Word Choice – It Matters

 

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

I’ve always been a writer but I am a fledgling novelist. One thing that writing a novel is teaching me: my vocabulary is lacking. Nonexistent really.

To think, vocabulary was once something I prided myself on.

I guess spending my formative years looking up words I didn’t know; writing down the definitions in my “reading journal”; and using the word in a sentence was for nothing. Especially because I don’t recall the majority of the words let alone their meanings.

Most of the time I rely on the context clues for meaning rather than the denotative meaning. There’s nothing wrong with doing this as a reader.

However, as a writer, I find myself struggling to convey what I mean without being repetitive. Or I have to use a thesaurus because I don’t know an alternative way to say certain things. And then it feels forced because they aren’t “my” words.

It’s a sad state …

Who wants to read a novel full of the same single descriptive word or phrase? For instance: “the twins” to describe our heroines.

Not me. Not any reader.

I know I can use: siblings, sisters, girls, daughters, doppelgänger. Or even combinations with: matched set, pair, identical, fraternal. But will it feel authentic coming from my mouth, my pen, my keystrokes?

Help!

I guess that’s why they say: “Writing is Re-writing.”

I wonder if this is part of finding my writer’s voice. The reason I choose the words I choose.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

Poor vocabulary is limiting. HINT: I’m easy to beat in a game of Words with Friends or Scrabble which is why I won’t play against my hubby.

Although I am in a state of hysteria over this, I haven’t allowed it to slow me down. My choice? Let words flow. Even if the words are repetitive. I just need to get the story out. Right? Then I can go back and make the words matter.

This is part of the reason I am reluctant to share excerpts from my novel in progress. Eventually I’ll move past this issue. Or maybe the second draft will only contain deliberately repetitive statements, making it worthy to post.

Outside of using a thesaurus … I need to work on vocabulary building. My characters deserve a richer language than I have to offer right now.

Anyone else have this problem? What’s the cure?

Off to listen to my Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day and Grammar Girl podcasts. Oh yeah and to read more so I can learn from those who’ve done it well.

Reading to My Children, Books They Love to Pieces …

My husband and I have been reading to our children since the womb. We would crawl into bed and choose from a stack of rhyming books to read my rounded tummy.

When my husband read he could usually illicit movement as a response, a kick or punch. Sometimes there would be a somersault or full body stretch.  One of the things I loved most about pregnancy.

Our oldest son, at birth would try to turn toward my husband’s voice because he knew it so well. It was amazing to see a swaddled baby turn his head in the direction of his Daddy’s voice.

We received a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a baby shower gift. A sing song story about the alphabet which I still have memorized to this day. Its bright colored pages took us from womb to tummy time. We would prop it up in front of him while he lay on his tummy. I would read it to him while he played in his bouncy seat.

As a toddler the book went with him everywhere as a constant companion; it was always under his arm. He carried it to and from the sitters. We eventually had to buy a copy to keep at her place. He carried it to Grandma’s house. He held on his lap during car rides. We had to read it every night at bedtime. This is how he learned his alphabet.

Here’s his third (well worn-well read) copy:

We had to buy our youngest son his own copy to destroy. And since we’d changed sitters we had to buy a new copy for her daycare library. So we’ve paid retail for this book at least 6 times, I’ve lost count. Crazy? No.

Reading to our boys is a joy, not just for them but for us as well. They still find comfort in hearing the sound of our voices as we experience new or favorite stories together. It’s humbling really.

It’s not just reading the words but finding ways to make the words come alive for them. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is more fun if it’s read (or recited in my case) with drama. Reading out loud is like performance art (think Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam). Reading is NOT boring and I want my boys to understand that. When my oldest says, “I can see it playing like a movie in my head,” I know we’ve done our best by the author’s words.

Transitioning from rhyming books to picture books and now chapter books has been a wonderful journey. Watching my oldest read to my youngest fills me with a sense of pride and peace.

Here’s what on their bookshelf right now …

I love it when they laugh at the funny parts. I am thankful when they are empathetic to characters’ embarrassments, disappointments, and triumphs. Their comprehension is evident when I hear them tell the storyline to others.

We are reading, The Genius Files:  Mission Unstoppable, which I feel is too mature for them. But it just means we can have conversation to unlock the mystery of what they don’t know.

No matter what … my boys understand that words have power. And they love a good story. They know good stories are meant to be shared through voices of love.

What about you? … What are the books from your childhood that fell apart because you read them so much? Is there a book that you always have a copy of on your bookshelf?

Joint Venture: Summer Reading Tips from Raymond Bean, Award-winning Author

Summer Reading Tips

I read the jotter’s joint post on summer reading from May 10, 2012, and it resonated with me.  Gail recommended one of my books, which won me over immediately, but it was the message in the post that I connected with as a father, teacher, and writer.  She expressed many of the complexities parents encounter when attempting to spark the love of reading in their children.  Summer reading can be especially daunting.

If you’re like many proactive and dedicated parents you’re stressing out a bit about summer reading.  Creating a summer reading routine that works for you and your child is multifaceted.  You want your young reader to WANT to read, initiate trips to the library, and seek out new books for that new digital reader you bought him.  You envision him snuggled up on a rainy, July day with a classic, perhaps a favorite book from your childhood (insert title of your choice here).  He wants to play XBOX 360.

I’ve taught elementary school for fourteen years and every year around this time parents begin to ask about summer reading.  I’ve put together a list of a few strategies that I’ve found helpful over the years.  Full disclosure, last summer I struggled with my then nine-year-old son over his reading, but that’s another story entirely.  Like Gail, I was attempting to help him learn to appreciate and read chapter length books independently.  I had a long list of books I was sure he’d love because I love them.  It turned out that I had just that, a list of books that I love.  Without meaning to, my son taught me that my job wasn’t to help him love my favorites, but to help him find favorites of his own.

We all know that there’s no perfect strategy or plan to help your kids with summer reading, but you’d better have one or it will be the last week of August before you can say, “Where’d you put your summer reading log?”

  1. Be Flexible:  Don’t push a book on your child.  The more you push it, the more he’ll find reasons to dislike it.  You may not love the book he’s reading, but it’s not about you.  I bet he doesn’t want to read the book you’re reading.
  2. Search Smart:  Try searching for new titles on sites like Amazon.  Start by having him type the title of a book he already read and liked.  For example, type in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Then scroll down to the “frequently bought together” category.  Books will naturally “pair” with similar titles.  If he likes book x there’s a good chance he’ll like book y.  Most books have a “Look Inside” feature.  Use this to your advantage to weed out clunkers and minimize the chances of him selecting a book he doesn’t like.  Read a few pages before making a decision.
  3. Set Goals:  I’m not a fan of time based reading goals.  Many kids simply wait out the clock and ask, “Am I done yet?”  Instead experiment with page based goals.  Consider the number of total pages in the book.  Work with your child to decide on a manageable number of pages to be read per day.  Don’t go nuts!  Help your child set reasonable and achievable daily goals.  Once daily goals are set, determine a completion date for the book.  This strategy will help your child read more, and also provide experience planning, setting, and meeting goals.
  4. Read:  Practice what you preach!  Don’t tell your child it’s time to read and park yourself in front of the computer or text your friends.  Reading with your child when he’s making the transition to chapter length books is extremely valuable.  Join in on the fun, and share the book.  If he’d rather read alone, read near him.  Snuggle up on the couch or at least in the same room, and read something you like.  Have a reading goal of your own, and share it with your child.

Last summer was the summer my son transitioned to chapter books.  Thankfully he’s found many favorites of his own and read extensively this year.  Lately he’s after me to read titles that he loves, and I haven’t had a chance to read yet.  What a difference a year makes!  Thanks to Jotter’s Joint for inviting me to stop by.  Please post strategies that have worked for you in the comments section.  Happy summer reading.

Read, Write, Laugh,

Raymond Bean

www.raymondbean.com

raymondbeanbooks@gmail.com

From the Jotter’s Joint, I extend a special thank you to Ray for sharing his insights on reaching reluctant readers.

I also want to say a personal thank you to Ray for his Sweet Farts Series which has made chapter book lovers out of my boys.

Please take the time to check out Ray’s website and blog.If you’re looking for summer books for your kids, Sweet Farts may be the right fit. My boys vocabulary for describing bodily functions has grown but at least I know they’re paying attention.

Happy Summer Reading,

Gail

Kindergarten Lessons: Hooked on Ebonics?

The book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is celebrating its 15th anniversary. I have yet to read the book but often hear it quoted in motivational speeches or leadership training. The quotes are always good and so the book is on my “to read” list.

For me though, one of the best lessons I learned was not in kindergarten but rather in the sixth grade. However, the lesson was taught to me by a friend I met in kindergarten. Our academic careers took us K through 12 together and I am fortunate enough to still be in touch with her.

The lesson is invaluable.

B:  Do you want to come to my sleepover?
Me:  Sure but I have to ask my mom. [Note:  ask = ax]
B:  You what?
Me:  I have to ask my mom. [Note:  still ask = ax]
B:  Why is she going to chop down a tree?
Me:  What?
B:  There’s an “s” in it. It’s not ax, it’s ask. Axes are for chopping down trees.

Sadly, I hadn’t noticed all those long years that I was saying it wrong. I was mortified. I remember going home and practicing in front of the mirror; watching the shape of my mouth and the movement of my tongue so I could see the difference and break the cycle.

It wasn’t just about making it sound right but it was about breaking a habit of saying it wrong every time I used it. Practicing in the mirror helped create a trigger even for the times when I wasn’t staring at myself and feeling small because I had been clueless for so long.

That’s not the only word I found myself standing in front of the mirror over. That’s the year I learned to read out loud so I could learn how to correctly pronounce words. Sounding out the unfamiliar. That’s the year I learned to use the dictionary to see the syllables for the purpose of phonics. I never wanted to be in the situation again where someone needed to correct me. But, sad to say it wasn’t the last time (my tenth grade English teacher introduced me to the term ebonics but that’s another story for another time).

If it helps put things in perspective … when it came time for reading in school, I started out in the lowest level for my grade. I had to work my way up. I was an avid reader by the time I reached the sixth grade. I was reading and comprehending at the ninth and tenth grade level. But apparently that didn’t translate to my verbal communication skills.

So today … I am hypersensitive to certain words, I’ll just name a few:

  • Incorrect use of the verb “to be”
  • Ask = Ax
  • Mine = Mines [showing ownership]
  • Folks = Fokes

My youngest says “mines” and I am working on him. But you can understand the challenge coming from a 5 year old.

There are adults who didn’t have a kindergarten friend who loved them enough or cared enough about them to give them the same feedback. Surprisingly, I interact with professionals who haven’t mastered the lesson I learned in sixth grade.

  • Professionals who give presentations to large audiences.
  • Professionals whose jobs fall in a communication or training discipline yet they misspell, mispronounce or misuse forms of words.
  • Professionals who are educated i.e. undergrad, post graduate and doctorates.

I haven’t quite figured out how to tell some of these adults in my life of their errors. Are they too set in their ways to change now? At 12, I was still impressionable; willing and able to change. Would it work out in adult learning? I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions for ways to share the same feedback in a loving way. If you have any ideas, pass them along.

If it hadn’t been for this friend, I’d be among their ranks:  “I be axing away in the mines with these fokes”. Unaware of my faux pa … Tragic.

Call my sixth grade friend’s feedback a form of care for me or call it the carefree nature of youth (that she would say whatever was on her mind). Whatever you call it, what a great service she provided me that day by telling me the truth.

So, from the kindergarten class favorite with pierced ears to the kindergarten class favorite without pierced ears – you know who you are – Thank you for not letting me become a statistic of poor language skills.