Friday, July 20, 2012

Back to Basics

     What is the purpose of this blog?  Originally, my intention was to share the journey along the road to publication and to share any insights and experience that I gained along the way.  Recently, I've been re-thinking that vision.  This refocusing of the purpose of the blog has come about because of two women I know. Neither of them knows the other.  Both of these women are intelligent, educated, successful and, to my way of thinking, literate.  What I mean by "literate" in this context is that they both are well-read and able to converse on the things they've read.  Within the span of about two weeks time, both of these women individually asked me if I would be willing to teach them how to write.  I'm not talking about instruction in how to write a Pulitzer prize winning book.  Both of these women told me that they felt not only uncomfortable but incompetent when it came to writing.  I was astounded.  I teach writing to college students whose writing skills are not yet up to college level.  Their fear in regards to writing doesn't surprise me.  The majority of my students have not had good preparatory education and so they struggle at first with composition, particularly with the grammar element.  I was taken aback, however, to hear two college educated women express the same fear.  On reflection, I shouldn't have been surprised.  Over my years as an English teacher, I've become well aware that most people struggle with writing and many people hate having to do it.  Why?  I am convinced that it stems mostly from a history of being told to write without ever being told how.  Many people believe that writing is only for the gifted.  While I will agree that to write like Shakespeare or Tolkien or John Grisham requires artistic talent, I contend that all one needs to write well -- clearly and effectively--is skill.  Writing is skill-based so anyone can learn to do it and to do it well.  And as for those gifted artistic writers, if they don't learn the basic skills of good writing, their gifts will be wasted.  All the talent and creativity in the world are of no use to someone who doesn't know how to communicate it in a clear, structured way.  In view of all of this, I've decided to devote a few weeks to some basics of writing.

Today's topic: PURPOSE

     Good writing has a purpose.  Sometimes it has both a primary a secondary purpose.  More about that in a bit.  Purpose is what the writer is trying to achieve through his / her writing.  Here are some types of writing with their purposes:

     --EXPOSITION: to explain something or to inform the reader about something.  This is also known as ILLUSTRATION: to demonstrate something through the use of examples   

     --PROCESS: step-by-step instruction of how to do something (think recipes or how-to books)
     --CLASSIFICATION: just what it sounds like (think books about kinds of medicines or ecosystems)

     --COMPARISON / CONTRAST: to discuss the similarities (compare) and differences (contrast) of two people, places, things, events, issues, etc.

     --ARGUMENT / PERSUASION:  to take a position on a topic and then prove the position by providing evidence 

     --DESCRIPTION: to describe a person, place or thing by using concrete, sensory language which helps the reader see, feel, taste, touch, experience that which is being described

     --NARRATIVE: to tell a story

I'll add one more purpose without attaching it to a type of writing: TO ENTERTAIN

As I mentioned above, writing can have more than one purpose.  A writer can use comparison / contrast in order to prove a point and persuade the reader.   A narrative might illustrate a point. Description is an invaluable companion to narrative.  And entertainment always helps, especially if you're, say, writing a textbook about grammar.

It's helpful to identify your purpose before you start writing.  It's easier to accomplish something if you know what it is you are trying to accomplish.  

Be sure you don't confuse purpose and motivation.  My students often think that their purpose in writing a paper is to get a good grade (or at least not to get an F).  I tell them, "No.  That's your motivation.  The assignment is to do a comparison / contrast essay, so your purpose is to discuss the similarities and differences between the two assigned topics."  The same applies to writers.  Some writers say that they are writing in order to get published.  That's not a writing purpose.  That's a personal goal.  Writing purposes would include explaining how to start a small company, discussing how staying positive contributes to physical health or entertaining people by writing a nail-biting mystery / suspense story.  Those are writing purposes.  Knowing the purpose of your writing can contribute to your attaining your personal goal, whether that goal is to get published, get a good grade or get an erroneous charge removed from your hospital bill.

Why do you write?  Do you consider the purpose of the writing before you start?

From the list above, what purpose appeals to you most?  Least?  Why?

Happy Weekend!



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