Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Word Like a Fire

My students often get discouraged in their writing endeavors (usually because of grades they consider to be second-rate), but I try to persuade them to look beyond a letter grade to the features in their writing that throw a light on their true talent – features like the powers residing in single words. If an essay receives a C because of assorted problems, it still, most likely, has some phrases, even specific words, that seem to glow when you read them. Even the student who regularly struggles with organization and clarity can sometimes set down words that work like small fires in an otherwise perplexing piece of writing. I try to point out to the students the special words in their essays – the ones I come upon like lights on dark trails – and convince them that just a few of those strangely stunning words can win over a reader. No doubt some students will still receive Cs on their essays, but perhaps the presence, now and then, of a word like a fire will help them hold fast to the thought that a few compelling words can cause an essay to glow a little, if only like a small and hesitant flame.

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