Category Archives: Writing Life

Writing as Action (updated January 2013)

Thousands of academics/teachers/writers like me release hundreds of thousands of words every day on thousands of blogs. So why another?  Everyone’s different, so here’s my angle:  like the rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke, I think writing is a form of action; every word a potential catalyst for change.  Even the most routine email could change lives in ways we don’t always expect.

My teaching experience in writing and communications includes colleges and universities in Canada and the US, students from Grade 12 through graduate school (sometimes in the same class), and disciplines from business to English to engineering to women’s studies.  I also develop and facilitate online writing courses, for however much we may love print books, we need to be comfortable and fluent as writers and readers in electronic environments.  I also design and deliver workshops for businesses and organizations outside academe. There’s a lot of satisfaction in working with professionals who want to take their writing to the next level.

And I write. When I was a child, I used to make up stories, which I sometimes wrote down.  When I was a teenager I threw them all away in a fit of pique.  I like to think I made up for that later, for I’ve since written newspaper features and stories, published academic articles and book chapters. I’m also working on my first novel, though lately “real life” has been interfering with that process. That’s frustrating, but it’s also part of an equally real-life struggle through the writing process. Some people can sit and let the words flow, but for me, writing doesn’t come quickly. So I can empathize with students’ struggles, but at the same time I’m the first to say–“No excuses. Just get it done!”

Part of students’ struggle with academic writing, I think, involves the language of academe. I don’t mean the terms specialists use with each other as professional short-hand, but the dense, inflated style to which we have become so accustomed (some might say resigned). Whenever possible, I like to teach plain-language strategies and even focus on the basics of storytelling. When it comes down to it, aren’t we all trying to tell a story when we write?  Who did what? What happened? What’s next?

One more thought: The way we communicate is a measure of our civility, as people and as a society. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about that topic!


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