Saturday, September 17, 2011

The "Get into it" approach to writing

First of all, it is necessary to emphasize that there is no "method" or "technique" of writing that magically cures or eliminates the need for
·         a clear understanding of the grammar of "English,
·         a sufficient grasp of English idioms and vocabulary.
·         a command of the correct spelling
The purpose of this section is to make it easier for you to get down to writing when you have to.
There will be times that you will have to write something. Maybe when you apply for a job you will be asked to write a little about yourself. You also have to write when you have a job. Many managers ask for the applicant for a promotion to write about what they would do to improve the department where they will work. In all of these situations, the difficult thing is to organize your thoughts. Don't worry about the grammar and the English. You can polish that after you get your thoughts together.
Do you have this problem when you sit down to write...?
Your mind feels empty and you have nothing to say?
Many writers, even native speakers of English, experience this some time. You need a plan or a strategy to get started. Your problem is probably a little bigger because you probably are afraid of your English.
The following is the traditional way to start writing.
·         Put down a main idea.
·         Write an outline.
·         Write a rough draft.
·         Edit and improve the draft.
but what if you are still stuck!
There is another way that is less formal...
The "Jump into It!" System
1. Get the ideas moving.
Brainstorm (like a storm of ideas swirling around in your mind, like the leaves blowing in the wind of a storm. You have to grab them as they fly by and write them down.)
Remember do not have any notes or written ideas about the different aspects of your topic with you when you do the brainstorming.
A quick note before you begin brainstorming. Ask yourself questions about your topic. Most responses follow one of three models:
·         More than one reason
·         Before and after
·         counter-argument
The many reasons model offers a number of reasons (sometimes known as "arguments") why the proposal that you have chosen is better than the other. For example, you might think of giving two reasons why giving financial help directly to low-income families for child care is a good. way to reduce poverty.
1st The parents care more likely to work full time, and
2nd Parents are more likely to go back to school and be able to get better jobs.
In your essay, each of these two reasons could have its own paragraph, and each paragraph, supporting information, as examples, short stories (real or imagined), the facts and personal observations, for this support.
In the before and after the model, we first describe the problems that exist today, and then give several reasons for the proposal that you have chosen and reason through the supporting information.
In the debate model, give an argument and reasons why the proposal that you have chosen is the best option, including background information and give reasons why the other proposal is not a good option.
Think that you are speaking with your audience, as if you are being interviewed by someone - or several people. Tackle the subject from different angles. Which questions lead to another question?
You may or may not have chosen one of these models early on in the brainstorming step. This is OK. You do not want to harden into something that you will fall in love with. This should be very fluid at this stage.
See if you can find a new analogy to open up a new set of ideas. Create your analogy with the word "like". For example, if you write about political corruption, think that corruption in politics is like pigs fighting for garbage in the yard.
I like to tell my students that you this step should be written on the back of a dirty crumpled envelope. Why? Must you use a dirty y crumpled envelope? Not really. I want to stress that this is a first step. It will change as you go. You do not have to be clean and tidy too early as this may stop the ideas from flowing.
Collect as many good ideas and bad ideas, examples, sentences, false starts, etc. Write down everything in mind, including material that you are sure you will throw out.
Gather as many good and bad ideas, suggestions, examples, sentences, false starts, etc. as you can. Jot down everything that comes to mind, including material you are sure you will throw out.
This step is just to get ideas. You will be surprised to find out how many ideas you have on the subject.
·         Put down anything without judging whether it is a good idea or a bad idea.
·         Put down the things that you are sure of and put down the things that you just have a vague idea of.
·         Write them all over the piece of paper. Do NOT try to make an outline at this step. Do not try to write complete thoughts. Just slap down the ideas anywhere on the paper as soon as they come to your mind.
·         Write very short ideas. Do not write long sentences.
·         When the ideas stop coming, take a rest.
2. Diagram your major points somehow.
When you think you have most of your ideas down, although in rough form, go one step further. Try to think of the relation among the ideas. Does one cause another? Are your points in order of importance or time? Does more than one idea make up a class or group?
Show these relations by drawing rough circles or "bubbles", around one or another idea and show their relations by arrows connecting the individual ideas or groups of ideas...
Do it over again. This should be quick and easy because you are not writing a lot about each idea. You are just putting down a few words to identify the idea. If you put too much detail into your notes at this time, you will lose the freedom of finding and putting down your ideas. The danger is that of forcing yourself down one or another path too easily. Stay loose! Do not paralyze your thought process.
Little by little, you can firm up your ideas. You can't stay loose forever; at some point, you have to finish the organizing of your ideas and start writing!
Next step is to write a preliminary draft. This is NOT your first draft (see below). For the preliminary draft you will now change your final bubble chart to a written draft. You don't need to have everything ready at this point but you have to begin to put the ideas into more complete thoughts than just the content of the bubbles. You still should be brief.
However, your work is starting to look like a written report. At this point, you still can save time and work by putting in instructions to yourself such as, "Here put in the list of family relations", or "at end of this section, get actual percentages of ice cream sold by month".
Now you can see what material you really have. When you were at the bubble stage you were only indicating a rough idea of your content. Now you will see what further information you need to complete the presentation of your ideas.
3. Write a first draft.
Once you have all the information you need, write your report. Use complete sentences and write as clearly as you can. Use the proper connecting phrases to show the relations that you showed with bubbles. Then, if possible, put it away for a while. Later, read it aloud or to yourself as if you were someone else. Watch especially for the need to clarify or add more information.
You may find yourself jumping back and forth among these various strategies. This method, the "Jump into It" system is the best way to overcome writer's block and to start getting your ideas on paper. It allows you to become more confident and enthused with you project as you progressively see that you have something to say, that you know about the issues you want to write about, and that you are started and into the job.
The following information may help you clarify your thoughts at in the second or third bubble stages or in the preliminary draft stage. These are not "steps" or necessary parts of the writing process. They are some additional things that some people have found useful. You can pick and choose whatever you think will be useful for you.
Other valuable information
You probably know a lot about your subject but you have it mixed together in your mind. You can get your thoughts in order before you write. There are many sides to an issue. This will also be true for the subject you will be writing on.
It is like the old story of the blind men who are led to an elephant and told to describe it.
The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a tree; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like fire hose; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
The morale of this story which comes down to us from Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sufi traditions is that there are different aspects of the truth.
Some of the following questions might help you focus on the different facets of your issue. You can write brief notes on each thought you have. But it is important to do this step at least one day before continuing with the other steps. You do not want to have these preliminary ideas have too much influence in the content of your writing. Do not look at these notes when you start the next steps in this process. Their only purpose is to have you prepare your own thoughts for the later steps.
The main tasks you have to fulfill to cover all aspects of an issue (like the tail, trunk, ears, leg, tusk etc. of the elephant) are the following:
·         Define
·         Describe
·         Lay bare the Process
·         Present the Function
·         Tell the History
·         Show the Cause and Effect
·         Examine the Consequences
·         Classify the relevant data
·         Compare different aspects
·         Interpret the data
·         Give your Opinion
·         Recount relevant Memories
·         Judge and evaluate
·         Persuade the reader follow your views
Here are some examples of these aspects of the subject Food Stamps. If you are writing about Food Stamps you would have to know:
What does the term "Food Stamps" mean? (Definition)
What are the various features of Food Stamps? (Description)
How does a person get Food Stamps? (Process)
What is the essential function of Food Stamps? (Function)
How did Food Stamps come to be used? (History)
What are the consequences of using Food Stamps? (Cause and Effect)
What are the types of Food Stamps? (Classification)
How are Food Stamps like or unlike other programs? (Comparison)
Why do people use Food Stamps? (Interpretation)
What is my personal opinion about Food Stamps (Opinion)
What is my memory of when I received Food Stamps? (Memory)
What is the value of the Food Stamps program? (Judgment)
What are the essential major points or features of Food Stamps? (Summary)
What case can be made for or against Food Stamps? (Persuasion)
You may find that you have more success getting started on writing in one way. If it works for you stick with it, but always be ready to develop it even more. If you still have trouble writing try a different strategy. Do anything that keeps you from staring at a bland piece of paper or a blank computer screen. You may find yourself trying several strategies at once. If so, then you are probably doing something right. That's OK.
Frank Gerace


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