Talk to write

If you can talk, you can write, I used to tell students when I was invited to speak to English classes. (As an op-ed columnist, I got many invitations.) Talking is using words to communicate. So is writing. If you get stuck trying to write, imagine telling a friend whatever it is you have to say. Then write it down.  You no longer have your voice, gestures or expression to carry the meaning, so you’ll have to rewrite it to make it clear. But you’ve got a start.

People don’t get talker’s block, writes Seth Godin. So why is writer’s block so common?

. . . we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap.

. . . We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

Godin advocates writing in public on a blog or microbloging site, such as Squidoo or Tumblr.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing.

. . . Write like you talk. Often.

Teachers should model writing often and publicly, adds Karl Fisch, a math teacher turned high school technology director.

I agre that writing for an audience ismore useful than writing a journal nobody will read. Writing is communicating.

Schools are so busy teaching the writing process — graphic organizers and topic sentences — that they don’t teach students to write, argues Paula Stacey in Ed Week.

She’s taught writing at every level from elementary school to college.

  . . . in the name of writing instruction (students) are being asked to jump through an ever-expanding and increasingly byzantine set of hoops, but who less and less often are being asked to write. They may be able to create thesis statements and topic sentences, find details, write conclusions, and follow Modern Language Association style, but somewhere in there very little actual thought is taking place. In our desire to help students engage in the process of writing, we have defined a process that really isn’t writing.

As a third-grade teacher, she was required to teach instructional, descriptive, expository, and narrative writing.

 To assist students and teachers, the publishers of the curriculum had included numerous graphic organizers, brainstorming worksheets, and step-by-step instructions on the process of generating and organizing ideas. . . . I wasn’t instructing students in writing so much as dragging them through the process outlined in the worksheets. “Just tell me what to put here!” students entreated. “Is this right? Is this what you want?”

At a local high school, all essays must contain “exactly three central paragraphs containing exactly eight sentences: topic sentence, detail sentence, commentary sentence, another detail sentence, another commentary sentence, a final detail sentence, a final commentary sentence, and a concluding sentence.”

Meanwhile, college professors complain their students can’t develop a complex idea in writing.

My proposal is modest, cheap, and deceptively simple: Ask students questions, read their answers, and ask more questions. Questions and answers. Nothing fancy. Much like home cooking, however, this kind of questioning takes time, it requires practice and honing, and the kitchen is a mess afterwards. But it is worth the trouble and the mess, for in this back and forth, this conference between teacher and student, real thinking and the work of real writing occur.

I spent four solid years of high school writing the 3-3-3 paragraph. Each topic sentence had to be supported with three “concrete and specific details.” Learning to support assertions is good. But you’ve got to have something to assert.

When my daughter was in school, she was required to draw a picture or diagram showing her creative process. It wasn’t a useful way to organize her ideas, but she could write the assignment and then draw idea bubbles to match.

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