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In the Words

September 14, 2009

By Nat

UnderwoodfiveIn a shameless effort to leech off of the celebrity of colleague CJ’s posts, and to share more of my own and bizarre experiences, ah, the Hell with it, let’s get started.

I’m an English major. I worked in the publishing industry for about five years. I’ve had numerous articles published in mainstream magazines and now want to share with you some of the insides of writing.

Let’s start with middle school. Seventh grade. Second hour. I was a fat-assed mongoloid trying to figure where I fit among the one-hundred-forty-some souls that made up my class. Our teacher wore a serepe and had a perm. Were he Marty McFly, Bulldog Tannen would’ve shot him.

I remember very little from his class, outside of watching Sounder (and realizing the irony of that fact later in life); our substitute fawning over my WWII fan fiction; and the handbooks he dispensed, teaching us how to write:

Essays, articles, screenplays, and most anything worth writing can generally be divided into three parts. Everyone says it because no one realizes it. Simple as the three-part piece sounds, most folks would prefer to just sit their computer and start pounding out their thoughts. That’s fine if you’re writing out a packing list, but if someone other than you is supposed to read it, it helps to constantly remind the reader what your piece is about. It may be stupefyingly clear to you, but yeah, of course it’s clear to you, you’re the one writing it, but it’s not obvious to your reader–that’s largely why they’re reading your piece. Readers need to be guided through the dark forest of your mind, so your writing should provide plenty of markers to keep them on the path–or, as Mr. Grasley would say

Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em,

Tell ‘em what you tell ‘em, and

Tell ‘em what you told ‘em

His name was Grasley, and in addition to composition, he also taught keyboarding. In lieu of recess, my best friends and I would head to the computer lab, which was under his shift, and play Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and that game where you would click your mouse pointer around a bespeckled human avatar named “Bo.” Oh how the hours would wind down as we guffawed to the tune of clicking the empty space to elicit his name, “Bo,”; then click on his honker; then his glasses to complete it. The full phrase from which such delight derived was, “Bo. Knows. Spectacles.”

Anyway: In the Beginning, give your reader a quick summary of what you plan to say, and maybe include an anecdote to indicate why they should read your piece.

In the Middle, elaborate on your points and offer proof to back them up. If you’re writing a magazine or (especially) newspaper article, it’s probably best to put the most convincing evidence/arguments first, the reason being that space in periodicals is generally less flexible than in a book, and oftentimes large portions end up getting cut.

The End is more like a reinforcement of the Beginning–recap and once more touch on why whatever it is you’re writing about is relevant to the reader–while you’re at it, feel free to speculate on the implications of your argument. The poor sap’s probably stopped reading anyway, so go hog wild!

After that, read over your piece and make sure your points are clear and rife. After all, you don’t want your reader to forget them, do you? Then identify your piece’s Beginning, Middle, and End and ensure that each clearly performs its proper function.

I didn’t appreciate it then, but I do now looking back. One of the best bits of advice I can dole out—other than the coming some.


3 Responses to “ In the Words ”

  1. CJ on September 14, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    My lawyers will be contacting you.

  2. Nat on September 14, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Aw, man. Who be your lawyers?

  3. anncine on September 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    A free online course….*rubs hands together* I dig it, Nat.