Sunday, May 20, 2007

Q & A on Writing. Writer's Block.

Topic: Writer's Block

Question: I’m a college student. The other day in English class the instructor walked into the room, gave the assignment, sat down at her desk and began to mark papers. The assignment: write a composition on the topic of “Autumn” and complete it during the class period. Wow! I had no idea how to even begin. I sat there during the class period staring at a blank sheet of paper and, of course, I never turned anything in. And I earned a zero. How on earth could I complete that assignment in one period? (This is a real experience with a real person whose initials are B.A.)

Answer: You experienced a form of writer’s block in which you can’t start to write because you don’t know how to begin. Here’s what you do the next time you are hit with a surprise composition. You have approximately 50 minutes to complete the assignment.

Brainstorming: 10 minutes.
Spend the first ten minutes brainstorming the topic. Quickly list as many ideas on the topic as you can think of. Don’t try to put them in order. Don’t pay any attention to grammar or spelling. Don’t even try to write in sentences. Just list your ideas in words and phrases. I guarantee you that your ideas will come.

Review your brainstorm and write a main idea and three sub-topics. 10 minutes.
Quickly go over the ideas in your brainstorm and try to write a main idea with three sub-topics based on the main idea. Suggested main idea: “Autumn is a beautiful season.” Suggested sub-topics: weather, color and harvest moon.

Write: 20 minutes.
Introduce the first paragraph with a description or incident, conclude the first paragraph with the main idea and begin each middle paragraph with one of the sub-topics. Write quickly. Better not let spelling hold you up. You’ll still have another 10 minutes to edit. Don’t forget a summary final paragraph.

Edit: 10 minutes.
Check your spelling. Spelling mistakes are most obvious and irk English teachers. Begin reading from the last word in the last paragraph back to the first word in the first paragraph. You’ll be better able to see the details of the words. Then review the composition from first word to last, checking for any obvious mistakes. In that time you’ll only be able to correct really obvious problems like incomplete sentences or run-ons (two sentences run-together).

By the way, such an assignment will most likely be handwritten. If your cursive writing is as illegible as mine, you’ll probably want to use manuscript (print) writing. Don’t worry about speed. Research shows that writers who use manuscript write just as quickly as writers who use cursive.

(I’m waiting for the first person to ask me how to deal with the SAT’s 25-minute writing sample.)

Note: Writer’s block comes from many different causes and many different solutions are available. You tell me your experience with writer’s block and I will suggest a number of solutions.


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