Monday, May 11, 2009

Diary Suggestions

If you're a younger reader, pause for a moment to think about your future. Many possibilities lie open to you. Exciting choices stand before you. You can have a successful career. Or you can pump gas, flip burgers, run a cash register, or rot away doing nothing and collect state funds until you die. It's really up to you. And it comes down to decisions you make quite early in life.

You could choose to believe that reading books, writing essays, painting pictures, learning fine art music, memorizing dates in history, and working out math problems are pointless exercises. You can decide that grammar, spelling, algebra, and the capital of Botswana are irrelevant to your future. Those choices are within your rights. But their results will be that you will spend your entire adult life wearing a shirt with your name stitched over the breast pocket. While you spend 10 hours a day screwing caps onto tubes of Preparation H, your kids will be making equally screwy choices and the cycle will continue until your posterity swirls down the drain of the gene pool. You will be the worker bees, the soldier ants, the drones, the slaves of the Man.

Does that sound good to you? No? Well, there really is something you can do about it. You can learn to express yourself effectively, both orally and in writing. This means mastering grammar and spelling, which - useless as they may seem when you're struggling to learn them - will actually effect the way college admissions boards and potential employers will think about you. If you want to get into law school, med school, business school, etc., or if you want the career of your dreams, you're going to have to be able to talk and write like an intelligent person.

How are you going to learn that? A certain amount of rote learning will be involved. But the best results come to those who practice, practice, practice. Like babies learning to talk by listening to Mom and Dad, you will pick up a lot by reading, and will put what you have heard into practice by writing. You will read lots and lots of books. You will polish your speech patterns by reading good poetry and drama aloud. You will imitate the style of what you have read by attempting to write poetry, keeping a diary, scribbling essays, etc. Most (if not all) of what you write will be complete crap. But you will grow by doing it.

Start practicing now. Get an empty notebook and start a diary. Or write a blog. Don't just Twitter, text, or IM people. Force yourself to write in complete sentences, spelling every word out, except for commonly abbreviated terms like "etc." Try to sound intelligent. You don't have to write about anything important. Just write three or four paragraphs EVERY DAY.

You will soon be faced with the problem: What on earth am I going to write about? Don't worry about it. As long as you keep the pen moving on the paper, or the fingers tapping on the keys, there is no such thing as writer's block. Don't try to say something clever or important, unless something like that comes to mind.

Here are some suggestions about how you can start a daily habit of writing. I would welcome feedback from anyone who tries one or more of these.
  1. Every day after dinner, write a description of your meal. Where did you eat? What dishes were served? Who served it? Who ate with you? What did you think of the food? Do you know how it was made? Do you know where the ingredients came from? Summarize whatever conversation, if any, took place over dinner. How do you feel about it?
  2. Take a walk every day, then describe it. What route did you follow? What was the weather like? Did you see, hear, or smell anything out of the ordinary? Was anyone with you? If so, what did they do or say? Try to notice something different to write about each time. Or, if you don't spot anything new, try to think of a new way to describe something you have often seen before.
  3. Pick a song you have heard recently and write about it. Do you like or dislike it? What is it about? Can you describe what it sounds like? How do other people feel about it, and why do you agree or disagree with them? You may have written about it before; does it strike you differently now?
  4. At the end of the day, write a quick summary of what you saw on TV. How did you like it? Did any news items or commercials jump out at you? Are you looking forward to an upcoming program, and why?
  5. When you finish reading a book, express your opinion of it. Would you like to read more of the same kind of book? How does it compare to similar books you have read by the same author or other authors? Do you approve of the attitudes and behavior of the main characters?
  6. Write down any ideas for stories, poems, essays, jokes, or fragments of dramatic dialogue, that come to you. Maybe, if you save enough of them, you'll eventually be able to put enough of them together to write the real thing. Then you can use your diary to describe how the writing process is going, and what you think after it's over.
See? There are tons of ways you can make an easy, daily habit of writing a diary or blog. If you get encouraging feedback on it, all the better. And if you start right now, and keep trying to do it better, you'll have a better chance of being able to express yourself effectively when your future depends on it. And you might actually find out that you enjoy and look forward to writing it!

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