Wednesday, February 9, 2011

September 1976: Writing Practice

Archive 20: Articles and ideas published in the 20th century on the teaching of English that are still useful in the 21st century.

Question: How can students practice their writing?

Answer—Quote: “We usually do speed writing at first—Ken Macrorie (Telling Writing) calls it “shotgun writing”—in which students write as fast as they can whatever comes to mind for ten or fifteen minutes, with little regard to the conventions of mechanics, style, or form. The purpose is simply to get something on  paper that may be suitable to work with further and to help break down the inhibitions that students have when faced with a sheet of blank paper.

“Students who protest that they can think of nothing to say can be started by having them write about what they think when they think they have nothing to say, or by writing a word or a phrase repeatedly, or by copying a list [like a telephone directory] until something comes to mind. It almost always does. I explain that writing is something like panning for gold: a lot of gravel has to wash through the pan to get a few glints of insight or nuggets of high-grade prose.

“Occasionally we read some of these exercises because students are almost always curious about what their classmates have written and because there is not so much at stake if a student doesn’t make good on a ten-minute exercise. For that reason speed writings are good to use to begin the practice of reading papers aloud….”

Comment: One piece of advice about writing from professional writers who write for magazines like The Writer is to write, not always to publish. I think it was Isaac Asimov who said that he has written thousands of stories s and nonfiction pieces of which only a few hundred have been actually published.

In this article the author makes the point that yes, writing takes talent, but it also takes practice—the kind of practice that  concert pianists do in order to perform at their best. RayS.

Title: “Practice Makes Better: Notes on a Writing Program.” Michael H Leonard. English Journal (September 1976), 59-63.

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