Archives for posts with tag: writing process

As I’ve mentioned previously, my husband and I both love to write. And as luck would have it, we met in a college English Composition class. I read his short stories. He read my poetry. We talked about books. I remember guessing that he was an English major, only to be greatly surprised that he was completing a computer science degree and considering dropping the class due to his heavy course load.

Soon after our daughter was born, it was clear that she was verbally precocious. The day she turned 8 months old, it was finally clear that the “da da” she’d been babbling consistently for several days was, “Dada”. I remember the first time she said something intentionally funny. She pointed at me and said, “Baby” and then to herself and said, “Mimi”, her name for me at the times. Then she giggled like crazy and repeated the joke over and over. She was less than 10 months old at the time.

As she grew older, she regaled us with thoughts and questions far beyond her years. She “cracked the code” of reading rather early, reading her name through sight word recognition just before her second birthday. She went on to become a voracious reader.

So you would not blame us for expecting that a girl with such facility with language and so many interesting things to say would love to write. But she didn’t. I remember meeting with her 6th grade honor’s English/social studies teacher for conferences. She showed us a worksheet on which students were to answer short questions about Greek civilizations. Our daughter had originally started all of her answers to the “why” questions with “Because”. When her teacher told her not to start her answers with the word, “Because”, she just crossed out the word and left sentence fragments.

Even in high school, my daughter with an incredibly high verbal IQ would write as little as possible and use non-specific vocabulary or worse, non-words like “kinda” and “sorta”. Then there was her habit of not following the writing instructions. This was at times, unintentional and at other times, intentional. The latter writings had a definite voice and tone and it’s name was “smart ass”. Essays for final exams would start out as, “I know that this is not what you want me to write but…”

Every once in awhile, she would write something brilliant. Earlier in the school year she remarked to me, “Mom, I write two ways, really good and really bad.” I kept my response to a minimum but was encouraged to hear that there was perhaps some self-awareness in the works.

My daughter tested into a college program that allows her to take college courses to finish up high school. And she also gets to keep the college credit! This means that she takes fewer courses as one quarter at the college is worth a full year of a high school class. Winter quarter started last month. When she told John and I that she was registered for TWO English classes (creative writing and English comp) as well as advanced algebra (math is her strongest subject, along with music), our hearts sank. Getting through one semester of high school English has always been arduous for her. And she accepts no help from us on writing; this is not new. It has been the case for as far back as I can recall.

Lo and behold, our daughter has met other students in college, who like to write. They take the creative writing class together and workshop each others’ work. Her friends not only tell her when they like or dislike her ideas, they tell her when she needs to follow the professor’s instructions! (Clouds part. Angels sing.) She works on her writing for hours a day. She says, “I didn’t realize I like writing so much.”

She has actually even started letting my husband and I read her papers. They are exceptionally good with precise and vivid vocabulary, thematic depth, and particularly good dialog. We are delighted. A couple of weeks ago, her professor handed back a paper to her personally and told her, “This is excellent. You are one of only two students who earned a 4.0 on this assignment.” My daughter, a 16 year old in a college class, earned the highest possible grade on a WRITING assignment. She was thrilled.

She still doesn’t want corrective feedback on her writing but I don’t offer any, anyway. She is learning that writing is a process of planning, revising, rewriting, re-planning, etc. She asks, “Did you like it? Are you proud of me?”

Yes, I like it very much. I am so very proud of you. I am so happy that you have discovered what we’ve long known. You’ve got things to say.

I used to be a masterful list maker and follower. I made goals and got them done. Then I made new goals and got them done. As I got older, I started getting involved in large projects. I taught myself how to use Microsoft Project. I thought it was amazing. I could make multiple timelines by task and responsible party as well as define relationships between the tasks and sub timelines. I could track progress. I thought the software was one of the handiest and coolest things I’d ever encountered. I know how to build in motivators and incentives to keep progress going.

I took one of those silly Facebook personality quizzes last week, “What one word best describes you?” The result was, “ambitious”. I didn’t post my results, as I often do, just for fun. I didn’t like the answer. I’m not exactly sure why because objectively, I am ambitious. I set high goals. I have been an achiever my whole life. And I have certainly had people tell me that I was ambitious.

I used to take it as a compliment. Now I don’t because to me it connotes unnecessary competition with others and with myself. I realize that it doesn’t have to be that way but for me, it reminds me of unrelenting standards, of the sadness and disappointment I’ve felt when I didn’t live up to standards set by myself or others. Most importantly, it reminds me of times that I’ve relapsed from healthy life changes such as regular exercise and eating well, because I took setbacks too hard, losing my momentum.

Making and achieving goals is an important part of life. But making a life of setting and achieving goals is not a life I want to lead. It leaves out too many of the good, enjoyable bits. Enjoying the process of life. Making new discoveries. Finding new directions.

I have written a lot in my life. Thousands and thousands of pages. A lot of the writing I do is technical, in the past, scientific writing and in the present, psychological report writing. A few of my published research articles as well as my past grant proposals had 50-100 revisions. They were painstakingly outlined, re-outlined, reviewed, fleshed-out, referenced, reviewed, revised, reviewed, etc. Many lists were made and this is necessary for this kind of highly technical, collaborative, and competitive work.

I do not write multiple drafts of my reports. I write 1-2 drafts, the 2nd being a light edit for typos and such. I use templates to organize my reports, which include lists of procedures, headings, empty tables into which I dump numbers, and other information. The information is presented in a highly linear fashion, the same way that I’ve presented information, with very few changes, for many years.

Prior to starting my blog two years ago, I had not done any other kind of writing for decades. And then came my blog. I write what is on my mind. I may have mulled it over for an hour or two or in some cases, a number of weeks. But I don’t use outlines and only rarely do I make notes of stray thoughts I don’t want to lose. And I don’t always write what I had intended to write. Sometimes the stream of thoughts takes me to new places, some revelatory.  And as you’ve probably noted, I don’t do a whole lot of editing. I barely proofread and occasionally copy edit. Editing on a grand scale has yet to ever occur. Sometimes I later add to a post but it is not because I wasn’t happy with it. Rather it is because I am still thinking about the topic and have found more that I wish to say.

I have written over 600 posts in 26 months. I have not yet ever written myself a reminder to write a post or to have needed to schedule time to write. This may change over time and that would not necessarily be a negative thing. Right now, the freedom of writing in an organic fashion both in respect to process and content, is an amazing gift, in what had been a very linear periods of my life.

This is a mindful way of writing. Not all of my writing can be that way, nor should it. It suits the kind of writing I am doing right now, short bits of personal meanderings. Personal writing, not professional writing.

Similarly, I am not a professional athlete. But on most days I walk almost as far as I drive in my car. I have a general goal in mind in terms of distance but I let myself take different routes and walk longer, if the spirit moves me. I am also not a professional photographer. I have no technical or artistic training, just a desire to take photos, 90% of an art history degree, and a love for the outdoors.

I enjoyed taking photos with my smartphone and decided that I wanted to take better photos. I spent some time researching prices and types of cameras as well as their reviews, probably a total of 3-5 hours. Once I found a camera I thought would suit my needs and price range, I bought it. I knew that my decision may not be the best decision but I wanted to follow my interests and I figured that there are a lot of good cameras out there.

After the camera arrived, I started taking photos, lots of them. I had read a little about the operation of the camera but I really just wanted to use it and not analyze it. I have an analytic brain and I like to let it go free from time to time, like when I am taking photography. Analyzing is hard work.

Using this organic and intuitive process, I have become a better photographer. I am using my interests to guide my gradual learning of the existence and operation of the overwhelming number of features on my little camera.

Is this the most efficient way to become a good photographer? No, it really isn’t. But it is the way that is the most enjoyable way for me, right now. Yesterday, I left the house on a beautiful Sunday morning. I walked where my legs took me, which was to two parks and one community garden. It was still early so the air was crisp and there was a wonderful breeze. It was gorgeous and I took a lot of photos, a few of which I’ve shared with you.

Sometimes listlessness leads to mindfulness, a yielding of the “shoulds” to the freedom of how one moment leads to the next, almost effortlessly.

 

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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