Expressive Writing: Part 3 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, I’m offering a tip or two and publishing an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 3 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

Here are a few common errors I see as an editor that don’t have to do with sentence- or paragraph-level mistakes. These are problems with a writer’s thinking, not technical craft, that are particularly relevant to writing reminiscence essays.

Muddy message: This problem is as common as the common cold—and often presents as two story ideas wound together, trying to find their way into two separate essays. The easiest way to spot this problem is to try summarizing what you’ve written in outline form. Often you will find two ideas that are quite sound–they just need to be clearly separate, not one muddy melding.

Unclear timeline: A writer must control the reader’s experience so that each action and reaction of the story is clear in relation to the overall timespan covered. All the details in an essay must cohere, moving the reader from one bit of information to the next. To signal time order, use words like before, next, later, first, second, third, when, while, then, finally

The always and once: Attempting to put memories in writing brings up the difference between those that set a stage, and those that contain action. “We always ice-skated in winter,” is a stage-setter. You can create a perfectly agreeable musing on the sensory pleasures of ice skating in winter without ever introducing a story element, but readers typically expect somebody to explicitly DO SOMETHING, something out of the ordinary, remarkable, something that complicates the “always” and requires a response. That’s what makes story. “Once, while we were ice skating, my brother fell in and I decided not to save him, since he was so mean to me.” Now that is a “once” that follows “setting the stage” with real action, with much at stake!

Sarah Nankivil wrote the following essay in response to the the prompt: Write a how-to article.

Travel to Thailand

By Sarah Nankivil

If you’re looking for a travel adventure, consider the former country of Siam, now known as Thailand. It’s no longer a 3-month journey like in the movie classic The King and I–it’s just a quick flight up and over the North Pole and down to the opposite side of earth. The flight may seem long, but with several meals, your own tv screen, and a spa-like atmosphere, 17 hours later you may be wondering “so soon, already?!?”

Thailand is extremely affordable, especially when compared to Europe. On average you should budget around $70 per day for hotel, food and transportation. Street food is Thailand’s treasure, offering unique experiences like fish ball noodle soup, chive and fish dumplings, satay, and Thai-style deep fried donuts for $2-$5 per meal.

Thailand is a land of smiles, perhaps because its population is 83% Bhuddist. The followers of Buddhism don’t acknowledge a supreme god; instead they focus on achieving enlightenment, a state of inner peace and wisdom. The universal language is eye contact, and a smile. If you say hello in Thai, “swa-ti-kah,” then be prepared to be immediately swept away in a lightning round of 21 questions–probably with someone younger, either currently or recently in school, who is delighted to practice their English and hear about an American’s experience in their country. Being older and perhaps maternal-looking, I discovered a smile made me a conversation magnet, always starting with the “ so what you do in Thailand ?!?”

Learn a few key phrases before traveling for what is important to you BUT install the Google Translate app on your cell phone. Hello, goodbye, please and thank you are essential, and can be customized for your own needs, like, “kafae kab khrim pord (coffee with cream please)”.

Technology will make everything easier, creating a more positive experience. You will want to have cellular service, by buying a SIM card abroad for around $20 or purchasing an international service plan for around $70 a month. Some very useful apps include Google Translate, something for currency exchanges, Grab for food, and Uber for local transportation. Use Rome2Rio for transportation options city to city, Trip Advisor for what to do, and Airbnb for places to stay.

Once there, ask locals or other tourists what they would recommend for places to visit or eat and things to do. But consider one person may give a donkey ride a one star for their unruly behavior, while someone else may give the same experience five stars for being fun, festive, and unique, so be sure to read the reviews behind the ratings.

Before making travel plans check out for current safety conditions abroad. Remember to enjoy the process and make the journey part of the adventure.

©  2021 Sarah Nankivil

Sarah Nankivil is an accounting professional spending more time with numbers than words.  But even numbers have a story to tell, and can be an inspiration.  She is a graduate of UW Madison, lives in Mount Horeb, and spends as much time as possible exploring by foot, bicycle or horseback, locally and across the globe.

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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