Friday, April 03, 2009

My Writing Class

I haven't talked about my Writing in Psychology class as much as I thought I might this spring, but I just gave my class an assignment that I hope will turn out interesting.

I told them I wanted them to write a "tip article" directed at a novice writer. In other words, I asked them to write an advice column/essay about writing. Tell someone else what you think is an important thing, or the important thing(s), that someone new to writing should know. I hope this will really make them think about what we've covered so far this semester and about whether it was good advice or not.

I did this last time I taught this class as well, several years ago, and I got some really good pieces. I even edited two of the papers and published them in my Writer's Block column for The Illuminata. Those students were very excited to see their names in print, and those papers deserved to be there once they were given a bit of editing.

I didn't mention this to my current class, but if I get some good articles I might do the same this year. It all depends on what I get. The fact is, writing out one's thoughts remains one of the best ways to truly understand and clarify one's thinking. It also helps you learn the material better. It's why I started writing articles about writing in the first place, so that I could myself understand what was important about the act of writing. And it's why the core of ideas that I first explore here on the blog sometimes get written up more formally later for my column.

I sometimes think I don't really understand anything until I can write about it. How about you?



Mary Witzl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Witzl said...

I feel so envious! In front of me right now I've got a stack of 35 reviews of 'Slum Dog Millionaire' which start like this: Salim very bad boy. Salim very love money more than the Karem. Karem loves girl, Latika, and has perfect charaker.

And that's just about my best one.

Wanna swap classes?

spyscribbler said...

Charles, I don't understand a darned thing until I write it or teach it. It's how I process the world. I'd do more of it on my blog, if it wouldn't make me look like a know-it-all when, really, I don't feel like I know anything. It's just how I process things, LOL. I don't know why!

Steve Malley said...

One of my old art profs used to say, "You never really see anything until you try to draw it."

Something powerful about the way the brain writes and rewrites information when you're packaging it up for output.

Me, I never truly know a thing until I've interpreted it through the power of Mime....


Lisa said...

You are so right. I rarely understand what I think about anything until I write about it. That may be the greatest benefit of keeping a blog.

Cath said...

Charles you just so hit the nail on the head! Perfectly.

Writing is cathartic and sometimes even catalytic.
I wouldn't know where to start to write tips (I wouldn't suppose to know - but then, I haven't been "taught" to write) but I think it is a brilliant idea to focus your art and refine it. It is the ONLY way I can understand things.

It certainly made me think of the post I started tonight and spent a good hour or so on, only to abandon it as I know I won't post it. It has served its purpose and exorcised ghosts. I understand how and why things happened a bit more now, so I don't need to post it and risk hurting some one. I will post on the subject, it will be refined though because of the process of writing and understanding.

However we do it, I see it as a healing and necessary thing for me.


I am so glad you didn't tell them about publishing good ones. That would change how they wrote and that reward should be for natural talent. :)
You're a cracking teacher y'know.

Angie said...

That's very like a similar idea, that the best way to learn something is to teach it. You might have the idea that you know something, but until you can verbalize it, and explain it in so many words in a way someone else understands, you don't really know it. I learned more in workshops than I ever did in English classes, and within the workshops I learned more while critiquing other people's work than I did from critiques I got on my own work. Same idea; can you explain what you know?


Charles Gramlich said...

Mary Witzl, uhm, not at the minute no. But maybe I won't be so happy with mine when final exams come!

spyscribbler, I learned that I was that way in grad school and I've been doing it ever since.

Steve Malley, yes, I can see you doing some mime right now. A similar saying that I like is that you never really know someone until you get drunk with them.

Lisa, I've found that to be true too. I've clarified a lot of my thoughts here. Sometimes to the chagrin of my readers!

Cath, did you get my email address, I haven't heard from you about your blog yet. That's also true about writing, how it can be cathartic. I've often written letters or rants that I never meant to send because it really just lets me get all the stuff out.

Angie, I found that out in grad school when I first started teaching psychology. Man did I learn it then.

G said...

I got to understand a lot about writing simply by blogging about it and reading about it.

The more I blogged, the better I understood not only my writing, but also everyone else's as well.

It has definitely made me realize that 98% of the time, blogging is head and shoulders above the chat rooms.

Also made me realize that most of the quiz kids that are in the world today, hang out in the chat rooms 'cause they can't cut it in the real world or the blog world.

Erik Donald France said...

"I sometimes think I don't really understand anything until I can write about it. How about you?"

Absolutely true. And as far as writing notes, another good thing, especially if they're active notes.

laughingwolf said...

exactly so, charles... i've always learned best and most by writing things down, or doing hands on stuff

hope you get some good ones to share

pattinase (abbott) said...

YES! It makes you define it. I never thought about it until now. I write to understand my feelings about something--it's often something I can't articulate aloud or even to myself.

JR's Thumbprints said...

The best writing class I've ever had was a speech class. If you didn't understand your target audience, if you didn't write well enough, then your speech was bound to fail. Nothing like having a room full of people questioning your message.

Cloudia said...

Yes, I write to discover what I know. Often I'm surprised!

jodi said...

Charles, If you don't know which direction to go or what you want to say, just start putting it down and it will develop from there.....I think.

Charles Gramlich said...

G, blogging has inspired a lot of my articles and essays on writing, and has benefited my class on writing a lot as well.

Erik Donald France, I find that a big aid to memory as well.

laughingwolf, me too.

pattinase (abbott), that's exactly what I've found. I can finally really debate an issue once I've written about it.

JR, I've actualy never had a speech class, although I'm sure I could have benefited from it in my job.

Cloudia, occassionaly I am as well.

jodi, yes, it seems to work that way for me, for sure. My students don't often believe me though.

ivan said...

"Ivan, when we graduate, are we all going to be like you?" She had watched me trip on rolling chalk just under my feet just below the blackboard and then twisting and falling full frontal upon the desk of the nearest student, dishevelling her big hair and tilting her glasses..

I do a double-take. The "violated"student does a double-take. We both compose ourselves. I stand up, face the class.
"Rivka, I at least hope you will respect me for my ideas."
She giggles.

"Which are?"

This is all followed by a sustained silence and then, at last, my verbal burst, a torrent, a flood of unstoppable surreal interlingual jabberwocky that makes no sense at all and yet seemingly to me anyway,makes perfect sense in each rapid-fire contemptuous interlocking reference to people and events.

"Now go an write something."

They did. And Rivka did. The wigged out prof falling on his/her head and a complete recap of western thought.

Life is a tale....

the walking man said...

I don't understand anything...a broken heart maybe at times but even then, not so much.

BIBI said...

Definitely!! I think writing is very cathartic and for me it helps me to sort out my feelings and to reflect on my behavior as well. And then sometimes others! But mostly mine. :)

David Cranmer said...

Charles, I couldn't agree more. Once I research a piece whether it's fiction or not I come away with a better understanding and appreciation for the subject.

steve on the slow train said...

I'm not sure whether I understand things even after I've written about them, but the premise is correct--writing does help one focus on the subject and look at it from different points of view.

BernardL said...

I agree. Writing thoughts down clarifies everything.

Charles Gramlich said...

ivan, come to think of it, I don't think I wanted to grow up to be just like any of my profs. Heaven forfend.

Mark, I agree about not understanding the important things of the world, but I understand some of those of lesser importance, like why the sky is blue.

BIBI, yes, mostly our own. I agree.

David Cranmer, definitely. Fiction or nonfiction. It doesn't matter.

BernardL, and I can sure use some clarity on occassion.


Yeah writing is like a healer of all ills.

Travis said...

I had a mentor once who suggested to me that I couldn't really know someone's answer to a question until I had asked the question three times in three different ways. If I got the same answer each time, then I could trust that the person understood what I was asking and that the answer was valid from that person.

Anybody can find a quote that seems to sum up what you think you know about a subject. But I think that you can't really say you know it until you've taken that quote and done a bit more research, and then interpreted the information into your own words and phrasing.

Scott said...


I'm in total agreement...writing out my thoughts helps me to clarify and solidify them...well, usually, anyway.

Christina said...

That's true that writing it out helps you understand the material better. Teaching it to someone also helps. That's awesome for your students that you were able to get them published.

Lana Gramlich said...

I think you're too kind to your students. ;) *L*

Charles Gramlich said...

ARCHAVIST, I've used it as such.

Travis, good point. I agree. I never thought of the "Three Question" idea but it's a good one.

Scott, that too. It does modify and moderate thoughts quite a bit, although at times it can enhance them.

Christina, One of those students went on to grad school. The other, I've lost contact with. I need to find out where she went.

Lana, as you are too kind to me?

Donnetta Lee said...

Write it to see it to understand it to write it. There's therapy in them there pages. D

Barrie said...

Certainly I can't fudge it when writing. ;)

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I understand what you're saying -- I never know what I think until I write it down. I have opinions and ideas, but the writing is the only thing that really gives me access to my mind in a way that clarifies rather than confuses. Your class sounds great!

JR's Thumbprints said...

correct me if i'm wrong: the sky is every color but blue and that is why we see blue, we actually see the things we don't see ...

Alex Moore said...

right on, brother! are you involved with your local (or the National) Writing Project, by chance? You are certainly talking the talk and living the research.

"I sometimes think I don't really understand anything until I can write about it." Too true. I remember being asked to write a self-reflection paper regarding my knowledge of xyz. I stared blankly, because I felt like I knew nothing. But once I started I knew far more than I had given myself credit for. great post.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Writing helps us clarify and organize our thoughts. Since writing is about clarity and being understood, we must first have something definite to say if we want to be appreciated.

I am taking a course this summer in academic writing and will also be submitting different freelance essays to academic journals and maybe some slick mags. I've never tried publishing about my profession before; it's going to either be a rewarding or frustrating experience.

Sarah Hina said...

An excellent idea, Charles.

My thoughts are usually so jumbled and chaotic, as well as fleeting, that writing has been a godsend in providing some kind of clarity. Blogging, too. Because there's instant feedback and a chance to gauge the impact of your choices.

I hope you get some good ones...

jennifer said...

I gain so much clarity when I write my thoughts down. I think the tip writing assignment was a very good idea.

Charles Gramlich said...

Donnetta Lee, yep. Agreed.

Barrie, true. Not without some serious distortion.

Michelle, that's the way it works for me most of the time as well. The blog has been handy that way, helping me clarify thoughts that I probably wouldn't write a whole paper or essay on.

JR, hum, that's not my understanding. I think the sky is blue because the short wavelengths of light, which our eyes detect as blue, get scattered more easily by dust and ice and other particles than the medium and longer wavelengths, and so we're seeing the blue scatter of the short wavelengths. But it is true we don't always see exactly what is there, as with illusions.

Alex Moore, I'm not involved with that program per see but I do a lot of writing tutorial/teaching stuff in my job, as well as online. Yes, I find out I know more than I think oftentimes when I start to write on a subject.

Stewart Sternberg, clarifying. yes, at least when we have a thought captured on a screen we can hold that thought while adding others. Good luck with the summer projects.

Sarah Hina, yes, blogging helps with some ideas, while clarifying my thoughts on others takes a whole essay.

Jennifer, I just got them back yesterday and haven't graded them yet. But we shared in class and there was some good stuff.