Sunday, 21 September 2014

The desire to be heard…

Time to reflect
…is, after all, life’s purpose[1]. I came across this quote in the introduction to an inspirational book about writing. It struck me rather forcibly as clear and true. Whether we speak, write or act, we are all seeking to tell our side of the story and to be understood. We seek this every day, many times a day – in conversations with loved ones, in meetings at work, in the classroom. It is not just one single big purpose; rather it is lots of every day purposes as well. Recently I have been skimming books like this and reflecting on the process of writing as I try to get comfortable with my new identity as a writer. It is semester break now and perhaps a useful point to look back at the start of my course. 

Communicating clearly
My key learning to date is about the primacy of audience and purpose. There are many audiences, many purposes and many writing styles. Ideally these need to be matched up neatly. In reality this happens less often than you would imagine. There is often a strong dissonance in letters and brochures written by government agencies. You can see that an effort is being made to communicate, but rarely does it show any understanding of the target audience. Announcements about forthcoming public works are heavy on noting the regulatory authority and light on the reasons why this improvement is being made. It is as if ticking the box that we told them is sufficient, regardless of the quality of the communication.

I have gained some confidence in my professional writing. Recognising that I do it most days in one form or another – e-mails, letters, articles, submissions, briefings - I have certainly accumulated many years of experience. This is in stark contrast to some of my classmates who are fresh out of high school. I can only imagine how much harder this subject would be without the benefit of some knowledge of work place protocols.

Old fruit drying racks
We have now moved onto speech writing which I expect to be a more significant challenge. I have made presentations before, using the ubiquitous Powerpoint to provide visual support, but I have only ever made one formal speech. The assignment is to draft a 4 – 5 minute persuasive speech on a topic of your choice. Choosing a topic is the first hurdle. It needs to be both small and meaty enough to be able to make some worthwhile points in the time frame without leaving too much unsaid. I'm going to tackle buying seasonal vegetables.

Gratuitous Morocco shot

My other course focuses on learning a desk top publishing package – InDesign. The package allows you to make micro changes to text and images so you really can bring your ideas to life. The trick is remembering what all the options are. All the work is done in the computer lab, so the lack of homework is a relief. The final assignment is to produce a 4 page promotional brochure. Mine will be enticingly called “Meet Me in Morocco”. I will get to spend some quality time reviewing my photos, and having decided to do a montage on the front page means I’ll get to show them off too.

Something's quietly brewing

I am still exploring the place of writing, and reading, in my regular working life. Carving out time to meaningfully engage with the ideas on my course is a constant challenge. So far I have focused on just getting the assignments done and submitted on time, often by the skin of my teeth. One morning I was in the library printing my folio when I was comforted to see several of my classmates all walking in with the same purpose. As for reading, well without the distraction of a TV, I certainly have time to do more. The quality is sometimes questionable with my recent efforts spanning the literary Gilead to page turning crime-thrillers. I have just started a new book, Stoner, again set in the mid-west, albeit in a university town rather than small-town America. I am flirting with the idea of setting some parameters around my reading - perhaps a semester of twentieth century American authors, followed by a semester of Charles Dickens.

[1] Karen Stevens (ed) Writing a First Novel: Reflections on the Journey