Critical Analysis of Your Own Writing
This is a guest post by Alice Peterson . If you want to write for Daily Writing Tips check the guidelines here.
So you think you have something to say? How do you get past the stymieing effect of self-analysis? Is this good enough? Will your target audience be provoked to the point of discomfort? Are you “okay with that?”
American literature today is in danger of being hampered by the three-minute attention span. Educators are being taught that that there is a “generational culture” (isn’t that an oxymoron? I’ll save that for a later article) wherein our audience no longer has the abstract-thinking ability to solve a complex problem. Our literary contributions are bound to suffer. How can we sidestep this problem and improve our critical thinking skills for writing?
Here is I challenge I have for you: attempt to read the passage below and answer the following questions in four minutes. Are the characters consistent with their time and place? Is the dialogue appropriate to both the audience of the writer and the character? Is the writing original and thought-provoking?
Some might call Big J a megalomaniac. Although a tradesman by day, he threw lavish outdoor parties on weekends in his fishing village of Golly Me for anyone who would listen to his bombastic diatribes against the status quo. He was known for preparing local cuisine with few calories but full satiety, for this strategy ever-expanded his circle of close friends.
Tonight, with a full belly and the feeling of being in an exclusive club, I felt a sense of purpose and renewed energy in my middle age. I was ready to hear Big J’s pronouncements for the week. “I am the alpha and the omega,” he broadcast to 5,000 of us with only a megaphone to help his voice carry. Heads in the crowd restlessly turned right-to-left and left-to-right. Confused faces repeated the words in their native English. Sure, Big J is the smartest guy in the room. Few of us had been to college and studied foreign languages. What was he talking about? It was Greek to me.
1. “Why here, why now?” This is the simplest tool of critical thinking. Why did I have the character suddenly speak in a language foreign to his fictional audience? No one in my story was well-travelled, or had been to college yet. They might not even read well or at all. Perhaps it was to establish J as “the smartest guy in the room,” well-travelled and culturally astute. I have to determine if this anachronism detracts from the scene, or if it is worth it so I can later sell simple fish trinkets that are coincidentally shaped like the Greek letter alpha.
2. What about the first paragraph? Is it realistic to say low-calorie, highly satisfying food is a crowd pleaser? We are in a fishing village, so the local cuisine is fish. We know most fish contains protein and healthy fats which do produce a full feeling for fewer calories than meals heavy in carbohydrates.
3. What about the megaphone? Have I ever been at an outdoor event at the back of a crowd of 5,000 and heard the entertainment clearly over a megaphone? Personally, I am not a fan of the outdoor concerts with sophisticated electronic s and speakers. Just a few hundred people or so between myself and the stage will greatly reduce my acoustical enjoyment.
Although we all look for time-savers throughout our day, practice is truly the best way to improve skills. This exercise probably took you between four and five minutes to complete. Keep applying this tool to everything you read and write, and you will be rewarded with expert skills, and maybe a little discomfort.
Alice Peterson serves on the editorial review board for the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing.
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5 Responses to “Critical Analysis of Your Own Writing”
A couple of quick points. Firstly, the thing that initially hit me in the quoted piece was the character claiming to be the Alpha and the Omega – it was a very real shock. But a bigger shock was that his audience did not recognise the quotation and everything that Big J was saying about himself. And yet there is much about the Bible and Jesus that is not known by the majority of people here in the UK, so maybe I am wrong to be shocked by the non recognition.
Secondly, the three minute attention span is not unique to your side of the Atlantic. We have supposedly intelligent politicians (another oxymoron for your attention) who are incapable of understanding, let alone formulating, a lengthy reasoned argument on any subject. Our three year old grandson seems more capable of paying attention for more than three minutes.
Ms. Peterson, I agree with your premise that many young, modern readers are not adept at maintaining an attention span sufficient to read anything more involved than a People magazine blurb about what celebrity is pregnant now. I would like to recommend an exceptional article on the subject of aliteracy (as opposed to illiteracy) in Cemetary Dance magazine’s August 2009 issue . As writers we face a rough and rocky road ahead because although our schools endeavor to teach children how to read they also teach them that reading is not of great value in daily life (much as long division isn’t important because everybody has a calculator now). Readers — at least those who read anything more involved than the headlines in the local opinion rags — are thinkers, and thinkers are a threat to the societal order and the control of our masters. Consequently, we are trying to ‘out shout’ all the white noise our society floods people with — daily worries (job, money, sex, health, family, etc.), the other leeches of attention (video games, sports, the Internet, etc.), and so on — in an effort to get folks to read our words despite the uphill battle. Reading takes effort and thought (neither required to sit and stare at a screen), as well as a measure of proficiency in the task (reading at a post-grade school level), and many people cannot or will not put forth that effort, especially for a multi-page document that would take more time to read than the person wishes to invest.
Now the big question: How can we combat the rising tide of aliteracy and literature ennui that threatens to make all writers, poets, and authors obsolete? I’m looking for suggestions…
Addressed to Mr. Thorn-
As a high school English teacher, I cringe just knowing the majority of students cannot write a decent paragraph, let alone a uniform and concise one. Many people do not realize that although we (teachers) would like to give appropriate time to the writing process, the curriculum doesn’t allow the full process to take place. And…no more researched term papers, just projects!
I’d love to go into the use of calculators as well, but that’s another post, er… entry…I mean, article.
ShellyD: I fear I’ve offended you with my comment about our educational system. If that is the case I sincerely apologize. Please allow me to clarify.
I did not intend to imply that teachers are unable or unwilling to teach students to be proficient in writing — far from it; I consider teaching to be the noblest of professions, and the teaching of reading and writing (regardless of language) to be the most vital task our schools can possibly undertake. My diatribe was aimed more at the educational system that devalues critical topics like literacy and skill with words in favor of ‘junk classes’ and attempting to inculcate values and gray-area relativistic morality into our children. (I am quite capable of teaching my kids what is right and wrong, thank you Washington, and frankly your version of it stinks like a skunk in a deep fryer.) Being a tool of those who would rule us, the educational system is aiding in producing hordes of semi-literate homonculi with the attention span of a chimpanzee on PCP (but by God, Coach, can that kid throw a ball!!) who will be ripe for conquest by the time they’re old enough to graduate. We see the fruits of this today, when many persons under the age of about 35 choose their President with the same level of intelligence and discernment they use in voting for the next American Idol, who haven’t read anything more challenging in the past year than the instructions on a microwave dinner, and who keep clamoring for things that have failed in the past in the hopes that THIS time they’ll work.
Actually, I did have trouble accepting the last three sentences considering the first paragraph. This is a story in first person. The narrator used “bombastic,” “diatribe,” and “satiety” in that first paragraph, yet didn’t understand Alpha and Omega, nor ever went to college? No doubt, you don’t have to go to college to know any of those words, however that whole “I ain’t got no edumacation” implication at the end of the second paragraph doesn’t work, given the language of the first.
And, if the person could say, “It’s Greek to me,” (which is a cliche’), they already proved they understood the words to a degree. You don’t need to be a Biblical scholar to understand the reference. Even the reference has become somewhat of a cliche in sci-fi circles. The only way I could buy that 5000 people – fishing village or not – didn’t understand “I am the Alpha and Omega,” is if no form of christianity had ever arrived in their village. Then again, given Big J knew the reference, that theory would be hard to flesh out, too.
Critically speaking, this writing example really didn’t work. Nor did posing an exercise like this help me with the very reason I came to this article in the first place. Check out the title. How did reading this help me critically analysis my writing? It taught one thing – don’t use language that doesn’t fit the context. That’s not an article, that’s an eight word sentence, and one I already understood.
It’s hard enough to write well. It’s harder to write well enough to get published. But, when you’re writing to teach other writers something, you’ve set yourself up for even tougher critical analysis. This one failed in both regards – it failed as a lesson in critical analysis, and the example given to analysis failed. Not good!