Writing Teachers’ Favorite Words of Advice

Willow Tree

Willow Tree

Writing Classes: All writing classes explore many of the same issues and strategies. What makes each class unique is that every professor has his or her own take on how to bring students into the writing process to help them own the experience. Writers need to realize they already have the faculty needed to be good (or better) writers, but writing instructors know certain strategies and practices that can help.

Writing Advice: Reflecting on this individual perspective that a writing teacher may bring, I wondered about the different approaches that those us who teach writing at MUM bring to our writing classes. All of use bring a Consciousness-BasedSM approach to the understanding of writing—that writing is both a self-reflexive and self-referral process (see archived postings about this approach), but what are some of the specifics that we individually emphasize in our classes? I decided to do a little poll of my colleagues to see what advice they offer.

Nynke Passi: Nynke Passi offers this sage advice: “My first point is always to observe, to see the world as if for the first time and really pay attention to what things look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like, then describe.” What I love about Nynke’s advice is that it applies as much to life as to writing. How wonderful it is to move through life open to and aware of what’s around us. I love walking through the world and soaking in the color, the sounds, the smells. We can take these experiences and express them directly through our writing. Our glimpse of a willow tree brings us color, form, and movement. If we move among the waving fronds, we feel texture and breathe the fragrance of the leaves and bark.

Terry Fairchild: Terry Fairchild brings his writing back to who we are as thinkers and communicators, in fact, who we are in the world. He offers this advice to writers: “To communicate precisely what you believe and feel, even to yourself, you must cultivate your language and writing abilities. Without these skills, everything you think, say, and write will only be a vague approximation. Developing the way you use language is taking responsibility for what comes out of your mouth, onto your paper, and even what circulates through your brain. It is saying, I want to express myself clearly, powerfully, and with grace.” This advice draws us truly and surely into a love of language that stays with us. We cannot help but be better writers when we are inspired by the way words shape meaning in a sentence. We can then transfer that command of language to our own expression and attain that clarity, power, and grace in our writing as Terry describes.

Nietzche: Terry later adds a particularly apt quote from Nietzche: “Those who know they are profound strive for clarity: those who would like to seem profound . . . strive for obscurity.” We should all post this quote above our desks (well, on our desktops) and read it on occasion.

Jim Fairchild: I’ll end with a thought from Jim Fairchild: “Be as brief as possible.”

Enough said!



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Storytelling Aids Any Kind of Writing



Art of Storytelling: Listening to some great stories today during a storytelling performance session reminded me that the art of storytelling can be an excellent exercise for all writers. To tell a story artfully, capturing the listener’s attention, a storyteller must know all the component parts of the narrative but then be able to stand apart and enliven the narrative with gestures, voice, and timing. It is not enough just to tell the story, the storyteller must be able to create the significance of the story in a manner that is dramatic enough to hold the listener’s attention.

Receptivity in the Reader: Writers all follow this same path. They have to establish the components of their essay or article, but they also must consider the most effective way to get their readers to be open to their points. They must shape the significance of their thoughts so their readers cannot miss it, and at the same time, they must create a tone in their writing that encourages receptivity in theirs readers.

Conversational Approach: As brainstorming or even as an editing technique, telling someone what he or she is trying to say can help a write shape the expression. An additional step could be then to see if the reader finds the intended meaning in the writer’s words. We are always trying to find ways to make our writing better, a conversational (storytelling) approach could be a useful aid. After all, who doesn’t love a good story. Of course, the familiar adage “Show, don’t tell” has to be kept in mind. Creating that sense of immediate experience is still primary in any kind of writing. What I’m suggesting here with the conversational technique is more for the brainstorming or editing phase.


Statue of Anonymous, Vajdahunyad Castle, Budapest ID 23186082 © Lefteris Papaulakis | Dreamstime.com