March 25, 2013

the scream thumbnailI’m about to share with you my secret for teaching students how to write. Once they get this lesson into their heads, tangled sentences straighten out. Wordiness disappears. Blathering becomes conversational writing.

But first, a warning. This secret involves profanity because shock value is also a powerful tool. Ready? Okay, then. Let us proceed.

I usually unleash this tool on the first day of classes, when my new recruits are still in the mood to take notes.

“Write this down,” I tell them as I turn to the whiteboard with a big black marker. “This is why you’re paying a ton of money to sit here with me.”

Fond memories of this moment recently surfaced on Twitter when a former student called me out. Here’s what he posted:


It includes a link to a photo of a page from his class notes that day:


That’s the whole lesson, right there!

To write curse words into their notebooks becomes a memorable experience. They get the message: Strip away the nice-y nice behavior. Be honest with yourself. Write like you talk. Write from an emotional place where you really live. Make your sentences that plain, that simple, that clear. 

So whatever you’re working on, step back and ask yourself: Have I cut through the b.s.? What is my f-ing point?

This down-to-earth approach makes it much easier to create content. From here, it’s possible to outline a story, a memo, a chapter, an email, a report.

And once the work is done, we can follow the example of my cat Minty. Stretch a little.