Sometimes, it seems as though there’s a new lesson on writing everywhere I turn. Probably, you know, because there is. Sometimes it’s a formal lesson, sometimes it’s my own attempts to teach others, and then sometimes it’s some random life event that wakes me up and makes me realize a new way to approach a writing project.
I’m nearing the end of my Associates Degree in Journalism. I’m currently enrolled in News Reporting I and German I at the local community college prior to transferring to a four year school next summer. During the summer semester I took American Lit I. Each of these classes taught or is teaching me something new about writing. Yes – even German.
In American Lit, I learned a great deal about the perspective and philosophy of writers that came before me. I was really impressed by Walt Whitman and all of the other transcendentalists. I found a lot of joy in reading Anne Bradstreet’s poetry and wished that the professor would have assigned more of her works for the course. Primarily, I found a more relaxed means of evaluating my own writing. Intro to Lit and English Comp had both created a very formal and stilted way of looking at writing. This professor took those principles and the literary elements and used them as a more relaxed means of evaluating the works and looking at what exactly it was in a work that made it either enjoyable or terrible from a neutral or personal point of view, depending on your purposes for reading the book. I’m now able to look at my own work with that jeweler’s lens and see what is good or bad about it and make improvements.
I’ve only been in News Reporting I for three weeks now. Still, I’m learning a lot and I feel like I’m doing well. The first thing I learned is that I’ve become much too dependent on autocorrect and Word to tell me when I’m misspelling something. Then, there are the forms for journalistic writing like the inverted pyramid and the hourglass story forms. These are things I’ve always recognized in my reading, but having them explained to me by a practicing journalist has been immensely useful. I like what has often become the professor’s main point, “Make it about the people!” It makes sense, not just in news writing but in any writing. It’s the characters in the book that the reader falls in love with, not the weather, the cool magical weapon, or the carriage. No. It’s the people walking in the rain, swinging the magical sword, or riding in the carriage on their way to adventure that we care about. So, I’m going to remember that next time I try to overdo the description of the background. Keep the lens on the character, and unless they’re interacting with the environment, not worry about the environment so much. That’s what the readers’ imaginations are for.
German is teaching me a much simpler lesson. Not all of my characters are going to speak perfect English. Further, some of the English sayings I use every day just wouldn’t translate well into other cultures. “A-Ok” isn’t a good line for someone that doesn’t know the alphabet. Or in another situation, taking the German expression “Machs gut!” doesn’t translate exactly. Telling someone to “Make good” doesn’t make sense, but it’s the sentiment that matters. Machs gut means, essentially, “Take care!” So whether the sentiment translates is important to figure out when putting colloquialisms into a story.
Anyhow, I have other paths to wander for a bit. In the meantime, enjoy a little Anne Bradstreet:
To finish what’s begun, was my intent,
My thoughts and my endeavours thereto bent;
Essays I many made but still gave out,
The more I mus’d, the more I was in doubt:
The subject large my mind and body weak,
With many moe discouragements did speak.
All thoughts of further progress laid aside,
Though oft perswaded, I as oft deny’d,
At length resolv’d, when many years had past,
To prosecute my story to the last;
And for the same, I hours not few did spend,
And weary lines (though lanke) I many pen’d:
But ‘fore I could accomplish my desire,
My papers fell a prey to th’raging fire.
And thus my pains (with better things) I lost,
Which none had cause to wail, nor I to boast.
No more I’le do sith I have suffer’d wrack,
Although my Monarchies their legs do lack:
Nor matter is’t this last, the world now sees,
Hath many Ages been upon his knees.