Assignments below are due Sunday, Feb. 3 at midnight.
Writers become better by writing. One of the most useful things any writer can do to improve his or her writing is to develop a regular practice. For this week I’d like you to get started with practicing not just writing but also the related skills of seeing and reading.
TASK ONE (will continue for four weeks). Good writing starts with careful observation. A writer needs to notice something before he or she make it come to life on the page: how people talk to each other, how they betray their emotions by their actions, what objects they treasure, and, to connect to the theme of this course, what the places we inhabit look like. To write effectively and accurately about a place you need to first see it, practicing your ability to see the specific details that create the distinctive feel of a place.
Click on the link here to read about small stones; for some inspiration, also read this great blog post from Hoarded Ordinaries. Your assignment is to start recording your own small stones (aim for five per week); you may do this on your blog or some other social network you already participate on (twitter or tumbler, for example) and that the rest of us can access (please provide the link to your feed on your blog). If you’d prefer not to use so many small posts, you may record them on paper and post to your blog weekly. (For a slightly longer discussion, you may want to check out the corresponding post on my f2f course blog.)
In addition to giving you practice in paying attention to your environment (which will maybe lead to some topics for writing later in the semester), this assignment is also designed to get you writing on a regular basis, even if it’s in tiny bits.
TASK TWO (will continue for three weeks). Your task is to select two posts that interest you from the New York Times blog Living Rooms. There are about 28 entries; be sure to read the complete post by clicking on the “read more” at the bottom of each post. For each post that you read, write a short summary (about three sentences) and post these summaries on your blog. Your summary should give only the main point(s) of the article, as concisely as possible. The summary should be in your own words (or you may use a small quote from the article, but this should be enclosed in quotation marks). Start your summary in this form: In <title of the article>, <author> argues (or explores or explains or analyzes or whatever) <main point>. The title of the article should be a hyperlink, so that if you click on the article title, it brings you to the NYTimes page. If you click here, you’ll get a short video I made that walks you through the steps of starting a summary and posting a hyperlink. These hyperlinks are the way that we indicate sources on a blog (they’re the equivalent almost of a works cited page in an academic paper, which we’ll get to a bit later in the class). It is possible to just copy the URL onto the blog, but hyperlinking is a more functional and even elegant option.
Here is some information about the the qualities of an effective summary and how to write one.
TASK THREE: Your third and final task for the week is to start responding to each others’ writing to help develop a writing community. Read over the Place Where You Live posts on some of your colleagues’ blogs, and select two to comment on. Mention at least one specific thing that you like about the post: a quality of the writing that you appreciate (choice of words, sharp details, well-expressed emotions or ideas, connections of images, humorous or heart-felt tone, whatever). Also (if you can think of something) try to give the writer a suggestion about how he or she might improve the post to make it more clear or concise or well-organized (or whatever other suggestion you might make)–this may be just pointing out a place that is not quite as well-expressed as the rest of the entry. Remember to keep your tone respectful and supportive!!