I was invited by a friend to give a lecture. It went sumfin like this:
I've been asked to speak about the "Joy of Writing" but, to be honest, it ain't fun. It's work. It can be satisfying at times, but for the most part it's not. It’s a hassle for most people, especially students of English.
So, instead of that, I'm going to teach you How to Write. Or at least I'm going to try.
There's a saying in English: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. Sadly, it's often the truth. There are professors of English who couldn't string a proper sentence together in English if their lives depended on it. There are teachers of business who have never even tried to start a business. (If they could, they probably wouldn't be teaching, would they?)
Most of your “process writing” teachers will show you how to put a paragraph together. They'll make you draw these silly diagrams like Amway marketing schemes. I don't know who taught them to teach like that. Well, you can forget about all that.
First off, on the piece of paper you've been given I want you to write about something we all have: family. Tell me about your family.
(I give them a few minutes to write and then tell them to stop writing.)
How many of you began with the sentence "My family is . . ."?
(Out of the twenty or so girls in the class 16 of them raise their hand. The remaining four or five, have written a variation of "There are . . . people in my family.")
I understand why you do this. It's the first thing that pops in your head. You're thinking "Watashi-no kazoku-wa . . ."
Well, stop that. It's boring. Nobody wants to read what you've just written.
So, Rule One: Don't just give facts or makes lists. Be creative. Be different!
Rule Two: Tell me a story and through that story, include the information you want to convey.
For example, I just wrote this before coming here:
"One day when I came home from kindergarten, there was a newborn baby in my mother’s arms.
“'Say hello to your new sister,'" my mother said.
I was only five at the time and wouldn't know where babies came from for at least another ten years. By coincidence, our new living room furniture arrived from Ethan Allen on the same day as my mother’s return from the hospital. She was sitting on the new sofa holding the baby. I looked at the baby. I looked at the furniture--the sofa, the recliner, the ottomans, the coffee tables, the side tables, the . . . For all I knew, my eighth sister had come with the furniture."
Now, that's not the best writing in the world, but, one, it begins a story that you (hopefully) want to hear more of, and, two, it includes information: I have eight sisters, the eighth sister is five years younger than me, and so on. (For the record, I have nine sisters, and three brothers.)
Now start writing again.
(Ten minutes later, I tell them to stop writing. On the white board, I have written 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person; past, present, and future tenses.)
How many of you wrote in the 1st person, present tense?
(Most of them.)
How many of you wrote in the 1st person, past tense?
Just because you are writing about yourself, doesn't mean you have to write in the first person.
Rule Three: Break the rules.
Rule Four: Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Read what you have written, find the mistakes, correct them, change the sentences, make them better, make them funnier or more interesting. Even famous writers such as Murakami Haruki spend more time rewriting their novels than they do writing them. You should, too.
(I give them a few minutes to read what they have written to their partner.)
One last point I'd like to make is that if you really want to write well, you'll have to do it a lot. And I mean A LOT. Practice really does make perfect. It's the same with sports, or a musical instrument. No one sits down at the piano for the first time and plays Chopin.
Also, read A LOT. Learn from the masters.
I’m out of time. Gotta run! Thanks!