The House That Made Me

When the sun rises on the tired old street of Nottingham, the quiet Sunday morning descends on the neighborhood with a hushed whisper. The small street is entirely abandoned, save for a single elderly gentleman hobbling to his car with the aid of a cane. Both sides of the street are lined with plain, single-story houses, many of which have run-down cars in the driveway. All in all, the neighborhood is nothing much to speak of; there are several dozen others like it in the city.

However, there is one house on the street, right in the middle of the block, which has a large rose trellis out front. Now, these roses in and of themselves are nothing special either, but they set the house apart from the others. This house is cared for. While most others have too-long grass and sparse flower beds, this one is clean and well-kept. The front is lined with colorful flowers and the grass looks recently mowed. But the special part about this house is not the outside, but the people inside.

The family that lives there is young, unlike most of the residents of the neighborhood. The husband is a quiet character, but he loves to laugh and joke around. His wife is his perfect complement, with a loud and out-spoken personality. They don’t have much money to speak of, but they make do; they are happy. With them lives their infant daughter, a tiny, round bundle, all bald and smiley.

Despite the dreary nature of their street, it is the perfect place for the little girl to grow up. The empty streets will soon become her playground, the cracked sidewalk her race track. Here, she will have her first interaction with nature and adventure. While the old brick house won’t see her first prom, and the driveway won’t house her first car, they’ll still be some of her first memories. Alongside her sister, who isn’t even a thought yet, she will grow into a writer and explorer, all thanks to that house, on that street, in that neighborhood.

Written by Taylor

Image credit

Advertisements

Letter to the Wordy Writer

“Words words words, I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?”

Audrey Hepburn sang these famous words with her now polished British accent in the renowned musical, My Fair Lady. Although not as widely acclaimed as other ballads from the play, “Show Me,” wherein a frustrated Eliza vents her frustration about all the empty words being uttered from her love interest, has always fascinated me. It’s a wonderful song to sing in the shower, too. She goes on to sing, after childishly jumping over fences and twirling with lampposts, “Never do I ever want to hear another word; there isn’t one I haven’t heard.”

That little diddy often circulates through my head when I’m reading a text rich with unusual language or editing one of my own papers while thinking, “Why did I say it like that?” Advanced writers recognize the realities that not only can one’s writing always improve, but there is also no such thing as a perfect work. However, once our grammar is polished, our story is set, and our characters have colorful voices of their own, we sometimes find ourselves taking unnecessary measures to make our writing sound “better.”

For example, an insecure/new/word-fiend writer could find many, many ways to say, “She picked up the book and ran her fingers over the rough cover.”

For instance:

“She gingerly snatched the book from its resting place to trace the familiar design of the hardback covering.”

Not so terrible, eh? Okay, well, how about this:

“The book found its way into her anxious palm, glistening under the glow of the corner of the lamp, and, with an insinuation of wonder and an insurmountable degree of zeal, she feigned to make contact with the work. Yes, her fingers traced that rough, abrasive surface as doting and forgotten memories from that very story seemed to swirl up her hand and misfortune her mind.”

Although that description may have afforded a few new vocabulary words to the reader, it likely confused him/her, too. Writers love words. It’s why we write; it’s what we do! Language is our craft, and the pen is our tool. Even Scripture warns of the great power our words can wield:

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV.)

No pressure, right?

As Christians and as writers, especially as Christian Writers, we have a responsibility to communicate responsibly. We ought not say things we do not mean, exaggerate on purpose, or deceive our audiences. While excessively descriptive passages are obviously not as serious as cursing someone with our mouth, it falls under the same principle: don’t say things you don’t mean. Going back to the girl in our example, after reading each one, it seems fairly certain that the clearest example was the first: “She picked up the book and ran her fingers over the rough cover.” With every ensuing description, I veered farther and farther away from my intended message. All those elaborate and continuous commas eventually distracted from what I really wanted to communicate. Although words are a vast and glorious gift which can always be explored and experimented with, they are just as capable of destruction as illumination. In the words of My Fair Lady,

“Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don’t waste my time, show me
Please don’t implore, beg on the seats
Don’t make all the speech, show me.”

Treat your audience like the worthy readers they are by showing rather than telling. It’s an old adage for a reason: it stills holds up. Dear Wordy Writer, put your words where they matter. Don’t over frillify an already pretty thing. More often than not, a few cleverly placed words are far more memorable than a copious number of SAT vocabulary words. For even more goodness on this topic, check out our “Avoiding Wordiness” video on YouTube! (End plug.)

Written by Karoline

Image credit

In the Beginning

I was recently bitten by the content-creation bug. You know what I’m talking about—the one that’s drawing everyone and their dog (or goldfish or gerbil or hedgehog) to places like YouTube and Vine to make a living by creating videos and other online content. To me, that sounds like the dream life, so I decided to try it.

The question, of course, lay in where to start. I had to rein myself in a little bit and decide what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. To figure that out, I had to answer another question: Why am I doing this?

I knew I wanted to keep my faith in the open, but we all know the dangers of that nowadays. Christians aren’t favorably portrayed, as we used to be, in modern media. It’s much easier to make “Christian” music or write a “Christian” blog and separate ourselves from the world.

The thing is, we’re not supposed to do that.

How do I know? Lots of ways. Take the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19, emphasis added).

Or John 17:14-19, where Jesus notes that neither he nor his disciples are of this world but are nevertheless in it. Verse 15, in particular, catches my eye: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” David Mathis wrote a great article on why this passage (and the phrase “In the world but not of the world” that was coined from it) means not that Christians should fall away from the world, but that we have been sent into it on a mission. I’ll let you read his article for more elaboration.

So we’re supposed to go into the world, avoid the advances of the evil one, and impact those around us. Cool. How does creativity tie into that? Dear reader, I’m so glad you asked.

When God created the world, he also created man: Adam; we all know him. He also created woman, Eve, when he realized one human wasn’t enough. Genesis 2:19-20 records one of the first things God told this man to do: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”

Writers, how many of you have struggled to find the perfect name for one single character? Yeah, this verse makes me cringe, too.

Remember also that God made Eve as a “suitable helper” (v. 20) for Adam (v. 20). She was made creative, too. Adam wasn’t meant to create by himself; he created in the pattern of God and with his fellow human.

So, what does this mean for us?

  1. Creativity is a built-in part of each one of us; it is God-given and it has a purpose.
  2. Creativity brings us closer to the Lord. God could have named all the animals himself and just told Adam what they were; instead, he let Adam do it with him, and whatever name Adam came up with was the one God ordained. It was a moment of trust and respect that will probably never be replicated in our post-fall existence.
  3. Our creative thoughts are not meant to be kept to ourselves. We’re supposed to use them for what God has told us to do, for the benefit of others.

When we use the materials, ideas, and abilities God has given us to bless others, we’re showing that we appreciate all those things—and that we love the One who made them. Any creator can tell you that the act of creation is an unparalleled experience. I believe this is why.

That’s not to say that everything you create has to be some praise and worship experience. Everything I just pointed out is simply describing the origin of creativity and the high standards set before us. For the Christian, it will shine through unexpectedly and subconsciously.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with my creative abilities yet. Right now, I’m just determined to be as genuine as possible. For me, being genuine means being loving, caring, passionate, discerning, and respectful, as Christ himself is. That holds true if I’m uploading my personality to YouTube or if I’m living a social-media-free existence. I want to live in such a way that, no matter what I’m doing, people see the difference in me and wonder why it’s there.

As the old saying goes, you can be anything you want to be—and the Christian label (or lack thereof) shouldn’t change the message we as Christians carry. As long as you are exercising the love, compassion, and attitude of Christ, you have the power in Him to create something truly amazing and life-changing.

Written by Catherine

Reprinted with permission from this blog.

Image credit: Kā Riley

Letter to the Returning Writer

Hey, friend. I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve written for school or for fun. Whether it’s been a semester, a year, five years, or even twenty years, the effects of passing time can be reversed more quickly than you might suppose. Although writing is a skill which can always be improved upon, it’s also a bit like riding a bike; those who have learned will not forget how to do so just because they haven’t gone for a ride in a while. Once you’ve conquered the mental road block that you’ve “forgotten” how to write or “don’t know enough anymore,” you can adhere to the following tips in order to maximize your success.

  • Read over your old papers. Horror writer Stephen King is known to lock away his manuscripts for ten years before revisiting them to correct mistakes. Why? Because the passing of time enables us to notice more potential improvements in our projects than if we read our own paper we wrote yesterday. By laughing at the old mistakes you’ve made, you can enter the new semester feeling confident that you’ve learned since your last writing attempts.
  • Visit the Writing Center. Yes, this is the shameless plug. But I have no shame in it because I’ve seen students arrive at our center the first week of fall semester feeling rusty and unsure of their skills. Most of the time, after sitting down with a consultant, the worry vanishes from their face. A second opinion is sometimes all that is required to reignite the writing part of our brain that’s simply been dormant for a while.

As you enter the new semester with eagerness and hope to improve your skills and learn inside the classroom, remember that you are not alone. No matter what your writing skill level may be, perfection is impossible; this should grant you hope! You and every student around you can work toward improvement, but few of them do. By reading this blog, incorporating advice, and visiting the Writing Center, you are taking a greater charge of your education than many students ever feign to do. Give yourself a pat on the back; you’re already ahead of the game. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia E. Butler.

Written by Karoline

Image credit

Get’ch’a Head In the Game!

“Coach said to fake right
And break left
Watch out for the pick
And keep an eye on defense
Gotta run the give and go
And take the ball to the hole
Like an old school pro
He said, ‘Don’t be afraid’
What you waitin’ on?
To shoot the outside ‘J'”

Zac Effron. “Get’cha Head In the Game.” In High School Musical. Directed by Kenny Ortega, Disney Channel, 2006.

Dear writers who’ve been on the bench in the game of writing,

In the words of High School Musical, “get your head in the game!” For out-of-practice writers, sharpening writing skills can be easily achieved through more reading, more planning, more writing, and more believing.

Study the game!

Most members spend post-practice hours with their eyes glued to TV and computer screens as they study the moves of successful basketball games and MVP’s from years past. While there may be some sense of entertainment and pleasure, most of this is study: team members studying others. Every jump-shot, alley-oop, and cross-over is on replay as they study the moves of their predecessors finding ways to imitate them. The goal is to improve the craft of the game. The same technique can be applied to writers looking to improve their craft as well. Every newspaper, fictional story, pressing excerpt, and Shakespearean read improves the writing skills of the reader. Although the reader is simply reading, s/he is processing interesting writing structures, illustrative phraseologies, and other techniques that they may recreate. Each reading experience is a new example for an individual to study writing- study the game.

Prepare!

Before every game, players are making “ball their lives.” They eat protein-dense meals, workout, and take ice-baths. Bent like pretzels and other weird shapes across gym floors, each player stretches their taffy-like limbs in preparation for a good game. They rehearse clever, point-scoring plays and strong defense tactics again and again, plotting the moves of their opponents. Writers too, must prepare to write. Not in the sharp pencil, fresh sheet of paper kind of way! Writers must know their audience, desired topic, and theme. Like ‘ball players must consider the moves of their opponents, writers must also consider the reactions of their readers. When writing, one must anticipate questions the reader may ask or topics that may need further detail for him or her to understand. One needs a game plan for a great game, and a writer needs a plan for a great paper. Prepare!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Players spend hours on-end practicing the game of basketball. They often attend camps for faster moving on the court, dribbling with both hands, and defending their positions against bigger players. A team may split off and have scrimmages or practice games against one another. Day and night, players practice to maintain and gain skill in the game of b-ball. Similarly, writers must practice writing to maintain and gain skill. Practicing allows writers to retain grammar rules, correct sentence structure, and pen a clear flow of ideas. Writers also find that this practice increases their confidence in writing and makes for an easier writing process each time, as they are able to see progression with each experience.

Believe!

Lastly, there must be more believing in the writer. The last thing basketball teams do before the beginning of the game is recite a series of chants that give them the confidence they need to do their best. Think High School Musical’s Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu), pumping up the team by loudly asking, “What team? Wildcats,” numerous times until they were excited. Writers don’t have to take such an intense approach, but they do need to believe in their writing abilities and themselves.

Review the game plan: one must read, plan, write, and believe. Get’cha head in the game!

Written by Ashley

Image credit

Another Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

Whether you’re experiencing hesitations because you feel inadequate in your skills, or you just don’t know where to start and how to proceed, you’ve come to the write (haha, pun) place. We all have times in our lives when we feel unsure of ourselves for one reason or another. However, you can’t let that stop you. Finding ways to overcome your inhibitions, while also building your skill set, is the key to gaining self-confidence.

First of all, the best way to escape the rut of insecurity is to dive in head first. When it comes to writing, sometimes you have to start by pouring words out onto the page. I often find that my best work comes when I force myself to stop thinking and just feel it instead. Then, I will go back and worry about the editing when I finish. Using this method really helps when the insecurity has become paralyzing and even getting started seems like an insurmountable task.

Now, on to the matter of developing your skills as a writer. If you feel uncertain because you think you aren’t a good writer or don’t have enough experience, then I have some reassuring news for you; you have more practice than you think, and you can always gain more. Even if you have never written a paper in your life, you still use writing skills often. Everything from emails to journaling counts as writing. All you have to do is learn how to apply what you already know to more formal types of writing. One of the best ways to do that is to read. Seek out those who have come before you and study their writing; find out what they did well and even what they didn’t. Read across every genre, style, and subject matter. Then, you can take the information you gather and apply it to your own work and put your personal spin on it. It may take a while to gain confidence and find your voice, but the more reading and writing you do, the faster you will improve.

Another way to build your confidence and skill is to find someone to help review your work and offer suggestions. If you are writing an academic paper, I would suggest visiting the University Writing Center. Having someone who is familiar with the requirements of formal writing explain things to you will be a big help in gaining confidence. If you are looking to write more creatively, try finding other writers who would be willing to form a writer’s group with you, anything from online forums to a friend or two who also love to write would suffice. Sharing ideas and suggestions and growing with other writers is an invaluable experience.

So, when you find yourself stuck and overwhelmed by uncertainty, grab your computer, or a pen and paper, and just write. Let all of your thoughts flow out onto the page; they can be organized later. Don’t be afraid to seek help with the revision process. Then, begin working on your skills. Talk to fellow students or writers. Read anything and everything. Before you know it, and probably without even realizing it, you will be a better writer.

Written by Taylor

Image credit

Letter to the Opinionated Writer

The Great Gatsby, written by the infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the lonely tale of a wealthy man: known by everyone, yet never truly seen. Nick Carraway, a pathetic lowlife who moves to New York in hopes of gaining popularity and fame, narrates the story, which is kind of unfortunate because his character is really annoying. At the beginning of the story, Nick goes to dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, the novel’s most high-maintenanced and selfish character. She and her husband, Tom, live in a rich neighborhood. Nick obviously doesn’t belong, but he is lucky because, by the grace of God, he is introduced to Daisy’s golfer friend, Jordan Baker, who Nick quickly titles “Lady Friend of the Week Award,” yet he never actually verbally admits to it. One would think that their acquaintance would be the highest point of action at this particular dinner party because, hello, he’s Nick, and she’s supposedly gorgeous and richer than rich can get. But then, Nick finds out that Tom is having an affair with some side-chick, Myrtle Wilson, and everybody knows about it, including Daisy. Still, nobody directly addresses the issue with Tom, and instead, they all continue about their extremely awkward, I-can-literally-see-the-tension-in-this-room kind of evening. Weird, right?

Then, a couple days later, Nick goes with Tom to visit this Myrtle character, which is extremely uncomfortable for everyone, and Fitzgerald really shouldn’t have put the experience in his book at all, but then again, he’s from Minnesota, so he’s probably accustomed to weird circumstances, don’t yâ knōw? Anyways, eventually, Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Señora Baker all end up at the most extravagant party, hosted by Mister Jay Gatsby himself. Well, it says that he hosted it, but literally nobody sees the guy until he very creepily and gently whispers “well, hey there, Old Sport,” into the ears of Nick, who is spending time with his “friend,” Jordan. Then, he asks to speak with Jordan alone, which one would think would leave Nick feeling pretty jealous because, if Nick and Gatsby were to get into a fist fight, we all know Jay would sock the “k” right off of the end of Nick’s incredibly unoriginal and over-used name. However, when Jordan leaves, Nick transfers all of his emotional energy onto Daisy, who we all know he secretly, but unadmittedly, has a crush on, and it’s like Jordan doesn’t even exist until she comes back to tell Nick about a secret love that Gatsby and Daisy used to share, which blows everybody’s mind and definitely gives the readers clarity on why Daisy acts like a complete and utter psychopath. And that’s pretty much all of the most important parts of the story, or at least, the only ones worth reading.

The end.”

Well, kind of.

It’s at least the end of a terribly long, and border-line offensive, example of a highly opinionated summary of Fitzgerald’s most popular piece of art. That’s right, the information above is in no way factual, practical, or acceptable for use by any of you hooligans looking for information to include in your own book reviews (I’m talking to you, highschoolers; just READ the book). In fact, the only purpose for the nonsense written above is to prove this point: personal opinions, while valuable and worth having, seldom have a place in academic writing. Even if one might think that Nick is the bratworst*, that information is not, in anyway, relevant to the events that actually took place in the story, unless the author specifically said so. Trust me, there are times when I, too, want to rip a story to shreds and tell my professor exactly what I thought about every character and event that took place, but I can guarantee you that there isn’t a single professor on this green earth who would have accepted the work above as a book review of The Great Gatsby without handing it back with some pretty stern, probably red, opinions of his or her own written on it, too. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place when opinions are acceptable, even welcomed, in academic writing. Most professors love hearing about their students’ personal thoughts and perceptions of things; however, when those are what they’re after, they make it abundantly clear in their instructions. So, when you’re unsure if you should include personal opinions in your writing, look to your assignment sheets, syllabi, and Writing Center family to help you determine if doing so would be appropriate. In fact, consider taking an even bigger leap and ask your professor directly! Doing so will not only clarify what he or she wants, but it shows that you truly care about your work and want to succeed.

So, to the opinionated writers who have stuck with me this long, know that you are not alone. We’ve all been there, and it really is difficult to completely eliminate opinions from certain assignments, but it is possible, and the UWC is here to help.

* Brat•worst, (brätˌwurst): a play on words. Taking from the extraordinary vocabulary of The Karoline Faith Ott.

Written by Haley

P.S. I promise The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, and I respect Fitzgerald’s work with all of my being.

P.S.S. I have nothing against Minnesotans. All good things here.

Image credit