Fun With Formulas…

Fun With Formulas…

Hey all!

As I am sure I have mentioned before, I am a teacher.

More specifically, I teaching Writing and Composition. (Big surprise there, I know!)

We have recently started discussing essay writing in my classes, and I have introduced them to the tried and true five-paragraph essay formula.

While other teachers tout the benefits of something called a four-square essay or something like that, I like to stick to the basics.

The great thing about the five-paragraph essay formula is that it is just that—formulaic.

You plug a broad general statement, some narrowing details, and a three point thesis statement into the introduction. You use your three points from your thesis statement as your topics for your three body paragraphs. You add some evidence (examples, facts, statistics, or quotes) and analysis of that evidence for each body paragraph, and then you restate and summarize everything in your conclusion and throw in another broad general statement for good measure to wrap things up.

Now, if you’ve any experience at all writing essays, you know there’s a little more to it than that (transitions not least among those extras), but when I break it down like this, it seems to really click with my students.

The best thing about the five-paragraph essay formula, though, is that it’s adaptable. You can use the same formula for a three-paragraph essay or a seventeen-paragraph essay.

I will full admit that every single essay I have ever written started with the same basic, five-paragraph essay structure.

Even the thesis I wrote for my Master’s degree started with the same elements.

Surely not, you may scoff, but that is absolutely the case.

The thing is, I find that when I outline where I’m going, writing is so much easier. I haven’t yet used the same thing for any of my blog posts or the short stories I write, but even those things have recommended formulas if you care to search.

The fact is that formulas help.

If you are struggling with writing, look up some of those formulas.

Heck, maybe start with a personal essay that follows the five-paragraph essay format.

Great writing moves beyond formulas, I find, but everyone has to start somewhere. It’s only when you learn the formulas and the rules that you can learn to break them effectively, to adapt them to your own purposes.

I tell my students all the time that I did not learn to pull BS off the top of my head overnight. It took years and years of practice (and last-minute essay writing, to my eternal shame) to develop the ability.

I am not suggesting that all writing is BS, but every writer should at least have the capability of doing so.

Fake it until you make it, right?

So use the formulas. Practice your BS abilities.

I am also not suggesting that I’ve moved beyond the learning phase of formulas and BSing, but I might hazard to say that I am getting there.

With each new journal entry, blog post, short story, sample essay, e-mail, Facebook status, what-have-you, that I write, I learn more and more about this endlessly fascinating craft called writing.

If you’ve ever felt the call to write, come join me. It’s absolutely maddening, and at times, I want to throw every single writing utensil I own (which is a considerable amount) away and call it quits, but it’s also rewarding and fun, and it has the added benefit of the cool-factor, the being able to tell people you’re a writer and have them stare at you as if you’re some otherworldly being, or maybe just as if you are crazy.

It is worth it, though.

I promise.

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I hope you enjoyed today’s post and that you’ll continue to stick around.

Do you, too, struggle with writing and find blessed help from using formulas? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Much love, y’all,

R

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The grinning writer at work. Don’t let the smile fool you, though. There is fear in those eyes! 😀

 

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On Daily Writing and Book Buying

A strange thing happens when you start to write every single day.

For the first few days, you are hesitant.

You follow the prompts. You set your timer to force yourself to write.

Even though you are attempting to just let the words flow, you are picky. You want to sound smart. You want your words to mean something.

After a week, you just want to get the damn words on the page and get this over with so you can move on to other things, or if you have waited until the end of the day, so you can go to bed.

So, you will write down anything that comes to mind—information about your day, conversations you overheard, thoughts, dreams, hopes, even to-do lists.

I am now going strong at 16 days—just over two weeks—and I am starting to experience anxiety if I DON’T write.

I’d heard about this before.

I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

I honestly didn’t expect to last past a week in the first place.

But I did something different this time.

I made myself accountable.

I posted about it on my blog and my Facebook writer page.

I posted about it in a couple of closed writing groups I am in on Facebook.

If I’m being honest, I recognize that the only people who really read my Facebook writer page are family and friends, and it’s probably only cursory at best.

But the writing groups did it.

These people don’t know me from Adam…or Eve, as it were.

But I quickly noticed that a core group of people in each group started liking my posts, and maybe they just like everybody’s posts, but it made me want to keep writing and keep posting, because what if they look forward to seeing who wrote that day?

What if they are judging me if I don’t?

Now, okay, I realize that sounds paranoid and probably even a little egotistical.

But, really, what if?

Maybe, though, at the end of the day, it is just that I am truly being accountable to myself for once.

I’ll be honest again and say that I enjoy posting every day that I’ve written.

I get satisfaction from seeing these perfect strangers like my posts, as though they are sending me a virtual pat on the back with a “Well done!” thrown in for good measure.

Social media has its flaws. It makes it easier to be rude and unfeeling towards others. It makes us crave attention. It makes us compare ourselves to others—our day-to-day to someone else’s highlight-of-the-day.

But if it can help a struggling writer like myself find her people, her supporters, her fellow strugglers, is it really all that bad? Or is just that I’m finally finding a way to use it for good, a way that’s been there all along, but that I didn’t see as bogged down as I was in political posts and negative posts and frustrating posts?

I won’t lie. I am an avid social media user, though mostly in the form of Facebook.

But until now, I kind of hated myself for it, made myself feel guilty for it.

Maybe I just needed to find that positive use, the one apart from keeping in contact with family and sharing cute cat memes and videos or book-related links.

Now that I have found it, though, I’m going to be spending a lot more time…on…

Shit.

What have I done?

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Hope you enjoyed my post today, y’all! If you like it, don’t forget to subscribe! You can also keep up with me over on Facebook, and soon, I will be adding posts on Medium.

Before I go, let me share a funny story with you from tonight.

I decided earlier that I am the worst book lover ever.

I was in the mood to read Orwell’s 1984 as it has gotten so much press recently. I went to my shelves to find my copy…only to find I have no copy.

Okay, so I’ll read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, then, I decided and went searching…only to find I have no copy.

I immediately set out to rectify this by going to the local thrift bookstore because I didn’t want to spend that much money.

They had Bradbury’s book but not Orwell’s.

In conversation with the clerk, I found, much to my delight, that my local Barnes & Noble has Orwell’s in stock, so I checked out (with three short story collections and a craft book in addition to Bradbury’s book) and headed that direction.

One hour later…

I am now the proud new owner of three short story collections, The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Illustrated Man (also by Bradbury), and a collection of Bradbury’s short stories.

book-haul

Upon reflection, I realized that, perhaps I am not, after all, the worst book lover ever.

Much love,

R

peace-glasses

On Being a Fraud

Hi all!
I am on a two-day writing streak!
I know, I know. I’m so amazing. 😉
Seriously, though, I am hopping back on the writing and blogging (and reading!) trains after being derailed for a bit.
One of the things that has helped me enormously the past month was joining a month-long reflective writing group in which we followed Natalie Goldberg’s advice to do timed writing sessions.
For instance, tonight I did a 20-minute timed writing in response to Jeff Goins‘ My 500 Words Writing Challenge: Day 10. I started off writing about writing and ended up writing about books and my reading habits, and I came to the conclusion that I am a fraud.
“A fraud?” you may ask.
Yes, a fraud.
When I was younger, I LOVED reading and writing so much. Don’t get me wrong; I still do, but I don’t make nearly as much time as I used to for either.
I’m talking along the lines of writing for hours when I was young, even if it was just angsty, making-an-attempt-to-be-deep, teenage drama.
I could sit down and read a book in a matter of hours on the regular. Daily sometimes.
Now I’m doing good to do a 20-minute timed writing and to read a few pages in a chapter of a non-fiction book every few days or so.
“Well that’s just a normal part of growing up and taking on more adult responsibilities!” you may assure me, but I must be honest with you.
I’m a fraud, because all this time that I’ve been struggling with my writing and my reading habits, I haven’t been being honest with my friends and family.
I post the daily writing-related articles, and I blast about the benefits of reading on my Facebook page daily.
I basically preach forming a reading and/or writing habit to my students, too.
And all this time, I’m struggling to do either.
People that I know have this impression of me that I read widely and voraciously, and ten years ago, that may have been the case, but for the past couple years, I’ve been very firmly entrenched in a Pride and Prejudice rewrites, prequels, and sequels rut. 
And Harry Potter fan fiction. I can’t forget the Harry Potter fan fiction.
“But that’s still reading daily!” you say.
Bless you. You’re so kind.
For me, though, as someone who used to manage a book a day, this is depressing. I KNOW I probably read more than the average person, but I feel like a fraud for not reading as much as people believe I do.
I feel like a fraud for telling my students and my friends and my family and the stranger at the store and the person sitting next to me at church (you get the picture) how important reading (and writing) is, and I don’t prioritize it as I should.
I am working on it, though.
This year, I’ve read a few nonfiction books on writing and a couple on education. I am currently working on No Excuses by Brian Tracy.
It’s about self-discipline. *gigglesnickersnort*
I’m also writing more, and I promise to make the extra effort to post weekly. I’ll keep you updated on my writing progress, and I’ll share my thoughts on the books I’m reading. Michael Hyatt has a really helpful tool for recording your impressions on the nonfiction works you read. Go check it out!
Maybe being a fraud isn’t that bad, as long as you own up to it and attempt to correct it.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
Make sure to subscribe for more quality content (heavy sarcasm) from me, and go check out my Facebook page as well. I will share interesting links and resources from time to time over there that may be helpful for you.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time, with much love,
Rachel

My 500 Words

Hey all,

So I promised that this week would be about what I’ve been writing and reading the last month or so that I’ve been away from here, and I mean to follow through on that!

However, I also would like to share some of the things I’m currently working on, so let’s get that first bit out of the way, shall we?

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I found several great books at my local library and at a local secondhand bookshop. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg was, by far, my favorite, and I’m hoping to get to the sequel, Thunder and Lightning, over my break from work. Writing Down the Bones is a lot about establishing a daily writing habit and just WRITING, even if  it is about nothing in particular, because it can help you find ideas.I particularly like her suggestion to fill a notebook a month with any scribblings that come to mind. She also had two ideas that I really want to try: taking an improv class to loosen up and work on dialogue and setting up a booth to write a poem at a craft fair or church bazaar.

Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Conner was also good, though it’s more about grammar and usage than the act of writing. It is witty and clever, and I’d recommend it for anyone who struggles with whether to use “I” or “me” or “lay” or “lie.”

I finally went out and purchased a copy of Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, but I haven’t yet read it. I’ll let y’all know what I think when I’m done with it.

I didn’t just read craft books, though.

One that really stuck with me was The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I initially set out to read it to study the dialogue of Indian speakers so I could prepare to write my own for my NaNoWriMo project, but I quickly learned to appreciate it for so much more. It’s not just a novel about the space between people–the differences–so much as it’s a novel about how much we are alike and how we let such subjective things as class and birth divide us. I LOVED this novel and this author, and I cannot wait to read more. Her The Weight of Heaven is on top of my TBR pile.

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Speaking, or writing as it were, of my NaNo project, this year I began a women’s fiction draft, and as I mentioned before, I came in at just under 10,000 words. It tells the story of a woman who had some pretty tragic things happen to her, and she moves across the world to India to take up a teaching position and, mostly, to run away. There, she must learn to love again, to let people in again.

I’m really pleased with the amount of work I did accomplish, but I will continue to work on this over the next few months.

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And now we get to what I will be doing!

I signed up for Ninja Writer’s A Novel Idea course, which is a year-long course meant to help you finish your novel. I’m really excited about it, and I’ll let y’all know how it goes, but keep me accountable, guys! Ask me about it every now and then!

I’ve also started participating in Jeff GoinsMy 500 Words 31-day challenge.

I’m hoping that between the two, I will improve my craft and, to be honest, get my very first novel finished. Like Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” and I REALLY want to read this book I have in mind.

So today is my announcement and declaration that I will write 500 words a day for the next 31 days. Hold me to it, and I’ll do my best not to let y’all down.

And with this post, I’ve completed my first 500 words!

Thanks for sticking around, y’all!

Much love,

R

A New Resolution

During the summer, when I had too much free time on my hands, it seemed simple enough to keep up a weekly blog. However, I severely underestimated the amount of time it would take to do so when I returned to my full-time teaching job, took on additional hours in the writing lab, and maintained everyday life activities such as cleaning, hanging out with friends and family, and, you know, sleeping like a normal human being.

Yet even though I already struggled with keeping up my blogging, I decided to take on National Novel Writing Month like a super reasonable person.

And let me tell you: if I seriously thought I was going to get 50,000 words when I spend so much time doing other things, I’m more of a fool than I ever thought myself to be.

I failed. I failed big time.

However, the experience was not without its good returns.

I now have a little under 10,000 words on the books, many further ideas to develop the novel under construction, and a healthy understanding of my own shortcomings.

I have always known that I am a terrible procrastinator, but November brought me to the realization (one that I have been coming to accept for a while, actually) that I spend WAY too much time on Facebook.

The first thing I do when I wake up is reach for my phone to get on Facebook.

Throughout my day, I find myself opening up Safari to log in and check my notifications.

I scroll through my newsfeed, sometimes for literally hours, reading both funny and horrible things.

And not only does this habit of mine take away from writing time or really any other more productive activity, it affects my mood and my thoughts.

There is SO MUCH negativity; it’s only in the last year with this election season that I have really come to understand this.

People I have always seen as good and nice have revealed the ugliest side of themselves. They bash others for not thinking the way they do. They regularly purge their friends list, as if a relationship with another human being is something to be ended with just the click of a button.

I understand that sometimes on Facebook, we are friends with mere acquaintances, so it seems easy enough to unfriend them, but there had to be a reason you accepted that person in the first place. And perhaps, though you disagree with them, you can find value in those differences. I know the people I have learned from the most are those who hold vastly different beliefs than I do.

But yes, I spend hours watching all of this play out on a little screen in front of me. I refresh my newsfeed time and time again.  I get drawn into the dreaded comments section on posts, and I am horrified and fascinated by the ugliness inside people’s hearts.

Then I start to feel that ugliness take root in my own heart, too. I start to think negatively of other people and other situations.

No amount of funny or cute cat videos, delightfully sarcastic memes, or even helpful book recommendations or writing posts can cancel out the negative effect those other posts have on me.

So that has led me to the decision that I need to stay off Facebook.

I have to be realistic, though, because I DO keep up with friends and family on Facebook who live far away, and I do have my author page and blog to consider.

I compromised between my realization and my reality: For the month of December at the very least, I will only get on Facebook once a day, toward the end of the day, to keep up with my friends and family and to post on my author page on Fridays about my blog posts.

Because now that I won’t be spending so much time glued to my phone on Facebook, I will be spending more time writing, both my novel and those blog entries.

Because even though I technically failed NaNoWriMo this year, I also won. I won back my passion for the PURSUIT of my writing. I won back my desire for the presence of happy, positive, and uplifting things.

I know I have said this before, but thank you so much for your patience with me these last few months. It is my hope that you continue on this writing journey with  me, even when I lag behind like I have, though I hope not to do that too often!

Stay tuned for my post next week, in which I will discuss my current novel and things I have read, watched, and listened to the last month and a half to inspire that novel and my writing in general.

Happy December, everyone!

Much love,

R

STOP.

I have been (mostly) silent about my thoughts concerning the election results from Tuesday.

In the simplest terms, it did not go how I wanted nor how I expected it to, and those ARE two entirely different scenarios in my mind.

However, Donald Trump was voted in as President-Elect of the United States, and by some recent accounts, he even won the popular vote.

I do not like Donald Trump, nor did I want him as my president, but the fact remains that come January 20, 2017, he will be, and I will respect that.

I will pray for him and respect him as the leader of my country, because to do otherwise destroys the foundation of electoral process. His acceptance speech gives me hope that he will be more open and inclusive than the words he ran for the White House on lead me to believe he would be.

And that’s the thing here.

This country has gone insane in the last few days. I’m not naïve. These issues have been heating up for over a year now, but Tuesday made it boil over.

People are protesting and rioting, destroying other people’s property, and disrupting traffic in cities.

A young woman claimed she was robbed of her wallet and her hijab, only for it to turn out to be a falsehood that would only add more strife for the Muslim community.

An elderly man was pulled from his car and brutally beaten, possibly for a traffic altercation, but according to the woman filming it, for being a Trump supporter.

I have seen so many of my Facebook friends call others names or insult the intelligence of people who voted for the other candidate (whoever the other candidate for that particular person would be). I’ve seen people BRAG about deleting people from their friend list.

People are writing racial slurs and threats on public monuments and property.

There are many calling for the ASSASSINATION of another human being.

A woman, a supposed mother (and I use that term in the loosest sense possible) filmed herself kicking her young son out of the house for “voting” for Donald Trump in a mock classroom election.

That last incident was MY boiling point, and I couldn’t stay silent any longer.

As I watched that child sob and cry for his mom to take him back, my heart broke into pieces, my eyes burned with tears, and my rage at that woman left me shaking.

What have we come to, that someone who should be loving and protecting her child, discussing issues with him rather than threatening him, would emotionally and psychologically abuse her child OVER A FREAKING ELECTION?

I understand that people are scared. I can’t imagine what it must be to belong to the Muslim community, the LGBTQ community, the Hispanic community, or any other oppressed or minority group aside from that of being a woman.

My heart hurts at your fear and anger and own hurt, but remember this:

Two wrongs do not make a right.

As cliché as that sounds, it is so incredibly true.

What if, instead of meeting hatred and fear with MORE hatred and fear, we met it with kindness and love and consideration and compassion?

We are so eager to affirm our own points of view that we won’t listen to other people’s points of view.

“You’re disagreeing with me, so you’re WRONG, and STUPID, and RACIST, etc., etc.”

We don’t have to agree with each other to be kind to each other.

Wednesday, as I was leaving work, a homeless man cussed me out for being white, among other things.

I could have snapped back at him.

I didn’t.

Instead, I told him to have a good day, and in a seeming effort to out-kind me, he replied angrily, “NO, YOU have a BLESSED day.”

A few words of kindness turned his angry curses to angry blessings. I’ll take the angry blessings any day.

That’s my point: we may still be angry when we choose to return anger with kindness, but that kindness changes the conversation, even just a little bit.

All those friends I see bashing other people for their choice of candidates? I could block those people or delete them from my friend list, but if I leave them there, they can see the positive things I choose to post.

Y’all, I’m not perfect. I share things that aren’t always positive, but most of the time, I do try to share things that show the bright side of life. If I remove someone from my friend list, and (assuming they had not blocked my posts in the first place), they no longer see those happy things, that’s one less reason for them to smile.

If I can make JUST ONE PERSON smile with my posts, I will consider that I have made a difference in the world. I will have been the change I want to see in the world.

How can I be that change if I shut down the relationship, though?

I KNOW these are tense times. I know Trump has said some crappy things and that there are people who believe those same crappy things, but there are also people who voted for him that are just fed up with the system, and he’s saying things that will possibly change that system.

Don’t paint an entire group of voters (a majority of the voting population, it seems) with the same brush.

The same can be said for those who voted for Clinton or Johnson or Stein. Don’t group those people in a “stupid, wrong” category just because they disagree with you.

We’re all in the same boat together, so we need to come together and make a difference in our communities.

Instead of spewing hate and shutting down friendships, reach out with love and compassion. Open conversations. Hug your neighbor. LOVE your neighbor.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

That’s all I’ve got to say. Thanks for reading. I’m glad to be back.

Please, please, please. If this post has inspired you to do nothing else, at least consider where you may be spreading hate, and instead choose to spread love.

Be kind.

It’s really not that hard.

(Okay, I lied. I had a couple more things to say.)

I’m done now, though.

Much love, my friends,

R

peace-glasses
Peace and Love and Happiness and Joy and Joyness…

 

Throwing in the Towel…Sort of…

Several weeks ago, I decided I would up my game to posting blogs twice a week and checking in on my Facebook page at least one other time a week.

I’ve come to the realization that this is simply not sustainable with everything else going on in my life right now.

So I’m throwing in the 2-3 times a week towel, and I’m dialing it back to just once a week.

I don’t WANT to do this, but I NEED to do this.

I’ve spent so much time stressing out about trying to post on here and not posting on here that it’s affecting my desire to write anything else.

I want to reignite the fire that has only been smoldering the last couple of months.

I want to nourish that place inside where writing makes me happy.

Don’t get me wrong, y’all.

I am not in any way, shape, or form giving up for good.

Even boxers who throw in the towel get back up to fight other rounds.

boxing-gloves

I took on too much too soon, but I’m going to keep on practicing, and I’m going to make a comeback.

My plan is to take the next six weeks to recharge and also to gear up for National Novel Writing Month.

I’m only going to post once a week on here on Fridays, but I will still post an occasional update on my Facebook page, which you can find here.

Thanks for sticking with me, friends!

Much love,

R