Saturday, August 14, 2010

Writing Challenges: Writing requires practice!

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

Writing well requires practice. I have offered many weeks of “Writing Challenges” to provide you with practice. Below is a list of those “Writing Challenges.”

February 21, 2010. Practice beginning. Search for a prompt by reading college and scholarship applications, or use a prompt that you have been given by a teacher. Make a list, write freely, develop an outline, or write, using all three pre-writing methods, in sequence. Just make a start.

February 28, 2010. Practice beginning sentences and phrases with anaphora. Return to your free writing from the previous week or the work you did with the word, serendipity. Pluck out significant sentences and passages from your writing. Play with them by adding and deleting words; alter word choices and sentence patterns to add the emphasis and power of anaphora.

March 7, 2010. Practice collecting words. Make lists of words and word combinations that delight, words that are fresh, telling and learned without being pompous or off-putting. Circle or highlight them in your own writing; copy them into a journal when you find them in others’ works. Finally, be ruthless as you examine your own work. Stamp out all forms of get and illogical or unnecessary uses of you. Play with other, more exact phrasing to replace such tired, overused words.

March 14, 2010
. Write about your sense of purpose to a) enter college, b) compete for scholarship money, and/or c) land the job. Prove that you can go the distance, that you can and have persevered. Prepare answers to the many questions from the last paragraph [of the post for March 14], and if you cannot answer that you auditioned, performed, and gave, explain why you will now. Perhaps you had no choice but to work part-time and consequently, your grades are average, your extracurricular activities non-existent. Explain convincingly what your choices and work ethic prove about you. If you reflect upon them and write genuinely, you and your audience will see that you have purpose and the ability to overcome.

March 21, 2010. When you find a published passage that seems particularly effective and powerful, mark it or copy it into a journal. Later, imitate it with your own messages. Experience the many ways to say the same thing. Liberate your messages by learning to play with word choices and word order.

March 28, 2010. Choose classified ads. Copy several of the best into your journal. Pluck words from the ads, arranging them in patterns to tell short, short stories.

April 4, 2010. Use your own writing or that of another writer to create haiku that brings alive for the reader a moment, emotion, or idea.

April 11, 2010. Write an “I remember” story every day for the next week. Don’t worry about contractions or pronouns or active voice verbs. Do try to weave in as many of the five senses as you can. Above all, just enjoy telling your story.

April 18, 2010. Practice making concrete words specific. Write at least 3 specific and concrete sentences every day.

April 25, 2010
. Make abstractions concrete by showing them with actions or inventing images for them.

May 2, 2010. Use a template or create your own to prepare at least two different résumés for your own educational and/or work history. Return to these documents in order to update them as you add honors, activities, and experience.

May 9, 2010. Select at least two items from your sample résumés [written for the May 2nd writing challenge]. Write body paragraphs that spin those items into recognizable assets. Provide details that are specific and concrete so that any reader will appreciate you and what you offer.

May 16, 2010
. Take effective notes as you complete research. Make sure you know where the information came from by author, the title of the film or article, the publication date, and page number (if applicable). Be sure to use quotation marks around words, phrases, sentences, and whole passages that you copy exactly from the original.

Be thorough and persevere through your frustration. If you know little about the subject, you will not know what is important enough to write down. You will feel as if you need everything. That impulse is normal.

As you become more and more knowledgeable, you will become more discerning. You will be able to separate what is important from what is unimportant so push on, write everything, and grow in your knowledge.

May 23, 2010. Read a magazine, skipping all the articles and studying the advertising instead. Watch several hours of television, but only the Public Service announcements and ads. Make notes about the use of color, line, and language. Consider also how music persuades. Become an aware “reader” of print and non-print media as you do.

May 30, 2010. After reading several resources, write your own “editorial” on the topic, avoiding logical fallacies and integrating at least two points of view.

June 6, 2010. Read numerous sources over a topic that interests you and take notes. Be sure to use the online citation resources such as to create an accurate and complete citation for each resource from which you take notes.

June 13, 2010. Return to the editorial that you wrote after reading the blog entry for May 30, 2010. Integrate facts and quotations effectively.

June 20, 2010. Use the formulaic patterns for essay thesis statements to plan your own essay, then write an abstract or précis, relying upon your plan.

June 27, 2010
. Listen to yourself, and rewrite when you tell yourself that a passage lacks sufficient evidence or explanation. Pay attention to matters of style and write so that you are proud of every word.

July 2, 2010. Write something fun, something just for you or reflect upon the entire research paper process, using any level of language that comes to mind. This is your opportunity to vent.

July 9, 2010. If you have done what you should do as a student, you will have an extensive set of notes for the homework you have read and the lectures or discussions you have heard. Go through the notes, highlighting major themes, motifs, patterns, and concepts for the subject. Then, write your own essay exam prompts. By doing so, you are not only reviewing the course material, you are preparing for the next essay exam. Reward yourself with your favorite treat every time you anticipated the teacher or professor’s exam items correctly.

July 16, 2010. Write about the people, ideas, incidents, and creatures in nature for which you are grateful. Be specific and concrete, but write with abandon—the only audience being you—at least for now.

July 23, 2010. Write a travelogue. If your big summer trip is behind you or your budget restricts you to a staycation, then capture the short, local day trips that you and your family enjoy: a weekend at the lake, a bike ride through the river park, a day among the crowds at the local amusement park. Remember to include the five senses.

July 30, 2010
. Reflect upon a day in the life of parenting. Capture one of the joys or frustrations, using dialogue.

August 6, 2010. Respond to one more quotation from Tom Stoppard:

“The truth is always a compound of two half- truths, and you never reach it, because there is always something more to say.”

What do Stoppard's words suggest to you? What do they have to do with the subject of this post: reflective journals.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM)

Language is dynamic. It changes as people develop a need for words and as language users refuse to follow the rules.

In 1998, the Oxford English Dictionary ratified one such change, finally permitting the split infinitive. Before then, Captain Kirk should not have said to boldly go; he should have said to go boldly, but Captain Kirk was not an anomaly. Countless speakers and writers, including this one, split infinitives so the rule had to yield to usage.

Similarly, little support remains for the distinctions between which, that, who and whom. Once, who and whom were the go-to words when referring to humans or characters in literature. Which and that were reference words for all things non-human.

Who and whom, it seems, are too tricky for most language users so they stepped around the rule and selected which and that for all purposes. One day, the Oxford Dictionary corporation will officially rule with which and that taking the lead. Until that day, high school students must not avoid who and whom because the ACT college entrance exam still uses the correct usage for who and whom as a test item.

So how can high school students learn to use who and whom correctly? They can use the he and him switch to test the sentence. Simply exchange who for he or him. If he seems right, then who is the correct choice. If him is better, then whom is the correct choice.

Another usage error that will not be an error one day is the plural possessive pronoun their. Language users no longer honor the use of his when the referent requires a singular pronoun. For example: Everybody has his book is correct; everybody has their book is more common. High school students must still know the old rule—at least until the ACT no longer tests for the usage error and the students’ abilities to correct for it.

Reading Challenge:

Read this blog from the first post in February through today’s.

Writing Challenge:

Using the list of the writing challenges posted since February, rank them in the order in which you wish to complete them. Begin writing, checking off each challenge as you finish it to the best of your ability.

Alternately or additionally, accept the writing challenges posted on Twitter. Go to and select Twitter, or go to and select CoachConnye.