Posts Tagged ‘motivation

25
Jul
13

Shame and the writer: Part four of Five Years, Five Lessons in five words

The great poets look into your own heart and the dark corners of your soul, shine a light on it, and name your feeling before you ever knew you felt it. For me, that’s Bruce Springsteen. In one of his most insightful moments, he sings, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? That’s a question from childhood, the last time when dreams feel like facts, but it’s that second part, the contemplation of what is worse than a lie, that rings prophetic. What is worse than a lie? Shame. The pain we feel when we hold up ourselves up to the image of who we thought we had to be and see every imperfection as a mark against us.4027703977_0e436effc2_b

In five years, I’ve seen many young writers experiencing shame at far above a healthy dose. I see it in their posture, hear it in their voice, and sense it in their defenses. It presents first as an apparently lack of confidence, and at the start of my teaching career, I thought that is what it was. Now, I see the need to call this shame what it is because nothing is more toxic to learning, creativity, and especially writing, where time spent alone in thought allows for shame to take root and spread until it is out of control. Continue reading ‘Shame and the writer: Part four of Five Years, Five Lessons in five words’

09
Jun
12

Encouraging collaboration & effective brainstorming

Photo credit: Flickr user KatieTT

Having written about brainstorming and group work in three of the more recent posts here, you can imagine I was alarmed to see the blurb, “Brainstorming Doesn’t Really Work,” promoting Jonah Lehrer’s article Group Think: The Brainstorming Myth. After reading the article, I see there’s a lot to learn in thinking through setting up effective collaborations.

The blurb in question focuses on a very specific type of brainstorming that has been proven empirically to provide less creative ideas. When groups are told to throw out ideas without criticism, they tend to come up with a lot of ideas, but those ideas are more predictable, less varied, and ultimately less successful than groups that are free to criticize each other’s ideas. The criticism leads to a reconsideration of ideas, which ultimately makes them better.

Lehrer’s asssertion that this type brainstorming doesn’t work does not mean that groups cannot be creative. In fact, he introduces several studies that show that they can be more creative than individuals under the right conditions. The most compelling parts of the article are those that consider what those right conditions look like. Continue reading ‘Encouraging collaboration & effective brainstorming’

07
May
12

Welcome to new readers and my greatest hits list

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had my blog mentioned on the internet king of all miscellanea, BoingBoing, last week when they published an email I wrote to one of the co-founders. That single mention has brought more readers on the blog, which is always a good thing in my book.

If you’re new or just finding this for the first time, here’s a greatest hits list of some of the most popular posts and among the posts that I am most proud of:

Since one of my jobs is helping students transition from the widely taught five-paragraph essay into a more fluid format, I also constructed a series of posts called “The Five-paragraph Fix.” Here are some of the better posts in that series:

I should also take this time to mention that I’m eager to talk to readers and to develop a community here where others have a voice. If you have specific topics you’d like to seen written about or you have topics that you want to write about, please comment or drop me a line.

13
Mar
12

The courage to screw it up: Made by Hand book review

I can’t say that I’ve ever envisioned myself raising chickens, keeping bees, or building my own guitars, but then neither had Mark Frauenfelder. Then he did it, and wrote a book about it. Frauenfelder is the author of Made by Hand: My Ad

Image source: boingboing.net

ventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself, which floats somewhere between the genres of memoir and how-to. Frauenfelder, one of the co-founders of the blog Boing Boing, recounts how he came to DIY world as part of his job as the editor-in-chief of Make magazine. The book divides into nine chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter recounts a new project Frauenfelder takes on from the beginning stages up through the finished product (or nearly finished project anyways; one of the book’s lessons is that there is always some tinkering and learning that can be done.)

Those lessons partly account for why Made by Hand shows up here on a blog about writing. Writing itself is as much of a DIY process as there is out there. Yes, we are made to believe that we “learn” to write in school, but really we just learn the structures of writing and some specific strategies for putting them into practice. The real work of learning to write is done by the individual him/herself, and it takes years to really develop the craft. Even then, the learning process never stops. With that in mind, there is plenty that Frauenfelder has to offer that can be used by writers, beginning and experts.  Continue reading ‘The courage to screw it up: Made by Hand book review’

27
Jan
12

Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process

January is a popular time for resolving to change their lives. Many of those resolutions will fail. That’s partly because most people make New Year’s resolutions in the same way. They promise themselves to do something they’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t; they make their resolution without treating whatever caused them to procrastinate previously; they forget their resolution before the calendar turns to February.

A lot of writers go through this same cycle. Blind optimism leads to setting unreasonable goals, which leads to disappointment and stress, which leads to procrastination, feelings of failure, disappointment, and a feeling that you should really get around to writing that paper, novel, letter, etc. Before long the to do list is pitched and the project gets tabled only to be taken up again whenever you have the most optimism to face it; say, maybe, next December 31.

The way out of that cycle starts at discovering why you’ve not been writing. Continue reading ‘Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process’

02
Jun
11

Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”

I’ve been paying a lot of attention recently to “The Dan Plan“. Anyone interested in getting better at anything should too.

Here’s how Dan describes his plan: “Through 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice,’ Dan, who currently has minimal golf experience, plans on becoming a professional golfer.” Becoming a professional golfer after getting to your 30′s without having taken up the game is ridiculously ambitious. However, deliberately practicing for 10,000 hours is just as ambitious, and Dan seems to be taking that in stride. Because of that, it’s worth thinking more deeply about the design of The Dan Plan. Continue reading ‘Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”’

31
Jan
11

The value of useless chunks of time

In the film, Office Space, a frustrated worker finds a way to manipulate a computer glitch in an accounting program that simply discards fractions of a cent with each transaction. A fraction of a cent is something that no one will miss, but when these workers siphon off the fractions of a cent from thousands of transactions, they soon find themselves with more money than they imagined.

Writers can take the same approach to time that ordinarily gets discarded. Continue reading ‘The value of useless chunks of time’

26
Jan
11

The Girl Who Was Bad At Semicolons

Lisbeth walked into my office claiming she wanted to get better at grammar. “We can help with that,” I said and ushered her over to a conference table. “What part of grammar would you like to work on first?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, casting her gaze downwards as if she might find the answer scrawled into the black surface of the table. I remained silent, knowing that she’d get more out of this if she set the agenda. When she finally figured out I wasn’t going to fill the silence, she began speaking “Well…I’m really bad at semicolons. Could we work on those?”

Her answer surprised me. I answered, “Certainly we can go over that.” But I was too curious to stop there. “But first, let me ask you a question. What makes you say you’re ‘bad at semicolons’?”

“I don’t know. I am just really bad at them. I’ve never got them.”

Her answer fascinated me for two reasons. First, understanding semicolons means understanding two rules, neither of which is very complicated. Second, Lisbeth was no stranger to using the Writing Studio. She’d been in on a handful of occasions. Yet, she never asked for anyone to teach her the rules for semicolons, nor did she bother to notice the spot on our wall where we display a brilliant comic, which provides the clearest and most creative explanations of semicolons I’ve ever read.

Lisbeth is a bright student. On top of that, she’s got enough courage to walk in and ask for help on a topic that’s challenged her sense of own intelligence. That’s admirable. However, it’s precisely these traits that make her situation so puzzling. That leads me to think that the most important question in education is this:

Why do bright, competent students make the same simple mistakes over and over again even when a teacher points out these mistakes and provides plenty of resources to help? Continue reading ‘The Girl Who Was Bad At Semicolons’

16
Dec
10

Motivating students – when “giving a sh*t” meets the “oh sh*t” moment

Think about the students you have the most difficult time dealing with. Plagiarists. The back row slouchers. The grade grubbers who complain their A- is not an A. In-class texters. The sleepers who are dead to the world. Know-it-alls who insult other students with in-class comments and then don’t listen to the rest of the class. The smart kid who won’t say a peep in class but then complains about their class participation. The student who wants you to tell you exactly how you want the paper. The student who writes that you are impossible to please on the end-of-class evaluations. We all have them. Some educators take the approach of taking pleasure in these students’ failures, saying that these students deserve to fail. And maybe they do. But sometimes they need motivation. Or more importantly, a way to tap into their own motivation and keep it charged. Continue reading ‘Motivating students – when “giving a sh*t” meets the “oh sh*t” moment’




Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.


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