Category Archives: writing

The Truth About the World of Books

You can live a thousand lifetimes if you are willing to read a thousand books.

Yes, I know that means living life vicariously through the words and descriptions of other people.

But it allows you the magic of being able to see things through the eyes of other people.

The universe is expanded in your mind with every new idea you learn from a book.

One wonders if books actually come from a naked fairy girl working by candlelight with a tiny quill pen. Of course, that one wondering such a thing is a totally crazy one.

But authors do write themselves naked. You get to see not only what is under their clothing, but what’s under their skin. You can see what’s inside their head. That’s way more than merely naked. That’s exposed to the very core of the writer’s being, more deeply than even x-rays can look.

Of course, this crazy idea is metaphorical. I don”t literally write while I am naked. At least, not all of the time.

Reading is also an immersive experience. You need to totally open yourself up to what’s in the text, playing the movie of what you read in the theater of your imagination… even if you are reading about the physics of black holes in a book by Stephen Hawking.

And reading a book connects you not only to the author, but to others who have also read the book. Both those who read and loved it, and those who read and detested it.

Of course, everything you read in a book is a lie… even if the book is not a work of fiction… even if it is a book about the physics of the black hole written by Stephen Hawking. The scientific method is how you verify truth. But it is an open-ended process. Every truth is endlessly re-verified by questions about the anomalies that are always there. And the only way to resolve the anomalies is to re-frame the truth with new facts, observations, testimonies, and further evidence built onto what is already known. In other words, truth is always relative.

But right now, the books in this world are no longer published in the same way they were from sometime shortly after the invention of the printing press to the invention of the internet and the rise of self-publishing.

Now, the books we have are written by infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters. The gate-keepers are no longer sorting out the good and great from everything else. Thus the rise of best-sellers about vampire love and sex with bondage in the style of the Marquis de Sade. But be aware too that this revelation of the publishing world comes from the typewriter of one of the monkeys. Although I do claim to be more of a rabbit-man.

And so, now you know… some of the secrets of the world of books. At least the ones known to this goofy old Book-Wizard who is actually a Little Fool.

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326 and Counting

Twice before I have gone through a year posting something on this blog every single day of the year. And not just by scheduling the publication wisely to cover every day, but by writing something and publishing something every single day. At this point, I have now written something and posted it for 326 days in a row, and being past the holidays and funeral for my mother, I am probably going to make 365 again for the third time.

This is Ernest Hemingway for those of you who have only heard his name before now.

This is a man who also wrote something every single day. He was a former journalist who worked as an ambulance driver during World War I, for the Italian Army, where he was wounded and won a medal for his service to the Italian government.

He developed a writing style with no author commentary, sparse but crucial details, and a reliance on the reader’s intelligence to figure out the themes of his writing.

His best work is the Novel, The Sun Also Rises.

I hold that opinion because I have not only read it, but I have also read and compared it to For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and several of his short stories. His writing is fiction, but highly autobiographical which makes his stories so realistic and accessible to all readers.

This is Charles Dickens, whom you have probably seen somewhere before when you really weren’t paying close attention.

This is also a man who wrote every single day. He started out writing for newspapers, but starting with his first major success as a fiction storyteller, The Pickwick Papers, he began writing mostly comic stories for monthly magazines.

He is noted for long paragraphs of vivid and plentiful details, and especially relatable and memorable characters.

His best work is the novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

I make that judgement after reading it three times, and also reading Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and The Old Curiosity Shop. There are also autobiographical features in the Boz’s works but he was a wonderfully astute people-watcher, and that dominates his narratives far more than his own personal story does.

I don’t have to tell you that this is Mark Twain… because it isn’t. It is Samuel Clemens
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This writer is known particularly for his sense of humor. It should be mentioned, however, that his fiction is not only filled with humor, but was very keenly realistic. His use of author commentary probably makes him the opposite of Hemingway, but he still carries that journalistic quality of writing it exactly how he sees it… full of irony and irrationally-arrived-at truth.

I don’t know for a fact that he wrote every single day. But he probably did. He always said, “The writing of the literary greats is like fine wine, while my books are like water. WIne is good for those that can afford it, but everybody drinks water.” You can’t have writing that is as plentiful as water without writing fairly often.

His best book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I am not the only one who thinks so. Hemingway wrote, “All American Literature began with one book, Huckleberry Finn.”

I have also read, Tom Sawyer, Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Roughing It, and The Autobiography of Mark Twain.

So, what’s the point of all this literary foo-foo? Hemingway would expect you to figure that out for yourself. But I’m addicted to topic sentences, even if I wait til the end to reveal it. If you want to be a writer, you need to read a lot of really good writing. And even more important, you need to write every day.

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What 2020 Has Done To Me

The year began with me recovering from a bout of flu caught while substituting at Bush Middle School. I had thought it would be the end of me. But, no. I managed to survive. It left me feeling that no mere virus could get the better of me.

Oh, foolish and overly simple me! I had no idea what was coming. I had decided to write a novel set in a residential nudist park in South Texas that I knew nudists from but had never actually visited.

I discovered that my financial situation was headed for disaster if I didn’t earn enough money from substitute teaching. I was trying to pay off my Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and I was committed to paying $2000 dollars worth of our ever-increasing property tax. I wouldn’t be able to earn the money in time to avoid late fees, which meant I needed to earn even more extra money.

I dug down deep and found myself able to substitute teach to the full extent my doctor and the Texas Teacher Retirement System would allow. I was really hitting my stride and enjoying teaching again. I met a couple of kids in classes I subbed for that connected so well, I used them as inspiration for a few things in the novel I was writing, A Field Guide to Fauns. The novel practically wrote itself.

I published it. But it was about naked people. So a majority of people who might be fooled into reading one of my books will never read this one.

I was looking forward, after teaching so much that I could pay off the tax only one month late, to making more money I might actually be able to put in savings for a few minutes. But March ended all hope of that.

The long Covid imprisonment began with one novel published and one more, my AeroQuest rewrite, being more than halfway along.

I found myself with way more time to write and do other stuff than I had anticipated. But, of course, little money to do anything but survive with.

I definitely understood Kurt Vonnegut better in very short order.

I had a chance to reread a LOT of my own writing.

I gave some of my own books a careful reread and proofreading, even updating the content on Amazon. I began collecting my best posts from my daily blog. I put it in book form, becoming not one, but two collections of autobiographical essays.

My quest to put all my teacher recollections, goofy humor and cartoons, and philosophical wacky-waxings into some kind of order, allowed me to get a real sense of the overview of my life as both a teacher and a writer.

But, not only did my number two son get a job with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department as a jailor, but he got Covid in July as well from his job.

Not only did my number one son find a serious relationship with an excellent young lady, but he was forced to stay away from us and limit contact to the point he almost became a stranger.

And not only did my father’s Parkinson’s Disease get worse, it killed him in midsummer during a surge in the pandemic that meant only my mother and two sisters could actually be at the funeral.

But, in spite of setbacks, I managed to stay Covid-free and read and write way more than is probably good for any human man.

I published or re-published six books during 2020. It is an accomplishment that reflects a fear of imminent death and loss of any further chance to make my writing real, not just foolish fantasies and dreams trapped in my stupid head.

So, what has 2020 done to me?

It has made me fearful of the future. It took away enough of my health that I will never be able to stand in front of a classroom ever again. And it took my father away.

But it has also galvanized me with the heat of the struggle to survive. It has made me more careful, and more appreciative of what life is, and especially more determined to have more of it.

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Finding My Voice

As Big MacIntosh welcomes more little ponies into my insanely large doll collection, I have been reading my published novel Snow Babies.  The novel is written in third person viewpoint with a single focus character for each scene.  But because the story is about a whole community surviving a blizzard with multiple story lines criss-crossing and converging only to diverge and dance away from each other again, the focus character varies from scene to scene.

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Big MacIntosh finds himself to be the leader of a new group of My Little Ponies.

In Canto Two, Valerie Clarke, the central main character of the story, is the focus character.  Any and all thoughts suggested by the narrative occur only in Valerie’s pretty little head.  Canto Three is focused through the mind of Trailways bus driver Ed Grosland.  Canto Four focuses on Sheriff’s Deputy Cliff Baily.  And so, on it goes through a multitude of different heads, some heroic, some wise, some idiotic, and some mildly insane.  Because it is a comedy about orphans freezing to death, some of the focus characters are even thinking at the reader through frozen brains.

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The ponies decide to visit Minnie Mouse’s recycled Barbie Dreamhouse where Olaf the Snowman is the acting butler.

That kind of fractured character focus threatens to turn me schizophrenic.  I enjoy thinking like varied characters and changing it up, but the more I write, the more the characters become like me, and the more I become them.  How exactly do you manage a humorous narrative voice when you are constantly becoming someone else and morphing the way you talk to fit different people?  Especially when some of your characters are stupid people with limited vocabularies and limited understanding?

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The ponies are invited to live upstairs with the evil rabbit, Pokemon, and Minions.

I did an entire novel, Superchicken, in third person viewpoint with one focus character, Edward-Andrew Campbell, the Superchicken himself.  That is considerably less schizophrenic than the other book.  But it is still telling a story in my voice with my penchant for big words, metaphors, and exaggerations.

The novel I am working on in rough draft manuscript form right now, The Baby Werewolf, is done entirely in first person point of view.  That is even more of an exercise of losing yourself inside the head of a character who is not you.  One of the first person narrators is a girl, and one is a werewolf.  So, I have really had to stretch my writing ability to make myself into someone else multiple times.

I assure you, I am working hard to find a proper voice with which to share my personal wit and wisdom with the world.  But if the men in white coats come to lock me away in a loony bin somewhere, it won’t be because I am playing a lot with My Little Ponies.

 

 

 

My best novel is free to own in ebook form for today and tomorrow. Buy it now with the link above. The offer is good until the end of the day on 12/14/2021.

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Writing Every Day

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Teachers of serious writing will often tell you… or more correctly, give you the Word of God, “You want to be a good writer?  You have to write every single day.”  And having been a teacher of writing at the high school and middle school level, I am committed to passing that on to you also as the inviolable Word of God.  You see, I have long been, well, not a serious writer exactly, more of a dedicated writer with warped notions of reality and a tendency towards goofiness.  You can see by the view of my WordPress insights page that I have steadily, in five years’ time, been noticed and looked at by increasing amounts of thoroughly duped WordPress viewers.

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10,373 visitors have viewed something on my blog 17,383 times in 2017.  And I know that most are looking at the pictures and moving on.  That’s how I get away with writing some of the stupid stuff I post on my blog.  But there’s a secret to that too.  I drew or painted a lot of the pictures I use on this blog myself.  You would think that sooner or later some expert psychologist would trace violence in the streets back to my pictures as the ultimate cause, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I am sure that is mostly because not even the psychologists can muck their way through my paragraphs of purple paisley prose.  You see, I most often use my writing on this blog to commit atrocities of humor and wit.  I only rarely dabble in things intended to be uplifting, spiritual, politically challenging, or sentimental.  I complain on my blog a lot.  It is also a place for expressing my inherent grumpiness and old-man dyspeptic irritations with life.  But viewers tend to take my humor seriously and only laugh at the stuff I am most embarrassed about.

I was supposed to be doing this blog as way to promote my book, Catch a Falling Star, for I-Universe Publishing.  They set it up for me.  But, as they don’t pay me anything for the work I put into it, and it doesn’t really impact sales anyway, I use it now as writing practice.  I have as a personal goal to write 500 words a day.  The blog counts.  So it means that some days, the 500 words I write in my blog are the only words I get written that day.  Though, now that I am retired, 500 words of blog writing plus 500 words of novel writing can get me well past writing 1000 words in a day.  It doesn’t take long at that rate to build up an awful lot of words.   I shudder to think what would happen if the word dam were to suddenly give way, releasing a word-flood of monumental proportions.   Half of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex would drown in Mickian words if that were to happen.

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So, do I think that you should write every day?  Do I think it makes you a better writer?  Do I actually follow my own advice?  Yes!  To all three.  And as I have passed the 500 word mark yet again, I can stop now.

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Cries of the Writing Addict

For the last five and a half years I have been averaging more than 500 words every day. A rough conservative estimate of that means 17,112,000 words. If words were cocaine, I’d be dead five times over by now.

But writing is not the same as cocaine. The addiction to it has very different effects. I divide my daily writing into at least two parts. The daily blog is itself, more often than not, 500-plus words. So, by itself it can satisfy my daily word-count. And I devote at least 500 words every day to my novel work in progress. So, that means I have produced well over 17 million words in reality. Probably closer to 34 million than to 17. That, of course, is far less than Stephen King wrote in the same period of time, but it is also far more than the average person writes.

And one thing that such an overdose of verbiage does to a writer, is to make him or her a better writer.

I have produced nine novels, between 35,000 and 50,000 words each, in the time since I retired from teaching and began writing and self-publishing in earnest. I have gotten only five-star reviews on the novels that have been read and reviewed. Granted, nobody who read and hated my books hated them passionately enough to leave a scathing review, so the 5-star average is just due to laziness on the part of the reading public. But it is marginally evidence that my storytelling is good.

Another effect I have experienced from my writing addiction is that it has made me increasingly metaphorically naked. My illustrations for this post reveal a little bit of that. It is not only that I like to write in the nude when I can, but that I have used my stories to grapple with everything that was once a deep, dark secret buried in the depths of me. Being sexually assaulted as a child was something that for many years I could never admit even to myself. Struggles with loneliness, depression, and self-hatred are also something I had kept buried until I needed them to tell stories with.

I finally worked up the courage to send a gift copy of Snow Babies to the girl I grew up with whose name I used for the main character, Valerie Clarke. Valerie loved the book and became an advocate for me with both the Belmond and Rowan libraries. I even admitted that the part about Valerie being the most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall, Iowa came from something the boys in our 5th and 6th grade classes at school all said about her. She told me she never knew we had said that back then. Ah, but that was probably an untruth too.

As addictions go, my addiction to fiction is probably a lot better thing to have than addictions to gambling, cocaine, wife-beating, or gummy bears. But it hasn’t made me any richer or healthier either. It has made me older, and possibly a little bit wiser.

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Olfactory Story Telling

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My dog Jade

While walking the dog yesterday, we struck up a conversation about writing and being a writer that proved once and for all that DOGS REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO WRITE!

She turned around on the end of her leash and looked at me with that woeful you-don’t-feed-me-enough look on her little well-fed face.  “You know, I was reading your blog today, and I think I know how to make you a well-known writer and best-selling author.”

“Oh, really?” I said.  “Since when do you know anything about being a writer or marketing fiction?”

“Well, you do remember that I wrote a couple of blog posts for you already.”

“True.  But I can’t afford to do that again.   You type with your tongue and it leaves the keyboard all sticky.  I haven’t gotten it truly clean and working properly again since that last time.  If you are asking to write another post, you can forget it.”

“Well, sorry about that.  But I do think I know how to make your writing more popular with a bigger audience.”.

“Oh?  How could you possibly know that?”

“Hey, talking dog here!  That has to count for something, doesn’t it?  Don’t you think people would be amazed to learn about things from a dog’s perspective?”

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“Nobody’s going to believe I have a talking dog.  That isn’t something within the realm of what is normal.  They are all going to think I am just a crazy old man.”

“Well, you are a crazy old man.  I can’t help that.  But what if you told stories from a dog’s perspective?  You know, things that only a dog could’ve come up with?”

“Oh, like what, for instance?”

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Why does the neighbor’s dog always smell like burritos?

“Well, you know that more than half of what a dog perceives about the world she gets through her sense of smell?”

“Okay…”

“Like that spot on the grass over there.  Boy dog.  Handsome border collie… ate three hotdogs about four days ago.  Ooh!  He smells perfect!”

“You’re talking about poop smells again, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes.  But I can also tell you about the pigeons that were in that live oak tree there yesterday.”

“Oh?  What color were they?”

“I don’t know… gray maybe?”

“Bird doo.  You are smelling old bird poop!  You want me to write about poop more?”

“Well, no… not exactly.  But if you could tell your stories through the sense of smell more…  that would be unique and different.  People would like that a lot because it’s never really been done before.”

“You do understand that I can’t use my laptop to write smells?  There are no words I could use that will automatically put smells into the reader’s nose.”

“Well, but if you could invent one…”

“According to you, it would be mostly poop smells anyway.  Who wants to sniff that?”

“It would make your blog more popular with dogs.”

“But dogs don’t read!”

“How do you know for sure?  You believed me when I said I read your blog today.”

“Well, you certainly got me there.  Now, don’t we have some important business to take care of?”

“Yes, but…  You see that squirrel over there?”

“Yes, so?”

“So one day soon, I’m gonna eat him!”

spudsmackenzieandbudlightandladies

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Spinning Wheels of Thought

Picture borrowed from; https://www.townsends.us/products/colonial-spinning-wheel-sp378-p-874

I start today with nothing in my head to write about. I guess I can say that with regularity most days of the writing week. Sundays in particular are filled with no useful ideas of any kind. But I have a certain talent for spinning. As Rumpelstiltskin had a talent for spinning straw into gold, I take the simple threads of ideas leaking out of my ears and spin them into yarns that become whole stories-full of something to say. And it is not something out of mere nothing. There is magic in spinning wheels. They take something ordinary and incomplete, and turn it into substantial threads useful for further weaving.

Of course the spinning wheel is just a metaphor here for the craft of writing. And it is a craft, requiring definable skills that go well beyond merely knowing some words and how to spell them.

My own original illustration.

The first skill is, of course, idea generation. You have to come up with the central notion to concoct the potion. In this case today, that is, of course, the metaphor of using the writing process as a spinning wheel for turning straw into gold. But once that is wound onto the spindle, you begin to spin yarn only if you follow the correct procedure. Structuring the essay or story is the next critical skill.

Since this is a didactic essay about the writing process I opened it with a strong lead that defined the purpose of the essay and explained the central metaphor. Then I proceeded to break down the basic skills for writing an essay with orderly explanations of them, laced with distracting images to keep you from dying of boredom while reading this, a very real danger that may actually have killed a large number of the students in my writing classes over the years (although they still appeared to be alive on the outside).

My mother’s spinning wheel, used to make threads for use in porcelain doll-making, and as a prop for displaying dolls.

As I proceed through the essay, I am stopping constantly to revise and edit, makeing sure to correct errors and grammar, as well as spending fifteen minutes searching for the picture of my mother’s spinning wheel used directly above. Notice, too, I deliberately left the spelling-error typo of “making” to emphasize the idea that revising and proof-reading are two different things that often occur at the same time, though they are very different skills.

And as I reach the conclusion, it may be obvious that my spinning wheel of thought today spun out some pure gold. Or, more likely, it may have spun out useless and boring drehk. Or boring average stuff. But I used the spinning wheel correctly regardless of your opinion of the sparkle of my gold.

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Just Write Something, Mickey

“Lately Mickey hasn’t been doing much of any writing on his work in progress. I, a professional Professor of knowing practically everything and knowing most of it wrongly, am here to give the hopeless goofy guy some much needed advice. Of course, I shall offer that advice incognatively… err, incontranatively… err… anonymously because Disney enjoys suing schoolteachers and other criminals who misuse their intellectual property.”

“But I can’t help myself when it comes to giving opinions on stuff that ain’t really my business but fascistinates… err, fusstinates… err… highly interests me. So, here goes.”

“Write about something Over the Rainbow. I mean your imagination is really garganteelian… err… gigantickingly… err… really pretty big. You can make up something being about made-up worlds, witches who fly around in soap bubbles and other such nonsensical things. Maybe talking scarecrows and heartless metal guys and really big kitty cats… make a story with something beautiful and imaginative, though maybe not as beautiful as that Judy Garland chick… she was really georgeous… err… magnifical… err… really hot-looking! But she is so old she is dead now. So, you can’t put her in the film version of what you write.”

“Or you could write something extra creepy. Something totally like the Addams Family. You’ve got a talent for writing stuff that seems extra morbeedious… err… mackahbreebrious… err… extra spooky. You can turn peoples’ stomachs inside out and make them feel all gooey in their courageousness because of weird evilness and dark happenstances… err… murderiferous scenarios… err scary stuff. It helps that you can be funny here and there when you scare us. You can be totally spooky-ooky in your stories and sometimes you make us sharpen wooden stakes and make necklaces of garlic. Do an Uncle Fester shtick. Of course, Jackie Coogan is so old he is dead now, so you can’t use him in your film version.”

“Or there is always the absolutely romantical… like a story about a three hour cruise where funny guys get shipwrecked on a desserted island with girls that wear bikinis where you don’t see the cutie’s belly button. And “desserted” is the right word because the dessert is actually coconut-cream pie. But you are good at writing about faskinating… err… interesstrial… err… attention-requiring young women and really dorky guys and how they can fit together like puzzle pieces that you don’t even have to use scissors to make them fit together. Romantical comedy is a thing you can do too. So, we don’t even need to talk about Dawn Wells who played Mary Ann. You couldn’t cast her in the movie version because you’re still sad about Covid having taken her away in 2020.”

“But anyway, you got no excuses now, Mickey! You know you can write It’s just getting anybody to read the danged thing you can’t do. So, write something!!!”

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How To Write A Mickian Essay

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I know the last thing you would ever consider doing is to take up writing essays like these.  What kind of a moronic bingo-boingo clown wants to take everything he or she knows, put it in a high-speed blender and turn it all into idea milkshakes?

But I was a writing teacher for many years.  And now, being retired and having no students to yell at when my blood pressure gets high, the urge to teach it again is overwhelming.

So, here goes…

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Once you have picked the silly, pointless, or semi-obnoxious idea you want to shape the essay around, you have to write a lead.  A lead is the attention-grabbing device or booby-trap for readers that will draw them into your essay.  In a Mickian essay, whose purpose is to entertain, or possibly bore you in a mildly amusing manner, or cause you enough brain damage to make you want to send me money (this last possibility never seems to work, but I thought I’d throw it in there just in case), the lead is usually a  “surpriser”, something so amazingly dumb or off-the-wall crazy that you just have to read, at least a little bit, to find out if this writer is really that insane or what.  The rest of the intro paragraph that is not part of the lead may be used to draw things together to suggest the essay is not simply a chaotic mass of silly words in random order.  It can point the reader down the jungle path that he or she can take to come out of the other end of the essay alive.

Once started on this insane quest to build an essay that will strangle the senses and mix up the mind of the reader, you have to carry out the plan in three or four body paragraphs.  This is where you have to use those bricks of brainiac bull-puckie that you have saved up to be the concrete details in the framework of the main rooms of the little idea-house you are constructing.  If you were to number or label these main rooms, this one you are reading now would, for example, be Room #2, or B, or “the second body paragraph”.  And as you read this paragraph, you should be thinking in the voice of your favorite English teacher of all time.  The three main rooms in this example idea house are beginning, middle, and end.  You could also call them introduction, body, and conclusion.  These are the rooms of your idea house that the reader will live in during his or her brief stay (assuming they don’t run out of the house screaming after seeing the clutter in the entryway).

Teacher

The last thing you have to do is the concluding paragraph.  (Of course, you have to realize that we are not actually there yet in this essay.  This is Room C in the smelly chickenhouse of this essay, the third body paragraph.)  The escape hatch on the essay that may potentially explode into fireworks of thoughts, daydreams, or plans for something better to do with your life than a read an essay written by an insane former middle school English teacher at any moment, is a necessary part of the whole process.  This is where you have to remind them of what the essay is basically about, and leave them with the thought that you want to haunt them in their nightmares later.  The last thing that you say in the essay is the thing they are the most likely to remember.  So you need to save the best for last.

So, here, finally, is the exit door to this masterfully mixed-up Mickian Essay.  It is a simple, and straightforward structure.  The introduction containing the lead is followed by three or four body paragraphs that develop the idea and end in a conclusion that summarizes or simply restates the overall main idea.  And now you know why all of my former students either know how to construct an essay, or have several years left in therapy sessions with a psychiatrist.

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