Ten writers for children. All with something to say.

2/1/10

Resources

Our topic this week is resources. What do we rely on for writing advice or information? This got me thinking about what absolute lasting information I have in my head about writing, and where it came from. Yes, I have my standby books, like Stephen King's On Writing, which I recommend all the time to students and fellow writers. But a few of my writing "commandments" got burned in my head way before I read that book, and even before I became a writer.

One of my first classes in college was English 110. My instructor, Dr. T., was tall, with silver hair, and he terrified me. But he knew the subject. And many of the things he taught us are still with me today.

The first thing he taught us? Obfuscatory Scrivenry. Foggy writing. Don't do it.
My freshman roommate was a perfect example of this. When she had a paper to write, she sat down with her typewriter and her thesaurus. Every other word in her paper had at least four syllables, usually more. Dr. T. told us to use words we knew. If it wasn't a word we used, then it shouldn't go in our paper.
But, he also was a big fan of expanding our vocabulary so we had more words to choose from. We had a vocab quiz every Friday. And I remember a word from the first quiz, which I flunked, big time.
Jingoistic. (If you know it, good for you. If not, I'd love you to put your guess below.)

I learned my lesson, and I got an A on every subsequent vocabulary quiz. Which leads me to a word of advice I got from my high school teacher Mrs. Laverty. She told us that if you use a new word three times on the day you first learn it, the word will be yours forever.

Near the end of that first quarter, Dr. T. called me up after class with a "Miss Stuve." ( He addressed all of us with our last name and a Mr. or Miss) Then he said, "I don't think you are capable of this, but I'm required to inform you anyway."
He then handed me a form that said I'd qualified to test out of the next quarter of English.

(I never said he was a nice guy.) Determined to show him, I tested out. And I imagine Dr. T. would be rolling over in his grave if he knew I ended up to be an award-winning writer...

8 comments:

Lauren said...

Dr. T probably didn't want to lose your company, thus he wanted you to forego testing out of his class. It is interesting that it is often the ornery, demanding teachers that end up giving the best advice. I love "Obfuscatory Scrivenry"! I just looked up "jingoistic"-- not at all what I had thought! I was certain it had something to do with writing jingles for the radio-Ha!

Stephanie said...

Um yeah, not as fun as it sounds huh? Funny, that's the one word that stayed with me. One day I'll use it in a book:)

Christy said...

I learned about jingoism in high school too. I'm getting a vocabulary brush up course now, thanks to my daughter's high school English teacher. It is important and quite satisfying to have more words as tools.

I identify with your desire to break out of the confining box your teacher had stuffed you in. Who likes to be limited?

Edie said...

Hmmm, jingoistic was not what I expected, either, but I do remember very well an eleventh grade English class with a teacher who really drilled us on vocabulary in preparation for the SATs. I, too, tested out of the basic English composition class, and landed in a memorable literature course.

john said...

Stephanie, are you sure Dr. T is in his grave? Might be nice to send him a thanks for providing that motivation. On jingoism, I knew that one, but that might be from spending lots of time in history and political science courses. So many things are resources.

Stephanie said...

Yeah, Dr. T is gone, I read it in my alumni magazine probably a decade ago. He was close to retiring when I had him in 1983.

Diane Adams said...

Love your post, Stephanie. Dr. T. would be proud!!

Mark said...

Great story, Stephanie. Quite a few lessons to draw from your experiences...