Why Bother With Literature? Students And Teachers And Writing In China

When I was teaching literature and writing courses at a private liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, members of the faculty were asked to prepare a statement justifying the existence of their major programs. Our vice-president at the time (there was an incredible turn-over in presidents and vice-presidents at that college) seemed to be serious about education* and directed the faculty to answer specific questions regarding the importance of what we were doing. Since I was the coordinator of the English program (a program situated in the Humanities Department which included literature, philosophy, religion, speech, film studies, and media communications), I provided answers which I felt underscored the importance of what we were doing.

I still feel that these are important issues for an English program, whether standing separately as an individual department in a large university or as a part of a humanities division in a small college. I have taught writing and literature in two private colleges, two community colleges, and one major university in the USA. Time has not, despite the current and fashionable interest in technology, eroded the importance of concentrating in writing, literature, and language studies. This belief, therefore, caused me to congratulate my students in at a level-two technological university in Anshan, China-- and in Ningbo, China, at a level-three technological university, which is associated with a level-one university in Hangzhou--for majoring in English and for taking literature courses. The reasons I have done so can be found in the answers to the questions put to me below. I have, where necessary, generalized the answers to include a scale that is more global.

A. When students finish an English Language and Literature program, they will be able to do what?

1. These students will be able to realize that literature, like any art, is not created in a vacuum but reflects the culture and times in which it was created. This will cause them not only to realize, but to show the importance of being able to communicate thoughts and ideas in a cogent form so that the authors' messages and feelings can be understood and appreciated for centuries.

2. These students will be able to write and to speak in a scholarly manner about important issues that not only exist today but have existed for centuries, from before the time of Homer to the present. They will be able to argue effectively because they will have learned how to back up opinion with research findings, which they have learned to, quote and document correctly. They will have learned how to communicate clearly and effectively so that their own ideas do not become lost or ignored.

3. These students will be able to conduct research in many fields because they have learned the correct methods of researching, documenting, and incorporating findings in research papers. Those who have studied creative writing will also be able to create their own literature; this is daring and important because it involves digging deeply into themselves and fashioning into art something that did not exist before.

B. Why should students study with you as a professor?

1. Students should study with me as a professor only if they have a thirst for knowledge and an interest in expanding their horizons, which is what education is supposed to be about.

2. Students should not be caught up in the appearance of learning, trapped only in the superficial rhetoric but should, instead, be aware of the hard work that is needed to take charge of, and take responsibility for, their own education. They should be aware of the fact that education is about life-long learning and life-skills, that it is more than mere job training and that it is not finite.

3. If students study writing with me, they should be willing to face the possibility that writing and publishing is a difficult, painful process, and that creative writing requires digging into the pain and suffering of our memories because that is usually the source of the energy required to be creative. It is an uncomfortable but necessary part of the creative process, and this takes not only honesty but also great courage.

C. Why should students study in an English Language and Literature Program? [or Department of Foreign Languages]

1. Students should study in an English Language and Literature Program because it is essential, particularly in areas of the world where writing skills are reportedly the weakest, that they be able to communicate clearly, correctly, and effectively on the level of intelligent university students and, eventually, the level of university graduates who are able to compete with graduates from universities worldwide. They would become aware of the world-wide importance of the language or vocabulary with which they communicate.

2. They should study literature as well as language in order to realize that literature reflects the times, mores, and philosophies of the authors -- that its subject can be as varied as the multiple points of everyday life, with which it is connected, not as talk show topics between covers but as serious analysis of human endeavors and foibles.

3. They would recognize and appreciate the extent of the contributions of literary figures such as William Shakespeare who utilized or created words with a genius unknown before or since his time, whose vocabulary was the largest of any known English writer, and whose First Folio of his plays gave to all speakers of English more new words than any other single source**. With this recognition and appreciation they would, hopefully, build a bridge between the past and the future so that the monumental achievements of the past are not lost in the glitz and glitter of a technology that remains in the service of a transitory, materialistic world but are maintained as a foundation for a future rich with aesthetic and intellectual possibilities.

"Among the most important developments in contemporary global culture is the arrival of Western literary criticism and literary theory in China." This statement is made by W. J. T. Mitchell in his preface to the Chinese edition of A HANDBOOK OF CRITICAL APPROACHES TO LITERATURE, printed for China by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press - a text I am now using for seniors in Research Methods in Ningbo. He adds: "There is arguably no greater force in producing understanding between peoples than the transmission of literary traditions - the great heritage of narrative, lyric, and prose forms that give cultures their distinctive character." This is why, I believe, that more literature courses are needed in certain universities in China, not only one semester of British literature and one semester of American but two semesters of each. More important, students in all areas of studies should be exposed to world literature and mythology. When I taught literature in Anshan, I had to cram two semesters of information and small snippets from the primary literature into one semester. I complained about this, but to no avail. I tried to change textbooks but was not allowed to do so. This was when I was still naive enough to believe that students were attending the university to receive an education. Many students here in Ningbo have referred to me as a serious professor. Since I often make jokes in class, I assumed that they were not referring to a lack of sense of humor. You see, I had taken it for granted that all professors, foreign or domestic (Chinese), were serious about educating in the classroom. Boy, was I naive.

When I was an undergraduate back in a small college in Illinois (my home state or, as I like to call it, God's Country), I heard our instructor state that a college diploma should be handed out with a birth certificate. I never forgot his remark. What I would like to recommend today, therefore, is that those universities on both sides of the Pacific who are more concerned with maximizing profits than they are with providing a real education -- who intimidate professors who try to maintain intellectual standards --to take this simple step: eliminate all course work for students, charge the students and/or their beleaguered parents tuition for the equivalent of four years tuition, and hand to them the diploma. No pretenses. No false claims. Then those universities sincerely interested in educating students with real standards can hire the best professors and recruit only the serious students who really. . . really. . . really want to learn for the sake of knowledge. Then knowledge. . . not only virtue. . . becomes its own reward.

So much of literature, and so much of life, is based on the foundations of world mythology and the greatest literature that the geniuses of the mighty word have produced. This is what it means to be educated for the sake of being educated, not just trained for employment. Once we accept this, we might get back to what education and the teaching of literature is really supposed to be about.

We can then get serious.

* This "serious" vice-president later allowed students who had failed courses (one male had failed four courses in our English department and one female had failed two of mine alone) to walk across the graduation stage because, as he admitted to the faculty the next day in a meeting, he was intimidated by their parents.

**[See THE STORY OF ENGLISH: 3rd Revised Edition by

Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil

New York: Penguin Book, 2002]

A Writer's Style - What's Yours?

Every writer has their own style and tendencies. That's why when you read certain authors' works, you can identify that you are reading that author. Some are more conversational in nature, and some are more formal. Some use lots of description and some leave that to the reader. This is true for all types of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, and technical writing, too. The more narrow the field or genre, the less individual the author's style will be, but there will be one. Knowing your own style will help you to be a better writer and more adaptable to a variety of writing situations.

If we look only at the genre of fiction, this concept is easy to see. For instance, you may not be an expert on his work, but if I mention Charles Dickens, you probably have some idea of his writing style - very descriptive, formal language, etc. On the other hand, if I mention Mark Twain, you are probably aware of a more informal, casual, conversational style of writing, and full of anecdotal stories. Both are well-read, but each has a style of his own. For Mark Twain to have written a novel in the style of Charles Dickens would not have suited him. Mr. Twain had to be attentive at all times to the conversations around him since he liked to write that way, while Mr. Dickens had to pay special attention to the visual details in life in order to convey them in words.

If we move into the non-fiction genre, writing styles become more varied, but the mechanics of writing play more of an impact. How sentences are constructed is noticed more. For instance, some authors in this field love to tell stories of their own life, and others leave the stories out in favor of the facts. Some writers love long, heavily punctuated sentences, while others write in short prose. There are all sorts of facets in which the style can emerge, but one thing remains true. Whatever the style is of the writer, he or she must be careful to use that style with careful attention to the way it is seen or experienced, just as did Mr. Dickens and Mr. Twain.

An example from my own writing is that I love commas. I find that most writers either over-use commas or under-use them. I fall into the former category. Because I love commas, I have to be careful for run-on sentences or ideas that get lost in my sentence constructions. If I try to put too much detail in my sentences, and continue the thought with multiple phrases, but offset them with commas, as I have done in this sentence, then there is a chance that the reader may have to reread my sentence in order to understand what I am saying. My style results in areas to which I need to pay extra attention. That was never as clear to me as when I began working with my editor on an upcoming book of mine. Commas were duly discussed!

You may or may not be aware of your own personal style in writing, but I suggest you try to find out. Seek out others who will read your work and ask them to notice patterns. Once you have a feel for the patterns in your writing, pay more attention to how other authors and writers use those things, whether content, grammar, mechanics, or other elements of style. Then, perfect your style by using it as skillfully as did Mr. Twain and Mr. Dickens, with repetition and extra attention.

Teaching Your Children to Read and Write Better - 5 Reasons Why Parents Must Start Early

Parents who take the time to teach their children to read and write better will see the following results in the development of their children

Your children will have an increased enjoyment of reading, which will in turn give them better literacy skills

In order for your child to build their language and understanding, they will need to be exposed to new words. Reading books will give your child an opportunity to find new words. This will also increase a child's curiosity, which will in turn build on their existing skills as they look for more and more new words.

Children who are familiar with books and stories before they start school are better prepared to cope with the demands of formal literacy teaching.

Better exam results

Children who have problems reading begin to show signs from second and third grade. By starting to teach your children to read and write early, they are less likely to have these problems.

Children who start to read before the first grade keep up their lead in reading and understanding over children who have not been taught how to read and write form an earlier age.

Children who read early are also more likely to do better in other subjects as well.

Better school attendance and behaviour

When a child struggles to read and write their enjoyment of this activity decreases. This can lead to children disliking school, and as a result become disruptive as an outlet to their frustration.

By reading and writing with your child, you give them an early start. Teachers can teach your child only a percentage of what they need to learn and you will be letting your child down if you do not spend time with them teaching them how to read and write from an early age.

It has been shown that starting early will not hurt your child. Most children can begin from age four. In fact, the opposite is true and studies conducted on these have concluded that teaching your child to read and write early gives them a significant advantage in school.

Higher quality of later relationships

Reading together is fun and helps build relationships. As you interact with your child during your teaching sessions, they learn how to listen and develop a sense for other points of view. This becomes invaluable as they go out to school and meet other children as it helps them interact better. This skill tends to last as they grow older and build other relationships.

Better mental health and increased self-esteem

The impact of teaching your child to read and write lasts a lifetime. Children who read are more confident and have greater job opportunities.

Children whose parents have taken the time to teach them how to read and write have increased chances of being more confident. They are more likely to volunteer to read out during class and participate more as they are familiar with the words. This in turn makes them better readers and writers and reinforces their abilities. The opposite is also true. Teaching your child to read and write is therefore the most important thing you can do to help your child succeed.

Research evidence has shown that your involvement in your child's reading and learning is more important than anything else in helping them to fulfil their potential

Teaching Article Writing - What it Takes to Become an Article Writing Coach

Teaching aspiring writers to write their very own articles is such a rewarding job. This allows you to bring positive difference to their lives while you make good money in the process.

Here's what you need to become an effective article writing coach:

1. High level writing skills. Obviously, it's a must that you have great writing skills otherwise, nobody will take you seriously. You must understand the elements that you need to use in writing an article. You must have what it takes to write content that is not only informative and useful but entertaining and engaging as well.

2. Great teaching skills. Teaching can be one of the most complicated and challenging tasks as it requires classroom management techniques, in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, enthusiasm, a love of learning, a caring attitude, curriculum and standards, and most of all, the desire to make a difference to the lives of your students.

3. In-depth knowledge about the learning needs of your students. As a coach, it's very important that you know and fully understand the needs and demands of your participants as this is the first step in addressing these. I suggest that you conduct one-on-one interviews and verify their skill level before you coach them. The more you understand their weaknesses, the higher your chances of making your coaching programs focused and targeted to their needs.

4. A truck load of patience. Know how to extend your patience an extra mile as you'll surely encounter students that are slow learners or those who are out there to challenge you.

Teaching Article Writing - 3 Exciting Strategies in Teaching People How to Write Great Articles

People, particularly those who are trying to make money online, are now dead serious about learning the ropes of article writing. This is because it's considered the most efficient, cost-effective, and most trusted traffic-generating tool. It also offers great opportunity to freelance writers who want to earn steady flow of income online.

If you have what it takes (experience, expertise, teaching skills, etc.) to help people learn the ropes of article writing, I recommend that you share your knowledge and bring positive difference to the lives of these people. If you're really good, you can even make a living out of this endeavor.

Here are some techniques that you can make use of so you'll become a more effective teacher:

1. Choose your audience. Who are the people that you would like to teach? Would you like to help those who do not have any experience in writing articles at all or do you want to teach those who have already advanced writing skills? Knowing the people that you would like to serve can help you plan ahead of time. If you know the learning needs of your students, it will get easier for you to decide on what information and assistance to offer them.

2. Be creative. Learning should be fun. Think of fun activities that you can incorporate on your sessions so your participants will learn without getting bored.

3. Design lessons for each of your sessions. It's important that you're prepared for each of your classes. Before you meet up with your students, make sure that you know what topic to discuss.

Reading and Writing

If you are going to write, you must read. And if you are a writer who reads, you are going to write - you will write more, and you will find yourself writing well. Reading and writing go hand in hand; you cannot do one without the other.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King makes the observation that "the Great Commandment" for writers is "read a lot, write a lot." It is imperative to understand this important concept - if you are going to write, you have to keep your mind sharp and in shape. The best way to do this is by reading.

Often, I have heard that in order to play a great game as a quarterback in the Super Bowl, you have to do a lot of practicing, play a great season, and then practice some more before that special day in February. You just don't walk out onto the field and win the Super Bowl without all that preparation.

Believe it or not, the same holds true of flying airplanes. If you are going to fly well, you have to fly regularly. This concept is also true when it comes to music, sailing, figure-skating, driving, scuba diving, teaching, and - well - just about everything.

I remember a time when I stopped writing for a while. I was mad at the world, and in particular, every teacher of writing, every editor, and all publishers. I threw my typewriter (yes, that is how long ago this incident happened) into the corner of my bedroom and did not touch it for over a year.

Finally, I realized I had to get on with my life.

I pulled out the typewriter, dusted it off and cleaned it up, changed the ribbon, and began again.

It was an odd feeling, putting words to paper again. It was a slow process, but after a little time passed pecking at the keys, the rhythm returned and the words began to flow.

I realized I should never again let time pass without practicing those things I love to do.

Oh yes, I have never figured skated in my life. In fact, I have been on ice skates only three times in my life: the first time, the last time, and the only time.

Keep writing.

Professional Free Lance Writers Can Dish it Out but Can they Take it?

So many free-lance writers will have a bone to pick, as they are mad a society for their sorry state of life and underachievement. Rather than calling it like it is they will make excuses and blame society and then go around and complain about everything. Recently in a case study and psychological profile of a 20-year freelance professional writer we learned that she could dish it out but not take it.

She wrote an article, which completely trashed the online article submission site venue completely and degrade 25,000 authors on one of the top online article sites, while she bakes in the AZ sun at 115 degrees.

She wrote a slamming and scathing article about amateur authors and she told the world these authors, hobbyists were why she cannot sell her writing for higher fees. She claimed that these type of content sites were hurting her industry, yet in reality when we look at this claim we see psychological denial of truth, in that if she is such a great writer why would a bunch of amateurs cause her demise? Why would it matter?

Fact is perhaps her writing is not good enough or perhaps she needs marketing lessons? But, wait; this particular author teaches other writers how to stick it to clientele and extract exorbitant fees, so that cannot be it?

Maybe the free market is adjusting price points of supply and demand? Ah ha, so her scathing article is to reduce supply then? I see, so does she also write Public Relations for the oil companies. Typical liberal double-talk indeed.

Teaching Online - Home Schooling Book Review

If you are considering teaching online, or if you are a homeschooling parent and would like to have your kids learn online while at home then maybe you need to do a little bit of research. Maybe you need to consider what's out there, and the various hybrid courses and technology issues which surround the world of Internet courses and online teaching.

The other day, there was a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed why there never needed to be any poor weather days that prevented school. If the inclement weather was so bad that the school buses couldn't run, or the blizzard made it impossible to get to school, then each student could learn at home on their own computer. The article made some compelling arguments, and I found similar points of contention in a book on the subject.

In fact, I'd like to go out of my way right now to recommend this book to you, and it is a book that I do own of my personal library. The name of this book is; "Teaching Online - A Practical Guide" (College Teaching Series - Second Edition) by Susan Ho and Steve Rossen, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, (2004), 339 pages, ISBN: 0-618-29848-7.

There is a great overview of online teaching and what it's about, and although it is written from the perspective of the institutional educator, it surely helps parents understand what they are dealing with when they choose which courses, online syllabuses, and information they wish their children to read and learn. Teaching in an online classroom is not easy, but those that have the skill and talent to pull it off, are the most desired and sought after instructors.

Why not pick up a copy of this book so you can familiarize yourself with low-tech and high-tech solutions used in Internet education. You can also find discussion forums where you can interact with teachers, and how they use whiteboards, chatting features, and instant messaging to make the online classroom feel at home. Why not learn what the teachers go through when they put together their training programs, and how they prepare themselves for their students.

It seems to me as a parent I want to know how the online teaching system works, what type of software and hardware works the best, and how the teachers are going to interact with my kids. You need to know these things up front, it's very important, and that's why a recommend this book to you. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

Book Review - "Reading Like a Writer," by Francine Prose

It may seem like ridiculously obvious advice, but it's one of those bits of ridiculously obvious advice that bears repeating over and over again: In order to be a great, or even good, writer, you have to read. Read a lot. And read good writing. In Francine Prose's recent bestseller Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, she suggests going a step further and reading in a more careful, thoughtful way. After all, what good is recognizing that Virginia Woolf wrote beautifully complex sentences if you don't understand how she pulled them off?

Prose takes the reader chapter by chapter through various elements of writing that can be examined upon a close reading of a text. And they're not all as simple or common as character arc or the use of active verbs. For example, how often have you thought about paragraph breaks? How does a paragraph break affect a reader, and how should you decide when to break them? I get the feeling that most writers, especially new writers, don't think about this at all. If they did, they might say something like "they just break naturally" or "when a new thought begins."

But the point of Prose's observations is that books and stories don't write themselves. Every letter and comma is the result of a decision by a writer--a decision that could have been made differently and changed the meaning of an entire sentence, passage, or story. Try taking a piece of your own writing and playing with the paragraph breaks. Free yourself from the constraints of your first draft; you can always restore it. See how breaking differently makes the text read differently. As Prose puts it, "merely thinking about 'the paragraph' puts us ahead of the game." She makes the following lovely analogy: "The paragraph could be understood as a sort of literary respiration, with each paragraph as an extended--in some cases, very extended--breath."

It's difficult to describe a book such as this by quoting its author, since her entire purpose is to convince you to read other authors. You may not see a paragraph as a breath; you may see it as a story or a question or a piece of information. But in order to discover what role paragraphs play in your own writing, it's useful to read as many other writers as possible, and stop to see what paragraphs mean to their work.

Prose cites mostly older, classic works (though some are fairly obscure), and some more contemporary examples would have been nice--but they also would have caused a nightmarish situation in her publisher's permissions department. The classics, of course, have plenty to teach, and studying them is less likely to make you think, "But I don't want to copy [insert dead white male here]." But in the rather overwhelming "Books To Be Read Immediately" list at the end, you'll find Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son and Alice Munro's Selected Stories alongside Austin and Hemingway.

Let's say you're writing a thriller, and the last thing you want to do is be seen as just another Dan Brown want to-be, so you're staying as far away as possible from anything remotely related to The Da Vinci Code. That doesn't mean you can't attempt to emulate its page-turning style. Read it closely, and look at the paragraphs. The sentences. The chapter breaks. Read other thrillers you like as well, so you'll feel less fear of copying one particular author... but if you have your own story to tell, and your own style, that won't happen anyway. Good writers can learn from one another's work without committing plagiarism or losing their own voices.

In the opening chapters of Reading Like a Writer, I found myself frustrated that Prose was bombarding me with examples without providing quite enough explanation of why she chose them. But, as she might have predicted, this bothered me less as I continued to read--because I found myself more and more able to follow her advice and read carefully (a nice experience for someone who's used to rushing to finish a chapter before the next subway stop).

A few final notes:

  • Learning to read carefully doesn't mean you have to do it all the time. You can and should still lose yourself in a good book without stopping to analyze the effectiveness of its use of gesture. But just as architects can both study the construction of great buildings and admire their beauty, writers can study the construction of great works, and apply some of the techniques they see to their own writing, without giving up the joy of reading. If you want only the latter, you're not willing to work hard enough to be a successful writer.
  • As its subtitle suggests, Reading Like a Writer is not only a book for writers. I've recommended it to friends who are avid readers, because people who read a lot and like to discuss what they read are also eager to understand why they like what they like. Prose's writing is accessible and engaging, not pedantic or dry. She's expressing, more than anything, her love of great literature, and that's not a feeling exclusive to writers.
  • Francine Prose really, really likes Chekhov's short stories. She devotes an entire chapter to why she likes him so much, one reason being that he was skillful enough to break every "rule" she's ever heard of in writing, including some she's mentioned previously in her very own book. I agree that he's a master of the short story; you should find out for yourself. If you already know you aren't a Chekhov fan, skip that chapter. But read the rest. And then go read all the books on that "Books To Be Read Immediately" list.

Teaching Reading and Writing to Your Child - The Benefits to Parents

Reading and writing with your children can help you to build better relationships with them. Reading involves interacting with your child and allows you to set a time aside that you specifically spend with your child. As you create a relaxed and fun atmosphere reading together, your relationship can become stronger. The more opportunities you get to be with your child alone, the easier it can get for both of you to share, and parents find that other issues affecting their children can be expressed, and once out in the open, are easier to discuss.

Stories in books can be used to explain difficult situations and discuss confusing topics with your children. Whether you're at home, on the bus, in the shops or at the doctor's surgery or even hospital, there are countless opportunities to help your child to learn. Teaching your children to read and write gives you the chance to talk with them and read together, plus there are fun ways to develop their writing skills too. As a Parent you will have improved confidence in your ability to provide support for your children. Parents and especially first time parents are buffeted from all directions with information on what they should and should not do. Often parents feel inadequate, and at a loss as to how best to care for and support their children. The simple act of reading and being able to achieve positive results with your child can be a big boost for your confidence and can be a building block for continued support and involvement in the growth and development of your child.

Teaching your child to read and write can provide opportunities to take part in organised activities based in schools or other venues, and form new friendships with other parents through school activities, a neutral place where you can take part in enjoyable, focused activities. This can be particularly useful if you don't live with your child or your everyday life does not provide opportunities to meet and mix with different people.

Parents with low literacy levels themselves can use this opportunity to learn and develop their own skills. Being able to read and write with your children can provide the motivation and support to join a more formal education class, and create opportunities for voluntary or paid work in schools or the wider community.

So what can you as a parent to help your child read and write better?

As a Parent you need to talk and listen to your children in order to make a good start in teaching them how to read and write. This will give your children an opportunity to hear how language is put together into sentences and prepare them to become readers and writers.

You need to set aside even just 10 minutes a day to read stories with your child as this helps build important skills as well as capturing your child's interest in books. Books are a rich source of information for your child because they provide certain words which may not be used frequently in everyday conversations. From their earliest days babies enjoy listening to stories and looking at books.

In order to make teaching your child to read and write as easy and enjoyable as possible, choose books that you both enjoy and then spend time reading together and telling stories. You could talk about the pictures and characters in the books and make up your own. You could discuss how your children's heroes might use books and reading to achieve the things they do.

Teaching your children to read and write does not have to always be formal. You can talk to your children about the world around them and read as you walk down the street and round the shops, pointing out signs and words and talking about them.

Reading together will also help you as a parent to correct your children outside of a disciplining situation which takes the pressure away for both parties. As a parent, you can use examples in the books you are using to teach your child to read and write to help them see things differently. Involve your children in your reading interests, and buy them books as presents. Joining a library and taking them there is another good way of introducing new books

Book Review - "Reading Like a Writer," by Francine Prose

It may seem like ridiculously obvious advice, but it's one of those bits of ridiculously obvious advice that bears repeating over and over again: In order to be a great, or even good, writer, you have to read. Read a lot. And read good writing. In Francine Prose's recent bestseller Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, she suggests going a step further and reading in a more careful, thoughtful way. After all, what good is recognizing that Virginia Woolf wrote beautifully complex sentences if you don't understand how she pulled them off?

Prose takes the reader chapter by chapter through various elements of writing that can be examined upon a close reading of a text. And they're not all as simple or common as character arc or the use of active verbs. For example, how often have you thought about paragraph breaks? How does a paragraph break affect a reader, and how should you decide when to break them? I get the feeling that most writers, especially new writers, don't think about this at all. If they did, they might say something like "they just break naturally" or "when a new thought begins."

But the point of Prose's observations is that books and stories don't write themselves. Every letter and comma is the result of a decision by a writer--a decision that could have been made differently and changed the meaning of an entire sentence, passage, or story. Try taking a piece of your own writing and playing with the paragraph breaks. Free yourself from the constraints of your first draft; you can always restore it. See how breaking differently makes the text read differently. As Prose puts it, "merely thinking about 'the paragraph' puts us ahead of the game." She makes the following lovely analogy: "The paragraph could be understood as a sort of literary respiration, with each paragraph as an extended--in some cases, very extended--breath."

It's difficult to describe a book such as this by quoting its author, since her entire purpose is to convince you to read other authors. You may not see a paragraph as a breath; you may see it as a story or a question or a piece of information. But in order to discover what role paragraphs play in your own writing, it's useful to read as many other writers as possible, and stop to see what paragraphs mean to their work.

Prose cites mostly older, classic works (though some are fairly obscure), and some more contemporary examples would have been nice--but they also would have caused a nightmarish situation in her publisher's permissions department. The classics, of course, have plenty to teach, and studying them is less likely to make you think, "But I don't want to copy [insert dead white male here]." But in the rather overwhelming "Books To Be Read Immediately" list at the end, you'll find Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son and Alice Munro's Selected Stories alongside Austin and Hemingway.

Let's say you're writing a thriller, and the last thing you want to do is be seen as just another Dan Brown want to-be, so you're staying as far away as possible from anything remotely related to The Da Vinci Code. That doesn't mean you can't attempt to emulate its page-turning style. Read it closely, and look at the paragraphs. The sentences. The chapter breaks. Read other thrillers you like as well, so you'll feel less fear of copying one particular author... but if you have your own story to tell, and your own style, that won't happen anyway. Good writers can learn from one another's work without committing plagiarism or losing their own voices.

In the opening chapters of Reading Like a Writer, I found myself frustrated that Prose was bombarding me with examples without providing quite enough explanation of why she chose them. But, as she might have predicted, this bothered me less as I continued to read--because I found myself more and more able to follow her advice and read carefully (a nice experience for someone who's used to rushing to finish a chapter before the next subway stop).

A few final notes:

  • Learning to read carefully doesn't mean you have to do it all the time. You can and should still lose yourself in a good book without stopping to analyze the effectiveness of its use of gesture. But just as architects can both study the construction of great buildings and admire their beauty, writers can study the construction of great works, and apply some of the techniques they see to their own writing, without giving up the joy of reading. If you want only the latter, you're not willing to work hard enough to be a successful writer.
  • As its subtitle suggests, Reading Like a Writer is not only a book for writers. I've recommended it to friends who are avid readers, because people who read a lot and like to discuss what they read are also eager to understand why they like what they like. Prose's writing is accessible and engaging, not pedantic or dry. She's expressing, more than anything, her love of great literature, and that's not a feeling exclusive to writers.
  • Francine Prose really, really likes Chekhov's short stories. She devotes an entire chapter to why she likes him so much, one reason being that he was skillful enough to break every "rule" she's ever heard of in writing, including some she's mentioned previously in her very own book. I agree that he's a master of the short story; you should find out for yourself. If you already know you aren't a Chekhov fan, skip that chapter. But read the rest. And then go read all the books on that "Books To Be Read Immediately" list.

Concerned Caring Genuine Leaders Keep to the Facts and They Certainly Did on This Occasion

Having been on Troas, on the beautiful picturesque west coast of modern day Turkey, I can imagine something of this dramatic scenario. It was warm that evening in Troas, as Paul preached to the attentive fellowship. No-one was overly concerned that Paul spoke for some considerable time. In some places today if you speak and teach for over forty minutes that can be regarded as a fault, but not so on this occasion, and not so in Uganda and Kenya.

These folks would have done a full day's work prior to the evening Worship, and as the oil lamps burned, the upstairs room became hot and stuffy.

One young man, sitting on a ledge, dropped off, and fell out the window from the third storey. It was a long drop!

Eutychus is lying in the street below, a lifeless huddle and described by Dr Luke as being dead.

They inform Paul, who went down to minister to him, and he is revived by the power of the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ.

Seeing Eutychus fully recovered, they continued with the service. Paul returned to that upper room, where the bread and wine was shared, and Paul taught until dawn. Quite a night that was in Troas.

Soon it was time for Paul and team to move on from Troas. When they said their 'Farewells' young Eutychus is present, and none the worse of his temporary downfall. You can read the full details of what actually happened in Acts Chapter 20 in the New Testament part of the Bible.

These disciples of Jesus appear to take this miracle in their stride, being used to the supernatural moving of the Holy Spirit. Everyone was strengthened and built up as result of Paul's apostolic ministry.

O, to have had a recording of that service. What did he teach and which topics did he cover over a five or six hour period?

Imagine the conversation among the fellowship and family and friends as they travelled home, knowing they would never again see beloved Paul.

Alas, we are not given these details, which might be interest to some. We are only given the important facts and there is no reference whatsoever to the emotions and feelings which must have arisen.

That's vital on such occasions. We need to know the facts and not just be curious about certain emotional reactions!

Emotions can be so subjective, but facts remain facts and facts keep to the truth and to what actually happened on an occasion. Paul, the speaker and teacher on this occasion, and Luke the writer, both kept to the facts. Now, that too exemplifies real leadership.

Sandy Shaw

Search Results

So many free-lance writers will have a bone to pick, as they are mad a society for their sorry state of life and underachievement. Rather than calling it like it is they will make excuses and blame society and then go around and complain about everything. Recently in a case study and psychological profile of a 20-year freelance professional writer we learned that she could dish it out but not take it.

She wrote an article, which completely trashed the online article submission site venue completely and degrade 25,000 authors on one of the top online article sites, while she bakes in the AZ sun at 115 degrees.

She wrote a slamming and scathing article about amateur authors and she told the world these authors, hobbyists were why she cannot sell her writing for higher fees. She claimed that these type of content sites were hurting her industry, yet in reality when we look at this claim we see psychological denial of truth, in that if she is such a great writer why would a bunch of amateurs cause her demise? Why would it matter?

Fact is perhaps her writing is not good enough or perhaps she needs marketing lessons? But, wait; this particular author teaches other writers how to stick it to clientele and extract exorbitant fees, so that cannot be it?

Maybe the free market is adjusting price points of supply and demand? Ah ha, so her scathing article is to reduce supply then? I see, so does she also write Public Relations for the oil companies. Typical liberal double-talk indeed.

Advice For Writers "Just Starting Out" - Acting Lessons & Business Savvy

As part of a recent book store appearance at Rowan University, a student reporter for the campus newspaper interviewed me. Most of the questions were run-of-the-mill and the young reporter seemed to be taking all of my answers as run-of-the-mill, too.That is, until he asked me what advice I'd give to writers who were "just starting out."

"Acting lessons."

His scribbling came to a halt. His eyebrows shot up and his jaw dropped open. "Acting lessons?"

"Yup," I nodded. "Acting lessons."

Does that seem like odd fiction writing advice?

Acting lessons teach you about infusing a character with life, about dialog and accents. They teach you about creating scenes, which are the building blocks to great storytelling. They teach you about intentions, reactions, apparent goals and hidden agendas. They teach you how to build tension through conflict. Most importantly acting lessons teach writers how to embody their characters -- how to flesh them out. Actors think about a character's history, likes, dislikes, phobias, dreams, goals, resentments. Even if none of that information is told on-screen, it is depicted -- through the actor's voice, movements, mannerisms, etc.

Whether you're writing mysteries, as I do, or general fiction, studying acting might be one of the most directly beneficial things you can do to learn how to write.

The other bit of writing advice was: while learning the craft of writing, learn about the business of publishing. Far too few writers understand that publishing is a business, and that once their book is written, it's not a work of art, it's a product, a product to be marketed, a product that needs to find its consumer-base, i.e. readership. Authors should think of themselves as self-employed, as entrepreneurs, with their books as their products. Authors, not publishers, are now primarily responsible for doing their own marketing, advertising, and promoting. Authors should understand the economics of publishing, the seasons involved, the concerns of bookstores, large and small, etc.

Authors as actors? Yes. Authors as self-employed entrepreneurs? Most definitely.

Read Aloud Tips and Strategies

Using read-aloud tips and strategies, educators should model enthusiasm for books and reading. Both educators, and ultimately parents, play a strong role in ensuring that their young preschoolers are engaged during read aloud time.

Tips on How to Read Aloud

Think about your style of speaking. If you know that you speak quickly, for example, make an effort to slow down when you read. Conversely, speeding up a little if you tend to speak and read slowly can help keep a child engaged. Read with expression, buy stay within your comfort zone. If you are uncomfortable trying something new, your child will be too.

If you find your child losing interest feel free to skip paragraphs, paraphrase or, in some cases, stop. Remember, the object is to make your sessions fun and enjoyable. You can always come back to that story another time if you feel it is worthwhile.

Other Read Aloud Tips for Holding Interest

  • Invite your partner to guess what will happen next
  • Supply a repeated word or phrase
  • Share reading turns if he or she is able and comfortable with reading aloud
  • Vary the story lengths and the type of book
  • Allow "wigglers" to move about on the floor while you read (as long as they are quiet and attentive)
  • Invite restless preschoolers to draw or work on a puzzle while you read.
Invite children who want to share in reading aloud to do so, but do not require them to "sound it out" or "practice silent reading." Instead, you are modeling enthusiasm for books and reading for your young preschoolers.

Tips on Choosing Read Alouds

  • When choosing books, strike a balance between following the children's preferences and inviting some of them to try new types of books. Some children can never hear too many dinosaur stories, others may love fairy books. Follow their lead, but also introduce an occasional book of a different sort to expand the children's horizons and spark new interests. Say "This looks like a good story. Let's give it a try!" This can be the beginning of exciting new discoveries. If the children express disappointment, however, either verbally or in body language, move on to something else.
  • Try to also read books that speak to different family ethnic backgrounds or family situations. Use the backgrounds of your ELLs (English language learners) to guide you. It is reassuring to hear about people from one's own ethnic group. It is also interesting of course, to hear about other peoples and places.
  • Do not hesitate to repeat children's favorite stories. By hearing a story again and again, soon even a little child is able to "read" it by heart and feel like a reader.
  • From time to time, read stories just out of your child's skill range. Younger children enjoy listening to books beyond their own reading skills and older preschoolers enjoy revisiting a good book even if it is well below their skill or age level.
  • Expand your choices beyond commonly held views of "boy" and "girl" books. Well written and interesting stories will hold the attention of children, whatever the subject or the gender of the central character.

Teaching Read-Aloud Tips: What to Avoid
  • Be cautious about reading scary stories until you know the child well enough to gauge whether he or she would enjoy them. Many five-year-olds and older children like the ghoulish, but others are genuinely traumatized by certain stories. Beware, especially, of frightening illustrations. Adults often remember being truly frightened in childhood by a picture in a book.
  • Watch for television or film versions of good children's books. Some media version may be too violent and not captivating for a young reader.
Remember, good read-alouds should foster early literacy, so you'll want to model your enthusiasm for books and reading for the children. Keep creating enjoyable, participatory literacy experiences that nourish a child's growth as a reader and writer.

Teaching in Further and Higher Education

'Casualisation' in Further Education

According to Norman Lucas (Vol.28. 2004) in his article The 'FENTO fandango'; national standards, compulsory teaching qualifications and the growing regulation of FE college teachers, further education has moved from a sector characterised as being "in a state of benign neglected" by central government to one, which is increasingly becoming more important and regulated during the last decade. The article critically analyse's the developmental changes taking place in initial teacher training and continuing professional development in accordance with FENTO, together with the introduction of compulsory teaching qualifications amongst other initiatives implemented by DfES. The article illustrates the positive elements of the developments, but conversely argues of the potential danger of over regulation in an area which is largely concerned with the diversity of learners and learning contexts. The writer of this article feels that, seeking policy direction for the next decade or so may prove precarious as it is difficult to embrace the concerns of those who appear to have little opportunity to voice opinion - the teaching academics and the students. Oftentimes, the debate focuses on funding, which inevitably colours the final policies.

The NATFHE (2006) was working towards the ending of 'casualisation' in further and higher education. It would seem that they were negotiating to ensure those employed temporarily or paid hourly were offered contracts for full time or fractional posts, and aimed to recruit college employed staff as opposed to agency staff. Although colleges may have their own employment policies it may be useful to examine the 'generic' nature of how colleges function to see how all of this impacts on those involved in teaching and learning.

Further Education relies heavily on part-time staff, which can involve just an hour or teaching as many hours as those in full time positions. However, part-time staff will not enjoy the same benefits as those with a contract of employment such as holiday pay, sick leave and are not protected by rights in respect of unfair dismissal or redundancy, although new legislation has recently come into being, which creates similar rights to those who have been employed for six months. However, teachers are only paid for the hours they are actually teaching, they will not receive financial remuneration for the preparation of lessons nor will they be supported in the marking of work or any other additional duties required of them such as completing essential documents for the college and the students and attending meetings. The offer of any work remains precarious and largely depends on the numbers of those enrolling on courses illuminating the lack of security in the profession. It does not take too much imagination to visualise how valuable this way of working is 'deemed to be by the colleges in terms of balancing the books and making use of 'limited resources', but perhaps little focus is being placed on the long term effect on the profession and how this way of being filters through to the student's learning experience. The 'NATFHE' continues to strive towards full rights for agency staff and legal case are being pursued for their members. The Institute for learning now requires that all teachers and lecturers are registered, but this has not been embraced by those in the sector and the ongoing take up is poor due to the costs. Many professionals see this registration as "yet another way of making money".

The reader of this article undertook a literary review and discovered that; Tertiary education is one of the most casualised sectors in Australia. The recent and significant expansion in casual staff numbers is reflective of the trends, noted in many American and United Kingdom Universities in the last decade". Universities make use of enthusiastic and talented part-time academics to provide delivery of their resource intensive programmes including the teaching of first year students, and as a result has become a 'prominent management issue' in terms of the quality of this experience for both the teacher and the student. For example; how does the sector recruit and support casual staff and ensure a quality experience for all concerned? What are the processes in staff development and enhancement opportunities? A weighted emphasis is oftentimes placed on casual staff to deliver complex programmes to students with complex and diverse needs, many from overseas or whose first language is not English, creating dynamics which may be construed as increasingly exploitative.

Underpinning these issues are concerns in respect of the undervaluing of both teaching and learning, which is where industrial and pedagogical concerns converge. There are deep concerns around the professional and economic status of the casual lecturer, in particular the 'gendered nature of the issue as in many areas of teaching, women account for a disproportionate number of casual teachers. It would appear that there is great value in bringing in lecturers who are practising professionals in their field of expertise who often add fresh insights and other dimensions to the student's learning experience. For example; the writer of this article can bring invaluable vignettes of her experiences of the 'real' world to her students, which breathes life into the subject, which whilst appreciated by the student is not always acknowledged or rewarded within the college. Casual lecturers within adult education often complain about being isolated in their work, unsupported in their role and unable to participate in decision making. Moreover having little or no access to support facilities or development opportunities and being subjected to fluctuations in market forces.

Casual staff is 'casual' for all sort of reasons; For example, to fit in with family life, those who have dual caring roles, responsibilities and commitments, or perhaps to fit in with other professional work. However, there are a number of casual staff who are not casual through choice and as Mc Alpine, (2002) said "very little casual work has anything casual about it". The writers return to teaching has been an organic process worthy of the description, 'teaching by 'default rather than design'.

In contrast to the recent initiatives launched by the DfES, such as introducing compulsory qualifications in adult education, it would seem some part time tutors are still being offered fragmented hours teaching in spite of not having QTS, working towards their Certificates of Education or PGCE. Other tutors working towards such qualifications are not necessarily being valued or rewarded for their commitment to teaching, which could be considered as oppressive practice. Ultimately, the Colleges main focus is finding a lecturer to cover the timetable, irrespective of political rhetoric. In an article written by Frances Rothwell (2002) titled 'Your flexible friends' the research examines how part time lecturers in further and higher education are utilised and the impact this has on the quality of service delivery. The paper is based on qualitative and quantitative research methods in a longitudinal study of a sample of forty two 'sessional' lecturers geographically based in the east Midlands. The article considers the reality of professionals working in this way illuminating the obvious benefits of a flexible workforce to the organisation, but equally, considers the main issues in terms of commitment, quality and service delivery.

How does the academic sector take on the training and support of such a diverse casual workforce, with all of its varying motivations and legitimate expectations, against the management reality of casualisation and the use of 'part time agency staff' as a cheaper alternative for program delivery in a climate of reduced funding, larger student numbers and increasing complexity?" Casual tutors fall into many different categories with an equal number of different reasons for being casual depending on the circumstances and aspirations of the employee.

In the writers opinion, there is difficulty in defining 'casual' staff as their 'casualness' implies they do not have 'tenure'. At many educational establishments those employed on a casual basis may be post graduates gaining post graduate work experience. They could be research fellows, or external people from industry or professions. They may include part-time tutors and clinical tutors or people who are simply regularly employed on a 'fixed term contract' on a course by course basis often over a number of years.

In terms of career development this way of working does not provide stability let alone continuing professional development opportunities. The issue of quality is a key factor in casual teaching, which includes ongoing professional development, that is; encouraging staff to evaluate, reflect and improve teaching practice; however this is only achievable if adequate support is provided. Access to appropriate resources and answer guides, study guides, copies of set reading materials and the provision of marking guides. Implementing team teaching strategies and communication mechanisms with large student populations and or casual tutors. The avoidance of any mismatch between complex first year teaching and inexperienced casual tutors who have not been adequately trained. Addressing the difference between the levels of teaching e.g. Stage 1,2 3 etc. undergraduate and postgraduate. Having clear expectations; avoiding students complaints and finally, the lack of access to casual staff outside of lectures.

When the writer studied the article by Kift (2003) she struggled to comprehend how she had actually managed to teach for years without having access to any such recommendations, indeed it made her acutely aware of how hard it had been and how hard she had actually worked outside of her remit to fulfil the expectations of the college with no resources, little support and guidance; and this matched the experience of her peers.

In an environment, which aims to embrace difference and diversity and has an ethos of all inclusive and anti-oppressive practice, all those in that environment should 'thrive and shine'. According to the educationalist Rogers, (1988) "to prize others is an essential element in forging good relationships", Rogers, (1988) believes that providing any individual with the optimum conditions for growth is all that is needed to become fully functioning organisms, moving towards self actualisation. Lecturers are the obvious 'role models' for their students, which make is more crucial to demonstrate good practice. For example; students need to feel listened to, valued and supported, on all levels if they are to succeed in their endeavours, which is a bit difficult if the work force themselves feel they are not listened to, valued and supported.

There is a need to support all teaching staff in their role, which becomes apparent at Ofstead inspection. The support, which is 'usually' offered to staff at this time perhaps, highlights an important factor that most of the time support simply is not integral to the role of teaching. For 'contracted' members of staff, any additional work caused by the inspection is prioritised with the 'usual' work load and spread out over a period of time. In contrast to this, casual staff may find that they are being pressurised to attend meetings outside of their contracted hours and lack information and resources at this time. Although some dedicated professionals may stay late or take work home it is more likely that most will not. Those who do may even justify that it is an accepted part of the work. All of this becomes quite difficult to bear if juggling other careers at the same time. The stress involved can be immense, and illuminates the obvious difference between having a contract and not having one.

The writers vision for the future of education is; in service provision throughout the day from 8 am - 10 pm including weekends. It makes sense to maximise professionals, buildings and all the resources available in education to those who want and need to learn throughout the week. Staff should be able to choose their preferred working style to fit around other working and caring commitments male and female alike. Given that we have an increasing ageing population it is a fact that some individuals have dual caring roles, which needs to be considered. There are also the individual needs of the student to consider who may be working towards a career change, whilst fulfilling existing working commitments, whilst in a caring role themselves. There are many professionals in a variety of settings who are committed to ongoing professional practice and would value weekend courses to fit around their work. In other situations we often pay additional fees to those involved in evening work or what is considered to be anti-social hours and yet in education there is a trend for contractual staff to work office hours and for agency staff to cover the remainder of the work. This results in 'casual' staff working mainly in the evenings, which is archaic and maybe not the best use of talented professionals.

In conclusion, the cultural and economic influences and pressures on teachers' work are likely to persist well into the future. The predominantly feminised fragmented workforce will continue. A critical analysis of both community and institutional needs is required to negotiate better working conditions, career paths and the social relationships within the classroom and staff room.

Acting and Producing - Interview With Producer, Actor, and Coach George Grant

Q: When did you get into the arts?

A: I was nine years old when I started singing in the Chicago's Children's Choir. Then, when my father who owned an advertising agency in Chicago needed kids for some radio commercials, my sister and I did them. A little later, I got cast in "Three and Me" at Pegasus Players in Chicago. My next venture into the professional world was when I was thirteen at the Goodman Theatre when Gregory Mosher directed "Enemy of the People" with Paul Winfield and William Marshall.

Q: Do you come from a family of artists?

A: Both of my parents were creative. My father was a musician, not professional, but he played piano. Everyone in his family played something. He grew up with music and my brother, sister, and I grew up with music. My mother is a fulltime and freelance writer and editor. Both my parents received Clio Awards for a series of song length advertising sung by Johnnie Taylor and Wolfman Jack for the Citizen's Alliance for VD Awareness in Chicago. My mother wrote the lyrics and my father produced.

My parents made sure we were exposed to the arts - opera, symphony, theatre, ballet. We grew up to be very different people but we're all well rounded. My parents were always very supportive of whatever we wanted to do, they just wanted to make sure we did it right. They were great that way and I thank them very much.

Q: Did you always want to be an actor?

A: In undergrad, I decided not to act anymore. I was going to go into pre-law, to become a lawyer. In my application essay to Lawrence University, I wrote about my theatre experiences. The Associate Dean of Admissions was an advisor to the black student organization and encouraged me to audition for the "Dutchman" by Leroi Jones which was being produced for black history month that year. I ended up doing it. Another advisor for the black student organization was the head of the Theatre Department and said to me - "you need to come and take some classes," so I did and fell back into theatre and ended up with a Bachelor's degree in theatre.

Q: What was your first exposure to Shakespeare and did you like it?

A: I saw a lot of Shakespeare at the Court Theatre in Chicago when I was a kid and always liked it. In high school, some friends of mine and I in an advanced English class designed a class where we read Shakespeare plays aloud with a teacher for three or four days, however long it took, and then spent the last day or two discussing the plays as readers and actors. The other guys were actors too.

As an undergrad at Lawrence, I worked with the ACTER Program which is a program where members of the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Great Britain do residencies at various universities in the United States. Those experiences are the foundation of my love for Shakespeare and led me to focus on the classics in my career. If you can do Shakespeare the rest is easy.

Q: How did you get into teaching?

A: Teaching and directing came about naturally and by being open to opportunities. I teach at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) and the National Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (NCDA) and coach private clients. Just to see my students progress and grow is always moving. It's great to help people build that wheel then watch it roll away. It's lovely to see and it's fun. I can go into a classroom feeling grumpy, then come out feeling really great.

I tell students that acting is the simplest thing in the world, but it's very difficult to do well. Acting is about playing objectives and tactics in given circumstances, under heightened situations, at extreme moments. The idea is simple. The hard part is getting it down to something that's universal and understandable. You're always going to bring yourself to a character, but the goal is to inhabit that character without getting too much of yourself in the way. It's really simple in theory, but very difficult to execute well.

At the STC and NCDA, I've worked with children as young as six all the way up to senior citizens. At the STC, I work mainly with high schoolers but I've also done residencies for middle schoolers and worked with some really talented and interesting people, both students and colleagues. The age range of NCDA students runs the gamut - from just out of high school to second career folks - all in the same classroom, which is really cool. My NCDA colleagues are terrific, too.

I really have to thank the folks at both those organizations for teaching me so much. I talked to Dawn McAndrews, Education Director at the STC, for about five minutes at the intermission of a play, which led to five years of ongoing education and employment for me. NCDA has given me room to explore what I can do as a teacher and more especially as a director sending me to places I didn't know I could go. For instance, when the resident Commedia dell'Arte specialist at NCDA, Ray Ficca, was out of town doing a show, I took over the directing and now I have a pretty firm grasp on what Commedia is about.

Q: So you're directing, too?

A: Yeah, I enjoy directing. I enjoy the rehearsal process. It's about what's happening in that room and space at that particular time and getting from zero to sixty in however many weeks we have to work on the play. It also allows me to constantly learn.

Directing is along the path of a very long journey for me. As a director, I strive for the same things I strive for as an actor - clarity and specificity, and telling the story as truthfully as possible; but as a director, I also get to guide people - and I'm good at it. I don't say that to toot my own horn, it wasn't something I really had ever thought about until some of my teachers in graduate school started telling me to explore directing, saying - you'd be a good director, you've got a good eye for what the story is about and how to articulate it so that it's understandable on almost any level whether to an actor with a vast amount of experience or to an actor of little experience.

Q: What would you ultimately like to do?

A: Everything - teach, direct, and act. My ideal combination is directing a couple of shows a year, being in a show, and teaching. I'm in talks with colleges about doing residencies where I teach classes on styles of acting or theory, and direct a play, or perform as a guest artist.

Q: What advice do you have for actors?

A: My biggest recommendation for actors is to train, train, train and after they've finished training, train some more. Actors should always take classes and train no matter what level they're at because there's always more to learn, a new perspective, a new vocabulary, or a new game to get them to that place they're trying to get to, which is the truth. If somebody can look at what you do and recognize a truth that he or she didn't know already or wasn't able to articulate, then you have a chance of changing somebody's life which is pretty amazing.

Also, professionalism goes a long way in this business - show up on time, know your lines, and leave your personal lives outside. Your reputation is probably one of the most important things you have, especially since the acting business is a small world, so guard your reputation well. Everybody knows everybody else. I've done plays all over the country and have never been in a show where I either didn't know somebody or somebody knew somebody I know.

While there's always a certain amount of ego involved in anybody being actor, there has to be because you have to build that toughness or you aren't going to make it because it's a rough business - remember it's not about being a star, it's about the work. Always behave professionally.

Learn how to deal with rejection. It's not always about you. All those reasons that you think might have caused you to not have gotten the job - oh, I was terrible that day, I had a cold, my voice was awful - might not have anything to do with it. You might be too tall, too short, too black, too white, too old, too young, just not the type they're looking for. It could be a thousand things that have nothing to do with your talent or skill.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm thinking of producing a show with actors with less experience working with more seasoned actors. That would be a learning experience for both. A lot of students worry about getting it wrong or disappointing the teacher. Their focus is pulled away from the real objective, which is the story and the other actor on the stage; it should not be in pleasing the teacher or getting it "right." When you've got two students approaching the scene, character, and each other tentatively, it's hard for them to move forward. It's the rare student actor whom I've met who will go out and commit. The internal editor is always berating them. I tell students all the time - nobody is going to die if you mess up, and maybe you won't, just go out there and try it, just go all the way, commit to it, take a risk. When students work with professional actors who commit to a role from the start, they can set aside that inner critic and focus on the true goal, which is the truth of the moment. This way, seasoned actors pass on their experience to lesser experienced actors who can then see what it's like to work with somebody who's already there. I know that works because every once at the NDCA I've filled in as a scene partner for a student who isn't in class. I can commit to the role and not worry about pleasing the teacher, 'cause I am the teacher. I've had students come to me and say it was a whole different experience for them. I'd like more students to have that kind of experience. I've seen how it helps them grow as actors. The pros get a chance to play and remember why we do this crazy thing and maybe see the value of passing the craft on. Of course, I have to find a budget for this, but that's how it goes. Georenman3@aol.com

5 Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block

Writer's block can be a serious issue, especially for those of us who "live by the pen." I have a rather arbitrary definition of writer's block with which readers may or may not agree. Writer's block is not what happened to me during college the night before a term paper was due and I sat blankly staring at a computer screen having just come back from the college library with an armful of books and a few scholarly articles I had managed to copy as the librarian was locking up for the night. That was simply lack of planning. You cannot wait for inspiration to hit when the seeds of the idea have not even been sewn. After those hard lessons of college, I learned an ounce of prevention was worth about 8 hours of sleep. As a non-fiction writer, writer's block is also not what those major fiction authors must feel when the Amazonian-like rivers of their creative juices suddenly stop flowing two hundred pages into their latest novel. It probably feels like being struck blind or deaf. I really wouldn't know because I don't work on that grand a scale.

My craft consists of writing fact-intensive, repetitious pieces of non-fiction for a very small audience of jaded readers who probably read 30 or 40 similar works each day. The challenge is to make my work stand out and motivate the reader, and for me, writer's block is a blase feeling I get when I look at my subject matter, and I cannot imbue it with that special something that makes it come off the page and take on a life of its own. I cannot motivate the reader because I have no feel for the subject and I do not feel motivated, or I feel the opposite, negative feelings for the subject that I must work through to make it shine. That is the nature of writer's block for me, trying to write a respectable piece even though I have no feel for the subject or am completely uninspired by the subject.

When writer's block hits, these tricks of the trade help me through the rough spots, and let me produce work even when my Muses are not with me. I hope these suggestions can help you overcome your writer's block or at least help you to produce some writing despite the lack of inspiration.

1. Keep writing. Even though you may be critical of the words that may be flowing from your fingertips, it is better to still get your thoughts down on your piece and then edit it or rewrite it. Many successful writers work by the "rewriting" method and polish a piece after many rewrites. If you have one or two uninspired writing sessions, it should not matter if you are continually working on the piece. Moments of inspiration will probably hit frequently enough over time that an off day will not affect the quality of the final piece.

2. Stop writing. Do something else. Take a break. Get some coffee. Play a little solitaire on the computer. Sometimes working non-stop on a writing project forces you into a grove you do not want to be in. You may want to change your physical space for a while to move your mind out of the mental rut it may be in. Coming back to a piece after a little break may be all it takes to help you keep your inspiration flowing and keep your perspective fresh. Personally, I carry a voice recorder around with me a lot, so if I have left a piece and am at lunch, if some new ideas occur, I will simply dictate them into the recorder and try to integrate them when I get back to work.

3. Recycle. If you were particularly eloquent in another piece and you happen to be working on a somewhat similar piece, why not borrow some phraseology or turns of phrase from the first one. Facts are always different, but the writer's style is often reflected in her figures of speech or other gems that may entertain the reader along the way.

4. Read. Read in your subject or industry area or out of it. If you read in your industry, current events may prompt you to write an expose or follow up piece for a significant happening. Reading out of your area/industry may help you change perspective and approach your writing with a new point of view. It may also give your brain a break (much like number 3 above) and let you clear your "mental palette" so that you can come back to a piece refreshed.

5. Collaborate. This is not having someone write your piece for you. It is more about talking and creating a dialogue and maybe a dialectic. You probably forgot how you learned to write, but a common approach to teaching new writers is to do "pre-writing" activities, such as talking about the topic and brainstorming as a class before the individual is asked to work on their writing. By talking to someone, similar to a pre-writing exercise, you can get the ideas flowing again through dialogue. Possibly your colleague is ignorant of the subject and by educating her you are rethinking your ideas and are getting a feel for your audience who may not know much about the subject either. Also, colleagues often have criticisms and creative suggestions for a piece, and responding to the critique should help you focus and improve the writing.

I hope the above suggestions help you work through writer's block.

Creative Writing MFA - Do You Really Need One to Be a Writer?

There has been a debate in the literary world for a long time about whether writing is something that can be taught or if it is a subject beyond teaching and that "real writers" are just born. To my way of thinking this is a silly argument. Just as any other art can be taught, writing can be taught. That said, there is such a thing as innate talent, and that is perhaps a little harder to define and in some ways is perhaps not teachable. What I mean is this - painters like Picasso and writers like Hemingway, had a certain measure of innate talent that would have been there without formal training, but, through training and development their talents flourished. Picasso did have formal instruction in art before he left his native Spain, and Hemingway, while not studying at what one would term a traditional writing college, chose to develop his skill as a writer by working as a newspaper reporter and war correspondent.

This brings me to the point about training to be a writer. Is it necessary to obtain an MFA in creative writing in order to become a writer? Of course not. MFAs are not for everyone, and some writers would be set back or stifled by the rigid structure within an MFA program. Hemingway's style of writing is not one that an MFA program would likely produce. In fact, there has been criticism of late that MFA programs produce bland, tepid writing where all the angst filled stories of contemporary life sound alike. In other words, in order to succeed in an MFA program, writers learn to write stories that sound like MFA program stories.

Jack Kerouac is another example of a writer who found his own way to learn his chosen craft of writing. When he was still in high school, Kerouac decided that he wanted to be a writer above all else. The story goes that he got a copy of a story collection by William Saroyan and had the epiphany that one could write about everyday life and make it interesting art. Saroyan wrote about starving in San Francisco and living poor and on the edge in Fresno. Kerouac's "ah-ha" moment was that he could write about Lowell, Massachusetts and about the people he knew there. His fist book, one that is not read enough, was an exploration of a family's life in a fictionalized Lowell and New York City, called "The Town and the City".

Kerouac, like Hemingway, had some innate talent, but both worked hard to develop what they had. Neither attended an MFA program nor graduated from college, but both worked hard to learn their craft and how to write effectively. Kerouac wrote for several hours daily. One summer, Kerouac set himself the goal of writing a story a day no matter what. The book, "From Atop an Underwood" includes many of the short pieces he wrote during this period of intense writing-study. Hemingway, in similar fashion, went to Paris and filled notebook after notebook with stories and notes, all in the quest to become a writer. So, do you need to attend an MFA program to become a good writer? No, but you do have to decide on what will develop you into the type of writer you want to be, and then find the discipline to carry out your plan. For many of us it is writing every day and taking each piece of writing seriously. Look for models around you in the writers you love to read. What did they do? How did they develop as writers? Who were their mentors and models?

In the end, becoming a writer is an individual path and each of us has to find what works for us. It may be that an MFA is what you need in order to develop as a writer, and it may be that you need to establish a serious writing discipline and a particular method unique to you as a writer. In the end it is about desire and commitment. If you really want to be a writer commit to learning what you need to learn and then start off on your path with the will to stay the course no matter what.

How to Build a Writer's Marketing Platform

As a writer, are you interested in building a marketing platform? There are some important things you should know in order to do this successfully. No matter what type of writer you are, the difference between being unknown and well known lies in your ability to create influence.

You need to have a platform that communicates your integrity, credibility and expertise in your particular field. The Internet makes it easier than ever to achieve this goal but you have to know how to do so effectively.

A strong writer's platform might include your web presence, media contacts you have, articles you've published, books or ebooks you've written, public services you offer, public speaking opportunities, classes you teach and more. These are all ways you make a name for yourself and make your works known to the public and your readership.

You can build your writer's marketing platform by recognizing the ways that you can get noticed and create a presence for yourself and then taking the proper steps needed to achieve this. You might build a website, edit an existing site, volunteer for opportunities, using article marketing to advertise and participate in social media sites.

Find the methods that work for you and then make the investment to have them work for you. The benefits abound and may include more sales, increased media exposure, blog buzz, invitations to speak or participate in interviews, book deals, increased book sales and much more.

Once you have established your platform, you just need to allow it to work for you. It will work 24/7, even while you are sleeping to advertise the good word of what you can do.

How to Find Freelance Writing Jobs and Other Ways to Make Money Writing

As a writing coach, part of what I do each day is help my clients find new writing opportunities. Here are some ways you can boost your income as a freelance writer, too:

1. Write Books - Don't think you HAVE to have your own original idea for a book in order to become a published author. Many publishers look for writers they can assign book projects to. The trick is to learn which publishers do this, then get to know some of the editors at each of these publishing houses who hire freelance writers for these upcoming titles.

You can also offer your services as a ghostwriter if you like to write books. The downside of ghostwriting is that you usually don't get your byline on the book. And most times you can't even tell anyone YOU wrote a specific book. But ghostwriting is a great way to add to your freelance writing income and gain more experience as a writer. I've ghostwritten books on a variety of subjects that I never would have even thought about if I hadn't been contacted by someone who needed a writer for these particular topics.

2. Write for Magazines, Newspapers, Newsletters - This is the most traditional route for freelance writing. Generally, it's a good idea to start out querying ONLY the publications you read yourself because you're more familiar with those publications. Plus, I always advise writers to stick with just 3 to 6 publications that they want to write for and ONLY query these publications until they finally break in with at least a couple of these markets. If you keep adding and adding to the list of magazines you query, you won't have time to really study all these markets and get to know what they've published in the past and what they're most likely to want to publish in future issues. Stick to just a few publications and really get to know them and you'll have a better chance of eventually writing for these publications.

3. Create Your Own Information Products - Develop your own area of expertise, then create your own information products for this niche market. For example, if you're a travel writer, create products for either travelers or other aspiring travel writers. Information products usually include items that can be purchased electronically. Items such as e-books, special reports, tips sheets, audio files, and e-zines are all information products you can create and market rather easily and inexpensively.

4. Affiliate Marketing - You don't have to create every product yourself. Look to other businesses for products that will appeal to your niche market. Then become an affiliate for these products and promote them through your own websites, articles, and reviews and earn a commission every time someone purchases one of these products or services through you. Affiliate marketing is a great way to substantially increase your income.

5. Write for Other Businesses - Many businesses need freelance writers on a regular basis. But quite often these companies don't list these job opportunities on job boards or in other publications that list jobs for writers. It's up to the writer to find out Just imagine getting paid to speak about your passion!

7. Teach Online Workshops - Teach other writers how to do what you do. If you're a travel writer, develop a workshop about travel writing. If you write for children, create an online workshop for other children's writers.

8. Create Your Own Membership Based Programs - Clubs and other online membership based programs are a huge source of income for many freelance writers and other business professionals.

As you can tell, there are many ways to find freelance writing opportunities and you can also create many writing opportunities yourself!

Teaching Online - Home Schooling Book Review

If you are considering teaching online, or if you are a homeschooling parent and would like to have your kids learn online while at home then maybe you need to do a little bit of research. Maybe you need to consider what's out there, and the various hybrid courses and technology issues which surround the world of Internet courses and online teaching.

The other day, there was a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed why there never needed to be any poor weather days that prevented school. If the inclement weather was so bad that the school buses couldn't run, or the blizzard made it impossible to get to school, then each student could learn at home on their own computer. The article made some compelling arguments, and I found similar points of contention in a book on the subject.

In fact, I'd like to go out of my way right now to recommend this book to you, and it is a book that I do own of my personal library. The name of this book is; "Teaching Online - A Practical Guide" (College Teaching Series - Second Edition) by Susan Ho and Steve Rossen, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, (2004), 339 pages, ISBN: 0-618-29848-7.

There is a great overview of online teaching and what it's about, and although it is written from the perspective of the institutional educator, it surely helps parents understand what they are dealing with when they choose which courses, online syllabuses, and information they wish their children to read and learn. Teaching in an online classroom is not easy, but those that have the skill and talent to pull it off, are the most desired and sought after instructors.

Why not pick up a copy of this book so you can familiarize yourself with low-tech and high-tech solutions used in Internet education. You can also find discussion forums where you can interact with teachers, and how they use whiteboards, chatting features, and instant messaging to make the online classroom feel at home. Why not learn what the teachers go through when they put together their training programs, and how they prepare themselves for their students.

It seems to me as a parent I want to know how the online teaching system works, what type of software and hardware works the best, and how the teachers are going to interact with my kids. You need to know these things up front, it's very important, and that's why a recommend this book to you. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

Teaching Article Writing - 4 Fun Ways to Teach Aspiring Writers About Article Writing

If you're great in writing articles and if you want to share your knowledge, you can go ahead and teach aspiring writers the ropes of article writing. Here are some suggestions on how you can do that:

1. Build a website or a blog. The best way to connect with a lot of aspiring writers is to use the internet as your medium in reaching them. Build your own website or blog where you can offer tips and techniques or how-to guides. Ensure that you update your site/blog on a daily basis so your students will be enticed to come back.

2. Teleseminars. You can also share your knowledge through teleseminars. Compare to inviting your participants to your website, this is consider more effective. In here, they'll get real-time answers to their questions and they'll be able to interact with you. Just make sure though that you're prepared so you will not get caught off-guarded.

3. Newsletters. This is another way to share your knowledge. Create relevant newsletters that revolve around article writing and send them to your target audience at least once a week. For best results, I recommend that you encourage these people to offer you some feedback so you'll know if you're teaching style is effective.

4. Online classes. If you intend to teach a huge group of people, conducting online classes sounds like a great idea. This is just the same as your traditional classroom method; the only difference is that you don't have the four walls of a classroom and that you'll be teaching people who are coming from all points of the globe.

Writer's Block? Meditation Frees Up the Creative Flow

When we decide to learn to meditate and make the effort each day to be consistent in this practice, it changes everything in our lives. We meditate without asking for results, favors, paybacks, or wish fulfillments. Many individuals meditate because their purpose is to make contact with a cosmic consciousness, to remove themselves from the delusions of the external world. Others meditate to find inner peace from the anxiety, obsessive thinking, and preoccupations of daily living. For writers who are constantly working from inside themselves, meditation gets us in touch with the deepest parts of ourselves, expands the imagination, and provides us with a perpetual infusion of hope and steadiness.

Meditating with great sincerity and transparency, we ask nothing in return for our efforts. We simply sit with consistency. Starting with a couple of minutes each day and increasing as we go, we build the muscles of discipline and concentration that become a new habit.

A starting point is vipassana meditation. "Vipassana is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation, attributed to Gautama Buddha." With closed eyes, focus your attention on the point between your eyebrows called the third eye or spiritual eye. Watch the breath. On the in breath (inspiration) pay attention to the cool air coming through your nostrils; on the out breath (the expiration) notice the warm air exiting your nostrils. Each breath is unique; each moment an opportunity. Be kind and unjudgmental with yourself. When you are distracted by thoughts, feelings, body sensations, outside distractions, gently bring yourself back to the breath. In the beginning, sit for a short period of time---two to five minutes at first. As you become accustomed to this, gradually extend the time that you meditate. Emphasize consistency over length of time when you are beginning a meditation practice.

Meditation assists writers in a variety of ways:

1. Increases intuition which loosens up the creative flow
2. Quiets and expands the mind that leads to a cascade of fresh ideas
3. The discipline and concentration required for meditation and writing are interconnected.
4. Meditation expands our consciousness, stretches our muscles of awareness and teaches the writer that there is always a solution, a direction, a new turn of thought that is coming through each moment.

Teaching Interactive Writing with ICT Tools

I- Introduction

I have been teaching English as a foreign language in secondary schools in Tunisia for many years. Although I have always used stimulating strategies to encourage my students to write and I have motivated them in various ways to produce good writings- letters, poems, short stories, articles, questionnaires..., I was acutely aware of their reluctance towards writing as a regular activity and their anxiety whenever they were handed their papers back. It was evident that they preferred to do something more enjoyable than a task they considered hard, tiring and boring!!!

When discussing this issue with my colleagues, I found out that they faced the same problems with their students and some of them desperately recognized having resorted to neglecting and avoiding this activity in their English classes. They either left it till the end of the session because of time constraints or gave it as homework. Hence, writing is neglected and ignored.

No wonder our students are bad at writhing and have poor marks! To remedy such an alarming situation, we need to readjust and update the techniques we have been using and to question our personal attitude towards writing. Hopefully, the various changes brought by Information and Communication Technologies in the domain of education are of great help and offer a wide range of interactive tools to forestall students' major problems and to render writing a more interactive and enjoyable experience.

II- Writing and ICT

The more we use interactive ICT tools to teach writing, the more we are enthusiastic, positive, motivated, passionate and engaged. Consequently, we are able to pass this passion on to our students. Therefore, writing is no longer a passive, tiring, boring and frustrating hard task but should be:

* regarded as a natural way of communicating.

* naturally linked to oral language and reading

* both an individual and a shared experience.

* an interactive experience.

* challenging and fun.

* promoted by ICT.

When pupils write to peers in other countries, writing is no longer a simulated classroom activity, but rather a means of exchanging personal information, a way of informing and learning about other peoples' schools, environments, and cultures. The procedure is simple: the pupils receive a letter and then write one back. Communication through writing becomes as natural as communication through speech.

There are electronic dictionaries for all levels of learners. Students can consult them at all stages of writing to check spelling, grammar, vocab...

They can, also, use forums, chat to communicate with other people through writing.

There are writing programmes, such as Storybook Weaver and Writers Workshop, for the promotion of creative writing. These programmes allow pupils to create text with the help of background pictures. Some of them read aloud the text pupils have created, while others allow students the opportunity to read out their text and listen to their own voice.
Creating web pages with FrontPage Editor, DreamWeaver or any other web editor is a more advanced and rewarding way of motivating pupils to write and publish their work on the net.

Teachers have the possibility to assign many activities where computer work is combined with non-computer work, eg planning a tourist brochure by first discussing it in a group, writing the text on a word programme, finding supporting pictures to illustrate, letting others see the draft and give feedback before revising and editing the text and finally making a web page out of it!

The possibilities are enormous and imagination has no limit.

III- Writing activities we can teach with ICT

There is a large variety of ICT-based activities we can choose from; they can be online or offline. As teachers, we are called to adapt them to the level of our students and to the context:

* Simple sentences

* Enriched sentences

* Descriptions after a reading activity

* Letters/ E-mails

* Postcards

* Articles

* Interviews

* Reports

* Ads

* End of stories

* Beginning of stories

* Stories

* Cartoons

* Poems

IV- Writing Tools on the Web

There are programmes which help students create their own writing activities. Others generate sentences, poems, quotes, stories...

* Playing with words, creating interactive writing games. You can choose the plot, the setting, the character...After you finish, you can print and e-mail your writings : http://www.writingfix.com/

* Publishing pupils'writings : poems, stories, journal writing... http://www.amphi.com/~pgreenle/EEI/studentpublish.html [http://www.tooter4kids.com/classroom/writing4kids.htm/]

* You can have fun and learn to write English sentence patterns with Random/ Automatic Sentence Generators : http://www.manythings.org/sm/ (You can use it even when you're disconnected.)

* You can generate your poem or story by using some programs .

* You can download some free software on your PC or on a CD and use it to write sentences, quotes, stories: http://www.writesparks.com/

V- Conclusion

To help our students improve their writing skills and become more positive, there are important things we need to remember:

* Simple activities at the word or sentence level are advisable in order to provide young learners with basic skills and the opportunity to build up their confidence in writing.

* It is at all times important that the teacher shows willingness to write with and for pupils, thus acting as a model and inspirer of their written language.

* With ICT, communication through writing becomes as natural as communication through speech.