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

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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

Listen

In my classes, I give daily writing prompts, which we usually spend about 15 minutes on. Because I am not only trying to teach essay writing but also the critical thinking skills necessary to do so, I occasionally allow the discussion time to run longer than planned.

Sometimes, the students get so passionate about the subjects covered that the whole period flies by before we know it (though this could be due to strategic planning on their parts to avoid classwork).

This past week, the topic at hand was pulled from a New York Times list of topics for essay writing: Does technology make us more alone? In classes with students from generations new and old, opinions varied and were at times surprising.

Two young men, both no older than twenty, carried the discussion in one class for a while. One was passionately in agreement with the idea that technology isolates us, and the other just as passionately against.

In another class, a young man was staunchly against the idea, while an older lady was hugely for it.

“My brother now has 291 friends on Facebook!”

“But are they really his friends?”

Their ideas and points were well thought and intelligently delivered. I could tell that no matter what side they defended, they felt strongly about it.

In the process of discussing this, though, they seemed to be catching on to and displaying the thing I wanted them to learn most: respect.

Respect for each other and respect for the fact that we all have different opinions.

Yes, I occasionally had to step in and soothe some heightened emotions, but for the most part, they listened to each other.

Some even nodded along as people from the other side made valid points.

As an educator, I couldn’t have been prouder of my students or more pleased that they were absorbing the lesson, whether consciously or not.

As a human being, I secretly shed a few tears of joy (later, in the privacy of my own home—shhh, don’t tell anyone!) at the evidence that there is hope for this world, hope for humanity to get along.

We can disagree but still find common ground.

In today’s political atmosphere in America, if you say you are pro-Trump or pro-Clinton, you may get sneers of disdain.

I’ll admit I’m sometimes guilty in both cases.

What we all need to remember, and what my students demonstrated so beautifully, is that just because a person has views opposite of your own ideas does not mean everything that person believes is wrong or that all of his or her actions are deplorable.

A person can believe in abortion or the death penalty or marriage between homosexuals and still be a good person.

A person can oppose all of the above and still be a good person.

Intelligent, rational human beings hold views and beliefs on both ends of the spectrum and remain intelligent and rational.

Believing in something (or not believing in something) does not mean you are stupid or hateful or bigoted or racist.

It just means that *gasp* you have a different opinion than other people.

I can believe abortion is wrong and that the death penalty is just (or the opposite) and still be a moral and educated person.

Bob can be a Bible-thumping, American-flag-waving, gun-toting, Republican and still have logically sound arguments on which to base his beliefs.

Joe can be a tree-hugging, flag-burning, peace-sign-throwing, Democrat and—you guessed it—still have logically sound arguments on which to base his beliefs.

cartoon
Obviously “Dang Hippie” and “Dang Racist” are not logical arguments, but this is the type of thinking we are led to when we allow stereotypes and closed-mindedness to cloud our reason. (And this is also meant to be a humorous little cartoon to break up a serious topic. How meta.) 

I was on the debate team for several years, and it was one of the best things I ever chose to participate in. Something debate taught me was to look at both sides of an issue and come up with arguments for and against each side.

This left me with an open mind, a bigger heart for the world, and an even bigger faith in that whole “love your neighbor” thing—your gay neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your KKK neighbor (though that is admittedly difficult), and so on.

Here’s the thing: the more we accept others and love on each other rather than hurl verbal grenades at each other, the better place this world is.

I choose to defuse hate with love.

The more I practice this in my own life, the closer to the God I serve I grow (because I fully believe Jesus died on the cross for my gay neighbor, my Muslim neighbor, my KKK neighbor, etc.).

With the anniversary of 9/11 just past and the extremely heated and polarized election season upon us, we can all stand to learn just what my students have been showing me: we CAN agree with each other on some points, even if we don’t agree on whole issues.

The only way we are going to recognize where we agree, though, is to listen.

Just listen.

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My stereotypical, peace-sign throwing self. I tried to avoid the duck lips. 

Much love, my friends. ❤

R

Images

There are moments I wish that I had camera in hand at all times or that the subjects involved wouldn’t mind having their picture taken. My own mind and the words on this page will have to suffice. (Though fortunately I have other pictures, in some cases, to share!)

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Last night as I drove home from teaching my evening class, I gripped the steering wheel so tightly that when I took a hand away to use my blinker, I could feel an ache deep in my bones. Outside of my windshield, rain poured down. When the thunder rumbled, I could feel the vibrations in my chest. The lightning streaked across the sky in all directions, leaving me blinded for mere seconds, but long enough to cause a slight panic to rise. If I hadn’t been driving, this would have been one of those perfect nights to sit on the porch and just watch. It was both magnificent and terrifying, and my only other wish is that I had been able to capture just a fraction of the show on camera.

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Today as I drove home along that same route, I was struck by the absolute stillness in the sky, which was a beautiful and clear blue. The puffy white clouds looked so soft that I just know if it were possible, they’d make the most comfortable bed ever. Music played softly in the background. My favorite radio station—KLOVE. The sun was a warm, reassuring kiss across my skin. There is light in darkness, as shown the night before, and there is an even greater light that comes after. This, too, made me wish I could have used my camera as I drove.

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My student. She doesn’t look a day over 50 at the most, but her face is calm and slightly amused as she tells me she is not a hop, skip, and jump from 70, but only a hop. The bright red in her stirs a bit of jealousy. I don’t think I could ever pull that off half so well. Her smile is genuine as she responds to today’s writing prompt and tells me that the person she admires most is me, because I explain things. The slight wrinkles in her dark skin, and the black compression sleeve on her arm speak to trials in her long years. The joy in her eyes as she tells about being a foster mom. The deep laugh as I make a fool of myself to make sure she and her classmates are at ease in my classroom. She is glorious in her bearing, and I envy and admire her poised confidence.

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A picture in my “On This Day” feed. My sweet, sweet Sassy, who nearly a year ago, I had to let go, because she was just in too much pain for me to selfishly hold on any longer. Her little chin resting on my hand, her not-so-sleek-anymore fur tickling my skin. I remember taking the picture just as though I’d done it right before writing this post. My heart swelled with love that this creature trusted me so much and loved me so much. What else could explain her need to rest on me at all times?

Sassy

(Luckily, in this case, I had the actual picture to share with you all.)

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Munni, my darling little girl, my fur baby, who came to me at a time when I needed her. A brother’s gift. A little hello from my Sassy in Heaven. She stretched across the table as I ate, even though she knew she shouldn’t be up there. Her round little belly poofed around her, and her soft fur brushed against my outstretched hand as she nuzzled against it, hoping for food, and looking too cute for words as she did so. A bittersweet love in my chest as she unknowingly (or perhaps not?) reminded me of the one I lost a year ago. She has to be AROUND me, but in her fierce independence, it must be on her own terms. I wouldn’t change a thing about her. I couldn’t do without her.

munni moo

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My mother. Y’all, there are hardly words for how much I adore this woman. From the slight tinge of silver at her temples that is a testament to her struggles to her wicked humor as she teases me about a weird phobia of mine. Words just don’t do justice to how absolutely my hero she is. This woman, who made me eggs every single day this week and last for breakfast so that I’d have something warm in my stomach as I headed to work. (Yes, I still live with my mom. So sue me!) This woman, who supports me in all my endeavors, including taking picture after picture for a post last week, even though she was beyond exasperated with me. Her face that is mine in 30 years, full of kindness and laughter and hardship and sacrifice.

mom and me

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I see the world in images. When my memories overwhelm me, the visual details are what stick out the most. When I’m writing a new story, I have to have that picture in my head. I have to be able to direct a mini-movie for the audience of one that is me, so that I know when I share my writing, others can see those images as well.

I hope you enjoyed the world as I see it, this small slice of the day (or maybe day-and-a-half) in the life of me.

Much love,

R