Writing about writing—by the Write Source staff

Lester Smith is a Writer/Technologist at Sebranek, Inc., parent company of Write Source. He is a 1989 graduate of Illinois State University with a BA in English, Magna cum laude, Honors in English, University Honors Scholar, and with a minor in Spanish. In 1985, while pursuing his degree, he began working as a writer and editor for Game Designers’ Workshop in Normal, Illinois, which led to a design position with TSR (publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons® game) in 1991. He joined the staff of Sebranek, Inc. in 1998 as an assistant writer and was soon assigned Webmaster duties as well. In 2000 he led the creation of the company’s e-Publishing Department. Currently he maintains the company’s Websites and podcasts, troubleshoots technology issues, and contributes as a writer and editor to various projects. In his spare time, he is president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

Teaching to the Template

In my early childhood, I was under the impression that “people are people.” I assumed one template for everyone, thinking that some individuals merely tried harder than others. (That made bullies, in particular, difficult to understand.) (more…)

Equal Is as Equal Does

Back in the early nineties, I taught English 101 for college freshmen for a couple of years. Besides covering the basics of composition and introducing students to the university library, English 101 was also supposed to present certain common topics of “scholarly discourse”—including gender issues and racial equality. (more…)

Plagiarism, Copyright, and the Information Age

Recently I met a young man who worked his way through college by cranking out research papers for an online term-paper store. The company sells “model” research papers, many made to order, so my young acquaintance might find himself writing about quantum mechanics one week and Stalin’s concentration camps the next. The job gave him lots of practice writing on short deadlines. He also picked up quite a bit of knowledge in many different fields. And of course, he got paid for helping someone else with more money than skill or discipline pass a course at some college.

He contributed to plagiarism, right? (more…)

Why We Pick on the Weak

(Reprinted by permission from www.LesterSmith.com.)

Bullying is a fairly common topic in education nowadays. Frightened by the events at Columbine and such, many schools have set a zero-tolerance policy. The US Department of Health and Human Services has a Web site devoted to prevention of bullying. Experts from law enforcement and social work offer advice on how to deal with the problem.

That’s all great. I support it enthusiastically.

My purpose here, however, is to focus on “social bullying,” the threat of exclusion from a group, and ask, “What is it about human beings that leads them, within a social setting, to pick on the weak?”

(more…)

Get Down in the Muck

I have a confession to make.

The main reason I’m by nature a poet rather than a fiction writer is that I just can’t stand the day-in/day-out slog at one long project. My moods swing too often from self-confidence-bordering-on-foolhardiness to despair-at-ever-amounting-to-anything. On good days, I feel a genius in my words; on bad days, it’s all just so much dust. Undoubtedly I take myself too seriously, but on the other hand, Zen placidity produces little art, and certainly none of any length. So I devote myself to verse, to blog entries, to Twitter posts, and to writing or editing chapters in instructional materials. I’ve learned that these are the tasks I can wrap my head around and produce some writing. (more…)

15 Seconds of Fame

“In the future,” Andy Warhol said, “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” We’ve all chuckled at the cynicism of this witticism about the fleeting nature of fame. But I’d suggest that Warhol saw only the empty shoreline of an ocean of possibility behind that statement. In focusing on the fickleness of public attention, his truism misses the wealth of a new “ambient awareness.” (more…)

Cacophony and Reticence

Sometimes in his excitement at performing tricks, my little Chihuahua forgets how to speak. His mouth opens, but no sound comes out. The tension is just too great. I have to command him to “hush” so that he can find his bark.

Often I feel something similar in sitting down to write. Given the cacophony of voices competing for attention, the bookshelves already full of texts, and the explosion of words and images that is the Internet, what could any individual have to add of any worth? (more…)

What is the purpose of school?

Obviously, school is intended to prepare students for life. But what do we mean by that? On the one hand, we mean that it provides students with the necessary skills to gain a career after graduation and become productive members of society. On the other hand, the teachers most of us remember long after our own schooling are those who encouraged our individuality. (more…)

Another Gift of the Magi

One of my daughters is working with the Boys and Girls Club’s SPARK program in Milwaukee, which helps struggling readers age six to nine to reach proficiency at their grade level. Many of these children have every reason to fail: For some, their only daily meal is at school; for others, their home is contaminated with lead; and crime is evident throughout their neighborhoods. (more…)

If It Ain’t Baroque…

Last weekend my wife and I finished watching the latest of The Librarian TV movies. The protagonist is a bespectacled thirty-something bookworm with scores of university degrees who finds himself employed as the secret guardian of an untold number of legendary objects. Part of the job involves adventuring across the globe to recover items that aren’t yet safely ensconced in that collection. Frequently, his survival depends upon esoteric bits of knowledge he gained during his many years of school, and part of the character’s charm is the delighted manner in which he spills forth details about a particular plant or architectural feature or ancient language or whatnot. Not that the villains appreciate that, of course. I had to chuckle when in this most recent episode, one of the antagonists suddenly erupted, “Must you always speak in whole paragraphs!” (more…)