The link below is to an article that considers poor writing, including that found in classics.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at NaNoWriMo.
Why do we tell stories, and how are they crafted? In this series, we unpick the work of the writer on both page and screen.
To limited levels of success, debut novelist Shaun Prescott explores alternatives to this tradition in The Town.
Women and nature to conquer
Voss, an anti-hero, virtually penetrates his immaculate lover, Laura, through telepathy; just as his journey into the “dead heart” of the country is both invasive and seemingly invisible.
Winton’s Pike looks back on a life defined by his own climactic physical drives towards the ocean and women. Despite rarely making sexual references, even Gerald Murnane’s narratives often employ traditional fantasies of women who, similar to his grassy horizons, are distant and mirage-like.
Though not without self-awareness, these stories repeat gendered male quests in which women and nature are analogous. They also reflect colonial visions of unpeopled landscapes for the taking.
Inspiring a new response
Written in the era of the Stella Count – a survey of newspapers, journals and magazines to gauge gender bias in Australian book reviews – Prescott’s The Town joins recent debuts by his peers, Jack Cox’s Dodge Rose (2016) and Tom Lee’s Coach Fitz (2018), in attempting to respond to a moment of intensified feminist and anti-colonial activism.
These novels follow the great renaissance of First Nations fiction led by Alexis Wright, Kim Scott and Melissa Lucashenko. They appear alongside culturally and sexually diverse settler stories by male authors like Omar Musa and Peter Polites. As a corollary to social change, the future of the white, heterosexual male character in Australian writing will undergo revision.
Murnane’s influence on The Town manifests in Prescott’s minute attention to Australian regionalism. It’s also there in Prescott’s reduction of that locality to abstractions, his narrator speculating:
If there’s a town in the countryside where I belong, it might already be hidden by some impenetrable shimmer.
Ireland’s novels, including A Woman of the Future (1979) and City of Women (1981), probe the edges of realism and project into dystopian or surreal futures, just as Prescott does in The Town. Like Ireland, Prescott creates a magical realist world of parochial plausibility.
Prescott’s unnamed narrator is attempting to write a book on disappearing Australian towns, when the one he has chosen to research begins to dissolve into blank gaps and holes. This happens both metaphorically, as plazas and supermarkets take over town precincts, and literally as a source of mild terror. It’s all relayed with a bemused, laconic tone of narration:
The shops in the main streets were all closing. Dust set in thickly, brochures and mail littered stoops, and signs lost their colour beneath the gloom of rusted awnings. These losses did not register with the townspeople: they wandered the air-conditioned plazas, entering and exiting via escalators from dark undercover car parks.
Not driven by desire
Prescott ups the ante when it comes to plot. His narrator is searching for purpose. He has no outwardly directed sexual drive and where attraction looks like it could become a motivation, it proves a red herring.
The narrator strikes up a rapport with his housemate’s girlfriend, Ciara, who becomes an ally. While she leaves her boyfriend and joins him on the road, the journey is neither romantic nor sexually tense. They are useful to one another. Her help makes the narrator feel “unqualified to speak”.
By reconstructing character conventions, Prescott flouts a heterosexual questing plot. Instead of sex, his narrator seeks food and drink, an austerely documented yet solo pastime.
Touching on the right to speak at the heart of anti-patriarchal and anti-colonial representations, the narrator’s cultural voice – his manuscript – peters out. A remnant sense of conservative responsibility compels him salvage what he can of the town’s disappearing culture. Ultimately, he comes to reject the goal as foolish and vain.
Alone in a crowd
The narrator ends up in Sydney, living in a car. Anonymity, incoherence and lost community define his experience of the city. Alone in the crowd, he observes an Anzac parade, a fleeting celebration of “unanimous sadness”. He concludes that collective cultural identity is a temporary truth. The man in the landscape, once silently independent, is now confused, homeless and deferential.
This is where the frame of the novel buckles. Prescott’s narrator must speak – a lot, and to us – so he remains our interpreter of the world. While he relinquishes anthropological detachment, he also encourages himself to let go of the town as a subject to be recorded.
The novel’s protagonist exceeds its fictive device. This leaves Prescott in a tricky spot; The Town is, after all, the promised manuscript about disappearing towns. Prescott doesn’t scramble his protagonist’s world or morality as Ireland does, but ends the narration of his own cultural theory.
Structurally, The Town outstays its plot, becoming circular and monotonous. The narrative veil over Prescott’s own voice can feel like an unnecessary smokescreen when his ideas might, after all, have reached greater depths in the form of an essay.
To speak or not to speak; Prescott seems undecided. We watch as a white Australian male writes himself a marginal relationship to the continent.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at 50 of the best writing websites of 2019.
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Ask a child why they write and you might receive a common response: the teacher told me to. Kids often lack confidence as writers and find it emotionally draining. The problem might be the classroom and its detachment from what writers do in the real world.
In some classrooms, students learn writing techniques and then apply them to a writing assignment. In others, students are given freedom over their writing with little teacher intervention.
Both approaches work to develop the writing craft, for similar reasons they work for authors. Authors learn discrete techniques from mentors to improve their skills and also write freely to experiment with style.
Teachers have a lot of influence over their classroom writing environment. But, while most identify as proficient readers, not many know what it’s like to be a writer.
Studies show teachers who identify as writers have a positive impact on their students’ writing. This is because they empathise with the experiences of writers at different stages of the writing process.
I conducted a study to help teachers understand what the creative writing experience is like for the students they teach. I interviewed eight children in Year 6 (10-11 years old) throughout a creative writing unit in class to find out.
When children write freely, they often feel as though they’re stepping into a different world. All kids I spoke to talked about this experience, with one student summarising it this way:
I feel like I’m in that place, another world, another zone. So I go into that place where I’m writing. I take my characters there, this large meadow or something. When I come back I’m like, where’s the meadow gone?
Most feel as though writing is a momentary “escape from your everyday thinking”. One student felt they don’t need to think very hard, because “my head is creating that and not me”.
This other-world experience is like watching a movie in vivid detail. Ideas “come out of the blue” and “pop in and out like a slideshow”. One student said ideas “flow into words like water, through your brain and onto your page”.
Of course, you can sit down and have something you want to say. But then you must let its expression be born in you and on the paper. Don’t hold too tight; allow it to come out how it needs to rather than trying to control it.
My thoughts have been caged up
All students I spoke to talked about the frustration of being pulled out of this other world. One student recounted moments when he thought his writing ideas did not meet the task set by his teacher:
My mind is stuck inside, like, a perfect writing thing. It’s like all those sections where all my thoughts have been […] have to be caged up.
For these children, it is impossible to be a student and a writer at the same time. Being a student means maintaining awareness of task requirements, grade-level standards and rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Addressing school requirements made one student feel as though they “need to put away good ideas, and think of what would give me an A”. Another said doing this means they “can’t let my brain fly” and “can’t add my own words”.
This leads to “so many mental blanks because I’m afraid I’m gonna fail”.
Balancing the student and the writer
Most students I spoke to expressed being frustrated when free writing time gets interrupted.
A progressive view of teaching suggests teachers allow children to explore their writing world, encouraging them to make decisions at each stage of the writing process. This is called the process approach to writing and it helps kids develop their writer identities.
A traditional view favours providing students with fundamental writing skills aimed at developing a finished product, known as the product approach. This develops kids’ knowledge of texts.
But are writing identities and knowledge mutually exclusive?
The students I spoke with understood the need to learn explicit knowledge such as text structures, vocabulary and literary techniques to grow as writers. But they did not think of these things when writing freely.
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.
We can teach kids to think more like authors.
The solution may be in striking a balance between kids as students and kids as writers. Kids, like published authors, need space to write freely first without distraction from teachers and expectations. This helps them generate ideas, motivating them to find a purpose for their writing.
Then they become students. They write another draft, but this time they seek advice from teachers to use literary techniques, like authors and their mentors.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the Hemingway Editor, an app to assist writers.
The link below is to an article with more useful writing tools.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at various tools to assist in better writing.
When Toni Morrison died on Aug. 5, the world lost one of its most influential literary voices.
But Morrison wasn’t a literary wunderkind. “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison’s first novel, wasn’t published until she was 39. And her last, “God Help the Child,” appeared when she was 84. Morrison published four novels, four children’s books, many essays and other works of nonfiction after the age of 70.
Morrison isn’t unique in this regard. Numerous writers produce significant work well into their 70s, 80s and even their 90s. Herman Wouk, for example, was 97 when he published his final novel, “The Lawgiver.”
Such literary feats underscore an important point: Age doesn’t seem to diminish our capacity to speak, write and learn new vocabulary. Our eyesight may dim and our recall may falter, but, by comparison, our ability to produce and to comprehend language is well preserved into older adulthood.
In our forthcoming book, “Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging,” my co-author, Richard M. Roberts, and I highlight some of the latest research that has emerged on language and aging. For those who might fear the loss of their language abilities as they grow older, there’s plenty of good news to report.
Language mastery is a lifelong journey
Some aspects of our language abilities, such as our knowledge of word meanings, actually improve during middle and late adulthood.
One study, for example, found that older adults living in a retirement community near Chicago had an average vocabulary size of over 21,000 words. The researchers also studied a sample of college students and found that their average vocabularies included only about 16,000 words.
In another study, older adult speakers of Hebrew – with an average age of 75 – performed better than younger and middle-aged participants on discerning the meaning of words.
On the other hand, our language abilities sometimes function as a canary in the cognitive coal mine: They can be a sign of future mental impairment decades before such issues manifest themselves.
In 1996, epidemiologist David Snowdon and a team of researchers studied the writing samples of women who had become nuns. They found that the grammatical complexity of essays written by the nuns when they joined their religious order could predict which sisters would develop dementia several decades later. (Hundreds of nuns have donated their brains to science, and this allows for a conclusive diagnosis of dementia.)
While Toni Morrison’s writing remained searingly clear and focused as she aged, other authors have not been as fortunate. The prose in Iris Murdoch’s final novel, “Jackson’s Dilemma,” suggests some degree of cognitive impairment. Indeed, she died from dementia-related causes four years after its publication.
Don’t put down that book
Our ability to read and write can be preserved well into older adulthood. Making use of these abilities is important, because reading and writing seem to prevent cognitive decline.
Keeping a journal, for example, has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of developing various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Reading fiction, meanwhile, has been associated with a longer lifespan. A large-scale study conducted by the Yale University School of Public Health found that people who read books for at least 30 minutes a day lived, on average, nearly two years longer than nonreaders. This effect persisted even after controlling for factors like gender, education and health. The researchers suggest that the imaginative work of constructing a fictional universe in our heads helps grease our cognitive wheels.
Language is a constant companion during our life journey, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s interwoven into our health and our longevity. And researchers continue to make discoveries about the connections between language and aging. For example, a study published in July 2019 found that studying a foreign language in older adulthood improves overall cognitive functioning.
A thread seems to run through most of the findings: In order to age well, it helps to keep writing, reading and talking.
While few of us possess the gifts of a Toni Morrison, all of us stand to gain by continuing to flex our literary muscles.
Richard M. Roberts, a U.S. diplomat currently serving as the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Okinawa, Japan, is a contributing author of this article.
The link below is to an article that considers the semicolon.