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A note from Geoffrey Gevalt, YWP Founder and award-winning journalist:
Sometimes, when you sit down to write, you can't see the trees for the forest. When, in fact, you're looking for the light. That one sparkling idea.
And it doesn't come.
And that's why Young Writers Project has long believed that challenges, or prompts, offer you, the writer, a safety net. Can't think of something to write about? No burning issue? No startling thing you noticed and remember? No particular drama in your life? Not to worry. We have ideas. For 12 years YWP has been providing daily and weekly prompts. In fact, you've probably responded to some over the years. And your teacher provably provides you a bunch more and some are on this site. (And, perhaps, you can talk to your teacher and get the class to dream up some ideas together.)
But even with a challenge, an idea that makes you think, you may still find it hard to write. Because ... there are lots of things in your way that you may not even realize. Like:
- SELF DOUBT: What if it's no good? What if I'M no good at writing? Oh, gosh, I am no good at it. This is dumb.... You know the drill. Self-doubt. It's a crusher. And it pops up sometimes when you least expect it.
More to the point, you are among friends here. Your classmates will support you.
- DON'T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN: I'm just going to jump to the solution here which is equally simple. Just begin. AND, if you are writing a story, start much LATER than you think you should and end it SOONER than you think you should. And, another tip, think of the most dramatic moment or idea; start there.
- SOLUTION2: A friend of mine, a wonderful writer, used to say that writing is easy: Just write one sentence at a time and relate your new sentence to the one before, so your second sentence relates to the first, your third to the second and so on. The difficulty, he said, is coming up with that first sentence. So make your first sentence punchy, catchy, eye-grabbing. Draw the reader in. Draw yourself in.
- I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH TIME: Of course you don't. None of us do. And as one famous writer said (it's often ascribed to Mark Twain, but there's some uncertainty about that), I would have written it shorter if I had more time.
- SOLUTION: Write as fast as you can. And write as short as you can. And don't think too much. In a "free write" you are supposed to let go, you are supposed to not plan out. In a free write you are supposed to discover and, even, surprise yourself.
- SOLUTION2: And if you like what you write, then come back to it later and work on it, edit it, add to it, develop it, make it better. And get your buddies to give you some suggestions.
But whatever you do, have fun.
Where, how, why do you get an audience?
- Writers need an audience to affirm their work. It keeps you writing, and improving and publishing and sharing your voice with the world. This is important and Young Writers Project believes firmly in publishing your best work to external audiences, such as our monthly digital magazine, The Voice; websites such as medium.com; and in Vermont newspapers, public radio (vpr.net), a news website (VtDigger.org), and even on stage. You can't change the world by keeping your stories to yourself! Publication is the key!
- At Young Writers Project, a team of editors -- YWP staff, community leaders and mentors -- reviews every piece of writing and art that is submitted to youngwritersproject.org. We look for fresh voice, interesting perspectives, humor, wisdom -- and GREAT STORYTELLING!
- When you are working on the My Community project, your teachers and the editors here at Young Writers Project will be on the lookout for great writing that has the potential to be published. We might ask for a few revisions to get the piece into the best shape it can be for publication.
- Generally, one of the YWP editors will post a comment letting you know that your work is being considered for publication.
- Online: This site and YWP's main site, youngwritersproject.org. Your piece might end up as a featured "Daily Read" on the front page of our the main site! We also publish a digital magazine, The Crow, on medium.com.
- The Voice: Our monthly, digital magazine showcases the best writing and art from youngwritersproject.org and has cool features such as Writer of the Month, a gallery of photography, writing tips and more. Click here to go directly to The Voice.
- Anthologies: Young Writers Project has published eight anthologies, an annual collection of the top writing and art submitted to youngwritersproject.org in one beautiful book. Upon publication, YWP holds a big celebration to honor the published authors and artists.
- Newspapers: Young Writers Project started as a feature in The Burlington Free Press, and we continue to publish a page of YWP writers and photographers in the Free Press, Vermont's largest newspaper, each week. We also publish weekly in the Valley News, covering central Vermont and New Hampshire, and we have monthly newspaper pages of local writers and artists around Vermont, including in the Rutland Herald (and Rutland Reader), the Times Argus (and Times Argus Extra), the St. Albans Messenger, the Brattleboro Reformer, the Charlotte News, the Bradford Journal Opinion and the Newport Daily Express.
- Vermont Public Radio: Each week, a Young Writers Project writer is featured on Vermont Public Radio. Text and audio of the piece, a short introduction to the writer and an accompanying illustration appear on vpr.net.
VPR also announces the YWP writer of the week, usually in the morning and evening drive times.
- VTDigger.org: This independent news organization covering Vermont, publishes a YWP featured writer every week, with text, audio and an illustration. Readers are encouraged to leave comments on the YWP writer's piece -- and a connection is made!
AND YWP HAS EVENTS!
- Talk about audience! Young Writers Project has many events throughout the year, including SoundCheck, a collaboration with Burlington City Arts; our fall and winter conferences at the Vermont College of Fine Arts; and other open mic opportunities! Watch the main page of youngwritersproject.org for details and the YWP calendar.
(Photo credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Lia Chien, 2017)
Editing your piece of writing is not about making sure the grammar or spelling is correct (save that for when you proofead the draft that for you is final); it's about making sure that the content is at its full potential.
In your first big edit of a piece of work, you want to make sure that you know -- and are conveying -- the main point, as in why you're writing this piece. It may take a few revisions to fully unearth the main concept. (Remember: The secret to good writing is revision!)
To help yourself with the big things, consider some of these questions as you go over your piece. It's always easier to write more than you need and cut it later than it is to scramble and add more at the last minute. (Hint: On your first big edits do NOT worry about the little stuff; read it through, then ask the questions.)
- What is the main point of your piece? Do you think you get it across? Does it waver, go on tangents? Do you have an underlying point? Is that clear?
- What are the parts that stand out -- emotionally? Do they ring true? Is this something you have experienced? Can you add to it? Or do you need to do more research?
- Do you have enough specific detail? Sensory detail so that it comes alive for the reader?
- Are there parts where you drifted? Be honest; are parts boring? Or confusing? Cut or fix -- add detail or explain it better or take out tangential items.
- Can you completely relate to it? Is it something you have never gone through, and you're just captivated by it? Depending on what you're writing, you can draw on this. You can include a part about your own experiences with or without that topic. This could really make the reader feel like you understand the concept or that you're just as surprised as they are.
- If at any point while you're reading your piece and you come across a point that's a bit confusing, chances are that the reader will be confused too. Have you explained that point well enough? How did you come by this information/event?
- By the end, do you have an understanding of why you wrote the piece, why it's important or powerful or worthwhile?
- Finally, after you've looked closely at each part of your piece, ask yourself whether you like it and try to exclude judgment -- you want to gauge your energy level. If you have found that your energy has waned, why? And is there a part of this writing that you like best that could be expanded?
FINAL HINTS: Editing is the most difficult part of writing. Often our own judgment creeps in and gets in the way. We find ourselves thinking, "I just want to get this done." There is a time for that. But during early edits you are still exploring. You are trying to find the strongest and most interesting story line or focus-- the thing that interests you the most! Remember that if you're interested, your audience will be more apt to be interested; conversely, if you're bored, the readers won't even finish it.
(Note: This is the answer key for the challenge, "Correct This" at https://mycommunity.ywpvt.org/node/300 )
The underlined areas are the places where grammar mistakes were made.
The Murder of David Duke
“Who was the culprit? Who murdered the man?” the officer asked.
“She did, the woman in the car,” the detective said, throwing a small look over his shoulder to the cruiser.
The woman in question was sitting, calmly, causally in the back of the cruiser as if she was waiting for it to take off so she could do some light grocery shopping before the weekend. The blood staining her hair was steadily dripping onto the carpet of the car.
“Who were her intentions directed at?” the officer asked, keeping his voice low, and his eyes off the woman.
“Him. David Duke,” the detective said, nudging the black bag by their feet with the toe of his loafers. “I can uncover him, if you’d like.”
“God no.” The officer shuddered. “Show me the weapon.”
The detective reached over the body bag. He rustled around for a moment only to pull up the bag containing the man’s severed ring finger.
“Oh god, please, lie that down on the examination table. Show me the weapon!”
“There’s three: a knife, a rock, and a hammer,” the detective said, his arm still shoved behind the body bag.
“Then show me already! You and me will have to stay late if you don't hurry," the officer said. He glanced at the woman. She had started to casually braid the tips of her hair; the officer blinked. He couldn’t help but wonder whether or not she was a red head, or whether all of the blood had started to dye her hair.
The detective finally hauled clear bags in front of the two men.
“Are these all hers’?” the officer asked, leaning down to get a better look at the crimson tools.
“We think they belong to him. His girlfriend said she saw things missing from the garage.”
The officer grunted. “Is that what’s effected her? She’s mad that he’s got a new girlfriend?”
The detective looked at his notes. “According to the girlfriend, a photo the couple with a cross over it was hanged outside of their bedroom window.”
The officer chanced one more look at the woman in the cruiser. She had moved on from her hair to her nails. She was painting them — completely — red.
“So we definitely have enough evidence to bring her to court?”
The detective nudged the body bag that contained David Duke once more. “Because of this? I’d say so.”
An often very confusing part of writing is when to use what word and where to use it. More than once you've probably had someone tell you, "You said that wrong!" Here are a few common usage/grammar rules that often get mixed up by writers.
1. You and I vs. You and me. People have a hard time remembering which phrase you are supposed to say and when. To learn this rule, you just need to remember your subject pronouns and object pronouns.
The words "you" and "I" are what we call subject pronouns. These are the pronouns that perform an action. The words "you" (yes, it has two categories) and "me" are object pronouns. These are the pronouns that receive an action. Thus, you say "you and I" if the group is doing an action, and "you and me" if the group received an action.
You and I: "Remember? You and I rode our bikes to the waterfall last Wednesday," she said.
You and me: "Yes, and then Tommy started throwing rocks at you and me as we rode by," her friend sulked.
Test each pronoun without the other. For example, from the sentence above, stating it as "Me rode the bike..." sounds quite silly! Also, "...throwing rocks at I as we rode by..." really should grate on your ears!
2. Affect vs. Effect. This is another common mistake people make... even though the rule is as simple as knowing the difference between a noun and a verb.
"Affect" is a verb meaning "to influence." "Effect" is a noun meaning "result." Use them in accordance to their roles as a verb and a noun.
Affect: Every day, global warming is affecting habitats across the seven continents.
Effect: Frogs and their habitats, in particular, are feeling the effect of Global Warming.
Exception: Effect is a verb when meaning "to cause."
Most scientists are hoping by sharing their analyses of climate data that this will effect a change in some people's perception about our impact on global warming.
3. Who vs. Whom. You never hear anyone say "whom," and that's because people are often to afraid to even try to use it. Granted, the rule is fairly tricky.
When you're asking a question, and the way the question is phrased will require the use of a subject pronoun — I, she, he, we and they — you should use the word "who" in your question. If you're asking a question that will require the use of a object pronoun — me, him, her, us and them — you use the word "whom" in your question.
Who: "Who was the culprit? Who murdered the man?" the officer asked.
"She did," the detective said, pointing to the woman being restrained.
Whom: "To whom were her intentions directed?" the officer asked.
"Him, her ex-boyfriend," the detective said, pointing at the body bag.
4. Lie vs. Lay. We're not talking about telling a lie. We're talking about using the word "lie" in terms of something or someone that "lies down." Often, people don't know whether they should use "lie" or "lay," but the rule is as easy as understanding the context.
You should use the word "lie" when a subject lies down on its own. You should use the word "lay" (to place) when a direct object is being put down by a subject.
Lie: "Susan, lie down; you're sick. I'll make us some tea," Robert said.
Lay: "All right. Lay the tea on the table when you're done, Robert," Susan said.
Of course, "lie" and "lay" are in present tense. The past tense of "lie" is "lay," and the past participle is "lain."
Susan lay down for a nap. She has lain down for a nap for three days while recovering from her cold.
The past tense of "lay" is "laid," and the past participle is "laid."
Robert laid the teacup on the tray. He had laid a plate of cookies by her tea once she was awake and feeling better.
5. Hanged vs Hung. When do you say what? You just have to know what you are referencing.
If you are talking about someone who was executed via a rope, you use the word "hanged." If you are talking about putting something on a wall or putting up your Christmas lights, you use the word "hung."
Hanged: Many innocent people were hanged during the Salem witch trials.
Hung: Marry hung a picture of the witch Hermione in the fiction section of her library.
BONUS: Because. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you can't start a sentence with "because." You can; you just have to establish a cause and effect relationship.
You can start a sentence with the word "because" as long as the sentence has a cause and effect relationship and is a sentence.
Because school is starting soon, students are rushing to the beach to get in some last-minute sunshine.
Reminder: Whenever a sentence begins with a dependent clause (one that wouldn't make sense on its own), it is followed by a comma (as you notice in these two sentence examples).
[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Cannizzaro]
Writing is like panning for gold or hunting for diamonds. If you get good at it, you gain a skill needed to succeed, to gain confidence, to fully participate in any learning activity and to be active in community life -- If you can express yourself, you are more apt to participate. Simple as that.
But learning to write well takes practice.
Your YWP digital classroom platform is a great space for students to practice -- to experiment, to play, to focus. Just about everything written in a class can be posted — drafts, journal entries, reflections, poems, finished pieces, discussions, narratives, podcasts, digital stories and essays. You can build a supportive writing community around this platform -- and what is done in class -- to create trust and mutual respect. That will lead to students taking creative risks, engaging in subjects that interest them and improving.
Regular writing should be a pedagogy:
- writing skills improve when writing is a regular activity;
- peer commenting and feedback helps both the reader observe and articulate and the author improve their work and be affirmed;
- youths care about their peers and try harder when they know their peers are their audience;
- writing for an online audience fosters respect and digital literacy; and
- regular research on the Web helps youths differentiate fact from opinion or falsehoods.
The benefits of student blogging don't end here. Regular writing also:
- engages students;
- creates powerful, inclusive learning communities;
- provides writing practice as students reflect, converse, collaborate and create;
- deepens critical thinking;
- allows students to develop their own voice, as they see that their ideas and views matter;
- helps students see that information is interconnected through linking;
- suits all learning styles and abilities
- provides increased motivation for writing and reading, as students read each others' posts
- teaches students to read critically yet respond respectfully;
- improves confidence levels enables students to create with text, multimedia, audio, images and video; and
- fosters peer-to-peer learning
Some students are thrilled when they hear that they get to write in a digital space. Others are skeptical and nervous when asked to post their work for all the class to see -- even though what they write can't be seen by the outside world. They don't necessarily like to work in "public" or in groups. They may feel exposed when other students read their writing, especially if they believe they are not as skilled as some of their classmates. It can take time for everyone to feel comfortable sharing. But once students trust one another and themselves, and realize how fun and engaging it is to write “for real” about what matters to them, they find that writing in digital spaces helps them to become better writers and stronger learners. Learning is, after all, intensely social, and the digital world is all about connecting and communicating.
Some teachers shy away from regular practice writing for a simple reason -- there is so much curriculum and learning to accomplish in a year. They worry that it will take too much time for both them and their students. They worry about finding time to read the students' work, let alone respond to every entry posted. Yes, students need responses, coaching, even correcting, but the more they begin to do this together rather than depending on the teacher to do it for them, the more skilled they will get at thinking, writing, and learning.
So YWP recommends to teachers to rest easy; respond to some but not all posts as much as you can, rotating through the group so that everyone receives responses but does not become dependent on your feedback. And if you, the teacher, are worried about how they're treating each other, take a quick peak at the comments via the comments link to see whether they are following their own guidelines which they developed at the beginning of the year.
So a suggestion: Get the kids to write regularly -- for only 7 minutes; and give them an additional 5 minutes to read and comment on someone else's work.
When doing research, using an article, a scholarly article, or a scientific journal can often give your research more credibility. First, ask you local library or your school library about their database, and see if you can use it for research. If your library doesn't have these resources, here are a few free online databases you could use.
Vermont Online Library
This is a resource many of your own teachers and librarians may use. There are eBooks, articles, career resources, and school resources all available with a simple search.
The New York Public Library
This library is famous for its extensive, free information. There's multiple ways to organize your information, search through catagories, and new databases and information is added at a regular rate.
Colleges almost always list JSTOR as a database resource due to its advanced search mode, and extensive digital library. The best thing about it? JSTOR is free.
Directory of Open Access Journals
This database is extensive, and it has a large collection of peer reviewed journals. Peer reviewed journals give your information an even greater amount of credibility.
PLOS is a more simple database, but still returns great articles and journals alike. The platform is very user friendly.
An extensive database and sort system of YouTube via categories and visual aspects.
[Creative Commons Lisence: Stewart Butterfield, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/stewart/]
We want our writing to feel genuine, and to connect with our readers to the point where they can visualize our words in their heads. A great way to learn to connect to readers through writing is by understanding the difference between concrete and abstract details. A concrete detail/image, most of the time, will engage your reader, and make them have that visual and deep reaction to your writing.
Concrete vs Abstract. A concrete detail/image is one that is grounded in tangible ideas, examples, and descriptions. An abstract detail/image has language and examples that are conceptual and have multiple interpretations.
Concrete: The plant just barely brushed the bottom of my knee; its flower was broad as my face, and its stem as thick as my pinky.
Abstract: The plant was tall, it's stem was thick, and the flower had a beauty that reminded me of love.
The concrete example is easy for the reader to visualize, and offers more information for them to grab onto. The abstract example provides less information, and is slightly vague. A beauty like love? What is a beauty like love?
The concrete example brings the reader into the story by providing them with relatable, tangible, and genuine imagery that engages them. In narrative writing, in poetry, journalism — you name it — concrete and specific details will make your reader want to read. Plus, they will remember what you wrote, because your language was so unique. Using what you think is the right a mix of concrete and abstract details will help you develop your writing voice. By understand the difference between the two, you can vary the sentences you write, and make educated choices about what details you want to use and when.
Here is an example of a poem from the Young Writers Project that exercises a great blend of concrete and abstract language:
I saw a man once getting out of bed, pulling back his rumpled covers and dragging himself into the bathroom, stepping into the shower of his one bedroom apartment
imagine his childhood tub with water beaded on its yellow-stained sides
He showers quickly, lathering his balding hair with watermelon shampoo
Turning the water off, he dodges the last ice-cold drips and wraps a towel around his middle
Wiping the fog off of the mirror he flexes at it
I am God
Then rubs away the droplets running down his legs with his towel
pulls on a fresh pair of boxers
then his old suit
He grabs a cup of coffee on his way out the door and boards the New York subway.
Every seat is taken so he stands and holds the yellow-painted rail
the million other jostling riders seethe around him -
- Pushing into him
- elbowing the soft parts of him
not knowing he is god
Because he isn't.
[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Mythicalquill - YWP User]
This relates to the Challenge: History through Photos (https://mycommunity.ywpvt.org/node/281)
This is the transcript of the recording of Florence Owens Thompson, the woman pictured here in Dorothea Lange's iconic taken in 1936 when Ms. Thompson was camped near a pea farm during the Great Depression and had been a migrant worker, picking vegetables and cotton wherever she could, to keep her family alive.
"I left Oklahoma in 1925 and went to Oroville [California]. That's where them three girls' dad [Cleo] died, in Oroville, 1931. And I was 28 years old [in 1931], and I had five kids and that one [the baby in this photo, Norma] was on the road. She never even saw her daddy. She was born after he died. It was very hard. And cheap. I picked cotton in Firebaugh, when that girl there was about two years old, I picked cotton in Firebaugh for 50-cents a hundred."
Question: "A 'hundred' [meaning] weight?"
"A hundred pounds."
Question: "How much could you pick in a day, then?"
"I generally picked around 450, 500. I didn't even weigh a hundred pounds. I lived down there in Shafter, and I'd leave home before daylight and come in after dark. We just existed! Anyway, we lived. We survived, let's put it that way. I walked from what they called a Hoover camp ground right there at the bridge [in Bakersfield], I walked from there to way down on First Street, and worked at a penny a dish down there for 50-cents a day and the leftovers. Yeah, they give me what was leftover to take home with me. Sometimes, I'd carry home two water buckets full. "Well, [in 1936] we started from L.A. to Watsonville. And the timing chain broke on my car. And I had a guy to pull into this pea camp in Nipomo. I started to cook dinner for my kids, and all the little kids around the camp came in. 'Can I have a bite? Can I have a bite?' And they was hungry, them people was. And I got my car fixed, and I was just getting ready to pull out when she [Dorothea Lange] come back and snapped my picture.
"I come to this town [Modesto] in 1945. I transferred from Whittier State to Modesto. And when this hospital opened up out here, I went to work there. And the first eight years I lived in this town, I worked 16 hours out of 24. Eight-and-a-half years, seven days a week."
Question: "Are you comfortable now?"
B A C K G R O U N D M A T E R I A L:
Background for photo: She and her family had left Oklahoma in 1925, before the Depression. The 30s made their situation worse. She and the family were following the migrant trail moving from place to place as crops became ready for harvest. "It was very hard and cheap," Florence said. "We just existed! We survived, let's put it that way." California – the state that had once advertised for more migrant workers – found themselves overwhelmed by up to 7,000 new migrants a month, more migrants than were needed. So for several months in 1936, the Los Angeles Police Department sent 136 deputies to the state lines to turn back migrants who didn't have any money. Bordering states like Arizona were angry that California was trying to "dump hoboes" back on them. Eventually, the police were returned to Los Angeles, but the migrants kept coming. There was some work, especially in the new fields of cotton that were being planted in California – a crop that southern plains people knew a lot about. But there was not enough work for everyone who came. Instead of immediate riches, they often found squalor in roadside ditch encampments.
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fachap03.html) was one of many top photographers hired by the U.S. government to chronicle the Depression era.
B A C K G R O U N D M A T E R I A L:
On the day she took the iconic "Migrant Mother" photo in March, 1936 -- and later she said she didn't fell like it was hers -- she was heading home from assignment. She saw a ragged sign for "Pea Pickers Camp" and the Thompson family camped beside the road but drove on. Here is what she said in 1960 about the experience:
"It was raining, the camera bags were packed, and I had on the seat beside me in the car the results of my long trip, the box containing all those rolls and packs of exposed film ready to mail back to Washington. It was a time of relief. Sixty-five miles an hour for seven hours would get me home to my family that night, and my eyes were glued to the wet and gleaming highway that stretched out ahead. I felt freed, for I could lift my mind off my job and think of home. “I was on my way and barely saw a crude sign with pointing arrow which flashed by at the side of the road, saying 'Pea-Pickers Camp.' But out of the corner of my eye I did see it; I didn't want to stop, and didn't. I didn't want to remember that I had seen it, so I drove on and ignored the summons.
"Then, accompanied by the rhythmic hum of the windshield wipers, arose an inner argument: 'Dorothea, how about that camp back there? What is the situation back there? Are you going back? Nobody could ask this of you, now could they? To turn back certainly is not necessary. Haven't you plenty if negatives already on this subject? Isn't this just one more if the same? Besides, if you take a camera out in this rain, you're just asking for trouble. Now be reasonable, etc. etc., etc.' Having well convinced myself for 20 miles that I could continue on, I did the opposite. Almost without realizing what I was doing I made a U-turn on the empty highway. I went back those 20 miles and turned off the highway at that sign, 'Pea-Pickers Camp.' I was following instinct, not reason; I drove into that wet and soggy camp and parked my car like a homing pigeon.
"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made six exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.
"The pea crop at Nipomo had frozen and there was no work for anybody. But I did not approach the tents and shelters of other stranded pea-pickers. It was not necessary; I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment."
T H E O T H E R 5 P H O T O S:
References: Lange, Dorothea, "The Assignment I'll Never Forget: Migrant Mother," Popular Photography (February 1960); Curtis, James. Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered. (1989).
Presenting can be scary. Whether you are giving a speech, doing stand-up, or reading a creative writing piece you wrote, it can be nerve-wracking. Almost everyone gets stage fright, even actors. But, knowing some helpful tips can get you through your presentation, and help you deliver it with a greater sense of confidence.
Try these tips:
Breathe. This is a classic tip, but it's a good one. Running out of breath when you are performing can dishearten you, and it can decrease the quality of your performance. You need to make sure you are breathing throughout your presentation. Practice and look through your writing. Mark off natural places you can pause in your presentation. Use that pause to breathe. Just make sure you aren't gasping — that will distract your audience.
Posture. If you're nervous, it will show, although there is some truth to the phrase, "fake it until you make it." By standing tall, pushing your shoulders back, and holding your head high, you will look more confident, and thus feel more confident. Plus, it will help with your projection.
Voice. Often we're either too quiet, or too loud; our voice is too breathy, or our voice is cracking because of nerves. In this case, practice makes perfect. Practice in the space you will be presenting in, and have someone stand in the back of the room. Project the best you can, and ask the person if they can hear you, and if your voice is at a normal pitch. Remember, you want to project, not yell. Gather your breath from your stomach, and that deep breath will help your voice carry. Plus, by breathing from your stomach, you will avoid sounding breathy. Making sure you open your mouth wide enough will also help with your projection, and with clarity.
Moisture. Some presenters get dry lips or a dry throat and have troubles with volume. Others, when they speak for a long time, will start to get too much moisture building up in their mouth, making for an unpleasant speaking voice. Practice before you perform. Learn what happens to you. Prepare yourself with lip balm and water. If you get too much moisture, make sure you drink water to clear your mouth, and when you are speaking, find natural places where you can pause to swallow. For moisture, another tip is to make sure you open your mouth wide enough when you speak — the air will help dry your mouth out.
Feet. Someone who is constantly shifting or moving across the stage while they are talking is very distracting to the audience. Many people move or shift their weight as a nervous tick. Try to plant your feet shoulder-width apart, and only move them if it is necessary to the performance. Practice your performance a day or two before in front of a mirror — watch your feet. Learn what your feet do, and practice standing still.
Eyes. If your eyes are darting all over the place, you will distract your audience. Yet, if you don't look at your audience at all, you might bore them! You want to find a middle ground with your eyes. If you are reading a paper, memorize your writing well enough so that you would feel comfortable enough to look up occasionally. That way, you won't be nervous about losing your place, and you can make eye contact with the audience. Pick a pattern for your eyes — such as gazing from left to right, or just looking up to the center. That way, your eyes won't be sporadic.
If you don't have a paper, and you're presenting to a very large crowd (over 30-40 people) you can just pick one to three points you will look at — and it doesn't have to be people. You can pick a point above the heads of the audience to look at, or a flag in the corner of the room. This strategy is often good for those with stage fright.
Papers. Rustling your papers can be distracting for the audience; plus, having your face buried in your papers hinders your volume. You want to make sure you have a firm, two-handed grip on your papers. Printing on thicker paper can help stop rustling. Make sure your papers are held away from your face, but not directly in front of it. Chest level is a good place to hold your papers so they don't hinder your voice, or hide your face. Just don't hold them in front of the mic!
Mic. No one likes it when there is a sudden screech of feedback from a mic, or when someone doesn't speak loudly enough. Generally, to avoid loud accidental sounds, and to avoid being too quiet, you want a mic placed at a 45 degree angle from your mouth one step away from your body. Speak clearly, and loudly. Practicing with your mic a day before will help you get comfortable using it.
Mistake. It happens. We all make mistakes when we perform. Though, there's one thing you have to remember when performing: you know you made a mistake, but the audience doesn't have to know. They've never heard your piece before — they don't know that wasn't supposed to happen. If you make a mistake, act natural. Don't make an upset face, don't make an "oops" sound, and don't say that you messed up. Pretend nothing happened, and just keep going. If you pretend that it was supposed to happen, the audience will think it was supposed to happen.
[Creative Commons Lisence: Kaykaybarrie, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaylajanebarrie/ ]
Photojournalism — the photography you use in newsmedi articles — plays by different rules artistic photography doesn't. You have to be respectful, cannot alter your photos and you need to be careful or show a bias.
Gathering Information. In any situation where you are gathering information from someone -- even if for a project that will only be seen in school -- it's good to exchange information with your subjects. HINT: When you take pictures of people, when you interview them, look at this process as a form of conversation; if you share information about yourself, they're more likely to share back. Tell them who you are associated with, why you are taking their photo, and where it might be published. Make sure they are OK with what you are doing.
- Permissions and identification. When you ask for permission and for personal information depends on the situation. Sometimes, if you see a great picture, just take it and then ask. It's a good rule, if you plan to publish any photo you might take (publish meaning that your photo would be printed or shown or posted to external (non-school) audiences) to ask permission ahead of time. Either way, make sure they are OK with the fact their picture will be made public.
- Generally if there are more than five people in a photograph, you won't have to identify each one. But, again, it's best to get the identification information while you are there.
- Make sure to ask for name, age, hometown and some way to contact them -- email or phone -- in case you have questions.
- HINT: Take a pad and pen with you always and hand the pen and pad to the subject to get them to write their information; that insures accuracy but make sure you can read their handwriting.
Staging. Traditionally, photojournalism should not be staged -- you are trying to capture scenes as they happen. You should not tell the subject to smile or stand a certain way or to pose for you. Photojournalism for an article should be a natural moment that is captured without outside interference. Because these photos are for news, they should reflect what is happening naturally. The only time you can stage a photo for photojournalism is when you do an environmental portrait — a photo where you can pose your subject with an environment or an object that represents their personality or profession.
- HINT: There are situations, though, when you DO want to pose someone, say for a profile and you can ask them to stop what they are doing or you can move them to better light or better framing. Your intention on this kind of shot is to try to show what they look like in a way that helps the viewer see inside them a bit. So if you are taking a portrait shot, try to put them in the element of the story that is important -- a farmer might be best photographed in a barn, or with animals, or in the field, etc.
Bias. In gathering information you should always be aware of your bias. And this doesn't necessarily mean just your political beliefs. You might really object to hunting, yet you are doing a story on someone who hunts. You need to take care that you are not photographing the subject in a way that casts the hunter in a bad light. If you don't like a certain politician or community leader you are photographing, it would be biased to take a picture of that person in a shadow or making a weird face or even frowning. You're capturing a moment in time, not showing your own opinion on it.
Editing. The photos you take have to be natural and true accounts of what you saw. You cannot digitally alter the photo dramatically in Photoshop. Changing the shape of someone's nose or editing out a sign in the background makes your photo untrue, and you can actually get in some trouble for it. You can adjust your lighting or picture quality or make the photo black and white to help make it more publication ready, but these adjustments must be minimal. HINT: The more pictures the better; don't be afraid to take lots and lots of pictures; this will help you when it comes time to edit because you'll have lots to choose from.
[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, Gabrielle MckItty]
The English language is complex, so it can be hard to keep all those rules in your head. You need a strategy.
Try these grammar strategies:
- Catch phrases. People use odd phrases to help them memorize things. The phrase My Very Elderly Mother Just Sat on Uncle Ned can help you memorize the order of the planets. You can do the same to help you memorize grammar. For instance, F.A.N.B.O.Y.S stands for each word that can help you fix a comma splice. For, and, but, or, yet, and so are coordinating conjunctions, that, when paired with a comma, can join together two independent related clauses. A song works just as well!
- Eyes open, eyes closed. This is a classic, with a twist. Write down the rule you want to memorize twice, and then write it once more while closing your eyes. By closing your eyes, not only do you see if you can memorize the rule, but the silly way in which you are doing it will make you memorize the rule. Plus, your hand writing will be hilarious.
- Comic. Oddly enough, you can find a lot of comics about grammar. Newspapers and online publications often have comics. The Oatmeal also has some amazing grammar comics that will help you memorize the rules.
- Learn from mistakes. We all spend copious amounts of time on the Internet, and we're often looking at something that makes us laugh. One way you can learn the rules of grammar is by laughing at mistakes. You can find memes and snapshots everywhere of people misusing grammar. If you can learn to laugh about a grammar mistake, that means you are actually memorizing the rule at the same time, because you remember what it looks like when it's wrong.
- Grammar jokes. Along the same vein as looking at memes, you can learn many grammar jokes. Humor will help you learn. For example, jokes like What do you say to comfort a grammar nerd? They're, their, there will make you laugh, and make you learn.
- Listen to the same song. Pair a song with a rule. Listen to one very memorable song while you keep reading about that rule, looking at examples of that rule, or even writing it down. When you go to use the rule, just think of the song, and you will find the rule will start to come to you... and a song will be stuck in your head.
- Find a friend. If you know someone who also struggles with grammar, ask if they want to learn grammar rules with you! You can quiz each other in the hall, or check each other's papers. Sharing an experience with a friend always makes things better.
- Flash cards. The absolute classic memorization stratagem. Get some index cards, write down the rules, and quiz yourself.
- Practice. The only way you will surely memorize grammar rules is to make sure you keep using them. When you are writing, remind yourself to check your work, and push yourself to learn the rules by being true to them.
[Creative Commons Lisence: Damien Ayers, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/omad/ ]
When recording someone, or yourself, there are a few tips that will make your experience go that much smoother.
Renting. Now of days, you can record on your phone, but if you want to have a slightly higher quality recording, many people opt to use an actual audio recorder. You can often rent audio equipment at your local library, at your school, or through community programs.
Questions. There are a few questions you should find the answers to before committing to a recording device. How much many minutes does your device record? Do you need to charge it? How do you get your files off the machine, and in what format are they? When was it lasted tested for functionality? Is it compatible with x device? Etc.
Test. Before recording, you should test your device. Test to see if it works, and to see what your audio quality is like.
Practice. Get familiar with your device. Learn where all of the buttons and functions are. Practice recording. How loudly does what you are recording need to speak? How close do you physically need to be?
Placement. You need to think about the placement of your device. You will generally get a better quality recording if your device is placed on a flat, unmoving surface. Wood or glass is better than fabric. Make sure the device is close to the person who is speaking, but not so close that they are breathing into it (a sound that decreases the quality of your audio). Generally, a good "baseline placement" is at a 45 degree angle from the mouth. Plus, make sure nothing, like a finger, is obstructing the microphone.
Location. You don't want the audio to decrease in quality because of the sound of a fan, or cars in the background. Before you record, survey your surroundings. Will this spot make for a clean recording?
Ticks. If you are conducting a lengthy interview, it's a long process to go through your audio recording to find those golden bits of information. A way to help you find the information you want when you are sorting through your file is to make ticks. A tick is a sharp sound you make when you are recording, like a snap or a tap. This sudden audio pip will become an identifiable spike in your track when you look at the file, so you will know to look at that spot in the recording. Make sure the sound you make isn't distracting to the person you are interviewing.
[Creative Commons Lisence: Mathias Miranda, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mathiasmiranda/]
When performing an interview, there are a few basic rules you need to remember — whether it be for legal reasons, general courtesy, or credibility.
Permission. You have to ask permission to interview someone. You must ask if you can disclose information like their name, and ask if you can quote them. You also must tell them where this information will be published. In addition, if you are going to record this interview on a device, or if you want to take their picture, you have to ask permission for both.
Tell. You have to tell them what you are writing about in full. If your article is about people who are against GMOs in Vermont, you cannot tell them your article is just about GMOs. You need to let them know everything they are getting into. You should also tell them who you are, your role, and who you are associated with.
Basic Info. The basic information you want to get about the person you are interviewing is their name, age, hometown, and their profession (if applicable). This information will round out the person you are interviewing in a story, and will make your information more credible.
Word for word. You want to make sure you get their quotes as exact as possible. When writing your piece, you can delete extraneous terms such as "um," "like," and "huh" that drag the story down. You can even fix their grammar a touch if their sentence is completely incomprehensible. But you do not want to misquote them. Not only are they misrepresented, but you could get in trouble for it. Recording your interview can help with accuracy.
Off the record. If someone asks you not to include a piece of information they just said, you have to respect their wishes. Being respectful of the person you are speaking to is everything. If they want to end the interview, you have to respect that request as well.
Digital media. If you want to have photos, for, say, an article, you need to follow a few photojournalism rules. If you have less than five people in a photo, you have to get the name, age, and hometown of each individual and mention it in a caption. You also cannot alter the photo. Meaning, you cannot use Photoshop to make someone's nose smaller, or to cast one person in bad light. You can only make edits such as making the photo black and white, or making the photo brighter or darker to enhance the quality.
Audio. Remember, you have to ask permission to record someone. It is also polite to have your recorder out in the open instead of a place like your pocket, so that they feel more comfortable. Note: test your audio recording device before you start the interview to make sure it works, and so that you are practiced enough in using it that you don't waste your interviewee's time.
Thanks. Always thank the person you have interviewed. Also, exchange contact information with them. That way, you can ask them a follow up question or they can send you more information.
Give them a copy. It's always courteous to send a copy of the piece you wrote containing your interview to the interviewee. In the very least, tell them where they can find the writing.
[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Kevin Huang]