Tomorrow I will start tutoring a friend of mine’s teenager boy on his writing skill. I was a bit dreadful of taking on this task, as I was afraid that I might not be of any help at all. Then the thought that I might make some difference in another person’s life motivates me to take the challenge. I might be able to improve the quality of his writing which might help him in the long run. This is rather encouraging to me.
The task seems daunting to me because I know it takes much more than writing skills to write well. In fact, it takes a certain level of logical and clear thinking in addition to language skill to be able to produce high quality works. How can I teach a person how to think when people think differently from one another? How can I judge what is a good writing and what is not when there are different styles involved?
It is a path filled with uncertainties. Still, I proceed. Because I believe I can be a positive influence in a person’s life.
You want to engage your audience, not completely overwhelm them, … The more you write, the more you will learn to walk this fine line between effective display and use of your writerly knowledge and simply showing off–something that is likely to turn off your audience and not help you in achieving your ultimate goal.
The trick, as a writer, is to know for whom you’re writing and what it is you’re trying to convey.
One of the most important factors in good writing is the writer’s understanding of the nature of his or her audience. Perhaps even more important is understanding what particular information you need or want to convey to your audience…you have to know what you want to say, how to say it, and why you want to say it.
When you write, you construct not only an authorial persona, but you also construct an audience.
When you write essay, you want to make your opening as effective and engaging as possible so that people will keep reading.
Here are some notes that I took on how to write well.
Great writers are always great readers.
The elements of successful writing are insightful reading, careful research, and rigorous analytical thinking. Successful writing requires us to develop active-analytical reading strategies as opposed to passive-receptive reading habits.
Active, insightful reading empowers us to more effectively evaluate and interpret the meaning of what we read.
Writing, when it’s done well, is never just words on a page–good writing invites interaction. The reader engages with the words, interacts with the language and ideas of the author.
Moving beyond the initial reaction (like or dislike) can allow you to appreciate even writing that you might not really like. It can help you recognize the writer’s skill, appreciate the effort the writer made, and admire the emotions he or she is able to make you feel.
A useful thing to remember when you are composing your own writing is that …your audience can’t immediately interact with you in the present moment, so above all you should strive for clarity. You should anticipate questions or moments of confusion, and you should consider the self-image you’re conveying to your audience. How are they going to interpret you and your personality based on what you’ve written?
The thought came to me when a colleague of mine asked me when I would write again and also my children asked me not to stop writing.
Yeah right, as if they were interested in reading them. Well, I know that’s not their point. The point is, at least from my children’s point of view, writing is good to me, even though they don’t have the time to read them now. I got it.
I plan to get back to writing after I have moved to a new position and after the dust has settled. Right now, I am too unsettled in my mind to diverge my time to other things.
I feel like heavily indebted to many parties, for not giving them enough attention. That is, I should have written more but I let it lapse. I promise I will make my first payment as soon as I move to another level of my career.
As Momwrite site approaches 5th anniversary, I am going to make this announcement. For the first time during these five years, Momwrite is not going to post daily.
Not because I don’t have anything to say. On the contrary, I have plenty of backlogs, notes from reading that I plan to organize and share with my readers here. One main reason for this change is: I simply don’t have the time.
I will concentrate more on professional writing, not fictional one, but more related to the job that I am doing. They are more boring than writing casually on Momwrite. Here’s one that I published on MONITOR journal June 2013, “Source Documents, Flow Sheets, Duplicates, and Discrepancies” The link takes you to an abstract.
I will devote more time on getting a second one published this year.
On 4/23, the editor from the journal that accepted my article notified me that they were going to publish my writing on June 2013 issue. Wow, it took nearly half a year for one to go out.
Yesterday, 4/24, my mind was fully occupied with the idea and I was very anxious to start my second one. But we had a monitor yesterday. Besides, I had to get ready for next week’s two monitor visits. Whenever I got a second, I searched the internet looking for topics for my next article.
The month April is running out soon. I set the deadline for nailing down the topic, which is before I leave for China in mid May.
Yesterday, I was doing something like trashing the writing skill, as if it has no value at all since it cannot feed one’s stomach.
Today, I would argue, no matter how useless writing is in term of bringing home paychecks, writing is something you need to do, if you want to grow and advance. Why?
First of all, writing is recording. It makes up for our short memory.
Secondly, writing clarifies our thought. That thought clarification process is good to our brain. I guess we all care about the quality of our brain, especially when we advance in age.
Thirdly, writing is sharing. Either your reveal or conceal yourself through writing, you always open a window for readers to get to know you.
Fourthly, the more you write, the better writer you will become. pas moi, though. Isn’t it great that you can write well?
So, keep on writing whenever you can.
Last weekend, I talked to my daughter about writing. I also reminded myself. That is, it is easy to read and spend your time surfing around on the Internet. The hard part is when you start writing.
As with everything in life, if it is easy, everybody does it and; if it is difficult, everybody tries to avoid it. If it is difficult for you, it is also difficult for everybody else.
But you know what, opportunities decrease and the chances for growth shrink wherever tasks are easy and everybody wants to jump in. Therefore, if you want to rise above the crowd, you have to go the other direction of the crowd instead of following the crowd.
On 1/16/2013, I told my mother the news that my article had been accepted by a professional journal called THE MONITOR. Needless to say, she was very glad for me. She introduced to me Zhou Youguang, the father of pinyin. I think she wants me to write as long as I live, and of course live as long as Zhou You-guang, the 108-year-old writer.
I wrote to my son about this. He wrote back “Congratulations mom!! That is great news. I’m very proud of you :).” These words make me proud of myself.
When my children were at elementary school, I asked them to write journal. Very often, their journal entries remain at the level of description. This is what I once told them.
Record not just what has happened during the day but your responses to these happenings. Both your descriptions and your comments are important.
You are not simply a story teller or a record keeper. Everything seen through your eyes must also go through your brain and be accompanied with both your naked observation and your brain power, that is your analysis or your expression of like or dislike and why.
This is the only way to sharpen your analytic and observational ability in your writing.
Of course, when you become a skilled writer, you can present your view through your choice of word or choice of fact.
My daughter received many letters from universities and colleges throughout the country, all asking her to apply to their place, which reminds me of the winter of 2007 when my son was in the process of college application. It seems like yesterday.
I read one from Swarthmore with the title “Write for your life!” written by Nathalie Anderson, professor of English literature. It is interesting as normally we run for our life or fight for our life, even eat for our life. The author raises the importance of writing to the level of our life. “It’s your own intellectual life you are writing for, and nothing you write can be wrong for you.”
“Even in apparently placid lives–and few lives, actually are precisely placid–writing can help us define and refine our emotions, can help us clarify and strengthen our thoughts, can help us to make sense–or, even better, nonsense–out of unfairness.
“So, writing for your life, for most of us, most of the time, is a lot like working out at the gym: the more you do it, and the more regularly, the more skillful, powerful, complex, and elegant your writing will be.”
What does it mean to us? Well, write whatever in your mind, either serious or playful, truthful or fictional, first person or third person, present or past, descriptive or analytic, ourselves or others. Anything is better than nothing.
On 9/14, Friday evening, a friend of mine called from China, asking me to help her with some translation. That I gladly did.
However, in the process of doing it, I found myself labor through the Chinese version, trying to figure out what it actually means, so that I can put the meaning in English.
I found myself grasping for meaning more so when I read Chinese than reading English. I guess it is because I have been exposed to English language much more than to Chinese. Shame on me.
I thought of an old friend of mine who asked me many times why I didn’t write in Chinese and it would be a pity if I did not write in Chinese, as if I could still write well.
I remember writing da-zi-bao or some kind of bao for the class when I was in high school. For some reason, I was often picked out doing that type of writing task. In fact that seems the only thing that I was asked to do. It must have come easy for me as I don’t remember ever rebelling against it.
Why I don’t use Chinese as much as I did before. I think I need to trace back to the time when my son went to first grade, when I decided not to fight with him over his Chinese lesson, when I found it necessary to write in English so that my children can understand, when I found it helpful with their English essays, and when I have read and written so much English that my Chinese began to give away.
Hopefully, my excuse can hold water and can excuse myself of the real cause, if there is.
Now I don’t even ask myself why I have kept writing. I don’t even find it necessary for any big cosmological question.
It is just like the reason of existence for any religious belief. The fact it can exist for so long, 4 full years, validates its legitimacy.
The blog site is first and foremost the place where people express themselves, share with the world ideas, beliefs, and daily occurrences, a mean of keeping updated to friends far and near. Occasionally, I sent the link to a blog entry to my children or to my friends, as if they had not read them.
When I flip back to the old blogs, I am glad I have written and have kept up my promise. And it gives me a good feeling. I am sure my children will be proud of me someday because of this.
Happy 4th birthday!
“How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?…
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?…
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
I have found thoughts fleeting in my head, which, if not caught instantly, disappear faster than they arrive, leaving no clue at all. Isn’t it true with everything? Nothing stay long unless we make an effort to pin it down. It is more so recently than before. Perhaps it is because of too much information flying before our eyes. Or perhaps it is a sign of early onset of senior dementia, which I hope not.
That’s why there is a saying that goes like this, the worst pencil is better than the best memory. This is why I keep telling my children to commit it to writing their agenda or plan or list of action or tasks.
Last weekend, I talked a lot to my daughter about a book that I was reading The Promise: President Obama, Year One, by Jonathan Alter. It is a very good book.
After that, my daughter asked me if I was going to write something on President Obama on midwest voices. I said no, because this is a republican state and more readers are against Obama. Unless I write something anti-Obama, I would invite personal attacks.
My daughter said, “This is a democratic country and you should be able to say what you believe without fear.” She is right, but still I will avoid as much as I can the unpleasantness of reading nasty comments, until I become zen enough not to care whatever.
This is one of those laughable moments that I want to remember. On midwest voices, I wrote an article on 4/7/2012 “History will be the final judge on our first black president.” When I wrote it, I knew some readers would jump out and bark out something.
I am amazed that some readers simply cannot hold themselves from being nasty. Here’s one example on this part of my writing “healthcare reform — universal health care, the 30-plus-year dream of the Democratic party, could still wait.”
Here’s the comment — “Your willingness to display your lack of knowledge of our political history is rather astounding.” So nice.
The first thought that came to me was to write something equally nasty. Then I laughed at myself and stopped there. So far I have held my ground and kept my silence on comments like this.
On 4/10, I posted “Mitt Romney’s homework.” I thought my piece is very mild, factual and neutral. But one reader who never fails to show up with something nasty — jumped out again, leaving a comment longer than my original piece. His whole purpose is to browbeat me psychologically and mentally. His choice of words serve to send this message — you are so stupid. Why don’t you shut up… Too bad I refuse to be browbeat. Again, I have said nothing.
P.S. a friend of mine asked me “Don’t you get angry over these comments?” No, not that I am any better than anyone. I only need to remember that life is too short to be wasted on hating someone. Yes, not wasting time is my answer.
I can’t believe I have learned so much by being a contributing columnist. Not on writing skills but on the impact of writing and the importance of being a writer with a good quality of mind.
One more thing that I have learned is: — it is nearly impossible to engage in really intelligent dialogue. You write something serious and hope people will respond to the topic with some intelligent input.
But no. Readers often come with prejudice, which drives them to either ignore or attack you personally. Meanwhile, your message is seldom taken seriously. Often, if they don’t like the author, they would find the most effective hurting language for that author.
Internet expression gives one the opportunity to cover their true identity by either registering a fake name or even a fake gender. After that, there is no stopping to people whose animosity knows no boundary. Under the mask, no civility is necessary. Everything goes. This is the most tasking moment on a writer’s character.
Still, I have found it interesting to write and observe how people react. Because people are amazingly predictable. I mean when I write about health care reform, I can see how people will react. Indeed, they never act differently from what I have expected.
I have learned from my role as a free lancer contributing columnist that there are many unexpected challenges facing any writer. Here is one of them.
Resist the temptation to lower yourself. Very often, when I see some nasty comments like personal attacks or comments with the intention to hurt you as much as possible, I feel a strong urge to reply with vengeance.
e.g. one comment from a female reader who always comes out as the meanest one wrote “Have read a few of your articles and your not improving…is there a time limit?” I was thinking of telling her how stupid she is when she doesn’t even know the correct grammar should be “you are” instead of “your.” Or asking her “What’s the purpose of your comment? Do you just enjoy hurting people? Are you so sick as to get pleasure by hurting people? Go see a doctor if your mind is so sick.”.. Or “shut your stupid mouth if you don’t have anything nice to spit out of your stupid head.”
In fact, I have many strong offensive words ready to throw back at her. Then I can see the impact of her hostility on me and how it has already changed me. I can also see the smile on her face if I do, because this is exactly what she expects me to do. To get me down to her level — this might be her ultimate intention. I bet she would feel extremely frustrated if I remain untouched by her mean-spirited comments.
I know the most effective response is silence. By ignoring her, I send a message telling her she is not worthy of any attention. Except this time, I was not able to send my best response. That is, I left these words for myself, “One of the biggest challenges in life is not to punish yourself by other people’s weaknesses.” I am glad I have not said “by other people’s stupidity and animosity.”
It’s been nearly two months since I became a contributing columnist for the local newspaper opinion section. It has been an interesting learning experience for me.
First of all, writing takes more than skills, more than time, more than language, more than anything else. It takes courage to stand by what you believe.
Secondly, it is better to stay away from politics, much as I like to write on the topic. Because, if you are like me, you will have a hard time forgetting some of the scathing comments left on your writings. I am not a fighter and definitely don’t possess the fighting fire of Andrew Breitbart. Hence, it’s safe to stay away from the political fire.
Thirdly, while it is easy for you to stay cool and talk about the principle that you uphold when you are not challenged, it is difficult to keep your cool, your principle and your nice civility when you are challenged. There are so many times that I feel a strong urge to punch back with equal nastiness and mean-spirited tongue. That’s the moment that I find myself turning into someone that I don’t want to see and that shocks myself.
Finally, on the bright side, I believe being a contributing columnist is a good exercise and opportunity to always keep oneself above the pettiness, the judgement, and the bias that one is likely to be trapped in. It is really a challenge to always stay above.
Continue on being a good reader…
Reading is like writing, in that it involves a good understanding of many things, such as, setting, development of character, plot, ending. There are different genres of books, even among fictions.
For some people, they like a book because of its charater. The character is so well-written that he or she remains with us long after we close the book, like the hero in “To Kill a Mockingbird” or in “Anna Karenina.” When I was small, I preferred this kind of books. For a long time, the characters in the book were like my invisible friends.
For some other people, they prefer mysteries and thrillers which are not good at character development when their main purpose is to solve a mystery and they move fast to the solution. These readers are more interested in the solving of the mystery, like reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. If you want to study character development, stay away from books like this. I believe real good books always provide readers with unforgettable characters.
There are normally two kinds of characters: flat one and round one. The flat one is predictable, that is, there is no surprise. His actions are always consistent to his character. You know he is a good guy, so without exception he does good things at every turn of event. Of course, if he is a bad guy, he is bad all the way to the end, like characters in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
A round character is just the opposite. That is, he is full of surprises and the unexpected. And these surprises do not appear too far-fetched. Sometimes, he is presented as a heartless villian in the beginning, then as the story goes, he is showed as the opposite to the initial villian, like Anton Chekhov’s The Lady With The Dog.
As far as I know, most characters are flat and predictable. A good exercise on analyzing character is to trace the development of the character and ask yourself why you like or dislike the main character.
Continue with my effort at improving writing…
I believe I mentioned something like this in my last posting on writing, that is, you must be a good reader before you can be a good writer. Well, I might have gone too far in making this statement. But I have to put it this way in order to cause your attention to the importance of critical reading.
I have emphasized active reading, which involves eyes, hand, and head, instead of passive, pure-for-fun reading. I have also emphasized the importance of developing analytical and critical thinking ability through active reading.
I am going to devote several postings on how to read critically. The active reading starts with asking questions, try to formulate your own answers before you move on to find the answers in the book. Furthermore, you can do a bit comparison between your answers and those of the author’s.
e.g. when you read a book that starts with this–“Mr and Mrs hubble moved into this old house in this crowded corner of the city five years ago.” You should ask “Where were they before this move?” “What happened to them at the moment of their moving?” “Why did they move?” “Why did they move into an old house instead of a new one?” “What will happend to them in this old house?” “Is this a haunted old house?” “How will their lives change because of the move?” Finally, of course, you should ask “Why moved into this crowded corner of the city?” Sound like a poor neighborhood, right?
As an exercise, you should try to come up with your own answers before finding the author’s. If the author does not answer these questions, you can further ask why.
On 2/2/2012, a fellow columnist sent me a round of applauds for my “willingness to dive in and tackle some tricky issues. In fact, you make it look easy!” She told me she had enjoyed reading my postings and was impressed.
I revealed to her that it has not been easy for me when it comes to choosing the right topic. There are some tricky things that I have to consider before anything else.
Number one, I cannot write for the sake of writing or posting for the sake of posting. If I don’t have anything worthy sharing, it is better to go without. While writing takes my time, reading takes readers’ time. A writer should know better than wasting readers’ time by dumping out meaningless stuffs.
Number two, the content must be politically correct, not offending to anybody. It is too naive to take for real the myth of freedom of speech. This is hard for me.
Number three, while it is nearly impossible to dodge personal attacks from those who disagree with you, it is a challenge to hold yourself back when you see such an attack and feel a strong urge to fight back. My political views go against the mainstream one popularly held in Kansas. The only way to avoid these mean-spirited attacks is to remain silent or not to say what I truly believe. Not possible in either case.
After reading some comments, I have discovered a nearly universal rule. That is, people don’t say anything if they agree with you. When they leave comments, I bet it is always because they have something too nasty to keep to themselves. That’s why I don’t like reading comments and I mark some of them as negative, hoping the editors will take them off.
Recently I have been involved with a lot of writing, either on the topic of writing or skill of writing or simple writing itself. I must say that I have never given so much thought on this topic as I have done lately.
You would expect me to come up with some quick trick or good tips. Unfortunately, when I think hard of the long path that I have taken, like reaching to the top in any field, there is really no shortcuts except 99% of perspiration.
However, I do realize there are some key ingredients in good writing: reading, writing, and thinking.
(1) Reading. Get in the habit of reading not for pure entertainment. Read to argue with the author and to figure out what is going on in the mind of the author. Are you convinced by his writing? Is he talking nonsense all the time?
(2) Write as often as possible. It doesn’t matter what you write and how good or bad you write. You won’t see any improvement until you practice writing at least twice per week or more often. I remember my father used to ask me to write a piece after each movie or book and I did it even though I resented it.
(3) Good writing comes with certain degree of maturity, mainly in thinking analytically and critically. Eventually, this analytical and critical thinking ability will lead to really good writing.
Today is the deadline for my daughter to submit her application for a summer program. She needs to submit not one but six essays. She has been working hard to get them ready.
On 1/15, a local friend called, chatting with me about college major. She said her daughter’s writing was outstanding, thus she wanted her daughter to go into medical field. When I asked her what writing had to do with being a doctor, she herself being a doctor told me a good writing skill was very essential to being a qualified doctor. This is the first time that I learned of this.
On 1/16, Martin Luther King Day, a friend of mine called from out of state about SAT essay. Her child is confident with both math and verbal sections but not with essay. She asked for a sample essay that my children once did.
Now, I am more than ever convinced that one needs to write well no matter what one wants to engage. Writing helps raise you to a new level of consciousness and thus live a life worth living. By the way, I am still trying to figure the relationship between writing and being a doctor. Maybe I am not a doctor because I am not a good writer or something more fallacious than this.
On 1/12/2012, Thursday, I talked to a young relative of mine, currently in Houston, Texas. He arrived in New York in mid July. He thought he could get into a graduate program upon completion of English training. Toward the end of the training in October, he was informed by the school that his GMAT score was not high enough. He needed to re-take it. So he did on 12/19, which did not meet the school’s requirement. At this moment he only had less than a month before his legal status expired. After a rather hectic rush and through a family friend, finally he was admitted by an university in Houston and arrived there on 1/11/2012, the day before spring semester began.
I asked the young man to write a reflection on the whole experience. He asked why. Obviously, he is not sure of the need and the reason for looking back, as he wants to put all this behind him so that he can move ahead with a fresh start.
To be sure, our narrative of our past experiences reveals our understanding of this experience as well as our explanation as why things have gone the way it is. Furthermore, a year or two later, when you look at your own narrative, you will surely have a new version of explanation and fresh understanding.
Other than making an effort not to repeat past mistake, a reflection will enable us to see how we grow and mature over time when we read our own narrative of our past experience. We might enlighten ourselves through our own writing. Specifically, become more mature and responsible — this is what I want to see in him through this reflection. This much I have for him and for my children.
“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man”. Francis Bacon. I am sure readers will say “Here she goes again.” Indeed, I love these words by Bacon, though I am not sure if my understanding of these words matches Bacon’s original intention.
On 1/4/2012, a friend of mine told me she was going to keep a journal as part of her new year resolution. That evening on the way to Barnes & Noble’s I mentioned this to my daughter. Once again I emphasized to her the importance of good writing and the weight of constant practice, hoping she would pick up the hint.
I am not sure if I could survive the second round for the columnist position if I had not kept posting here. At least the speed has caught up greatly since the onset of the site. She agreed with my comment and was going to give it a try.
My son told me he was still working on his new year resolution. I am glad he is going to give it a hard thought. I hope he will have some reading and writing in his resolution. After all, don’t we all want to be full, ready and exact persons as Bacon defined?
On 12/19/2011, I saw on KCStar site a job posting for 2012 Midwest Voice/Editorial page columnist. I didn’t know when the opening was out, but 12/19 was the last day. So I spent half an hour and sent out the following:
(1) my short biography
(2) my contact information
(3) my political stands
(4) five future column ideas
(5) my writing samples
To my surprise, on 12/30/2011, I received an email telling me that I was “a contender among our finalists.” I needed to send a 600-word column. So they had it on 1/1/2012. Yesterday I was informed that I was the finalist. A pleasant surprise!
I am glad I have done something that my children will be proud of.
My daughter is going to take SAT at SME today. We have spent plenty of time at bookstore preparing for this.
Yesterday evening we were at Barnes & Noble’s till 10 and drove home back wet and dark. We talked about SAT essay section. The trick is you need to have a plenty of ideas and present them in a clear, fast, and well-organized way.
I mentioned my suggestion of practicing writing a little bit per day and everyday. By now she realized its importance. Same can be said of other activities like piano practice, drawing, etc.
It may be a cliche to say “constant dropping wears away a stone,” still we must admit the huge effect of constant tiny efforts.
On 9/3/2011, I wrote to a young relative of mine in China, “… a bad job is always better than no job. You don’t increase your value as an employee by sitting at home doing nothing, and you don’t want to let time go by without increasing your value.” The same can be said of writing.
All the time, I have asked my daughter to practice writing, say a short piece a day for 30 minutes. She is more a perfectionist than I am, and that takes time. I told her if I were a perfectionist, I would not have time for churning out day after day.
In fact, writing does not have to be perfect, especially when you always run out of time. I told my daughter as long as she keeps it up, a less-perfect writing is better than no writing and her practice will get her closer to her goal. Haven’t you learned “Practice makes perfect?”
On 8/7/2011, while cleaning old stuffs, I dug out a piece of paper with some blogging rules, written on 6/21/2008. I was a bit surprised, well, they were laid out by myself for myself. I don’t think I have followed them. I consider them to be good rules for any writing, though I have clearly wiped them out of my mind all these years.
Follow these rules in all circumstances–
(2) Keep level-headed
(3) Decent language
(4) Clear thinking
(5) Consistent writing style
(6) Keep the humor
(7) Proof-read everything before going out
(8) Always remember you broadcast globally every time you publish a posting.
During the second week of January of 2011, I had the pleasure of reading a short writing by a 9-year-old boy. After that I had some email exchanges with his parent. I am glad to see the efforts on the part of the youngster and his parents. I have always emphasized the importance of good writing to my children.
When I was teaching at IPFW in 1995, I told my students that writing was an intellectual activities which demanded at least a clear thinking, logic and coherent, and a good flow of language. You would not be able to come up with anything worth reading if your head is as muddled as a dense pool of mud.
I believe nothing reveals a person’s quality, clarity and the depth of thinking more thoroughly than his writings. For a child, writing also demonstrates the level of maturity in his thinking. For an adult, his writing provides a window through which readers gain a peep at the writer as a person. One of my favorite columnists is Paul Krugman working at the New York Times. Reading his writings reminds me so much of this Chinese saying, that is, a writing is the mirror of the writer.
On the Sunday morning of 11/14, while I was walking, I listened to Modern Scholar lecturers — “Wars That Made the Western World: The Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, and the Punic Wars.” I thought of the story that I read long ago about the origin of the word laconic. It happened in the land of Laconia-Spartan. King Philip of Macedon wrote to Spartan magistrates, expressing his desire to conquer Sparta, “If I invade your country, I will level your great city” The answer from the Spartan was one word, “If.” Indeed, that was a big IF. That was how we got the word laconic.
Just a few days before that, I read someone’s motto of life — Action speaks louder than words. I am sure this person is spartanly laconic. His motto threatens to put me to shame as I have been uttering non-laconically for over two years. No wonder sometimes my children find it difficult to put up with me when I start talking. Hence, I will strive for brevity in my writing.
I had a wearisome Sunday yesterday, driving to airport twice, first to send the nephew to New York at noon, second to fetch the other adult in the household from 8:50 PM yesterday to 2 AM today, plus driving my daughter to skating in between. I also did a lot of house cleaning yesterday, as if I enjoyed it.
On one weekend, the day after my daughter’s birthday, while she was skating at Ice Sport, I had a nice chat with the mother of another skater. When she talked about the writing skill of her little one, I thought of another parent who has the same issue with her child.
To be sure, this seems a common problem with many school students. They either don’t have much to write about or write as tasteless as tap water, nothing enlightening or even worth-reading. Their book report is like a retelling the story without any personal input.
Parents need to realize that one prerequisite for a piece of quality writing is good thinking. I remember when I was in primary school, after reading a book or watching a show, I was asked to write a report on it, not a pleasant thing especially on some hot summer day. Before taking up pencils, I was told to answer questions like these, what does the author want to tell his readers through the book? How does the author do it? Has he succeeded?
In a sense, it is up to the parents to guide the child forward with some thought-provoking questions, leading them to always go one step further and deeper, challenging them to think independently and differently. If they cannot think of anything else, how can we expect them to write well?