Why Write

Now & again, we are invited to deliver writing workshops for young people. Here’s what I like to tell them…

I tell them that the aim of the workshop is for them to write skilfully, to express their ideas creatively and with confidence. We encourage them to take ownership of their English language; it belongs to them, not their teachers, schools, or exam board.

Why does writing matter?

Because people think with words, vocabulary is very important; it allows us to understand ourselves, each other, and our world. And all jobs require communication, from applications to emails, to writing reports, and blogging – a way with words boosts your chances of success in any career.

We always emphasise that we are not there to judge them. We aren’t following the national curriculum. We are genuinely curious about what they have to offer. Usually, blank faces look back but some grasp this concept of creativity for self-expression and liberation. Writing is largely a self-taught discipline; anybody can develop a style that works for them, with enough practice.

Impact

Words can be used for various reasons – to hurt, inspire, inform, lighten, uplift, and connect. People without words are frustrated and angry, they feel impotent.

We go through the different types of writing: Journalism, report writing, news reporting, opinion pieces, essays, dissertations, and other structured styles, as well as more freeform approaches: Blogging, prose, poetry, email, and text.

To have an impact, structure is always important. You can learn the rules of writing to break the rules of writing.

Who are you?

Choose your tone. It will depend on the type of piece you are writing and how you relate to the intended reader. A blog will be different from an essay – Will it be chatty? Authoritative? Confrontational? Whatever it is, keep it consistent within the piece.

Who are you? Experiment with personas that give you a clear voice – Are you authoritative? If so, so speak with authority. Do you have expertise? You are an expert in being you, so write about yourself, what you have experienced, what you think.

Who is your audience? Classmates? Family? North Kensington? England? People in other countries? A potential boss? A teacher? Tailor your writing to impact them without losing your authenticity – we are all multiple personalities anyway; your voice as a writer is never your only voice but it can be an empowering voice for you. If you feel empowered by your voice, you can be sure other people will feel that power too.

Don’t assume knowledge: Presume the reader knows very little, but also presume that they are intelligent and will understand what you are saying if you present it effectively. Don’t be shy about explaining things as if the reader is new to the subject. Many people won’t know where Ladbroke Grove is, so add ‘West London’ – cover the information so the flow isn’t interrupted. 

What impact do you want to have? What animal do you want to be, as a writer? A bee is beautiful – pollinates, creates honey – but it can also sting and be a pest to those lazing in the sun.

We always say, show off your skills. Whether it’s a teacher, a casual reader, a potential employer, friends on social media, you want them to be impressed. Whatever you write represents you: you want to compete, to impact others, your voice deserves to be heard.

Specifics

Planning is vital. Once you have brainstormed successfully, you can’t go far wrong. For a very structured piece, make a proposition, provide your evidence 1, 2, and 3 then restate your proposition. More freeform pieces also need structure otherwise the reader switches off.

What’s your hook? What is the piece based on? An opinion? A fact? A recent event? Find something to build around. Acknowledge counterarguments but be clear in your argument – conviction is more readable than doubt. Use your research and planning to work through your doubts

If in doubt about structure and coherence, check that your introduction and conclusion match – they’re not identical twins, but siblings with a strong resemblance. If they are more like strangers, ask yourself again: what do I want to say?

Depth is important – make an argument, then back it up. If you’re giving an opinion or expressing a feeling, explain it. Don’t skip over your thoughts and feelings – they are interesting and valuable.

Use an active voice – ‘Alex threw the ball’, not ‘the ball was thrown by Alex.’ Vary your sentence lengths and openers to keep the reader engaged and control the rhythm.

One thing primary schools get right is the Five Ws and How? – Who, what, where, when, why, and how – have you given the reader this info? If so, you’ve written well.

Proofread till you’re happy – is your voice clear? Have you used powerful adjectives? Have you been accurate, honest, and clear?

Use a catchy title, especially if you’re writing for online publications.

Check your punctuation – some national curriculum skills are useful here, although the net impact of the curriculum on young writers is negative, producing fearful children shamed and rewarded into conformity.  

Express

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to experiment. Everybody’s style is unique – there’s no right or wrong, but there are guidelines to help you express yourself. Finding your voice is not easy – not many people do it, but those who do are liberated. It can be part of you becoming who you are, maturing, being successful, and living life fully.

by tom Charles @tomhcharles

art by Junior Tomlin @juniortomlin https://juniortomlin.com/

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