In a timely article on Inside Higher Ed by Danielle Marias entitled “In Defense of Useless Degrees”, the writer summarizes a liberal arts program as providing transferrable skills for most fields as opposed to providing narrow skills for even more narrow fields. She admits that the major-specific skills gained from a Ph.D. program are specific to a field, but more general qualities such as clear, convincing verbal and written communication are in fact useful for any field. I agree with her end conclusion, so I don’t have much to say about the article itself.
The thing that is troubling me is a comment on the article written by “Mukundan “. This user says “Please do not deceive the public by saying that liberal arts is important in modern world and more importantly, do not sacrifice unsuspecting students into useless majors.” Mukundan advocates for college students to go into STEM, accounting, law, or business because apparently those are the fields to guarantee a career. While Mukundan disparages the liberal arts at all levels, even the ultimate Ph.D., it’s clear that STEM, business, and law (whatever major he chose) hasn’t paid off. First, this English major would correct his written statement as such: “Please do not deceive the public by saying that the liberal arts is important in the modern world. More importantly, do not push/persuade/trick (anything but “sacrifice”) unsuspecting students into useless majors.” Second, who gave him the power to know what wil happen to all college alumni when they are in the work world? Mukundan is using statistics based on surveys taken from people working in the specific field they got a degree in, but what about the people that choose other directions? God forbid people change their plans! God forbid people deviate from a “sure thing” to take a risk!
Mukundan is unfortunately not the only person to misrepresent the liberal arts/humanities. My own father had a lot to say about me majoring in English and Criminology, two humanities fields. He still doesn’t know what I really did in my Criminology classes, but the evening he went to my induction ceremony for Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Society, he learned quite a lot about the things you can do with an English degree. Besides gaining skills for the string of jobs we’ll have throughout our lives, we can make a convoluted story really entertaining. Some of our faculty members spoke, and I remember that it was so interesting to listen to them. When you are an English major, you learn how to communicate and as a spin-off you are very literate. Talking goes hand-in-hand with reading and writing. So…You can talk, you can write, and you can read, all important qualities for the “real world”. If all that comes from a “useless” English degree, imagine the benefits that come from half humanities/half science majors in geology, geography, and biology!
I have exciting news for my fellow digital book readers, particularly those of you who use Amazon. Bear with me as I provide an overview of what went down.
Once upon a time, Amazon sold all popular “adult” trade paperback e-books for 9.99, which made readers grumble but ultimately tolerate/accept it. Amazon was doing well with this e-book pricing because it ompromised between value for its customers and the exorbiant prices the then-Big Six publishing companies expected for e-book copies. One day, the Big Six companies and Apple demanded that Amazon raise the prices of e-books to 12.99 and up, prices that were closer to or equal to print copies. This meant that digital readers were paying full price for non-tangible items that could be easily deleted and not easily shared with others. It was decided during a groundbreaking court decision that Apple and the then-Big Six publishing companies were not allowed to collude (gang up) on Amazon in ordering them to raise their e-book prices.
This decision held for about a year and recently Apple filed an appeal against having to repay digital readers for their sneaky actions and having to promise that they will never again collude with anyone. On Monday, March 7th, Apple was once again spanked by the court when their appeal was rejected. e-Book readers, we may be seeing more popular literature at 9.99 (or other reasonable prices) again!
I turned to Bloomberg, one of the ultimate business and finance websites, for the details on this amazing news. Writer Greg Storh published a piece on Monday, March 7th, the same day as Apple received their bad news and e-book consumers received their good news, entitled “Apple Rejected by U.S. Supreme Court in $450 Million E-Book Case.” The US Supreme Court “without comment, turned away” an appeal by Apple, leaving the federal appeals court ruling essentially in favor of reasonably-priced e-books and anti-collusion laws. Apple attempted to argue their Supreme Court appeal by saying that their actions of collusion and “price fixing” was a positive step for consumers, providing competition due to a new e-book platform. Apple is forced to comply with a settlement it reached with states in 2014 in which it will pay $450 million for the damages it caused. The Justice Department said that as part of the settlement, consumers will receive credit for any e-book they overpaid for. For additional information written in legal terminology, you can search for “Apple v. United States, 15-565”.
While I can’t speak for all digital readers, I am so excited about this news and getting the word out.
Back in the day (the mid 90s to the early 00s) I wrote all my notes, homework, and stories with a pen. I would’ve preferred a laptop, but until I turned 13 our house didn’t even have a desktop computer. Even though I had dreams of having my own laptop,I liked using a pen for the simple fact that my work would always be there when I needed it. Having had laptops that ate my work, I knew the value of paper copies. Even when I was buying a new laptop every year, I still had a collection of loose-leaf paper and three subject notebooks. I started writing the first version of my Never-Ending Novel in a notebook starting my first year of high school and I still have it at age 25 even though one of my laptops ate the digital version.
While I see the good in writing with a pen and typing on a keyboard and can advocate for both, a new study from psychological scientist Pam Mueller published in Psychological Science says that writing with a pen is superior for remembering conceptual aspects of media. Her experiment was designed for 65 college students to watch a series of TED Talks in small groups and were either given pens and paper or laptops to take notes on what they were watching. Mueller tested the students after they finished watching the TED Talks on factual and conceptual questions and discovered that while both pen-and-paper and laptop groups responded equally well on the factual questions, the pen-and-paper groups were considerably stronger on answering the conceptual questions. Her theory was that the pen-and-paper groups were less focused on writing down the TED Talks word-for-word and more focused on writing down aspects that they thought were important. This study by Mueller backs up a 2012 study about how writing by hand is especially important for pre-literate children ages five and under. You can read the details on this story and additional articles on writing onThe Literacy Site.
I find it interesting that according to the article, whether the students are young children or college-aged adults, writing by hand is better for developing types of memory. At the same time, I would like more information about whether writing with a pen or typing with a keyboard has different results depending on the type of project. For example, what if the project is writing a novel instead of taking notes in class?
Readers, do you prefer writing with a pen (or pencil, gel pen, marker, and so forth) or typing on a keyboard? Does your preference depend on what you’re working on?
Think back to the books you read as children or that you’ve read to your children. How many of them took a simple situation and expanded on it in fanciful ways? Maybe you read the British story May I Bring a Friend about a child meeting the Queen for tea and asking if they could bring a friend. Maybe you read Dr. Suess’ wild tale And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street about a boy trying to come up with an answer to his father asking “What did you see today?” instead. Finally, who can forget the books If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? These books play with exaggerations and possibilities, which are two qualities most children enjoy. We don’t grow up seeing things in a narrow view and believing there’s only one correct solution. When we’re young, we see possibilities because we are encouraged to play with ideas. And then by the time we hit kindergarten and every school year after, something happens.
How many times have you been told “Stop exaggerating!” or “Well that’s just nonsense!” or, my favorite, “Stop writing like that! It’s not academic!”? When we start going to school to prepare us for the “real world”, imagination and creativity falls by the wayside. All of our favorite childhood books that encouraged us to create vivid stories of our mundane lives and to consider varying, sometimes unusual possibilities are suddenly considered negative influences.
During a dead period at the textbook store I was reading a textbook about how K-12 teachers can analyze students’ writing based on various factors and it was horrific. Creativity is no longer one of those factors, unless it’s based on logic. I understand that if you are an English Language Arts teacher you have to have a clear list of grading criteria for both the students and yourself and you want to see evidence that your students understand what they’ve been learning through their essays. It’s sad that there’s no room for the students providing ideas that you haven’t considered. This is why you hear older students (college-aged or non-traditional) saying that they love writing but not the kind of writing they did in school. Unfortunately when you talk about writing for fun/publication there are still writers claiming that if you want to be successful “Thou shalt…” followed by a long list of rules. It’s still not as limiting as what K-12 students hear in their English classes.
I don’t know about you, but something is so wrong when young people go from reading stories based on pure imagination and yes, exaggeration to being told these qualities are not approriate for school.
I didn’t think I’d ever want to work retail again after a six year retail nightmare, but in early January I opened myself up to a position at a local textbook store. The position was temporary and I figured if I liked it great but if I didn’t then it would only be for a three-week period. I’m not going to say there weren’t moments of frustration and confusion, but in the end I enjoyed my time and can’t wait to return next semester.
On my first day I was known as “the new employee” and my role was learning how to do what I would be doing all the time. The two assistant managers explained the most important aspects of textbook work, but my entire time was a learning experience. I learned how to fill “Pack and Hold” orders, which are orders that people make online and then employees at the bookstore pull from the shelves and pack in a/multiple box(es). I learned how to answer the telephone and make calls out just in case, but one of my assistant managers said I didn’t have to answer it until I was more familiar with our stock. Most of my time was spent straightening up the textbooks and getting familiar with where everything was. An hour before I left, my boss had me cut out glossy price tags. That activity is normal but not an all-the-time thing. It was a full day and by the time I caught my bus I was dead tired but felt accomplished.
My first day was on a Thursday and the textbook store didn’t get crazy busy until Monday when college started. By then I knew where everything was and could usually help people with some level of confidence. That was a good thing, because as soon as Monday started so did some interesting events. The one I’ll tell you about here involves the store telephone.
I had practice with the phone four days earlier so I wasn’t a total newbie, but I had some unusual calls that were hard to deal with. One call was from a woman who ordered textbooks for her son two weeks earlier and wanted to know the price of the entire order plus how much it would cost if she added two more books. By the way, she had called every day since first placing her order and kept asking us to put it on hold even though we have a 24 hour hold policy. She kept pushing to know the cost of everything even as I explained step by step what I was doing to add it up. I finally gave her the totals and got her to a satisfactory (for the time being anyway) conclusion. A second call was jumbled, kind of like if a person was crinkling a gum wrapper over the phone. I helped the person as best I could, although I kept having to ask them to repeat themselves. In both cases I did surprisingly well given that I was completely boggled, but I imagine that the callers thought I was an incompetent ditz. I can’t beat myself up too much, but I do wonder if I could’ve handled one or both of the calls better than I did.
One thing about working in a textbook store is that if you’re shaky on what you want to do for graduate school, you can learn about interesting options by looking at the most eye-catching textbooks. I was thinking of going for Professional Writing and Editing as my master’s degree, but I wasn’t fully interested in it. After looking at some English workbooks for the Intensive English Program, I thought it might be fun to apply to the Teaching English as a Second Language master’s program. I’m in the process of learning more about the program because I’m at least that inspired. Even if you don’t want to work in a textbook store, if you are shaky on your next step like I still am, I would at least recommend taking time out of your day to browse through the various textbooks.
The worst thing about working at a textbook store is that it’s not a permanent position. The boss liked my work enough to let me know I can stop by close to the next semester and see if he needs me to start back, but until then I’m on my own. I look forward to returning because I felt really good about what I did overall.
The greatest irony of being a creative writer is that when we consult others for advice we are pulled in every direction except the one we initially want to take. There is an overabundance of lists telling us what to never ever do or else or conversely telling us the only way we can create a quality project. Maybe we’re partially to blame for requesting help from the so-called experts in the first place, but it seems wrong that a creative project somehow ends up weighed down by “Thou shalt not…”
The above screencap is a list of advice from the LA Writers organization that the online magazine The Writer’s Circle shared on its Facebook page. I’m not familiar with LA Writers except knowing that they are a regional writing organization, but I enjoy reading posts from The Writer’s Circle on Facebook and even follow them. On the negative side, sometimes The Writer’s Circle promotes these “Thou shalt not…” lists too much. Asking their readers how they would respond doesn’t soften the irony. In this list, LA Writers/The Writer’s Circle intend to help newbie creative writers but in the end half the “mistakes” are not really mistakes.
Trying to write something “different”
It’s important that any writer in any category knows that every approach to telling a story and every situation has been written before. In that sense, it’s impossible to write something truly “different”. However, writing something “different” can also mean not following whatever is trendy in the genre/subgenre. For example, it could be writing about fantastic invented monsters (Rick Yancy’s “Monstrumologist” series) when romanticized classic monsters (Twilight and similar content) are the thing. It’s a risk for writers to create a world that isn’t familiar to readers and in fact quality authors have been dropped from their publishing company for daring to write outside of the trends, but being a risk does not equal being a mistake.
Using weak nouns and verbs, and passive voice
This one requires much stronger explanation on the part of the LA Writers/LA Writer “Nicole”/whoever published this image. I have been in love with English forever and I don’t know what exactly a weak noun and verb is. Even in the article version published on the LA Writers website doesn’t quite explain what a weak noun is. From their example, I assume it’s when the noun/subject of the sentence is not doing anything even though, as the noun/subject, it should. To use my own example that is loosely based on what they provide, a weak noun, verb, and passive voice would be “The thesis I wrote for my undergraduate English capstone was returned to me by mail.” What I would have to write to make this sentence stronger is “My instructor returned my undergraduate senior thesis by mail.” I see the difference between the two sentences, but to me all of this weak noun/verb is equivalent to using passive voice and that is why I am not familiar with the phrase. We’re talking about newbie creative writers here, so how should they even know what this is if they don’t have a long-term background in English? After all, anyone can write creatively even if English isn’t their lifelong dream.
Deciding not to read in your genre because you don’t want to inadvertently plagiarize
It’s so offensive to refer to this reading preference as a mistake. “Nicole” says that you have to read in your genre to know what a successful published novel looks like and you shouldn’t worry about plagiarism because in the end your own story will come through. Who is she kidding? I do love my speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance with these three previous qualities) but I will lay off on reading it when I’m serious about writing a new project. I will actually write work that is 100% someone else’s except that the characters and locations have my own names and end up with a novel(la) that is 100% unpublishable. That is the biggest mistake any write can make. If you want to write a successful novel, you can read in other genres and still see qualities of good writing (maybe). Attention-grabbing descriptions and complex, vocabulary-quality word choices, for example, are not limited to a writer’s chosen genre.
The topic of outlining versus “pantsing” will never die. “Nicole” is not wrong in advocating that newbie creative writers begin any project by laying out the key components that they want to include. I have done this myself when I thought I would be creating an epic, complicated world and needed to know every detail before writing the story. My notes came in handy when I needed a reference to a cultural thing or what role a character was supposed to play. That said, “pantsing” (when a writer chooses to let the story create itself without the use of an outline) has worked for other writers. It’s a preference, not a mistake. The only mistake a writer can make is when they outline or “pants it” when the other method is more appropriate for their current project.
Having an idea for an interesting situation but not an interesting character
In order for this to be a mistake, all of us writers would need to be mind-readers. We would have to know years in advance what sorts of situations and characters our target audience would be interested in reading about. The truth is, an interesting situation may be more interesting to us than to our readers. The same principle is true if we swap “situation” with “character”. If we don’t know what our readers will even find interesting, we can’t call it a mistake. In addition to the mind reading that this requires, the way it is described by “Nicole” is a total fail. She said that the only way a character’s situation can be interesting for readers is if the character themselves is interesting. The two must always go hand-in-hand or not at all. I would like to be in agreement given that some novels I’ve read have had horrible characters but compelling world building (for example, the futuristic fairytale series by Marissa Mayer) but alas I can’t advocate scrapping potential projects for that reason. Sometimes good world building can make unlikable/hated characters a little more bearable. Sometimes characters that aren’t given enough time to shine by the author can be interesting to original fiction plus fanfiction writers. Fanfiction is a type of writing as well, and maybe a newbie creative writer needs to start with fanfiction before feeling comfortable with venturing into original writing.
In responding to this list, I have been negotiating my own thoughts on writing. not restricted to newbie writers. I don’t always vehemently disagree with “Nicole” or anyone who sees this list as valuable because it serves as a springboard for discussion (always a good thing!) and there are times when I find myself thinking that a writer could make a better story if they just did one little tweak…In the end I am critiquing it because these ten “mistakes” aren’t always mistakes. I don’t want to see newbie creative writers turned away from, well, writing because a list based on one person’s preferences is telling them that they’re doing writing wrong.
Up to my freshmen year of college, I thought teaching/education was a white person profession. Granted, I live in West Virginia and because of the lack of diversity overall I am much more likely to see a high number of white teachers and white education administrators and such. Don’t get me wrong, I have overall had positive experiences in my elementary and secondary schools and in fact have genuinely loved some of my teachers. I’ll have to tell you all about my first grade teacher because she was an amazing lady. Even so, I had a limited view of who could work in the education field. Once I went to college, I got a much more accurate view of what a teacher is. I wouldn’t say it was earth-shatteringly shocking, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say it was a little surprising. Now that I’m serious about going into the field of higher education, I’m not exactly surprised but certainly I’m disappointed to learn that one criticism of the education field as a whole is that the teachers don’t reflect their students in race/ethnicity and their teaching approaches don’t mesh well with the students they’re presented with while the administration in all levels fails to act on making policies that will help better prepare educators for teaching an increasingly large population of diverse students.
Thanks to educators voicing these criticisms, even if they’re not heard by the people who can make improvements, there are proposals for lessening the teacher vs student divide and making the education profession more inclusive. I have my own thoughts on improvements that could be made, and I’m excited to share them with all of you.
The key to making the education field more student-friendly and welcoming to aspiring teachers/instructors is to hire more diverse instructors that resemble the student population. At first my mind swings to hiring more teachers of color (all races/ethnicities) in all elementary, secondary, and higher education instiutions, but honestly it can be expanded to include anyone that meets all the certifications and proficiency requirements. I don’t know how this would work in largely homogenous states like West Virginia, but it’s a major way to show students of all backgrounds and experiences that they exist and can go into teaching/education administration if they want.
I will soon be a college double major in Criminology and English and while I love both of them, English is 100% my thing. As such, I have some thoughts on why it’s important to have teachers of color in English classes in all levels of education.
First of all, let’s address the concept of “good literature”. Have you heard that English is for reading books by old dead white guys? There’s truth to the stereotype, but especially on the college level there’s way more to English. In my English major we are required to have one class that fits under “diversity”. I took a class called Images of Women in Literature because I love seeing what other women writers, well, write. I wanted to take a class on Latin American writers, but the English department didn’t offer that. Maybe I’ll contact the department head and suggest that there are all sorts of great Latin American writers that college students might like. Anyway, there is a push in higher education to expand what’s traditionally been considered “good literature”. It’s absolutely a good start. Now let’s discuss why it would be an even greater step if in all levels of education, there would be diverse literature and diverse teachers/instructors.
Because the definition of “good literature” has expanded, we should make sure that samples of it are mixed in with the standard “old dead white guy” literature and expose students to it. Students shouldn’t even have to wait for college to see that there are writers of color and non-US writers and even non-traditional writers (such as, the writer experiments with everything from the story itself to the format of the story).
Even more important than the books students read is the people teaching those books. I did take a Latin American Literature class in the foreign literature in translation department a few years back and while there were some problems with the way the final exam qustions were worded compared to how our instructor explained the background history of the author and the country from which the story(ies) originated, there was nothing better than getting an instructor with cultural ties to the region of the world we were discussing. Anyone with an interest in the country or region could teach the class, but sometimes the best way to “get” it is to have an instructor who has first-hand experience with some of the literary themes.
I’ve been dancing around it for at least three paragraphs, but ultimately I’m stating that teachers of color and teachers of non-US background should be seen in the classroom. Once we see more of that, we can turn our attention to getting more people of color onto school boards and curriculum approval committees. In any case, the make-up of people in the education profession as a whole should better reflect the diversity of the sudents.
If you are a bookworm you should love literature in all formats (print, digital, audiobook, and any others that will be created). Why is it that there is such a fight over book formats and where to buy them? This may be one of the new great mysteries of life.
Maddie Crum, one of the “Big Two” writers on Huffington Post Books, has a lot of (negative) thoughts about Amazon and e-books. In her latest article “Bookindy Allows Users to Brose Amazon, Buy Indie” she expresses her problem with Amazon’s book selling business, primarily their Kindle e-books but also with print titles from popular authors and tries to sway readers to the indie bookstore Bookindy. Bookindy sounds interesting enough, but Crum doesn’t make a strong case for the evils of Amazon. The strongest part of her argument was when she quoted science fiction/fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin on why readers should not buy from Amazon. In other words, Crum doesn’t make a substantial original argument.
At its core, Crum encourages readers to find any way necessary to avoid buying their books from Amazon. She does not specifically tell us what her beef is with Amazon, other than referring to buying “junk” on Amazon. I interpreted that to mean the self-published e-books that are so available on the Amazon Kindle store, but to be fair to Crum, it’s not clear what specifically she means by “junk”. What she does say is that the convenience and inexpensive prices of Amazon books has been harmful to brick-and-mortar bookstores, especially the independent bookstores. She encourages her UK readers to support Bookindy and giving her other readers a heads-up about Bookindy’s potential international branches so that they don’t have to rely on Amazon and can support their local brick-and-mortar bookstores. Fair enough; Crum at least offers a solution to what she deems is a problem.
Bookindy is essentially a price matching service. According to the article on Huffington Post as well as the information on Bookindy’s website, it first lets readers search for a book on Amazon and then offers them a list of independent booksellers in their nearby area that carry the same book for a comparable or less expensive price. One perk that Bookindy gives to users is that the print books can be shipped to them if they don’t live close enough to any of the bookstores. Admittedly, Bookindy sounds like it could be worth it for the lover of print books and indie booksellers. It is currently only usable by UK residents, but there is talk that Bookindy will be expanding to other countries. If this sounds interesting, feel free to check them out here.
While Crum thankfully provided usable information about a new way to access literature, unfortunate she doesn’t make a compelling anti-Amazon statement using her own words. She lets a column written by Ursula K. Le Guin do the talking for her. Le Guin is a staunch supporter of literature and “the little guy” (the independent bookstores). Agree or disagree, she is effective in persuading her readers that she knows what she’s talking about. I happen to disagree, but I admire how confident she is in her words. While Le Guin is a strong voice, Crum’s voice gets lost in citing Le Guin. I believe Crum is anti-Amazon judging from other columns I read by her and I expected her to have more oomph in this piece. I know I would disagree with her, but I would find it more worth hearing her out if I was hearing her.
My own take on Crum’s article is that there are many ways to access books and that’s wildly exciting. For my friends in the UK, they have Bookindy to check out. Everyone has access to Amazon. Audio books are becoming more popular thanks to how they allow literature fans to get in a book (or at least a few chapters) while doing other work. The choice of print, digital, and audio lets readers choose the best format for their current situation. It’s awesome that there’s so many more choices for books today than there were even fifty years ago. Instead of us quibbling about literature formats and where to buy them, we should be excited that literature is more accessible now than ever before.