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Why They Write

Last week's blog focused on Why We Write - in general, so I thought it might be fun to make a list of a few former students who've chosen careers (or are building careers) that center around their writing talents. i'd love to take credit for their mad skills, but most of them came to me with some pretty impressive creative chops. I like to think they found rewarding outlets for self-expression in my class, and maybe improved their fluency with lots of practice - but they are amazing writers in their own right.

This list is dedicated to current students whose parents are cringing over their offspring's choice of English as a major. It's a tip-of-the-iceberg list (of first names only since i didn't ask their permission.) There are lots of others out there, so maybe you can help me add to it. It makes me happy to picture my fellow word enthusiasts at their keyboards each day.

Ben M. – screenplays in LA
Megan M. – comedy sketches for Neo-Futurists in Chicago
Geoff E., Ryan J., Rose D., Andy H. – sermons for Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist and Jewish services
Sarah Beth G. – books on economics and Georgia politics
Shaw B. – content for Comedy Central's website
Noel S. – editing for research institute associated with Harvard
Allison D. - news programming for WHNT
Ashley T. – marketing blog at Auburn
Audrey H. - blog about mission work in China
Sally C. - blog about Kiribati and Pacific culture
Sarah N. - director's notes
Kathleen J. - magazine articles
Tim K., Scott H. - sports blogs
Josh M., Kellyn E. – environmental lobby appeals to Congress, environmental issues papers
Paul M., Brian H., Ian C. – music
Nick S., Emily M., Dena S., Caroline M., Chris W., Walter F., Ryan P. – lesson plans
Mike F., Suzanne R., Drew D. - film projects
Patrick R. – started online editing business at Princeton
Shekira D., Emily E., Drew M. - website design
Sarah B. – editorial assistant with NYC publisher
John B., Graham B., Ani R., Alyssia H., Sarah S., Matthew H., George R., Cynthia G.- legal briefs

. . . and too many dissertations for grad programs to mention.

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Posted in April, 2010


Names from the Horse’s Mouth

Don't you HATE stumbling over the pronunciation of authors' names? And then you finally see a pronunciation guide and you make an effort to commit the correct pronunciation to memory - only to see ANOTHER website later that shows a totally DIFFERENT "correct" pronunciation. Raise your hand if you've heard "Elie Wiesel" pronounced at least three different ways by fairly knowledgeable people. Wanna take a stab at Louis Sachar? And which of you brave hearts wants to try Justine Larbalestier?

If you've been in this boat with me, here's a life raft you'll like - a site with authors pronouncing their own names! Not only will you learn the correct pronunciation for tricky ones like Neil Gaiman (Gay-man or Guy-man?), you'll also learn some cool facts from the horses' mouths - like Walter Dean Anderson's adoption of the name Dean to honor the foster family he grew up in, and Maya Angelou's becoming Maya when her brother couldn't say Marguerite and thought ancient Mayan tribes were cool. Interesting Anderson facts: Laurie Halse Anderson's middle name rhymes with "waltz," and M.T. Anderson uses Tobin in "real life" but claims he liked the ability to disavow authorship of any book people happened not to like - besides which a book called Thirsty by a guy named M.T. (empty) was too much fun to walk away from. If you're a poetry fan, you'll learn that Naomi Shihab Nye's middle name is her maiden name, which means "shooting star" in Arabic, and Sherman Alexie will answer folks who think his name doesn't sound Native American.

So have fun. Names are important to "word people." It drives me crazy if I ask a student how to pronounce his name and he says, "Either way is fine." Either way is NOT fine. I pride myself on working hard to get it right, which can be challenging in a high tech town with people from all over the world - and I do love my Dahagham's and Dasarathy's and Adeshiyan's. I mangled Heidi Siegrest's once, but I apologized profusely, and i think she forgave me ("sea", not "sigh.")

If I can just learn Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, I'll be happy. Thank God for abbreviations.

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Posted in April, 2010


Why We Write

-To earn passing grades: Let's face it, most of our early writing is not voluntary. I've wrestled enough research papers from hostile juniors and seniors to know that for many, the ONLY motivation – at least in the beginning – is to graduate from high school and be done with writing.

-To stay connected: Even though most of us don't hand-write long letters any more, we e-mail our friends and relatives and keep up with huge numbers of contacts through FB, Twitter, etc.

-To entertain: Whether it's a quick comment on FML or Texts from Last Night, or a detailed account of a crazy weekend in emails or on blogs, we all love a good story, and sites like reddit keep us in the loop.

-To remember: We write events of our lives in journals, memories from the past in letters to old friends, homework assignments in tiny notepads or on slips of paper that get lost, and To Do lists that don't get done. Writing is our cue to our future selves about important stuff.

-To make sense of tragedy: How many times have you heard someone tell the story of where they were on 9-11? Or when the big tornado hit? We cope with tragic events by retelling the stories.

-To organize our thoughts. We pull together large amounts of information to find common threads and relationships between ideas.

-To satisfy creative urges: Whether we're writing novels, poems, plays, music, speeches, legal briefs, or sermons, there's something immensely satisfying about matching what's in our heads with the hard-copy that will help other people understand our thoughts.

-To find our voice. How can we know what we think until we see what we say? Only you can express the particular thoughts that are in your unique head in your own personal style. Writing's a great journey in self discovery for those with the courage to experiment.

-To earn money: Just kidding. That doesn't happen. . . Well, not much.

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Posted in April, 2010