Tag Archives: advice

Writing with Power

Troubled hearts can be soothed with words.  In 1Samuel 16:23 David plays the harp and his singing was a relief for Saul and the bad spirit departed from upon him.  In the same way, the written word can touch the soul of the reader and, like Saul, free the reader from the demons besetting him.  That is power.  That is responsibility.

solomon

Of course, I am the last person to claim that I can teach you to write with power… I can’t even claim that I can write with power myself.  But I know how to write well enough to make myself laugh, cry, and feel through my writing.  And occasionally someone else reads my writing and agrees.  Through years worth of being a writing teacher, I do have some thoughts about how it may be done.

First of all, I am not wrong to choose David’s harp playing, inspired by Jehovah as it was, as a metaphor for writing power.  It is in the very sounds of the words that a great deal of emotion and meaning is embedded.  One can evoke a very bitter and angry feeling by describing a cruel woman not as a “mean girl” but as one whose laughter is “like the crass cackling of devious old witch”.   Mean girl has too soft a labial sound, even with the hard g, to be as ugly and staccato as the repeated sounds added to the tch and the fact that “devious” comes so close to “devil”… a related word.  A happy feeling can be created by describing a smile as “a sudden sunburst of white teeth and happiness”.  That almost makes me laugh…unless you add “shark’s” between “white” and “teeth”… and then I am convinced I am about to be eaten.  The sounds in the description are like a sizzling burn that leads into the firework display at the end of the word “sunburst”.  To write with the music inherent in words, at some point you have to hear it out loud.  I always hear the words in my head when I write, spoken in a wide variety of voices.  But to truly get it right, I have to read aloud to hear with my ears… which I have already done three times to this paragraph alone.

In order to have power, writing must manipulate feelings.   I don’t mean by using the word “manipulate” that it is some sort of Machiavellian bad thing.  Simply put, a writer must control the feelings of the reader, not by sound alone, but by the depth of meaning of the words.  You must be able to weave a paragraph together not only with the simple meanings of the words themselves, but all the connotations and denotations in those words.  You must use metaphor and simile, comparison, allusion, and sensory details.  Ernest Hemingway had a working style almost completely devoid of metaphor and the writer’s own personal commentary… but that only worked because all his themes were about dispirited people suffering tragedy and loss and a pervasive sense of disconnectedness.  Hemingway is a powerful writer… but his books never make me laugh.  Purple prosey over-describers like Charles Dickens can make me laugh with a simple list of things.  “The boy’s desk had a nearly dry ink bottle, several pens that needed new nibs and were chewed about the grip, and a small stack of papers crammed full of ink drawings of skulls and skeletons.”   It is that last startling detail in the list that makes the mundane suddenly funny.

I suppose to do today’s topic true justice, I should write about it in book length.  There is so much more to say.  But I have bored you long enough for one post with writing nuts and bolts.  It is enough to say that I believe in the magic of words, and I think that if, like any good Dungeons and Dragons wizard, you study your books of magic long enough, you can soon be casting fireballs around the room made up of nothing but words.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, writing, writing teacher

Daily Magic

C360_2017-04-04-07-01-13-667

Daily Magic

The world all around us is magic…

And magic encompasses all,

But sadly the world is not permanent

And tomorrow the darkness may fall.

So here is the magic of daylight

The sun has arisen from pall

And at least for a moment the true light

Is the sun as it voices its call.

c360_2017-01-02-10-17-06-058

Never Explain

You should never have to explain a poem…

It is there for all to see…

And whether ’tis sick, or happy, or bad…

It is its own reason to be.

C360_2017-04-01-08-23-09-870

Never Explain… The Sequel

You should never have to explain a joke…

Whether stupid, or ribald, or punny…

Because reasons all melt with explaining…

And, if you do, it’s not really funny.

c360_2016-11-20-09-31-40-461

Pearls in the Dark

Swim down into deepening darkness.

Do you truly want to find a pearl?

Fish around in oysters and dark places.

Risk your fingers, your hand… hold your breath.

The deeper you dive, the more you risk, the brighter the pearl.

Gingeyhousegg1n

Write This One Too, Doofus!

Where did these poems suddenly come from?

You are not a poet…

And you already know it…

You meant to write one…

You wrote five…

How was so much doggerel in you?

Goofy wisdom…

Silly rhythm…

Random rhyme?

You’ve been writing these poems all your life…

Every action…

Every footstep…

Every joke…

Is a pearl from the oyster of your soul…

Some are beautiful…

Some are ugly…

All have value…

So don’t question the magic, you fool.

 

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Filed under artwork, goofiness, goofy thoughts, humor, poem, poetry, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Daily Magic

C360_2017-04-04-07-01-13-667

Daily Magic

The world all around us is magic…

And magic encompasses all,

But sadly the world is not permanent

And tomorrow the darkness may fall.

So here is the magic of daylight

The sun has arisen from pall

And at least for a moment the true light

Is the sun as it voices its call.

c360_2017-01-02-10-17-06-058

Never Explain

You should never have to explain a poem…

It is there for all to see…

And whether ’tis sick, or happy, or bad…

It is its own reason to be.

C360_2017-04-01-08-23-09-870

Never Explain… The Sequel

You should never have to explain a joke…

Whether stupid, or ribald, or punny…

Because reasons all melt with explaining…

And, if you do, it’s not really funny.

c360_2016-11-20-09-31-40-461

Pearls in the Dark

Swim down into deepening darkness.

Do you truly want to find a pearl?

Fish around in oysters and dark places.

Risk your fingers, your hand… hold your breath.

The deeper you dive, the more you risk, the brighter the pearl.

Gingeyhousegg1n

Write This One Too, Doofus!

Where did these poems suddenly come from?

You are not a poet…

And you already know it…

You meant to write one…

You wrote five…

How was so much doggerel in you?

Goofy wisdom…

Silly rhythm…

Random rhyme?

You’ve been writing these poems all your life…

Every action…

Every footstep…

Every joke…

Is a pearl from the oyster of your soul…

Some are beautiful…

Some are ugly…

All have value…

So don’t question the magic, you fool.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, goofiness, goofy thoughts, humor, poem, poetry, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Writing with Power

Troubled hearts can be soothed with words.  In 1Samuel 16:23 David plays the harp and his singing was a relief for Saul and the bad spirit departed from upon him.  In the same way, the written word can touch the soul of the reader and, like Saul, free the reader from the demons besetting him.  That is power.  That is responsibility.

solomon

Of course, I am the last person to claim that I can teach you to write with power… I can’t even claim that I can write with power myself.  But I know how to write well enough to make myself laugh, cry, and feel through my writing.  And occasionally someone else reads my writing and agrees.  Through years worth of being a writing teacher, I do have some thoughts about how it may be done.

First of all, I am not wrong to choose David’s harp playing, inspired by Jehovah as it was, as a metaphor for writing power.  It is in the very sounds of the words that a great deal of emotion and meaning is embedded.  One can evoke a very bitter and angry feeling by describing a cruel woman not as a “mean girl” but as one whose laughter is “like the crass cackling of devious old witch”.   Mean girl has too soft a labial sound, even with the hard g, to be as ugly and staccato as the repeated sounds added to the tch and the fact that “devious” comes so close to “devil”… a related word.  A happy feeling can be created by describing a smile as “a sudden sunburst of white teeth and happiness”.  That almost makes me laugh…unless you add “shark’s” between “white” and “teeth”… and then I am convinced I am about to be eaten.  The sounds in the description are like a sizzling burn that leads into the firework display at the end of the word “sunburst”.  To write with the music inherent in words, at some point you have to hear it out loud.  I always hear the words in my head when I write, spoken in a wide variety of voices.  But to truly get it right, I have to read aloud to hear with my ears… which I have already done three times to this paragraph alone.

In order to have power, writing must manipulate feelings.   I don’t mean by using the word “manipulate” that it is some sort of Machiavellian bad thing.  Simply put, a writer must control the feelings of the reader, not by sound alone, but by the depth of meaning of the words.  You must be able to weave a paragraph together not only with the simple meanings of the words themselves, but all the connotations and denotations in those words.  You must use metaphor and simile, comparison, allusion, and sensory details.  Ernest Hemingway had a working style almost completely devoid of metaphor and the writer’s own personal commentary… but that only worked because all his themes were about dispirited people suffering tragedy and loss and a pervasive sense of disconnectedness.  Hemingway is a powerful writer… but his books never make me laugh.  Purple prosey over-describers like Charles Dickens can make me laugh with a simple list of things.  “The boy’s desk had a nearly dry ink bottle, several pens that needed new nibs and were chewed about the grip, and a small stack of papers crammed full of ink drawings of skulls and skeletons.”   It is that last startling detail in the list that makes the mundane suddenly funny.

I suppose to do today’s topic true justice, I should write about it in book length.  There is so much more to say.  But I have bored you long enough for one post with writing nuts and bolts.  It is enough to say that I believe in the magic of words, and I think that if, like any good Dungeons and Dragons wizard, you study your books of magic long enough, you can soon be casting fireballs around the room made up of nothing but words.

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, Paffooney, writing, writing teacher

Teacher-Wise

So, does this title have more than one meaning?  Of course it does.  This post is about being a teacher and having wisdom.  And I know you will immediately think, “You dumb guy!  I know teachers who aren’t wise at all!  Some teachers are stupid!”

namaste_out_of_control_cover

You are especially saying that if you are a student.

You are not wrong, either.  Some teachers have no business being teachers.  It is especially difficult to find good science and math teachers.  After all, those who are good at math and science can make so much more money in the private sector, that they would have to be born to be a teacher… and realize it, to go into teaching.  There are very good science and math teachers out there, but many of them are wilting under the weight of a difficult job being made constantly harder by social pressures like truly dumb people who say things like, “You can’t solve our education problem by throwing money at it!”  I guarantee no one has ever thrown money at the problem.  If teachers were paid what they were worth so that we could retain good, competent teachers, you would see education make an amazing amount of progress in a very short time.  What Wall Street firm fails to pay their star players what they are worth?  Do bankers and lawyers get punished for doing a good job by asking them to produce more with fewer resources for less pay?  Those folks in finance and law always pay the price for the best because that always produces the best result.  If you want schools to routinely produce critical thinkers and problem-solvers, why would you complain that we are spending too much money per kid?  Of course, there are those with the money and the power (especially in Texas) who really don’t want more students coming out of schools with the ability to think and decide for themselves.   Smart people are harder to control and make a profit from. (Out of Control is a book they don’t want you to read.)

class Miss M2

So now I have totally proved the point that smart people who are looking out for their own interests should never go into teaching.  Still, among the unwashed, unloved, and incompetent that do make the mistake of going into teaching, there is still a great deal of learning and gaining of wisdom going on.  After all, if a fool like me can become a good teacher, anybody can do it.  You just have to learn a few bits of wisdom the hard way that have very little to do with what we call “common sense”.

As Dr. Tsabary points out in the book I plastered on the front of this post, discipline is not what you think.  We all remember that teacher we had that nobody listened to.  She was always yelling at us.  She made threats.  She punished us.  And even the good kids in class would shoot spitwads at the back of her head.  Why did we not respect and learn from this teacher?  Because she never learned these profound truths.

1.  Kids are people.  They want to be treated with respect and even love.  Their ideas matter as much, if not more than the teacher’s ideas.  Good teachers will;

a. Get to know every kid in their class as a human being, knowing what they believe in, what they care about, where they come from, and who they think they are.

b. Ask them questions.  They will never have an original idea if you do not make them think.  They have insights and creativity and strengths as well as weaknesses, bad behavior, and wrong ideas.  You have to emphasize the former and minimize the latter.

c.  Laughing and talking in the classroom is evidence of learning.  Quietly filling out worksheets is evidence of ignorance, and most likely the ignorance of the teacher.

2.  Tests don’t matter.  This is always true for these reasons;

a.  Tests are a comparison, and nothing is gained by comparing kids.  Comparing the scores of my bilingual kids in South Texas with upper class rich kids in Chicago and college-bound kids in Tokyo has no value.  Their lives are completely different and so are their needs.  If we don’t score as well on the tests as the kids in Tokyo, what difference will that make to what time the train arrives in the station in Paris?  (Especially if Pierre has chosen the bullet train that goes south at a rate of 200 miles per hour.  No trains in Texas go that fast without crashing and blowing up.)

b.  If I spend time in class teaching students how to read and making them practice reading critically, they will do just as well as the kids who drilled extensively from specially made State materials preparing for the test on the reading and vocabulary portions.  The only way that outcome changes is by cheating and giving them the actual test questions before the test.  (I should point out that teachers caught doing this last thing are shot in Texas and buried in a box full of rattlesnakes.  Dang old teachers, anyhow!)

I know I started this little post by convincing you that I am not wise, and very probably mentally unbalanced.  And now that I have made my arguments, you know for sure.  But over time, there is wisdom to be learned from being a teacher.  You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true.  (I don’t know how many times I used that phrase out loud in a classroom over 31 years, but I am guessing you couldn’t count them on fingers even if you used the hands of every kid I ever had as a student.)

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, teaching

First Novels and Hard Lessons Learned

My first published book was a Science Fiction novel called Aeroquest.  It was a story that came about because as a young teacher I liked to play pencil and paper role-playing games with kids.  It started with Dungeons and Dragons in 1981, but because I was in South Texas at the time, Baptist and fundamentalist Texas, I had to change away from any game associated with dragons and demons.  I turned instead to the RPG called Traveller, a space game inspired by Star Wars and other Sci-Fi of the time.  Most of the characters in the book, especially the Mutant Ninja Space Babies, were actually the kids I played the games with.  They are characters that were created by them and given life by me.

51ABNW+RWlL._SL500_AA300_ Aeroq1 Aeroq2 Aeroq3 Aeroq4 Aeroq5 Aeroq6 Aeroq7

So, I sent this book to a new publishing company in 2007 called Publish America.  They seemed excited to publish my work.  They paid me an advance of one dollar.  They whipped me through a publishing process whereby I had to do all my own editing, proofreading, and supervising.  They provided no aid with anything.  They only tried to sell the book (for a grossly inflated price) to my friends and relatives.  Through this whole process, I made a total of twelve dollars.  Well, that didn’t seem like such a bad deal, except for the way mistakes were created in my story that were not there before.  They copyrighted my work and told me that they owned the rights for the next seven years.  I was originally supposed to include illustrations like I posted here, but decided to hang on to those when it became clear that I might lose ownership of them.  So, all in all, I got two free copies of the book, a chance to annoy all my friends and relatives, and twelve dollars cash.  That in exchange for two years’ work.

Aeroquest is the story of the Aero brothers, Ged and Ham.  They start out as hunters, travelling space in a safari ship that belongs to Ham Aero.  The third member of their crew is the super-goofy engineer, pirate, and fool named Trav Dalgoda.  They elude pirates, conquer a couple of planets, make enemies of the entire Imperium, and Ged becomes the teacher of a ninja school on one of the planets they conquer, the planet Gaijin.  I like this story.  It’s full of ridiculous and off-the-wall humor, adventure, and some of the weirdest characters I could possibly put together.  But, truth be told, it is not very good.  I did a much better job on my second novel.

It was a learning experience.  I learned that you do need to work with an editor to help you craft and polish the work.  You do need to work with publicists and social media experts to promote the book and sell it.  None of what I really needed to be an author rather than just a writer came through the PA experience.  I didn’t get soaked for a lot of bucks, but they cheated me never-the-less.  In another year I can have the novel rights back and I can try again with that story and related tales.  I got cheated, but I learned valuable lessons that I hope will serve me well as I continue to destroy my own life with the desire to be a story-teller.

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