much as even to think about what your next word myight be, in hopes that you can come oup with something that your mind would usually not see. The problem with trying to explain this is that I am (dang! Backspace again!) is that I am freewriting this as I speak, meaning it can take hundreds of words to finish one thought—because of all the additions you want to make, and such. But I will do my deb.st. The great thing bout freewriting is that it shuts up your innecr critic. When you are not allowed to use the backspack key, there’s little chance that you will be able to stop the flowof of writing at all. In that sense, you relax. You admit that what you are writing isn’t publication worthy—or showing it to others worthy, which is why it atkes some courage to take something like this and put it up.

But what freewriting does do is twofold. Firs, as I mentioned perhaps five times ago but have no better things obabout which to write, it relaxes your mind. You do not worry about whether you are writing something good or not; you realize the bulk of it is not going to see the light of the prininter, or the light of the computer screen. And so you can trust yourself. And so you can experiement. IT is like making a sand castle at the co ocean; perhaps what you are making is not an architectural wonder, but the sand will come by anyway and put it to rest.

So where was I, then? Ah, yes: the matter of the pros of freewriting. The second thing follows once you find yourself in that relaxed state. I have always found that creativity in a person is at at I its best whan that person as no tohr thought sor streses or fears or worries on his or her mind; when that person is ready, willing and able to shut up their critical, repulsed side and just write. The When that happens; when paragraphs are not interrupted because an a or an e is missing, or when someone simyly doesn’t know what teyh’re writing about, the most beautiful sentences can go. (Sorry. One more backspace key hit. I a am trying to control my reflexes.) IT is as if the weight of all the bad sentences surrounding on e particular cl clause compresse that cause to the point where it really turns into something beautiful; a diamond amidst the ashes, or the coal, or the carbon deposits—I am no diamond farmer. I only mine good writing, and tonight, it is at a scarcity.

So that is the beneficial part of freewriting. But it is a scary and dangerous process, is it not? Absolutely! You do )Sorry! ONE MORE BPSPACK K—ANOTHER BACKSPACE KEY! MY INNER CRITIC HAS BEGUN TO WON OVER MY FREE SIDE! I WILL —- NEVER MIND THAT. I WILL TURN OFF CAPS LOCK NOW. ) The point to all this is not to have good writing. IT is to take some thought from your mind and let it get onto the page unassisted, unhindered by the inner critic.

What a else can I say in this final minute? Give it I at try. Don’t be so concerned or worried if what you happen to be writing doesn’t seem that good. The whole point is that you’rll be relaxed and confident enough that once your inhibitions start to wear off, the things you put down oth the page might be good—occasionally at the least. Itas warth a shot. YPErhaps there wil be mechanics or seplling errors. That’as the point: to not wryr about mechanics, for once. ONec you have that in place, it’s simply time to get down and writ.

My ten minutes, thankfully, ar up. I hope you enjoyed this little freewrite. AT any rate, give it a try yourself.

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Sourdough Writing

Sourdough Writing

9/29/08

Kenneth Burchfiel, WSTFTHS

 

Within every story lies a literary “sweet spot”: a point where the theme clicks, the writing flows and the ideas presented resonate with the reader. In many stories—well-written ones, at least—that center point happens to be the climax or thesis of the piece, exactly where the writer wants it.

Many stories, however, are written off-center. The composer sets out with a given agenda and types out their ideas; and yet, an unimportant, extraneous paragraph turns out to be even more promising than the climatic or pithy ones. The writer might be satisfied with the story as it stands, but the real heart of the piece—that which could form the base of an even better story—goes underutilized and underappreciated.

This situation can be called “Off Center Writing.” To cure it, I prescribe a simple, yet effective writing exercise.

 

“Sourdough Workshopping,” not surprisingly, derives its name from the baking process used for that kind of bread. To make sourdough, one takes a small amount of “mother” yeast—the most flavorful and filling section of the bread—and mixes it in with a new batch. That transplanted yeast spreads to the very end of the loaf and creates a newer, better-tasting bread.

 

When applied to the workshop format, this process can be just as beneficial for compositions with hidden potential as it is for loaves with especially good yeast.

To start, each writer produces a piece—be it fiction or nonfiction. If desired, everyone shares their product with the class. class. The fun begins when every story is traded with another writer.

The recipient of a piece can be considered the “baker.” Their job is to read what they receive and locate that aforementioned center of the story: one paragraph (and only one paragraph) which they find to be the most engaging, thought-provoking, exciting or innovative. All the “editors” do is select that paragraph and hand it back to the writer.

 

This chosen clipping of the story then becomes the “mother yeast” on which the original writer bases a new composition. There are no rules for this second piece, except that the selected passage must form the basis for the piece’s theme and plot. (in other words, it has to be the pith of the story.)

 

The writer, once finished with this second composition, has conquered their initial dilemma: their story is now centered and focused on the very best paragraph they could have picked.

 

There is no limit on the Sourdough Writing process. The writer could give this new piece to another editor, have them pick out the best paragraph from it and generate a third story; or a fourth story; or a tenth story, if they’re really enjoying themselves. The whole point is to build a new story using the best part of an older one.

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