Monday, October 10, 2011

Expressing ourselves

About thirty years ago, the phrase, "express yourself" was all the rage. While I was never quite sure what that meant, I think it was an attempt to encourage people to voice their individuality....or something.

Whatever it was then, it's still important now. I bring this up because of an email exchange I had with an old friend, Peter Ruscitti. He wrote something to me that expresses far better than I can the essence of why I keep harping on proper grammar, usage, and syntax with my students. Here's what Peter wrote:

"In an information age, it’s not enough just to know something.  You have to know how to express it."  

This may seem obvious, but it's not. Think about it for a second. How many Americans today believe that what you say (or write) is the only thing that matters, ignoring the fact that how you say it (or write it) will determine how well your message gets through.

There's an easy way to learn how to become a better writer, too. It's not hard, and this is not a secret. 

The way to become a better writer--with minimal effort--is to read good books. Yup, you need to read as much as you can and as often as you can. 

But when you read, pay attention to how the author phrases things--pay attention to the rhythm and the clarity. Pay attention to the word choice. And, yes, pay attention to the punctuation. 

If you do, you'll find yourself instinctively developing the same good habits of composition when you sit down to write. 

All you have to do is pay attention. In this information age, isn't that everything? 

1 comment:

Phi Englander said...

I just discovered your blog today when I was looking for pictures of the work of Melvyn Kaufman and am very impressed with what you are trying to do. I agree with what you have to say in, "express Yourself". I was wondering if you ever applied this lesson to story telling? Not written but oral. I have always admired people who know how to not just tell a tale but know how to make it compelling, entertaining and meaningful.

I suppose the answer is the same, pay attention. But when I realize that I am in the presence of a master and I can sense the mental juggling that is going on to keep me off balance, using asides to distract, to side track my concentration so that I snap to attention when the main event is reintroduced, well I feel out of my league.

My Aunt had it, my younger brother has it and I think they honed their craft because they liked the feeling of holding someones attention or getting the message across.

thanks for taking the time and please forgive my grammatical and punctuation errors.

Phil Englander