Writing Tips & Tricks

George Writes an Essay

Another take on how to write about reading...

    Why am I the poor smuck saddled with a teacher who insists on finding meaning and metaphor in everything we read? Like The Odyssey: I mean, the book is full of random everythings; Like just when Odysseus starts to figure something out (and I have a half a clue what is going on) he breaks of into some wild story with a hundred new characters. "Oh," says my teacher, "that is a literary technique to build the scope and sweep of the poem. It is the hallmark of an "epic" literary work." If that is the case, then I have a crazy old uncle—a guy who never knows when to stop talking—who is probably a direct descendant of Homer. Yeah, from now on I'll call him "Uncle Epic." The only reason I half like the book is because I actually believe that I'm supposed to like it—or at least appreciate it. I can't imagine that every English teacher for the last 1500 years or so is wrong. Maybe they've all been hypnotized by the Siren's song of conformity. I liked that part of the book: Odysseus getting his crew to lash him to the mast so he could hear the Siren's song, but still not do something stupid like get lured away by Siren herself. "Stairway to Heaven" probably had that effect in the 70's when it first came out. Jees, I'm as bad as Homer; Listen to me getting off track. And I shouldn't get off track because this foolish essay is only one of six assignments over the weekend.



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How to Keep a Journal

Writing about Your Life

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Today you may write a chapter on the advantages of travelling & tomorrow you may write another chapter on the advantages of not travelling.

Henry David Thoreau, The Journal, 1837-1861

For many of my students, even the sound of “free writing” in a journal induces a panic attack. I can hear their collective cry: “Free means anything, and any thing is the same as everything, and everything is just too hard to choose from--so just please give me something--one thing--one fun and easy writing prompt, plus a rubric and a brief word count, and, easy peezy, I’ll get it done in twenty... thirty minutes tops!”

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Essay Template for Blog Posts

Copy the HTML below and paste it in the "HTML" tab of a new blog post. 

Click on the "Rich Text" tab. Quick and easy!


<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino; font-size: 24pt; color: #ff9f40;">Insert Title Here: four words or less</span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino; font-size: 18pt; color: #737373;">Insert Subtitle here: Eight words or less</span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino;">Insert Image here: Center, medium size</span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><em><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino; font-size: 13pt;">Insert Quote here</span></em></p>
<p><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino;">Insert Opening Paragraph here: Set the Scene &amp; State the Theme...</span></p>
<p><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino;">Insert Body Paragraph #1 here...</span></p>
<p><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino;">Insert more body paragraphs as needed...</span></p>
<p><span style="font-family: georgia, palatino;">Insert Conclusion here.</span></p>



It should then look like this. Now just replace my text with yours:) I hope it is helpful. Leave me a comments if it works--or not... It also works for essays!


Insert Title Here: four words or less

Insert Subtitle here: Eight words or less

Insert Image here: Center, medium size

Insert Quote here


Insert Opening Paragraph here: Set the Scene & State the Theme...

Insert Body Paragraph #1 here...

Insert more body paragraphs as needed...

Insert Conclusion here.


Assignments 9/16-9/22

Essay Creation

UBCJs5V5TOiK7CvoZtNHMwIf you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

~Mark Twain

UPDATE #3:Sunday, 4:00 pm

  • If see this, do not submit a weekly metacognition or the weekly assignment sheet to the dropbox. We will do it in class. it is fine if you already submitted.

Update #2: Friday: 

  • I will not be in class today. Work on your essay, finish it and share it with me via collaboration. If you can't figure that out, email it to me:  jfitzsimmons@fenn.org
  • If you have extra time, complete your weekly assignment sheet.


UPDATE#1: In-Class on Thursday:

Finish your two or three body paragraphs. If you do not finish, complete for homework. Be sure each paragraph follows the form and flow of the Narrative Paragraph Plan. To guarantee an A, go the extra mile by putting each body paragraph in the Design Writing Plan--and be sure your content matches up with the rubric.

  1. Step One: Introduce and narrow down your theme…

  2. Step Two: Validate your theme by introducing and briefly describing an experience that captures your theme in action.

  3. Step Three: Explore the deeper meaning by explaining how the theme is important in your life—and potentially in the lives of your readers. Start Narrow and end Broad.

  4. Step Four: Conclude or transition to a new body paragraph in a way that gives your reader room to think in a brief sentence. Ten words or less.



NEW VERSION!!! Download Design Writing: Narrative Paragraph Explained

Download Assignments 9:16-9:22

Download Design Writing Plan: Essay Template 



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The Uses and Abuses of Rhetoric

What’s Your Point?


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Knowing that you do not understand is a virtue;

Not knowing that you do not understand is a defect.


—Lao Tzu


     Nobody likes to be wrong, and for that matter, most of us “like” to be right. Few of us walk around writing, saying or thinking, “Boy, my opinions and views are certainly shallow, uninformed, and alarmingly trivial—but here is what I think….” We like to be assured that what we know and feel is valid and real and informed, for there is a serenity in knowing that we know—or that we have thoughtfully reached a level of knowingness that is somewhere near to certainty. I admit that a certain jealousy sweeps over me when I hear or read someone say exactly what I already think and feel (and though I knew) but I just never found the words or the way to say it with that much eloquence and clarity.



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The Time & Place of a Writer

   How to be a Writer

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“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

—Enid Bagnold

    This is the time—the dog days of summer—when writing can become more of a chore than a pleasure. The hot days and humid nights don't always lend themselves to creative and articulate thought; plus, the day is always full of enticing and entrancing possibilities. Because writing is part and parcel of my daily life, I need to create a time and a place to write that works for me no matter where I am or what I am otherwise doing.

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How to Get an "A"


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Always step up into a lifeboat...



A writing piece is never finished. It is abandoned. When you hit publish, it is an acceptance on your part that it is time to abandon the sinking ship--the essay is due, and you have done all you can to create a publishable post. It is also an announcement that you are a published author ready for the rough and tumble world of a fickle and demanding audience--an audience that will read your latest essay this weekend.

So many things can go wrong--yet so many things can go right, and so every published piece is filled with dread AND anticipation! It is all, however, part of the fun and excitement of being a writer.

As your teacher for this assignment, I have a shortlist of requirements that keep your essay at the "A" level:

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Essays are Everywhere

Say what you mean--

and mean what you say...

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Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in
perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?

Kurt Vonnegut

One of the great ironies of education is the HUGE emphasis that is put on the writing of essays--as if life without essays is unthinkable. And it actually is unthinkable as long as we live in a world of thinkers.

Yet we (us teachers) rarely assign “essay reading” to our students; instead, we have them read great poetry, and great short stories and great books--“the good stuff “that will help nurture the love for great literature... but essays? No way. Too boring. Too opinionated. Too whatever. Show me a good one that some disenchanted teenager will read and enjoy, and I’ll show you a...

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