Expressive Writing: Part 1 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, for the next three weeks I’ll offer a tip or two, and publish an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 1 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

How much thought do you give to composing a paragraph? It’s something we often do without a second thought, but that could benefit from a little conscious appreciation. With solid paragraph skills, our essays become much stronger.

A well-crafted paragraph starts with a topic (a controlling idea), contains supporting sentences that layer in details and evidence, and concludes with a sentence that wraps up what’s been said, driving home the point of the opening sentence.

A good essay does the same.

An essay begins with an introductory paragraph that advances a central idea, or thesis, that will be developed in the essay. This paragraph often includes a preview of the major points that will support the thesis, presented in the order they will appear in the essay.

Supporting paragraphs follow, making points that advances the thesis, paragraph by paragraph.

A concluding paragraph summarizes the essay by briefly restating the thesis, perhaps recapping the main supporting points. The conclusion should serve as a “bookend” to the introductory paragraph.

Betty Merkes wrote the following essay in response to an assignment to use these paragraph and essay skills to write a personal essay drawn from life experience.

The Saga of My Tin Music Boxes

By Betty Merkes

Over the years, I have been collecting tin music boxes to keep at my office. I have found them at garage and estate sales, and resale shops. I have received them as gifts, and I have also purchased a few. Whenever and however I received a new keepsake, I would  bring it to my office and add it to my collection.  Many visitors that came to my office commented on how nice they looked and how they added a personal touch to my office. My collection has grown quite extensively over the past 25 years.

It is now time for me to start thinking about retirement.  In my case, I say jokingly, “symbolically my retirement will be a kicking and screaming affair”.  But to start this inevitable process, I have gone to my office, packed up a few music boxes  at a time and brought them home.  This was accomplished over quite a few weekends with the help of my granddaughter.

WHAT, you ask, did I do with all these wonderful souvenirs now that they are at my home?  ANSWER,  I had glass shelves installed on both sides of the beam in my living room.  With the shelves installed,

WHO, you ask, would help me put all the keepsakes on the shelves?   ANSWER, two of my grandchildren did.  We grouped them by their theme.  However, some of the music boxes were too tall to fit on the shelves.

HOW, you ask, did I solve this dilemma?  ANSWER,  I put the taller ones in different places around my condo.  As my daughter and her children were leaving, she nonchalantly looked up at the shelves and said, “they sure would look terrific if a string of lights were put behind them. That would really set them off”!

WHAT, you ask, should I do now?  ANSWER, the coronavirus was now taking hold,  but I visited Michael’s  website, ordered three strings of lights, and used their curbside pick-up.  Now that I have the lights, I knew I could not put them up myself.   Physically I could not go up and down the step ladder that many times.

HOW, you ask, should I handle this new quandary?  ANSWER,  my grandson came over and intertwined the lights behind and around the music boxes.  The lights really made the music boxes sparkle!   “Whew”!   I thought I was done.  As my daughter and grandson were leaving, my daughter asked, “is there any way to put an outlet about four inches from the ceiling so the cord would not hang down the wall”?–I really must discourage my daughter from constantly coming up with new ideas.

WHAT, you ask, can I do about the cord hanging down the wall in plain sight?  ANSWER, it had to wait a few months, but I engaged a handyman, who put in a new outlet five inches from the ceiling.

Now let me reveal two wonderful shocking surprises.  I counted my keepsakes.  On each side of the glass shelf I had 13 music boxes. My lucky number has always been the number 13. I patted myself on the back and jumped up and down.  I sat down to recover from the shock and physical exercise.  Then I walked around my house and counted the rest of my souvenirs.

WHAT, you ask was the total number of keepsakes that I have?  ANSWER,  I have 42 music boxes.  Again,  I patted myself on the  back and jumped up and down. I sat down to recover from the shock and physical exercise. I knew I was on the right track.  The number 42 was my late sister’s favorite number, and she used to say, “42 was the answer to any question”.

I know the numbers are just a coincidence, but I am content with all my efforts.  Now when I retire, I will be able to lounge on the couch, eat bon-bons and look up and see my lovely legacy.

©  2021 Betty J. Merkes

Betty is a widowed senior citizen living in a condominium on the far east side of Madison, WI.   She has been on the Board of her condominium for seven years.  It was not in her plans to remain on the Board this long, it just happened and with no end in sight!   

She has been employed at the same company for 42 years at the end of April.  It is a small company, and she wears many hats.  She is the unofficial office manager.  She is the receptionist, bookkeeper, supervisor of the subscription database. She handles many miscellaneous jobs, even defrosting the small office  refrigerator.  She has a lovely office where she had all the beautiful tin music boxes from the accompanying story. She is tentatively planning to retire in about 18 months.  She wants to sit on the couch with her legs up, look at her tin music boxes (especially when those tiny strings of lights are on) and eat bon bons!  Boy, is she a dreamer!

She enjoyed going out and doing different activities with her friends but this has been temporarily delayed   due to COVID.  At home she enjoys doing word puzzles while watching TV. She has many different house plants that constantly need “tender loving care,” which she is happy to provide. Her grandchildren come over quite often and she enjoys the company of four of them who are senior teenagers with approaching maturity. She loves kidding them about just about everything. Her life is full, and she is grateful for all her blessings.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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