June 4, 2021
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Summer provides an excellent time to write. If any of you (or your students) tire of standard five paragraph essays and thesis statements (as I do), then use the summer to free yourself of these restrictions. Today’s blog suggests a couple of ways to sharpen your writing skills and hopefully avoid boredom.
First, examine another author’s definitions. Begin by copying a piece of text that bothers, confuses or consumes you. I selected an example from Ludwig Wittgenstein. He writes: “Could one define the word ‘red’ by pointing to something that was not red? That would be as if one were supposed to explain the word ‘modest’ to someone whose English was weak, and one pointed to an arrogant man and said, ‘That man is not modest.’ That it is ambiguous is no argument against such a method of definition. Any definition can be misunderstood.” This Wittgenstein quote gets at the messy nature of language, which I love. Yet, I felt the need to better understand how a negative definition can be useful. Therefore, I attempted to write a poem about a river which would, in pointing away from the river, leave the reader with some navigable topography that reflected its shape and meaning. I will spare you the full poem, but only share the basic definitions that I arrived at. I ended up with something like: River: a form of love; not thirst; topography of thought; a spot at the altar; a link to Babel’s fall. Clearly my “definition” is in no way a traditional definition, but the activity of playing with language really developed images of the river in a way that felt fruitful and powerful. Engaging the imagination is the first step in all writing, so playing with definitions can be a key resource.
Next, while I am sure that you have heard about journaling, this can be another popular idea for summer writing. Though it is often prompt-less, I suggest opening the Syntopicon and scanning the great ideas. Select either a single idea, or a single topic listed under the idea and then copy it down. For example, I chose the following subtopic of “Art”: “Causation in art and nature: artistic production compared with natural generation.” Carry this thought around with you for a little while. Begin with the questions. For example, what does the idea suggest? Or how would you define certain words listed in this idea? Sometimes, I write nothing but questions and that is great! These questions may spark an idea later in the day or at another time. Who says that journal entries cannot be entirely made up of questions?
Finally, tree ring poetry allows you to develop ideas around a particular subject. Place the main idea in the center. Main ideas can be anything such as “me,” “art,” “language,” etc. From there, move outward in layers similar to the rings of a tree. The closest layer should be made up of words and images that are most closely related to the center idea. As you move outward, you can develop other extensions. If doing this with students, start with themselves as the center and have them work in one of two ways. Either they can define features of themselves, or they can move in ages. If they use the idea of ages, their younger years compose the smallest rings, and as they move outward they advance in age, just like the rings of a tree. For this style of writing, I often ask for words or short phrases so that the rings can be easily read. However, any way that the student envisions their tree will be right for them. Finally, the rings can be painted, decorated, or marked in different colors. Be creative with your own designs!
I hope these ideas keep you writing over the summer!
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