There are some interesting thoughts on my “old” blog about writing:
Do you want an autographed copy of my book, Lost Towns of North Georgia?[wpecpp name=”Autographed copy, “Lost Towns of North Georgia:” price=”17.00″ align=”right”]
End of summer? Cook-outs? Sales? Politics?
Maybe Labor Day is about all of these things but at the same time none of these things. Last week a student asked me the meaning of Labor Day. I realized that we have lost the original meaning of this day off.
My father, a hard-working man, used to say that the laborers are the only ones to have to work on Labor Day. I guess if you worked today, you understand. Watch this mini-history lesson from History channel: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day. It explains the origins of Labor Day with cinematic skill.
What is not mentioned in this History clip is the North Georgia connection. Lindale, Georgia – a once bustling town and productive member of Georgia’s industrial society – now crumbles into the past. Today, Lindale residents proudly embrace its and for good reason. Lindale played an important role in child labor laws that would end abusive conditions for all American children.
In my book, Lost Towns of North Georgia, I write about this lost mill town in Floyd County, Georgia – Lindale and its impact on child labor laws. Here is an excerpt:
“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”–Lewis Wickes Hine
Norman walked with dread toward the stacks. Each step took him away from his mill home on Park Avenue in Lindale and away from school – his only way out of the mill. Each reluctant stride took a ten-year-old wrinkled boy to work. Work was the lint choked spinning floor of the Massachusetts Mills. On this bright April day in 1913, Norman noticed a commotion. Just outside of the mill fence, the other doffers were talking to a man out of place. The bespectacled man was taking pictures and notes. Lewis Hine was busy setting up his tripod camera when Norman walked by with eyes focused downward. Hine called out to him.
“Can I take your picture?” Hine asked. Norman looked up. Hine knew he did not have the words to tell this boy’s story when he looked in his disheveled eyes. Hine would have to let his camera lens do its job.
Norman was dirty before he got to work and the sun was hurting his eyes, so he squinted as Lewis Hine focused his camera. The explosion of the ancient camera froze Norman Hall in time – dirt and all. The dirt lines highlighted the lines on his face that belonged to a middle-aged man, not a ten-year-old boy. Hine asked Norman his name and age and Norman replied, “Norman Hall, and I’m 12.” Hine expected the standard lie and made a mental note to check the insurance papers. Hine could measure the height of a child by the buttons on his vest and determine their age. He also could talk his way into the mill office and the mill floor.
Norman told Hine that his father and brothers also worked in the plant and that he wanted to contribute. He said, “My parents said work never hurt a kid and I want to do my part. Plus we get to live in the company mill house, if we all work there.”
Lewis Hine not only photographed the children who worked in the mill, but he captured the mill homes. He would comment about the housing conditions, “Not a thing neglected, except the child.”
Hine’s images would haunt the nation. In 1913, he worked with the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) presenting the images to Congress. This led to solid legislation in 1938. The government began enforcing strict child labor laws.
The loss of child labor was neither the end nor the beginning of Lindale, it was just part of the story.
Lewis Hine made a difference. Today, Lindale appears to be lost in helpless restoration, but it is found in its history. Lewis Hine and the images of the Lindale children – adds another layer of meaning to Labor day.
The meaning of Labor Day is lost. Labor laws have made us forget the insignificant laborers who rose up and organized. History has overlooked the unknown man who came from the North to photograph children like Norman Hall. The idea of children working in dangerous mills today is incomprehensible, but it not for Hines and places like Lindale, we might remember what Labor Day is really all about.
Read more about Lewis Hine in this informative article in the Huffington Post.
Read more about Lindale and other Lost Towns of North Georgia. Available at Amazon.com.
“Scattered words and phrases hide your word design; it may be time for a writing makeover. Rewriting eLearning content starts by using your word-processing tools to spot wordiness. With practice, concise writing will become your natural style.”
Do you think most learners actively read and engage with the text in your eLearning courses? Or do they skim through walls of text just to click through the slides and get to the “good” parts (animations, videos, etc.)?
Words are a pillar of good design. To grab learners at “Hello,” we must start designing our words. Like many writers, I find certain aspects of writing and proofreading are excruciating. Deadlines and client constraints cause me to take shortcuts. Careful revision is sometimes the easy sacrifice. But I found an answer, and in this article I offer it to you. You can put it to work today, using a tool you already own.
Writing and feng shui
In our field, things change fast. More often than not, we juggle multiple aspects of our projects. Content writing can become little more than a “copy and paste” job, based on what subject-matter experts provide. After all, writing and proofreading are not always quite as much fun as creating a visually attractive slide, a great interaction, a video, or even a game.
To leave our learners with something of substance, we need to pay more attention to our text, whether that’s text on a slide, instructions for a learning interaction, or something else. If we want learners to actually read what we write, we must write, read, and revise. Editing does not have to be drudgery.
“Feng shui” is an ancient practice based on selecting the optimal arrangement to encourage positive energy flow. Interior designers have used this phrase to describe perfect placements of objects and surfaces. Feng shui, though often thought of as a philosophy that can be applied to architecture and interior design, has a message for writers as well. Instructional designers can borrow ideas from feng shui for writing to encourage information flow and keep the learner reading.
Look at your content with an attitude of feng shui. Remove word clutter. Refocus your writing. Where to begin? I want to reintroduce you to your word processing software.
Declutter with find and replace
Many of us, myself included, fall in love with what we write, and love is blind. Lucky for us, MS Word, and every other word processor, has a “find and replace” function. Use “find and replace” to cut through your mind’s ability to ignore writing weak spots. Bruce Ross-Larson, in his book Edit Yourself (see “Reference” at the end of this article), helps content writers find the words and phrases scattered across your work that derail your learner’s engagement. With the help of Larson and other writing mentors we can clean up the clutter.
Five red flags to find and revise
Search your writing and find these five red flags to clean up the clutter.
- Titles and headingsFirst look at your titles. Titles are the front door to your content. Well-formatted headlines are inviting while all capitals yell at your guests. As instructional designers we serve the client. Sometimes clients have text-formatting preferences that may not follow grammar standards. Start with a unified style guide combining the client’s wishes with good grammar.
Try this: Headlines or titles have three formats, according to the newest style-guide for digital media, The Yahoo! Style Guide. The editors suggest you choose between sentence case (written like a sentence), all upper case, or title case (capitalize all the words except tiny words: “a,” “an,” “and,” “at,” “but,” “by,” “for,” “in,” “nor,” “of,” “on,” “or,” “so,” “the,” “to,” “up,” and “yet). To create clutter-free writing, use title case. Write a title or headline that draws your learner into the content and be consistent across the slides with your title format.
- ItIt can be a problem. While many explanations tell us why it can make writing look primitive, focus on ambiguity. If it does not refer to a specific subject and only to a thought in the writer’s head, we leave too many words with too little meaning. Starting a sentence with “It is . . .” is a warning sign for word clutter.
Try this: Find every instance of it in your text using your word processor’s Search and Replace function. Look at each time you used it in a sentence. Ask: Where is the subject of it? Where is the location of it? What does it mean? Can we cut or reword it?
- There isThere is can be as problematic the word “it.” Expletives, “it is,” “there is,” and “there are,” add unnecessary words and weaken the message. Readers prefer simple subject and verb construction—in that order.
Try this: Search for “There is” or “There are” in your text. See if you can reword by putting the real subject first. According to The Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty, “The trick to figuring out what verb to use is to find the real subject of the sentence.”
- The___of / Of___the Nominalizations and unnecessary infinitive phrases like the___of and of___the can create word confusion. You want your readers to flow through your eLearning content and learn. Look at your writing and see if you have a sentence like this: In the field of retail sales an associate must learn customer service. Revise, eliminating the/of: A retail sales associate must learn customer service.
Try this: Search your content for the word, “of.” Find how “of” is used and see if you can revise or remove unnecessary words.
- To and more . . .Stop writing in circles and be direct. Circumlocution is using many words when a few would do. Instead of: Your manager has the ability to make your work productive. Write: Your manager can make your work productive.
Try this: Look for words or phrases like “to,” “it is,” “that is,” “that are,” “in accordance with,” “on the occasion of,” “at this/at that,” “is ___ to,” “up the,” “out the,” and “who are.” Find and revise redundant phrases into succinct sentences. Never use extra words without adding extra meaning.
Scattered words and phrases hide your word design; it may be time for a writing makeover. Rewriting eLearning content starts by using your word processing tools to spot wordiness. With practice, concise writing will become your natural style. For help rearranging your words and phrases, consult Purdue OWL, Grammar Girl, and Edit Yourself (see “Reference” below).
Brian Carroll, in Writing for Digital Media (see “Reference”), says, “Hemingway described prose not as interior decoration but as architecture.” Feng shui is not so much interior decorating as it is architecture. Architects who use feng shui do so with the intent of building toward positive progressive energy. In the same way, well-constructed content ebbs and flows, providing learners with a satisfying finish.
Barr, C. (ed.) The Yahoo! Style Guide: Writing for an Online Audience. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.
Carroll, B. Writing for Digital Media. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.
Grammar Girl: Oddness When You Start a Sentence with “There Is”: Quick and Dirty Tips. 3 June 2011.
Purdue OWL: Conciseness. Undated.
Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words.
New York: Norton, 1996.
Shaughnessy, M. P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Article is from Learning Solution Magazine Written in July 13 by Lisa M. Russell.
Cassville or the story of Cassville has chased me for years. I went to Cassville Baptist just before 2000. We left just after 9/11. When I left the church, I carried the stories with me and a strong desire to write them down. I toyed with a fictionalized version of what happened to me there or what I thought was happening in the spirit realm, but after I got it out of my system I put it away. I left “Ichabod” alone in a file.
The other day, I came across an advertisement calling for short-story authors to submit to a new anthology. They were in particular need of writers of historical fiction. I thought of “Ichabod” sitting in pieces and notes on napkins in my desk file drawer.
I have convinced myself that I am not a fiction writer. Creative non-fiction yes, but not the mysterious workings of fiction writing. Well, maybe it is time I stopped saying, “I do not write fiction.” Maybe I should take a chance and pull out that old textbook I borrowed (and never returned) from Professor and writer Melanie Sumner and learn the right way to write fiction. Perhaps I have learned something about fiction writing from the many sections of literature I teach.Maybe I can scrabble together a readable short story based on real things that happened at Cassville. Maybe old “Ichabod” needs a resurrection and lots of revision.
Oh Cassville, a lost town of little significance, you have so much more to share. I am listening.
Maybe I will do it, write a historical fiction short story. Maybe. Maybe not. There may be a fiction writer somewhere lurking within. I will keep you posted.
Note: The first chapter of my new book, Lost Towns of North Georgia is dedicated to the real story (written as a microhistory in the creative nonfiction style) of Cassville. The book began as a book only about Cassville, but the publishers asked me to write about other lost towns in North Georgia.
Rhetoric is not just for liars anymore. Politicians have given “rhetoric” a bad name. This current political season is no different than any other. People trying to get elected use words to get you to do things – vote for them. At some point, the word, “rhetoric” will be spewed out as if it were a dirty word. Don’t sully the reputation of this beautiful word, “rhetoric.
Watch this interesting video, produced by Clemson, that will put the “rhet” back into “rhetoric.”
Michael D.C. Drout is an associate professor of English at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. He teaches Old and Middle English, medieval literature, Chaucer, Fantasy, and science fiction. Drout says:
“We tend to think of “rhetoric” either as something bad and manipulative (when we discount speech as “just a bunch of rhetoric”) or as something elevated and perhaps overblown, but in fact rhetoric is simply (and complexly)the art of using words to change the world.
The word “rhetor” means “orator” or “teacher,”and the art of rhetoric was taught in ancient Greece for public purposes: convincing and inspiring one’s peers so that they would take courses of action you believed to be wise.
Don’t be a Cassandra
Drout further encourages us not to be a “Cassandra”.
In ancient Greek literature, Cassandra tricked the god Apollo into giving her the gift of prophecy. But as a punishment, Apollo cursed Cassandra to be right always but never to have anyone believe her. Cassandra thus exemplifies the rhetorically deficient person: She knows what is right, but she is unable to convince anyone to do anything about it.
I do not want to be a Cassandra. How about you?
Drout gives us a good way to remember the important rhetoric elements of logos, ethos, and pathos.
You can think of the three pieces, logos, ethos,and pathos, as logic, ethics, and sympathy (the root words are recognizable).
My son, who agrees with me about most things political made a comment that kind of made me feel good, but also made me say, “Hmmm.” We were discussion political issues when he said,
” Mom, you should have a talk show about politics.”
Maybe I should. I know for certain, I need to understand and identify some of the logical fallacies. Some of the examples of these logical fallacies are mine and may contain rhetorical errors and thus another kind of logical fallacy. Please do not automatically assign Argumentum ad Hominem to me!
- Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. This is a fallacy somewhat related to asserting the consequent. This is a hard one to avoid. This is assuming that the converse of a true statement is automatically true. “The economy is failing, it must be George Bush’s fault. The war in Iran was a victor, it must be Obama’s presidency.”
- Denying the Antecedent. People incorrectly assume the invese is true. Inverse takes a true statement and puts NOT on both sides. “If the economy is not failing, it must not be George Bush’s fault. The war in Iran was not a victor, it must not be Obama’s fault.”
- Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. This fallacy is when a writer assumes that because something came after something else, the first thing caused the second thing. “Gore was in office during the birth of the internet, thus Gore invented the internet”.
- Petitio Principii (Begging the Question). This fallacy is abused by newspaper columnists according to Professor Drout. This means you have asked the other side to concede the main point in the argument. A simple example:
If we are arguing about what to eat for dinner, you say, “just to speed things up, can’t you at least agree that we won’t eat seafood?” so that we can move on. But if I wanted to eat seafood, asking me to concede, for the sake of argument, that we won’t eat seafood, is begging the question: asking for me to give in preemptively.
To be fair and balanced…
A red flag for this fallacy:the use of an adjective or adverb to perform all the logical work in the sentence. When politicians campaign on the platform of eliminating “wasteful spending,” they are in fact begging the question. Everyone is against wasteful spending; there is no need to have an argument about it. The real question (which has been begged here) is which spending is wasteful and which is not. Therefore, the word “wasteful” begs the question by trying to get you to agree that whatever spending the politician is against, you’re against too. You’ll see that this fallacy is related to the enthymeme: It assumes that you share the enthymeme with the speaker even when you don’t.
- Attacking the Messenger: Argumentum ad Hominem
Argumentum ad hominem is probably most commonly used today in attacks on people’s intelligence: Candidate X is stupid; therefore his policies must be bad. Note that “candidate X is stupid, therefore we should not elect him” is a reasonable syllogism (with the enthymeme of “we should not elect stupid people”), but this says nothing about the policies the candidate is advocating.
The other day I heard a “talking head” or political spokesman comment with a sarcastic chuckle, “Thinking people and a Donald Trump supporter? Those phrases do not go together.” So, just because someone wants a political change for our country and supports an outlier like Trump, they are automatically – stupid? This is a childish argument and a logical fallacy.
- Tu Quoque.
An example would be “famous actor X says that population control is a good idea, but he has eleven children.” Famous actor X may be a hypocrite, but that does not address the merits of the idea of population control, whatever they may be. The tu quoque fallacy is probably the most common in all of political discourse.
Red Herring (Ignoratio Elenchi—Irrelevant Thesis). Because tu quoque focuses on the hypocrisy of the speaker, it distracts the hearer or reader from the real issues. That is the same general idea of the red herring, which is an attempt to change the subject from one in which the speaker is losing to one in which he is likely to win.
Other Logical Fallacies
- Sweeping Generalization (Dicto Simpliciter).
- Appeal to Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignorantiam).
- Plurium Interrogationum (Too Many Questions).
- and many more…
I suggest you stalk your demons. Embrace them. If you are a writer, especially one who has been unable to make your work count or stick, you must grab your demons by the neck and face them down. And whatever you do, don’t censor yourself. There’s always time and editors for that (Lerner).
Betsy Lerner in The Forest for the Trees, encourages “The Ambivalent Writer”
to find the real reason they write. Writers who do extensive research and read broadly in the face of a deadline are called – procrastinators. Learner describes ambivalent writers as those too frightened to share their emotional truth. This writer is stuck and sadly that writing may never stick.
Lerner speaks the truth with a mentor’s heart. She says we write because we are haunted, bothered, and uneasy in the world. Writers suffer from excessive feelings and must bleed on-screen to find motivation – the reason they write. Nobody has to read this first vent, but it is part of the process. If you do not connect with your own heart – you will not connect with anyone else’s. There is enough writing out there for the head. People want writing for the heart. This explains the reason Creative Nonfiction is so popular . They want history, biography, and science in story form; they want narrative to matter.
Recently while watching Book TV on CSPAN, I was mesmerized by Rebecca Skloot discuss her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She writes about science, a topic I am not normally interested. She was talking about a woman, known to most medical researchers only by her cells, the HeLa cells. The author tells Henrietta’s little known story:
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like invitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
I would have switched the channels if they had told me the story of the women in their books that changed their world of medicine. They wrote science as narrative. I wanted to read this science book and know more about Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot allowed Henrietta’s life touch her own and it touches our heart. Skloot does more than write a textbook about cancer cells, she tells a
story she that haunted her about a poor black woman. “Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi million-dollar industry.”
Writers carry around demons. Some of those demons are emotional, some are physical, some are spiritual, some are just stories that won’t go away – they haunt us and taunt us to deal with them. Writers are gifted with the opportunity to reach around and grab those things by the neck and wrestle it into words.
A wise graduate professor suggested that before we write anything else, that we deal with the elephant in the room. My Creative Nonfiction class has been a profound journey. It has forced me to look deep into the eyes of my demon and decide if I want to keep doing this writing thing. Why would anyone want to go through the agony of digging into the foundation of your soul, scaffolding your sentences so others can safely see what you are building? Then submit to the final humiliation – exposing your grammatical disability and giving your editor the power of life and death over your work? Why bother? That’s the question every writer must ask and answer. In that answer – you will find your motivation to write.
Words for the New Year. Social media and business expert, Chris Brogan has three words he focuses on each year. I just have one for 2014, “Why?”
It is easy to come up with “What” and “How” is simple. Just learn it and apply it. “Why?” Now that takes thought. Most people, most businesses, never start with “Why?” they just DO something after figuring out the “What” and the “How.” Listen to Simon Sinek explain his theory of “Start with Why” Sinek’s new ideas fascinate me, but they resonant with something I learned a long time ago.
It is all about purpose. You remember, The Purpose-Driven Life? Rick Warren’s seminal book subtitled, “What on earth am I here for?” changed my thought life. I started looking for purpose in everything I do. The purpose driven mentality began driving my life. It keeps me centered and somewhat calm in a storm. Lest you be deceived, understand, I am not perfect in the practice.
Recently, I got involved in something that was not purpose driven. It was redundant and purpose-less. I could not find the answer to my question, “WHY?” However, I have a strong work ethic and I am loyal to a fault. Often my time is over before I am ready to go, so I stayed longer than I was supposed to and it ended up messy. I do this with volunteer work, people I am only supposed to know for a season, and projects I should have never taken. Then I get mad and hurt, when all along, it was not part of the “WHY” for my life.
You will know your “Why?” and your purpose by the way it makes you feel. It is a deep longing that keeps dragging you back. You can answer one question and discover your purpose. My sister asked that question over a year ago, “Lisa, if money were no object and you could spend the rest of your life doing anything, what would it be?”
Years and heartache have finally brought me to accept my “Why?” It is an honorable “Why.” I embrace it. It is my “Why?” It is my purpose. What’s yours? Why not spend some time thinking of “Why?” instead of making hopeless resolutions? Why? Because when you figure out your purpose, your lifeless resolutions will fade away while your “Why?” guides your journey.