Saturday, December 28, 2013

No One Writes Alone

The friendly folk at FindMyAudience interviewed me today. Check out their blog for the results!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

May you enjoy the warmth, scents, tastes, and joy of the season

Stay safe

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ticking Clocks and How To Silence Them

Every Friday when I was in 9th grade, my English teacher directed the class to write a power essay. She’d announce the topic and start the clock. We had a whopping ten minutes to formulate and render a complete essay. The class hated Fridays. Even as we moved closer to the weekend, we dreaded the hurdle we had to clear to get there. At the time, I wasn’t particularly fond of my English teacher, but of all the things I learned in school, few things have been more personally beneficial than learning how to write under pressure.

Structurally, the power essay was deceptively simple. The first paragraph stated a hypothesis. The next three paragraphs presented evidence regarding the topic with specific examples. The final paragraph summarized the information and made a declaratory statement that either supported or refuted the original hypothesis. Utilizing this structure freed the mind to focus on content.

Writing a five-paragraph essay is not an impressive feat— I’m living proof that even a 9th grader can survive the attempt.  Throw in a ticking clock, however, and some students barely managed to scribble their name on the top of the page before we were told to put down our pens. The key to success was to split the time. My teacher encouraged students to take a breath, compose a hypothesis, then jot down the gist of each of the three arguments. From there, it was just a matter of expanding the outline.  Knowing what beats you had to hit to make your points saved time.

For my 9th grade self, the reward for writing an essay was a grade.  Years later, the experience paid off as I focused on essay exams, SATs, or defending my research. After becoming a cop, I learned the best way to stay out of court was to write a thorough, well-structured report that the defense attorney couldn’t pick apart. Sure, the reports often exceeded five paragraphs, but the principles remained the same. 

Simply stated, the power essay gave me skills to gather my thoughts, compose a simple outline, then take that foundation and build it into a cohesive essay.  I can still hear Mrs. Simons counting down the minutes before I learned to ignore her and focus on my writing. Deadlines keep me on track, but they no longer intimidate me. So, thank you, Mrs. Simons. Thank you for putting up with a class of bratty 9th graders and teaching us a lesson that lasted well beyond the final bell.

Now, if only I could find a use for all that math.