Becoming a Better Writer – Write to Engage Your Reader.

Why do you write? Do you write for yourself or because you want to be read. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. For example, in this post I’m writing for you; to help you improve your writing. However, blogging also allows me space to practise writing. The key to becoming a better writer is to write; write regularly, write frequently and create a writing habit. Of course, the most important partner in this process is the reader. We can practise all we like but if we’re writing to be read, we need to engage our reader.

 How do we engage our reader? Perhaps it's time for a story.

 It helps to remember that most readers like stories more than bland facts or  authoritative instructions. They like to immerse themselves in the words and  feel connected. In other words, your words need to matter enough to inspire  your reader. Your reader needs to want to keep reading.

  Imagine meeting George at a party. George likes to talk about himself. He  rambles on and on about where he’s been, what he  does and how well he does it. Luckily tonight, he is feeling generous.  

George asks “what you do?”

You mention you’re thinking of starting a new venture. 

George’s ears prick up. He sits forward in his chair, rubs his hands gleefully and says, “I know all about that. You know what you need to do, you need to …” 

Then, for the next hour, George keeps telling you. He tells you and tells you and tells you. George tells you all the reasons you need to listen to him because he knows best.  

How would you feel, has George inspired you? 

Maybe he has, especially if you can use his story to improve your writing. Think about it. Do you listen to your audience? Do you allow them time to think, speak and share their ideas. Can this even be achieved?

The simple answer is yes; ask questions. Ask questions within your writing and leave your reader the mental space to discover an answer. You may like to look at something you’ve written recently. Read the questions below and ask yourself, “have I engaged my reader?’

1. Does your writing have a clear purpose that is obvious to, and resonates with, your reader?
2. Will the reader understand how reading benefits them?
3. Are your words written in clear, plain English?
4. Do you offer instructions in an easily recognisable, step by step format?
5. Have you used stories, metaphors or analogies to create a personal connection?

Another useful tip for creating connection is to share some of your own vulnerability. Many readers like to feel they have something to offer. Many like to help. They are happy feeling sympathy or empathy. Why? Because when we feel sympathy or empathy, we don't feel alone. We don't feel inferior.  We don’t feel as though we’re the only ones with a problem. We don’t feel like we’re being judged. Instead we believe we have something someone else needs. We have answers. We have something to give.

Of course, many of these feelings swirl deep within the reader’s unconscious mind.  In all probability, most readers aren't consciously aware of their emotions. But you are. As the writer, you 'get' your audience and tap into their emotion. As a result, your readers will believe you understand them.  You understand their position, you share their perspective and you acknowledge them as an individual. This is when your writing matters.

So, think about your reaction to what you read. What resonated with you? Did anything frustrate you? What could you do better? 

Here’s the challenge, take what I have offered and improve it!

First, you may like to think about this. As human beings, we tend to be competitive  (even when we don't think we are). We like to prove ourself, we like to be better. We also like rewards. We like to be reassured that what we're doing matters. We like to add value (think about our friend George). We also like to be part of something, we like to belong.

How can your writing, your words, add value and create a sense of belonging?

Challenge yourself now, re-read something you wrote. Compete with yourself; write it better. Then, very importantly, validate what you did well.

If you’d like more tips, editing or coaching, write to me: nicole@isthismystory.com

 

Too Much Screen Time

Teenagers today spend too much time in front of a screen! Are you nodding your head in agreement or shaking it in despair? Are you slumping your shoulders in helplessness or raising your hands in frustration? Do you think this is a ‘new’ problem caused by mobile media or is it simply a transferral of old habits?

 My daughter 13, and son 18, both have smart phones and lap tops. They use  them in the bedroom, family room, car, bus, library and playground ... I think  you’ll see where I'm going with this. They look at screens a lot. They use  technology to remain connected to their social and learning worlds. 

 But ... 

 My children also lead active, physical lives. They play sport, go out with  friends and study using pen and paper. We even talk. We chat over dinner, in  the car, watching TV,  while reading, when walking. This is what we, as a  family, do. We discuss. We exchange ideas, we talk about what we’re doing, why we are doing it and how we feel. Even though my children look at screens, they are not inert, nor are they missing real interactions with friends and family.

The same can be said of my students. Discussions in class, recounts of  weekend sport and observations in the playground reassure me - children today may seem to spend a lot of time looking at screens but that doesn't mean technology is depriving them of meaningful social, sporting or learning opportunities. 

I remember the media criticising the amount of time my generation spent watching TV. I remember my parents yelling at me to get off the phone and jerking the cord from the wall. I even remember my mother telling me to get my nose out of a book and into fresh air. 

So have teenager pursuits really changed or is it just that they are doing the same things using different media?

Perhaps its time to look at the question of screen time from a different perspective because I have seen a shift in teenage wellbeing. These shifts aren't necessarily the result of too much screen time - but they may be a consequence of a teenager’s need to find connection. 

As a teacher, I have seen too many students who are terrified of exam results; they believe their self-worth is determined by numbers on a page. I have seen too many teenagers recount facts rather than evaluating the ideas supporting them. I have seen creativity stifled by a belief that there is only one ‘right’ answer. I have too many young adults disconnected from their future.

Is this the result of too much screen time? 

It could be, or it could be the result of a high a cost of living. Maybe too many of us are time poor. How often do we recognise the moment? Are we attentive to those around us?

Rather than worrying about too much screen time, rather than imposing rigid rules, rather than counting all the things that could go wrong, maybe we need more talk. We need meaningful interactions. We don't have to 'take things away'. Instead, we could enrich the experiences our children enjoy. We can encourage our teenagers to actively and consciously, communicate. 

Perhaps this way our children can learn to self regulate and manage their own screen time.

 

Welcome to a World of Expression

 

If you would like some personalised study coaching contact Nicole, nicole@isthismystory.com

 

Would you like to help your teenager develop self-regulation and personal responsibility? You can learn more about our workshops and coaching sessions here

 

You can get a copy of Nicole’s e-book here and paperback here (or for a limited first edition contact Nicole: nicole@isthismystory.com)

What’s Your Backstory?

 

Has anyone ever asked “what’s your story"? Maybe, you’ve heard someone say "this is my story". Or, perhaps you’ve asked, "what's their story?"

 Why?

 Why do we look to 'back story' to explain our present state? Why do we look  to the past to understand today? Why do we judge a person on what’s  already happened?

 There are many answers to these questions and while you should take a  moment to think about them, the answers are not what I'm looking for.  Rather, I'm asking you to recognise the effect and implications of backstory.

 Stay with me, there’s a point.

Recently I was discussing the novel The Outsiders with a year 7 class. We were looking at the character of Johnny and evaluating how Hinton (the author) foreshadowed future complications. This is what storytellers do. They thrust readers into the middle of the action and then, as the narrative progresses, they slowly reveal the situations and events that brought their characters to this point.

Why?

More importantly, how does it help us? What does it teach us?

In Johnny’s case we learn that his nervousness is a combined result of being abused at home and attacked by the Socs (a rival gang). This brutal bashing provides a context for later events. It is not my intention to explore the novel. Rather I use it to illustrate a point. I use it to encourage you to think about the power of the author. I use it to show how you how the author controls the story through the experiences of the characters.

What would you do if you had the author’s influence? What could you do if you had the power to manipulate your ‘story’, could you influence the future?

While it is true you can’t go back to alter your history, it is possible to shift your perception. You can look back to understand something you didn't before.

You may be wondering, how can this shape my future?

This is the arena for hopes, dreams and the tangible reality of goals. If you have a clear vision - a target to aim for, you can focus your actions toward that goal. In other words, you become the author shaping a backstory for your future.

Think about it, what is your backstory? How has it influenced the choices you make? Now, use those thoughts to project yourself into the future. What choices can you make today to influence the backstory you’ll tell in a years time? Where would you like to be?

It’s a good idea to write these ideas down. Writing makes them tangible and gives your mind time to digest the thoughts and emotions. You may even like to try this MyStory Reflection activity.

MyStory Reflection Activity

1. Ask yourself, what is my backstory? How has it influenced the choices I make?

2. Use these thoughts to project yourself into the future. What choices can you make today to influence the backstory you’ll tell in a years time?

3. Write these ideas down and put them in a folder or envelope.

4. Date the folder / envelope and put it away in a safe place.

5.Write a note in a calendar to remind yourself to open the envelope or folder in a years time.

6. Repeat this process each month.

In a years time you will have an envelope to open. Be patient, wait the year. After a year open the first envelope and read your thoughts from a year ago. How does it relate to the life your living now? Be positive, recognise what you have learnt and use your thoughts to write a new reflection.

Repeat the process for another year. Each month you will have an envelope to open and a new story to create.

I wonder what you’ll discover.

 

Welcome to a World of Expression

If you would like some personalised study coaching contact Nicole, nicole@isthismystory.com

If you’d like to join our mailing list and receive a MyStory Reflection reminder email each month contact Nicole, nicole@isthismystory.com for more details.

You can learn more about our workshops hereYou can get a copy of Nicole’s e-book here and paperback here or contact Nicole: nicole@isthismystory.com for a limited first edition.

Getting Through the HSC

Yes the HSC is challenging. It’s meant to be. It is a test, an evaluation of what you remember, what you have understood and how well you express your ideas. It is also a transitional point. Therefore, rather than seeing the HSC as barrier to be overcome, why don’t you see it as a tunnel to move through.

 Maybe this analogy will help. Imagine you’ve been on a year long holiday. At  the beginning of this journey you packed enough clothes and equipment to  carry you through. Now you need to pack a smaller bag, just the essentials  to get you to the next stage. You’ll use your previous experiences to  determine  which items are most useful - you know, the tools you’ll you  need to survive  and thrive. Take these into the tunnel with you.

 Although the tunnel is narrower than the preceding road and at times may  seem to close in around you, remember, it is just a tunnel. It is a passage  that goes somewhere. It will take you to a wide avenue that branches toward fresh opportunities. You have packed your bag, it is filled with ideas, thoughts and dreams of your future. This will be your guide. 

Yes, the HSC is a challenge to move through, but it is not a barrier to overcome.  Just as a coin has two sides, the HSC has a natural duality - it simultaneously marks the end of one aspect of your life and the beginning of another. 

Now for a few practical tips to help you get through the HSC;

1. Get at least 8 hours sleep each night. Sleep allows you to consolidate your learning. It is time for your brain to process the information you have been revising.

2. Maintain a regular daily routine by ‘timetabling’ the day into ‘periods’;

- Study (active reading & active practice e.g past papers),

- Exercising (this could include going for a walk and listening to podcasts related to your study material or reflecting upon what you have been studying)

- Socialising (this could include talking about the subject material with friends and family)

- Relaxing

- Eating

- Sleeping.

Remember, each of these is an important element in your preparation.

3. Allocate 10 - 15 minutes to mindfulness or focused breathing. Like sleep, mindfulness or focussed breathing gives your brain an opportunity to process information without ‘you’ or rather your constant thoughts, getting in the way. It also helps you build mental fitness and focus.

 

Oh, and remember to enjoy the experience.

 

Welcome to a World of Expression

If you would like some personalised study coaching contact Nicole nicole@isthismystory.com

 

You can learn more about our workshops here.

You can get a copy of Nicole’s e-book here and paperback here (or for a limited first edition contact Nicole: nicole@isthismystory.com)

 

Similar post - The HSC is Almost Here - Are You Motivated to Study?

Why Do Children Lose Interest in School?

Why do children lose interest in school and what can we, as parents and teachers, do about it? Apparently our new Federal Minister for Education, Mr Christopher Pyne wants to return to fact based learningWhen I read this line I felt like crying - but then I consoled myself, perhaps he'd been misquoted.

 After all, how could a man involved in the foundation of Headspace get the  concept of learning in the 21st century so wrong. No, there must be some  mistake. 

 Surely our new minister realises life beyond the school gates requires more  than facts, competition and high stakes testing. He must know our children  need the tools of learning. They also need the confidence, flexibility and  proactive attitude to use those tools. And, they need to know who they are,  where they are and where they want to go.

Perhaps this is why too many of our teenagers lose interest in school. They lose interest in school because they don’t know where it will lead. They can’t see the relevance of their classes.

Now this doesn't mean the classes are irrelevant. Instead it means that the students haven't had the opportunity to develop an understanding of themselves and their goals. Since they haven’t developed personal awareness, they struggle to find personal relevance and without an ability to see the value in learning, it is difficult to learn self regulation and self motivation.

So, how can we as parents and teachers help our kids stay interested in school?

Not by doing what we’ve done before - not by throwing money at all things bright and shiny. Not by following some big technology splurge. Not by returning to the good ol' days of facts and rote memory. Not by testing and measuring. Not by cramming an already crowded curriculum with one-off feel good programs. 

We need a valuable approach.

We can help our kids stay interested in school by moving toward opportunity. We can help them recognise the relevance and value of school by giving them the chance to get to know themselves better.

How?

By allowing them to learn how to recognise their own thoughts, emotions, values and dreams. By supporting their search for a place within societies fabric.  And by giving them the tools of learning - critical, creative and emotional literacy and, functional numeracy.

These skills need to be embed into the curriculum. They need to be as day-to-day as morning recess. The wonderful news is they can be, and it doesn’t require adding to the curriculum. It simply requires a different way of looking at things. If we focus on the students and what they need, facts become relevant. 

I’d love to know what you think? How could you use the facts you know to help a teenager learn more about themselves? How can you help them see the personal relevance of facts? I do it through stories.

 

Welcome to a World of Expression

You can learn more about our workshops here

You can get a copy of Nicole’s e-book here and paperback here or for a limited first edition contact Nicole: nicole@isthismystory.com