Monday, December 1, 2008

Practice and Perfection

Have you ever listened to a world-class musician and wondered how he is able to play with such grace and precision? Do you imagine the years of study and countless hours of diligent practice that such virtuosity requires? Or perhaps you have watched elite Olympic athletes and marveled at the dedication and discipline it took to get to that level of competitiveness.

Excellence in any arena demands a commitment to regular practice. This, of course, includes writing. There's no way around it. Writers improve the same way musicians, artists, and athletes do--by hard work and regular practice.

There is, however, another important ingredient in improving skills: the assistance of knowledgeable instructors. Virtually all master musicians and champion athletes can point to instructors and coaches who guided them along the way, nurturing their talents. The input of experts is essential to developing natural abilities.

WriteAtHome is designed with this basic philosophy in mind: Improved writing comes with both regular practice and expert feedback. It's just common-sense. We offer no startling new techniques. No secret formula to make graceful, effective writing easy for everyone. Writing well requires writing often and getting help from more experienced writers. Leave out either part, and your writing will suffer.

"Practice doesn't make perfect," my old high school coach once said, "only perfect practice makes perfect." Practice without instruction and advice can even be detrimental-l-ike a basketball player who shoots two-handed, or a golfer with an awkward swing. Without a coach to correct their technique, these athletes will never reach their potential. In the same way, you might write pages every day, but without a gifted teacher or editor, you might never identify and overcome your problem areas.

Young writers often get discouraged about their writing. Writing well seems so complicated. There always seems to be something to correct or improve. Far too many students just give up and assume they just don't have what it takes. What they don't realize is that writing skills grow incrementally, sometimes so gradually that you barely notice the improvement as it comes, over time.

A good writing coach knows this too. He knows that students will make the same mistakes over and over before good habits start to replace the bad. The important thing is to keep at it.

WriteAtHome has shown consistent success with young writers because we understand these two essential components to sound writing development: practice and expert feedback. We consistently see growth in both skills and confidence. Whether you use WriteAtHome or not as part of your writing education program, keep these key components in mind as your students work to write better and better.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Words That Should Reasonably Exist

We talked about couth before--a word that was created via back-formation. I suppose it's become common enough that we must grant it the right to exist. But what about other "words" that should reasonably be formed by eliminating an apparent prefix or suffix? Questions from a previous blog include:

Is a pleased person gruntled?
Are nice people ruthful?
May an intelligent person be described as becile?
Would someone who makes himself obvious be going cognito?

Here are a few more...

If surgery is performed reattached a severed head, is it called a capitation?
If an arm or leg is reattached, is the patient being membered?
Is someone who can easily be overcome considered vincible?
If something is in motion, might it be described as ert?
If something causes harm, is it nocuous?

All of these are examples of what are called orphan negatives--words that have no positive form. There are more of these than you realize. In fact, author Jack Winter wrote the following story implementing a surprising number of orphan negatives in The New Yorker (July 25, 1994). I found it here.

How I Met My Wife
It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my weildy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I'd have to make bones about it, since I was travelling cognito. Beknowst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn't be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.
So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make head or tails of.

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if this were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.
Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had not time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d'oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myselfs.

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savoury character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. "What a perfect nomer," I said, advertently. The conversation became more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Washington Post Neologism

Just got an e-mail from my friend Lindsey with the following included. I haven't verified that it's actually from the Washington Post, but they were too good not to include.

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. A selection of the winners include:
  • Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
  • Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
  • Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
  • Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
  • Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
  • Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
  • Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
  • Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
  • Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
  • Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
  • Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are some of this year's winners:
  • Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  • Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
  • Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
  • Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  • Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
  • Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
  • Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
  • Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  • Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
  • Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.