Saturday, January 27, 2007

LitLife: A Good Resource for Parents and Teachers

Since many readers of this blog—especially parents—expressed appreciation for my recent review of an excellent book about encouraging children to write, I thought I’d offer another helpful resource for parents and teachers of young writers. (For the link to that book review, click here:

My friend Kristie Breed, a master elementary language arts teacher, recently referred me to the website of an interesting company called LitLife ( Dedicated to guiding and supporting the teaching of reading and writing, LitLife has made its presence in numerous schools by providing curricula and materials and well as delivering instruction to literacy teachers. If you visit, I would recommend you to browse the “Lessons and Suggestions” tab. It lists instructional units and lessons, recommended children’s books, and grammar tips. Contacting LitLife directly (click “Ask Pam”) also may be a good idea for involved parents.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Friday, January 26, 2007

Cheating? No, Crafting!

In The Art of On-the-Job Writing, I describe six techniques for overcoming writer’s block. The first, using boilerplate, enocurages writers to jumpstart the composition process not by obsessing over perfect phrasing but by using previously documented expressions—regardless of how trite they may seem. They can return later to the first draft and edit the tired phrases.

Leo Rockas’s A Creative Copybook (D.C. Heath and Company, 1989) even suggests copying entire passages to create an organic connection between your thought process and your linguistic expressions. He writes:

Don’t lose one second wondering how to start; just start copying. Once you’ve begun, your pen flows, the ideas begin coming from you don’t know where. If your own ideas don’t come right away, just keep copying. Copying to keep in practice, copying as a beginning to creating, copying until creating, copying while creating—these techniques are as old as writing itself. As you copy, magically you begin to create.

By no means does Rockas—or I, for that matter—endorse plagiarizing. He does encourage, however, using the writing process to get things going. I would agree that to speed up matters, we should distinguish between the phases of the composing process: the creative phase, which concerns only the writer at work, and the critical phase, which ends in the final product that our readers see.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Trip to Science, a Tip for Scientists

At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory last week (, I had the great pleasure and privilege of working with brilliant international post-doctoral scientists and graduate students whose research interests lie in the challenging fields of cancer, neuroscience, plant genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics. Much of their writing is necessarily laden with passive descriptions of methodology, objective analyses of results, and detached statements of conclusion—hallmarks of the disinterested scientist.

Despite living in such an empirical world, these scientists realize that they must write convincingly for a successful funding proposal. To ground them on the difference between writing objectively and persuasively, I explained that the significance of the grant application appears not in the content language (the hard data) but in the context language (the interpretive expressions).

Much easier said than done? You bet. The content is the unchangeable, factual information; the context is the dynamic commentary that makes or breaks the writer. On the positive side, the context language could make writers appear insightful, focused, concerned, and credible; on the negative side, it could make them seem inobservant, careless, hyperbolic, or incredulous. A lot is at stake here.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Friday, January 12, 2007

An Essential Guide for Parents, Students, and Teachers

BOOK REVIEW: Encouraging Your Child’s Writing Talent by Nancy Peterson. Waco: Prufrock Press, 2006. 161 pp. $14.95. Paper.

The question pops up frequently in my writing classes: “Phil, would you recommend a book I can read to help my child become a better writer?” My answer is always, “Yes,” but rarely is it “You must start with this book.”

Until now. Nancy Peterson’s Encouraging Your Child’s Writing Talent is a quick read, chock full of valuable information and eye-opening insights. In five quick chapters replete with illustrations, reference lists, and penetrating insights, and practical advice, Peterson manages to provide an excellent primer for parents of beginning elementary-age writers as well as useful material for the classroom composition teacher. Just a glimpse of the chapter titles should suffice in convincing a parent or teacher that the book is worth a look: Your Child—A Writer, What Your Child Needs as a WriterWorking with the School to Encourage Your Child as a Writer, What You Can Do at Home for Your Gifted Writer, and Enrichment Resources for Your Young Writer. Better yet, the author comes through on what she promises to deliver.

Peterson’s conclusion cleverly describes helping children “take off” as writers by borrowing from the Wright Brothers’ three-stage approach to flight: lift, control, propulsion—inspire them, hone their skills, and keep them energized. Undoubtedly, this metaphor relates to adult writers as well.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Friday, January 05, 2007

Webcast: How To Write a Darn Good E-Mail

On October 6, 2006, I had the great pleasure of presenting a webcast with Richard Bradley, Faculty Practitioner of the American Management Association (AMA), titled How To Write a Darn Good E-Mail.

The premise of the 45-minute program was that e-mail presents numerous opportunities—as well as challenges—for employees to deliver their organization’s message. Richard and I covered several key points to help you maximize your e-communication skills:
  • getting started quickly
  • writing attention-getting subject lines, openings, and closings
  • creating clear, concise e-mail that gets results
  • maintaining a professional tone
  • polishing your e-mail to perfection

I assure you: checking out this free webcast from your home or office is time well spent. Here’s the link to the webcast:

We also previewed the new, exciting one-day seminar, AMA’s e-Communications Workshop, which I designed for the organization. It’s a great course because of its interactive, high-tech approach to training. There’s no other workshop like it. Here is the link to the seminar:

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: