Monday, July 3, 2017

(Un) Technical Writing

Good morning.  Welcome to July blogging, which, as I enter month two of my online graduate course, finish up the book club's summer series, prepare to publish a book, & ready myself & the kids to travel to the beach, is likely to be an uninspiring month of blogging. Hang around if you're so inclined, or check back in August when things will still be hairy but I'll be done with summer school & hopefully have a week or two to sit & breathe & give you a few details about book publication. 

I'll pick up where I left off last week. I believe I was extolling the virtues of spending time alone with a book, or a pen & a piece of paper, or a word processor. Sometimes Trey makes a catty comment about how often my MacBook is in my lap. Sometimes I smile & ignore him; sometimes I use my loud teacher voice & explain to him the many, many things I can accomplish with my MacBook. Right now my MacBook time is split between three tasks. First, I have a research proposal due this Thursday. More about that momentarily. Second, I'm still working on edits for a fellow writer's manuscript. Third, I'm writing - like fun, fiction writing, which is how I reward myself for buckling down & doing some work on the unfun, makes-me-cry, proposal writing. 

This Technical Writing Seminar I'm taking this summer is the first technical writing course I have ever taken. This research proposal is the first formal research proposal I have ever written. Sure, I've fired off emails to professors asking for their approval of a research topic, but this concept is taken to a whole new, time-consuming, nerve-racking level with the formal research proposal I have to submit Thursday. I could have written the research paper by now were I not tying myself in knots trying to format the proposal correctly & figure out where to plug in what information.

Oh except wait. I said I could have written the, "research paper," by now, but alas, it is not technically a research paper I will be writing. We are to submit a proposal to research a problem (of our choosing) & then, once granted permission to continue on our journey, the final product is to be an "analytical research report" (or we have the option to create an instruction manual, but I think that would be the death of me). I have to decide on a problem I want to address, read the current research pertaining to the issue, establish criteria by which solutions to the problem can be evaluated, & then apply my selected criteria to proposed solutions to the problem & arrive at some semblance of a conclusion. 

I mainly typed that last bit out for my benefit because, a month into the class, I am not sure I understand exactly what it is I am supposed to be doing. I'm not analyzing any literature, that's for sure, & let me tell you, I long to do so.

What I am discovering about technical writing is that technical writing people are super interested in formatting details: headings, spacing, italicizing, etc. I'm not averse to formatting details. I insist students use a proper MLA heading, pay attention to their margins, etc. Sure, the technical writing world is jazzed about proper grammar, so we have that in common, but I'm finding it's not enough to bring us together. What I care about most of all, always, always, always, is content. Formatting is an easy fix; poor content is not an easy fix & it'll cost you if I'm the one grading your work. I just don't feel that I belong in the technical writing world.

The upside to my current immersion in the technical writing world, I suppose, is that the work is so tedious & feels so blah & uncreative it is inspiring me to write more than I have in a good while. I am still playing with Margaret, whom you've met. I believe I've finally decided where she lives & I've given her a last name. I've also given her a new friend, a co-worker named Derek Keller. I am so fond of that name right now. I've no plans to write a love triangle & neither Margaret nor I have forgotten about the dreamy cop named Daniel Dean, but I am having fun writing scenes inside the high school where Margaret (who is no longer the sixteen-year-old girl introduced in chapter one that is linked above) teaches English.

Margaret's been in my head a long time & I decided she was going to be an English before I knew I would be teaching high school English but that is working out incredibly well now because you don't have to do much research about being a high school English teacher when you are a high school English teacher. One of the main reasons I sent Edie to graduate school is because I went through graduate school. Profound, right? I considered making her an intern at a big publishing company or something, but I nixed that when it became so easy to write her as a grad student.

So anyway, you see why I mentioned last week that I am never bored. There are six Word documents open on my MacBook & it is so hard to sit down & bypass Margaret, or even the novel I am editing, & work on this proposal that's due Thursday. Writing Margaret is decidedly untechnical. It's weird to abandon one Word document only to flee to another for an escape, but that's the beauty of the MacBook, I suppose. My technical writing class is a Victorian-era corset, if you will, & Margaret is a well-worn, threadbare T-shirt. I am a T-shirt gal.

Here's where my worlds (or all my Word documents) are colliding: the issue I am addressing in the research I'm doing for my online class is basically this:

In the year 2017, technology is ubiquitous and often teachers and administrators assume the more technology, the better. Studies (note to self: cite studies here) suggest the use of technology doesn't always translate to knowledge or higher scores on exams, be they objective tests, analytical writing, or standardized tests. The purpose of this research is to ascertain how to use technology in the English language arts classroom to support rather than interrupt ongoing curriculum and instruction.

I *think* I'm going to use the Patti Smith quote above somewhere in my research paper analytical research report. I echo the plea in her words, Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don't abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.

My students access their text online when not in the classroom, but otherwise what they read is from an actual, real book with tangible pages strewn with ink. I don't know how long I'll teach but I hope to never have to explain why no one is taking my physical books from me. The first thing I did when I had a few free minutes in my classroom last summer was arrange the two tall bookshelves that house all the books. Essentially I am writing an analytical report for my technical writing class about how to properly balance technology with untechnology in the English language arts classroom.

Obviously I am going to find a better way to say untechnology before I submit my final project. I'm in the middle of reading through a lot of research, but basically the consensus is that yes, technology is a tremendous asset in many ways; however, students need to hold a book in their hands, & hold a pen in their hand & write on paper, & talk face to face with their peers & with their teacher if the goal is to gift them with a quality education that not only exposes them to great literature, but teaches them how to interact with people in acceptable & productive ways. I am also of the belief that they need to not only learn to research & write analytically, but they need to write freely. Some students hate reading until they stumble across the right book, & some students hate writing until they discover that they enjoy first person storytelling, or fiction writing.

I guess the fitting way to wrap this up is with a few pictures of my first edition, first print copy of A Farewell to Arms. I told you about it earlier this summer but I've never shown it to you here on the blog. It smells like 1929; it smells fantastic.

A couple of things: I don't wear much eye makeup in the summer, & the book cost me a little more than $2.50.

Reagan & I have plans for a little day trip today (nothing fancy, but it involves Mexican food & furniture shopping). Henry will be bike shopping with my parents. Tomorrow we're  going to do the cliche grilling thing with my parents & my in-laws. Immediately after the grilling & family merriment concludes I'll be sequestering myself somewhere until I put the finishing touches on my research proposal. I desperately hope it takes my professor a few days to give me feedback so I have an excuse not to think about this class for a bit before I have to get down to actually doing the project I am seeking permission to do via the lovely proposal. I should submit a proposal to write a piece of fiction about a young lady named Margaret, or maybe a proposal that proposes I edit an 80,000-word manuscript, which sounds very "technical" if you ask me. 

Enjoy tomorrow's holiday. I'm in a weird place re: my feelings about America so I opted not to go the patriotic route with today's blog. I also opted not to go the patriotic route because my head's pretty clouded with formatting specifications right now. There's a sentence I hope to never have a reason to type ever again. 

The Lord willing, we'll chat in a week's time. 


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