Writing is an enormously imaginative exercise--even writing nonfiction! It’s not about me putting my thoughts down on paper, however articulately. It’s about me imagining what it’s like to be you reading those thoughts, and figuring out how to translate my thoughts into words on a page that you will then translate into thoughts in your head, that will be as like as possible to the thoughts now in my head.
Finally, look at last lines and find one with a satisfying sense of conclusion. Endings are more difficult than beginnings for all of us, and especially for students--how to sum up without being mind-numbingly redundant; how to be interesting without introducing inappropriately new material. (My favorite example was an article about scientifically engineered food that started with a quote from Winston Churchill about being close to the day when we could do away with the absurdity of raising a whole chicken just for the use of its breast and concluded with the suggestion of calling such an engineered dish a “McChurchill.”)
There is an art of deciding when the targeted learning should momentarily give way to the unintended learning, and I don't always make the right calls, but I think I made a few right ones in this lesson last week. One student called me over and asked incredulously about a graph of world religions showing Christianity to be the most prevalent. I stifled my urge to remind him of the ban on captions, and instead briefly discussed why that graph surprised him and where the data might have come from.
Another student raised his hand and asked, “What if the title in interesting but the first line is not?” He showed me the first line he found dull: “Neil Gaiman remembers being punished.” When I told him Neil Gaiman is a popular author, that I've read a couple of his books, and that the line made me wonder whether this is a long ago childhood memory that inspires his writing, and made me relate by thinking of punishments that I remember, his eyes lit up, and he got a bit more background information on the world.