Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Public Speaking

Tomorrow is day three of Writing for the Mass Media summer edition. Before I get started, let me say: my cat just threw up on the windowsill, and I cleaned it up, and now I feel nauseated. So I am writing this while trying not to throw up, in case you were wondering.

Day 1: I plugged the wrong cord into my computer and couldn't get Power Point to come up on the screen. Had to call an IT kid to come over, and he was nice enough when he said, "You need to plug this cord into your computer," pointing to the big white piece of tape over the chord that reads "Computer." I laughed and said something self-denigrating (but funny). And I moved on. But I couldn't stop "being funny." It's like when I go to a party or some other social function with friends or acquaintances and "turn on." I was definitely "on" in front of the class, and unfortunately, part of that "on" involves cracking jokes. Not jokes like, "Did you ever hear the one about the..." But just being funny, or trying to. And I got some tired laughs, and I tried for the rest of the day not to think about everything I said.

Day 2: Today. I talked about the writing process and how every good writer has an approach to writing whatever it is she is writing. I made a bit of an example at one point of my work at Tate and how for eight or nine months I used checklists religiously. I had a checklist for each month and always, always made sure I had hit everything on my checklist. After that, it just came naturally. The tenth month came, and I realized that I didn't need the lists anymore. And I never missed a beat. I honestly can count on one hand the number of times I missed something I was supposed to do, probably because of my checklist legalism. Likewise, I told my students today that if they are hyper-conscious of their strategy (how they organize their material once they're through with the pre-writing phase and into the writing phase) for a time, they'll eventually just do it naturally.

Every writer has a different strategy, but every writer has, or has had, one. I once read that Stephen King gets up every morning and writes until 11:00 or 12:00...363 days a year. I've heard of another writer who writes five "good" pages a day minimum. He must hit the five or he's not finished. I know another writer who locks the door and turns off her phone when she writes, so she can focus.

These are, of course, all fiction writers and no so much strategies as they are disciplines. Media practioners, especially print journalists, whether actual print or web, have different-looking systems. They're on tighter deadlines. They have a lot of research staring them in the face, and they have to do something with it: now.

Some journalists color code their transcriptions. Some cut their notes up and put like material in envelopes. Some make bubble maps (this relates to this relates to this...).

I would argue, and did today, that no beginning writer should just write intuitively. A beginning writer does need a strategy. And that strategy should not be to get it perfect the first time. Something I struggle with.

As I told my students, let your creative self have the freedom to write crappy stuff. Then go back and fix it. And again, I have to tell myself this constantly. (Though it's different when you're writing fiction because you kind of do need to get it right, or at least close to right, the first time or, I've found, you'll never move on.)

I hope each of my students will find a writing process that works well for his or her particular strengths.

And I hope I'll get more comfortable speaking in public. Sheesh. It's difficult to get up in front of a class and talk for 50 minutes. Half of the time I feel like they're looking at me, thinking, This lady is c-razy. But they're probably just thinking, Na-na-na-na-na-na-na (think Chevy Chase in Caddyshack) I can't hear anything, I'm so tired; OMG can I just go back to bed now? Na-na-na-na-na-na-na


bammers said...

I am working on a new grading rubrick for my oral pres class. This might be too nerve-racking, so feel free to say no, but could I come and watch you teach? Not only would I get to practice my assessment skills, but I could also give you feedback!

meggo said...

Sorry, Becky. I'm afraid that would stress me out too much. Is there another class you can visit?

AReese said...

Sounds like you have some fantastic stuff to share with your students. I hope they wake up and listen! Seriously, congrats on making it through day 2. We do miss you at the office, though!