Today, I presented on the topic of “Writing” to a few high school classes at a private school. It was a great experience, and I think I learned as much from the students as I hope they’ve learned from me.

Basically, I talked about my writing experiences over the years and shared some lessons I learned along the way. Here are my notes:

Writing is free…except for these four things:

1) Experience – The raw material of life and of writing.
2) Time – A precious resource that God gives to humans. Needed for all endeavors.
3) Inspiration – The spark, the structure, the feeling, the need, the pull, the drive.
4) Literacy – The practical skill necessary to write. Thank an English teacher today.

For success in life, you must write well.

To write well you must read…a lot.

How many times a day do you eat? Just as the body needs food to fuel its activities, your brain needs words and ideas to fuel the intellectual activity of writing. Library reading lists and websites like Goodreads are good starting points for finding books to read.

Also, you don’t always have to open a book to read. Product descriptions, internet articles, billboards, street signs, and instructions are everywhere. Read them! And also, do open a book, as books are generally more densely packed (nutrient rich) with words and ideas than are these other mediums.

To write well, you must know the rules.

The writing handbook: a necessary resource for learning the rules of writing. If you plan on doing any kind of writing, which you will all have to do…like today, get an up to date handbook, and read it cover to cover. Absorb it. Love it. Go back to it, over and over.

You can get free handbooks online, or you can find them at the library. I highly recommend buying one, if you can. Having the hardcopy in front of you will make you more likely to page through it.

P.S. Learning the rules and learning how to intentionally break them for impact are two entirely different things. Learn the rules first. I mean, really learn them. Perfect them. Then, we’ll talk about breaking them.

Recommended handbooks and online resources:
Rules for Writers, Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers (print handbook). Get the most up to date edition, and read the whole thing.

The Purdue Writing Lab Online (Owl) – A comprehensive, searchable handbook.

The Blue Book of Grammar Online – Online grammar rules and examples.

Grammar Bytes Online – Grammar Practice and Worksheets

To write well, you must observe and reflect well.

Observe. Notice everything. Look closely. “Listen” with all five senses. Research. Study. Explore. Fight the urge to judge. Trend spotting, pattern recognition, and generalizing based on observable truths are fine, but judgments tend to block observations. Visit this blog post for fun observation activities:

Reflect. Make sense of your observations. After an experience, research session, or observation, try to find the meaning. What truth(s), if any, did you learn? What’s significant or interesting about the things you noticed? Why? How have you changed? How has the way that you perceive life changed? Do you think of people differently? If so, how? Do you think of yourself differently? Have you learned anything about human behavior in general? Have you learned anything about how the world works or doesn’t work? How does this experience link to other experiences in your life? Are you seeing a bigger picture? A greater story?

Your reflections may change as you have more life experiences. You may not see the bigger picture for years and years and years. Also, you may not be able to reflect right after or during some experiences, especially if they are traumatic. If this is the case, then go back to observing. Reflect when you are ready.

A cool side note, maturity–true maturity–oftentimes turns negative reflections into positive ones. Time + Distance = Perspective. Perspective = Understanding. Understanding = The ability to see the positive in the negative. And you thought you’d never have to do math in English class. 😛

To write well, try keeping these principles and tips in mind:

Pre-writing and Writing Tips

1) Start with “F.” Revise to “A.”

2) Keep it simple.

3) Organize by paragraph. Make one point at a time, and give each point its own space.

4) Say the most with the least.

5) Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

6) Tell the truth.

7) Make a point. Make it interesting. Think.

8) Intent precedes content.

9) It takes roughly 10,000 hours to master a complex skill. Writing is a complex skill.

10) Know your subjects. Name them.

11) Watch your mouth. Pretend your subjects are listening in on what you’re writing about them.

12) Be consistent.

13) Use, but don’t overuse rhetorical devices to add flavor.

14) Appeal to the sense, all five of them if you can.

15) Value your reader’s time.

16) Value your own time.

17) Writing is a process. This process mimics the life process.

-Prewriting/Planning = Conception, fetal development, parent preparations

(nebulous, nervous, unknowing, anticipating)

-Rough Draft = Birth (exciting, raw, new, needy)

-Revision = Growth and maturity (painful pruning, talking back, fighting)

-Polished Draft = Mature young adult

-Publishing = Child leaving home to affect the world

Revising and Publishing Tips

1) Writing is rewriting.

2) Get to the point. When revising, look for where the essay or the point truly begins, and cut out everything before that. Try looking at the second or third sentence of each paragraph, as oftentimes, that sentence is your topic sentence, and the ones before it can be cut.

3) Stick to the point. Revise by premise or thesis. Premise = the simplest statement of truth you are trying to convey. In fairytales and fiction, the premise is the moral of the story. In formal essays, the premise is the claim your paper sets out to prove. A thesis is a premise plus the main point(s) that the paper will address in order to validate the premise.

4) Make friends with your recycling bin, and feed it regularly with the garbage you are bound to write.

5) Humility is a lifelong pursuit. Pursue it. Your writing and your life will benefit.

6) Slay your darlings. Revisit the sentences, points, and paragraphs of which you are the proudest. You’ll most likely be deleting those.

7) Know your demons, both grammatical and logical. In addition to studying a handbook to help you overcome your grammatical issues, read up on logical fallacies, and identify the ones with which you struggle. Oversimplification and hasty generalizations are biggies for many students.

8) Listen to all criticism, but only respond to what’s going to improve your writing. 9) Discernment takes a lifetime to cultivate, and gaining it comes with experience.

10) You are the only 24-7 editor that you will ever have.

11) Learn from rejection. In the writing world, “no” means “not yet,” but it oftentimes feels like “never.”

12) The author is always responsible, even when she’s not.

13) Don’t depend on tutors, writers, teachers, editors, or friends to tell you how to improve your writing. These people can help you along the way, especially with larger projects, but in the end, the baby is yours.

14) Give it time. Let it sit (if life permits). Be patient. Time + Distance = Perspective.

15) When you think you’re done, you’re probably halfway there.

16) Forgive–yourself and others. Mistakes are inevitable in a fallen world.

Fiction Specific:
1) Reveal the least amount of information with the most amount of intrigue.

2) Character growth is not limited to the page. Remember, you are a character in God’s story. As your own character grows, your characters on the page will grow.

3) Study story structure and character types (archetypes). To help with this, read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

4) When creating characters, blend archetypes for complexity.

5) Make each character likeable and detestable in at least one way.

6) Enter late. Leave early.

To write well, you must write. Enjoy it.

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to write for enjoyment. Ideally, the more you enjoy something, the better you’ll want to become at it. Journaling can be a fun way to practice writing.

You may keep one or several journals to capture life moments and reflections. You can also publish your journal online via a blog. WordPress and Blogger are websites that will host your blog for free.

Types of Journals
-Birthday (Family, individual)
-Time Capsule Journal
-Favorite Quotations/Quotable Moments
-Inventions and ideas
-Travel Journal
-Food Journal
-Diet and Exercise
-Daily activity log
-Daily Journal (with reflection)
-Prayer Journal
-Sermon notes
-Reading Journal
-Major Milestones (getting license, graduation, first day of college, wedding…)
-Freestyle Journal
-Creative Writing Journal
-Gratitude Journal
-Friendship Journal
-Hobby Journal: recipe/cooking, craft, music, movie, sports, shopping, photography
-Finance Journal
-Current Events Journal

Structure your journal entries to promote both observation and reflection.

-Use headings to encourage consistency.

-Sample Heading Sections:
-Date, time, place, event, speaker, occasion, theme. *Always date your entries! Dates help when it comes time to reflect.
-List of Important people or characters
– Key events or summary of what happened
-Thoughts and feelings before, during, and after key events
-Memorable moments (quotes, life lessons, realizations, funny observations)
-Changes, developments, or differences when compared to the last event
-Sensory details that stuck out to you

Allow yourself to deviate from the structure when necessary.

Give yourself space and time for spontaneous thoughts. Creating a “miscellaneous” or “notes” section can help you to do this.

To write well, you must write now.
Write down everything you remember from the presentation. Stick to observable details, what was said, what you heard, visuals, etc.

Now, reflect. Write down your gut reactions. What did you get out of the lesson? How will you use the information you learned? Did you find it useful? Why or why not? What are your feelings about the topics presented? Be honest. Your reflections can be positive, negative, or both. Remember, reflections change with time. Your reflections today might change as you mature, learn more, and experience more.