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Week 7: Writing and Work

July 13, 2015

Southern Harmony groupLast week’s chapter gave me a lot to think about, but was harder to write about–alone.  Chapter 8, however, had me scribbling notes in all the margins. The title itself might not seem inspiring. After all, sometimes we write to escape from work. McClanahan doesn’t use these particular words, but in the beginning of the chapter, I thought of the distinction between one’s vocation and avocation, how me make a living and how we make a life.

Part I: You, the Expert

Look back at your chapter 3 notes to see if you made a list of subjects and hobbies you’ve explored. If you didn’t make it, then start now; if you did, then expand it:

* What are your areas of experience?

* In what ways have you gained expertise–good or bad? For example, after my husband’s surgery, I now know more about aortic valve replacement surgery–and recovery–than I ever hoped to know.  And I took notes!

* Get specific with your list. As she suggests, don’t just say “I’m a cook [or teacher or nurse]” but tell us more.

* Be sure to include identities others may not be aware of, maybe identities or subjects you wish  to know more about. (I wish I could be a ……)

On p. 153, you’re encouraged to pick one and fill a page.

Part II: Inside Information

In areas in which you have spent time, you have accumulated a wealth of knowledge.  Start with one particular area of work–or experience–and identify some of these elements:

* What is the jargon peculiar to the field?  In a later draft, you would need to consider your reader’s familiarity, deciding when to define or give context clues. In addition to my twenty-five years teaching English, I also spent many, many years teaching Lamaze childbirth preparation classes, which expanded my vocabulary: dilatation and effacement, measured in centimeters and percentages, presentation, transition, contraction, anterior and posterior.

* Describe the setting involved–inside or out? What kind of building? Describe the room or space.

* What concrete nouns are associated with the field?  She mentions in this chapter Thomas Lynch’s poems and stories using his experience as a funeral director.  Once you have a setting, you decide which objects to place inside of it that are useful for communicating what you know to your reader (or for helping you to relive an experience.)

Part III: You have five senses; use them all!

You may have made a good start as you’ve considered the noun-items. Have you ever noticed how often we limit description to the visual?  Often, it’s the other four that put us back into a place or time: Explore

* the smells of the workplace.  Think of aromas and/or odors associated with a nursing home or an elementary school cafeteria, your flower garden, the pool at the local rec center.

* the tastes, if applicable.  This is easy if you’re describing your cooking experiences, but you might also think of the taste of your first communion or the first bite of watermelon your grandfather offered right there in his garden, serve on the point of his pocket knife.

* the feelings–and here I think not only of hot/cold, hard/soft, but a sense of motion too–driving the mail route with your arm out the open window, catching the breeze, feeling the sun, the resistance of the little mailbox doors.

* the sounds: the dentists’ drill, the Musak playing in the background, the ​hee hee hoo of pregnant women–and their “coaches” practicing labor breathing patterns.

Part IV: The Dance

One of my favorite freshman comp assignments–a nice break after we finished our big research paper–was a process paper. But they had to write about a learning process, either something someone taught them, something they learned on their own, or something they tried to learn but failed. The freedom to use first person after being restricted to third most of the semester was a breath of fresh air for the students.  An added benefit was that they could not find this paper on line!

Think of the processes you go through either in your work or in your avocations. What do you know how to do that others may not. What are the steps?  You aren’t writing a “how-to”; that’s a different kind of writing. For ow, write to inform, not to instruct. What verbs are particular to the process. Use good strong active verbs!

Part V: A Day in the Life

* Describe a typical day in this particular field

* Write about one particular day–maybe a day when things didn’t go as expected.

This was one part of the chapter where my margins filled up as I thought about chaperoning student travel or a particular memorable day while teaching the Holocaust class when the lessons on man’s inhumanity of man sparked a particular act of kindness and generosity I’ll never forget. I also remembered when (and why) I quit my first full-time job.  I could also describe a very temporary job during college when my suite mates and I decided to get a job at the Western Sizzling Steak House. (That’ll make anyone decide to finish college for sure.)

Consider writing about other “stances,” as McClanahan calls them: When you have been the

*duck out of water


*late bloomer


*perpetual learner

I hope you take the time to read the chapter.  I may have more to add this week about the different forms (p. 165-6) this writing can take.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy permalink
    July 15, 2015 5:54 pm

    Last week I struggled to get even a paragraph produced about writing with groups. But this week? Katie Bar the Door!! I love my job, love being an expert in Wound Ostomy Nursing, and I have only scratched the surface with the 6 pages I’ve written so far. I just don’t think anyone is going to want to read the part about the 5 senses used in describing the blood guts and poop I deal with daily LOL!

    • July 15, 2015 6:00 pm

      Kathy, I love gory yucky stuff!!

      • Kathy permalink
        July 16, 2015 12:37 pm

        Wow! I don’t hear many accountant/English teachers say that ha ha! Maybe I’ll post a little portion of what I’ve written.

    • sandyyoung75 permalink
      July 16, 2015 7:49 pm

      I not only WANT to read your piece . . . I MUST read it! Post, post, post!

  2. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 16, 2015 7:51 pm

    It’s true confessions time for the old lady of the group. I haven’t even started to write. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say; it’s just that we had company from Sunday until this morning, and I haven’t had a minute to myself. I know — excuses, excuses, excuses. I may even get started this afternoon. Like you, Kathy, I have too much to say, and I don’t know if y’all will want to read about a typical day in the life of a sales rep.

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