Monday, December 29, 2014

Recorded Webinars Available at Online Compliance Panel

  In 2014, I recorded four webinars with Online Compliance Panel, a web-based information exchange forum. The recordings of those programs are available at its website:

These webinars are inexpensive investments for cultivating your writing skills. You can write Phil Vassallo with questions about them. All the best with your writing!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A New Association, A New Webinar

I am pleased to begin an association with Audio Solutionz, a web-based training firm, which will present my webinar Business Writing for Financial Professionals on January 14, with others to follow.

The webinar is divided in four parts. The first focuses on creating a solid structure with helpful formatting devices. The second part looks at emphasizing key points through solid paragraphing and highlighting the relevance of data by transitions. Part three gets down to the sentence level, offering useful editing tips for fluency and clarity. The program concludes with helpful suggestions on word choice. The examples come from the banking world, but any business writer is likely to learn something of value at this event.

To enroll, click here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Writing Tips from Master Writers

The Gotham Writers website has a nice page of writing tips from more than 20 master writers. Many of them are inspirational: P. D. James says,  "Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to writershowever happy, however tragicis ever wasted." Some are revelatory: Kurt Vonnegut says, "Start as close to the end as possible," and Jack Kerouac says, "Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition." Others are challenging: Elmore Leonard recommends, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." Some are practical: Zadie Smith tells us to, "Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it," and Annie Proulx says, "Develop craftsmanship through years of wide reading." Still others are hypocritical: one of my favorite authors, George Orwell, says in 13 words, "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out," when he could have said it in 8 ("If you can cut a word, then do") or even 3 ("Cut needless words"). 

Happy reading!

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 10: Write to Perfect the Message

Proofreading concludes the Reading-Writing Continuum, the model that the underscores the inextricable connection between reading and writing. In this final moment of the process, we correct the errors that we detected during a final review of the draft.

I never tell people who find writing so hard that it is natural or easy; writing is a challenge, one that I enjoy but that many do not. Understanding the Reading-Writing Continuum will help writers employ a workable system as they develop their skills. We should write a lot to become good or better writers, but we also must read a lot to become excellent ones.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 9: Read to Find Overlooked Mistakes

In the Reading-Writing Continuum, our message has gone through a lot: planning (steps 1, 2 and 3), drafting (step 4), revising (steps 5 and 6), and editing (steps 7 and 8). We have checked our writing for content structure, clarity, conciseness, grammar, and punctuation. But in the process of making a revision here and an edit there, we might have created new mistakes, so it's now time to read for overlooked mistakes.

We would not want to depend solely on spell-check to catch all these mistakes, as some of them have nothing to do with language but with uniformity of spacing within and among sections, consistency of alignment and color, and accuracy of numbers. Yet some errors may relate to language, such as spelling of names and wrong words that pass spell-check.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 8: Write to Sharpen the Style

Editing begins in Step 7 of the Reading-Writing Continuum by reading a revised draft aloud for fluency, clarity, conciseness, and correctness. 

We are now at the sentence level and the word level, which call for an understanding of style, a focus on key ideas, an attention to sentence branches, an effective use of voice, and a check of grammar and punctuation issues, among many other factors.

Editing too soon can be a waste of time, especially when we have not decided on the content to include and the way to organize it. Thus, we edit after drafting and revising.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 7: Read to Make Sense of the Draft

Now that you have completed Step 6 of the Reading-Writing Continuum, the ideas of your document should be where they need to be. You have covered revising at the document and paragraph levels, so it's time to go back to reading for editing at the sentence and word levels.

This step requires reading aloud for several issues:

  • fluency  If you stumble over your words, you probably have an awkward sentence on your hands. Sentences can be too short (choppy) or too long (convoluted).
  • clarity  If you lose your train of thought, so will your reader. 
  • conciseness – If you can make the point with repeated or unnecessary words and phrases, your point will shine more brightly.
  • correctness – If you are in doubt about the correct grammar, word meaning, or spelling, punctuation, or capitalization rule, you should look it up in your favorite online or print resource.


Monday, November 10, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 6: Write to Focus the Ideas

Think of Step 6 in the Reading-Writing Continuum as revision: the act of looking again. You wrote the first draft for yourself; you now write the second draft for your readers to maximize clarity.

During this step, when you are working on your second draft, you are writing to focus the ideas. You will want to work on the document level, sharpening the focus on the purpose, adding necessary details, deleting unnecessary ones, and moving ideas into the right place based on the critical reading you did of your first draft during Step 5 of the Reading-Writing Continuum. While revising, you will also work on the paragraph level, ensuring each paragraph has only one idea, supporting points proceed logically, and formatting devices such as headings and bulleted or numbered lists are consistent. At this time, you might want to refer to model documents for their content and structure.

Do not stress about the sentence or word levels; they will soon follow in the concluding steps of the Reading-Writing Continuum.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Reading Writing Continuum, Step 5: Read to Assess the Content and Structure


After drafting, we must acknowledge that good writing is rewriting. There are no shortcuts.

So how do we start rewriting? By reading what we wrote: reading silently for the logic of the message (revising, step 5 of the Reading-Writing Continuum), then reading aloud for the fluency of the language (editing, step 7), and finally reading silently again for overlooked errors (proofreading, step 9). But I'm jumping ahead; let's start with revising (step 5), your first reading after completing a rough draft.


During this step, you are making a big leap. Through step 4, you have been reading and writing for yourself, to get those ideas on the screen or on paper. Now you are reading and writing for the readers, reflecting on their concerns about your ideas. You are no longer just engaged in some sort of internal monologue. You are simulating a dialogue with your readers. Let's say you wrote, "We have a problem in the production unit." At the least, you must decide whether your readers would ask the following questions:


  1. Who asked for your opinion (authorization)? 
  2. What is the problem (problem)?
  3. By what measure have you identified the problem (standard)?
  4. What is the current situation (status)?
  5. How does the problem affect the business (impact)?
  6. How did you determine the root of the problem (method)?
  7. Did any factors prevent a better analysis (limitations)?
  8. What is the root of the problem (cause)?
  9. What choices do we have to fix the problem (options)?
  10. By what measures are you comparing each option (scope)?
  11. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option (comparison)?
  12. What is the best option (recommendation)?
  13. Why is yours the best choice (benefits)?
  14. What is the next step to eliminate or alleviate the problem (plan)?

You have begun reading for completeness. The list above is by no means comprehensive, but it is a solid start. If your readers would not ask these questions, then you do not need to address them; if they would, then you do.

At this time, you will also need to read for organization. You should determine whether the ideas connect sensibly throughout the draft. I offer tips on organizing ideas in the next
WORDS ON THE LINE post, step 6 of the Reading-Writing Continuum: Write to Focus the Ideas.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Reading Writing Continuum, Step 4: Write to Draft the Ideas

Working from the organized list of ideas that you created in Steps 2 and 3, you are ready for Step 4, write to draft the ideas. When referring to a rough draft, I think of riding in an SUV, (speed, uniformity, volume). Here is what I mean:

  • Speed – Good writing requires rewriting, so the sooner you complete a rough draft, the more time you will have to improve the quality of the message.
  • Uniformity  – You will not be drafting blindly since you will be using your structured idea list, so you should find sticking to your plan easy.
  • Volume – In a rough draft, quality is not half as important as quantity. The more you write, the more you can assess.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 3: Read to Evaluate the Notes

Welcome to the 600th post of WORDS ON THE LINE, a blog I began on January 4, 2005, as a way to offer tips to on writing at work, school, and home for the more than 20,000 professionals across diverse disciplines who have attended my courses, workshops, keynote presentations, and webinars over the past three decades.

Although I refer to the Reading-Writing Continuum in steps, it truly is a seamless operation. Once we are in the composing process, we are not concerned about whether we are doing one or the other. While we can read without writing, we cannot write without reading. 

In Step 1, we generate inspiration and ideas through reading, and in Step 2, we lay down those ideas on the screen or page to recall them. Let's say in generating ideas for a proposal to purchase Product Y during Step 2, I have created the following random list:
problem
solution
benefit
cause
comparison: Product X and Y
status
impact

Now it's time to answer several questions:

1. Do I need all those ideas? I decide that the status is unnecessary because my boss knows the current situation. Now my list looks like this:
problem
solution
benefit
cause
options: Product X and Y
impact
2. Do I need new ideas? Now I choose to explain how long the problem has existed (history), how I did my research (method), and a comparative analysis of the options (comparison). So my list changes:
problem
solution
benefit
cause
options: Product X and Y
comparison: Product X and Y 
impact
history 
method 
3. Should I combine ideas? At this point, I realize that the problem, history, and impact go together, and so do the solution and benefit. Also, the options and comparison seem repetitive. This is the new list:
problem, history, impact
solution, benefit
cause
comparison: Product X and Y
method
4. Should I reorder those ideas? Finally, I put my list through an internal dialogue: What is the problem? What is the history of the problem? What is the impact of the problem on the business (impact)? What is the cause of the problem? What was my method for researching the solution? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option (comparison)? What is the better option (solution)? What is the benefit of the solution? Here is my final list:
problem, history, impact
cause
method
comparison: Product X and Y
solution, benefit
Now I am ready to write a draft. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 2: Write to Take Key Notes


Now that we have completed Step 1, Read to Know What to Write, we may realize that we also might have completed Step 2, Write to Take Key Notes. Doing both simultaneously may result it inefficient reading, but it is a big time-saver when writing. Taking notes benefits writers because they do not have to commit voluminous content to memory.

Here are six methods I have used to take notes for my drafts:

  • A highlighter. To capture important ideas, use a 3D highlighter for paper or an electronic version in your computer or smartphone.
  • A notebook. The old-fashioned but equally reliable way to take notes is with pen and paper. The problem here is inefficiency, as you will need more time to write notes and be more hard pressed to find the notes you're looking for without the benefit of an built-in filing system. 
  • Index Cards. Noting reading points on 3" X 5" or 4" X 6" color index cards eliminates some of the inefficiencies of a notebook, because you can use different color cards for different themes (e.g., blue for history, red for problem, yellow for options, green for benefits).
  • Stickies. Using 2" X 2" stickies for smaller writing assignments works well for adding and rearranging notes in the order you want to draft them, 
  • Voice-recognition Software. I no longer badmouth this technique, as it has improved greatly. I use it especially when I feel restricted by writing on my smartphone or when I am taking notes on the fly, such as rushing down the street. The translated text is generally at least 90 percent accurate, and it works faster than I can type.
  • Tape Recorder. I know what you're thinking: this is not writing. Nevertheless, this method works when reflecting on your reading while driving.  

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum, Step 1: Read to Know What to Write


My last post on the Reading Writing Continuum, which I have raised several times on this blog, is important enough for developing writers to discuss in greater detail. So over the next 10 posts, I'll take the Continuum step by step, starting with Step 1: Read to Know What to Write.

This point is vital for at least four reasons: overcoming inefficiencies, capturing ideas, affirming viewpoint, and honing perspective.


1. Overcoming inefficiencies. I know of nothing as powerful as reading to break though writing inefficiencies, such as writer's block, stress, labored drafting, and procrastination. Reading inspires writers to emulate the authors they read. This activity is no different from wanting to participate in a sport after seeing a favorite athlete perform at a high level. We forget our lower level of competency and compete just for the thrill of it.    


2. Capturing ideas. Some of the ideas from our reading will be noteworthy for sharing immediately or archiving for future reference. Focused reading on topics related to the writing assignment is especially helpful.


3. Affirming viewpoint. Once we read expert commentary on our topic of interest, one or two of three realizations may occur. First, we may recognize that we need to know more on the topic, so we'll have to read even more. Second, the reading may reinforce our belief about the topic with compelling new evidence. Finally, as has happened to me more often than I can remember, we may reverse our opinion, understanding that we had not thought through the topic thoroughly. This third realization, in turn, may result in one of three decisions: not to write about the topic at all, to write a more balanced piece on the topic, or to write on the topic with an entirely reversed opinion. 


4. Honing perspective. The more we read, the more we find about our topic. This discovery forces us to look for a new angle, one that other writers had not considered. Changing perspective is easier than we think, because only we can draw angles from our unique lives, whether we refer to our family experiences, working situation, or other social contexts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum Redux


Every now and then I feel compelled to raise the idea of the powerful connection between reading and writing because it comes as such a revelation to so many people. In nearly every class I teach, I say, "You become a better reader by reading a lot, but you become a better writer by writing and reading a lot."

Even many highly educated people have not reflected on this truth. I have met accountants, engineers, executives, lawyers, scientists, and professionals from many other disciplines tell me that they so strongly desire to become better writers. Yet when I ask whether they read regularly, many say no. Then it ain't gonna happen.

I have spent years teaching the writing process: plan, draft, revise, edit, and proofread. But the real process is a reading-writing one. To be a successful writer, you must read and write. A look at the accompanying graphic starting from the upper left box explains:

  1. READ to know what to write. Reading will inform, persuade, and inspire you as a writer, so read with an aim toward mining for ideas.
  2. WRITE to take key notes. While you are reading, take notes to capture ideas that you want to express.
  3. READ to evaluate your notes. Now that you have scribbled some notes, determine the best place to slip them in your draft and the best way to express them.
  4. WRITE to draft the ideas. During this phase, you are writing with a mindset of quantity, not quality, so that you will have a complete draft, if not necessarily a neat one.
  5. READ to assess content and structure. As you are revising, check for purposefulness of content; emphasis, unity, and coherence of paragraphing, consistency of format, and cohesiveness of style.
  6. WRITE to focus the ideas. As you do step 5, move, add, and delete ideas based on your reader's perspective.
  7. READ to make sense of the draft. Now that you are editing, read sentences aloud for fluency and congruity.
  8. WRITE to sharpen the style. In tandem with step 7, rewrite ambiguous, verbose, awkward, or weak phrases.
  9. READ to find overlooked mistakes. In the final proofreading stage, read not for meaning, which you have already done in step 7, but for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors.
  10. WRITE to perfect the message. You have found those mistakes in step 9, so correct them.
If you think I am complicating the writing process, consider that most purposeless, dull, unorganized, unclear, wordy, or incorrect writing results from a failure to read. Keep the Reading-Writing Continuum graphic handy the next time you need to write an important piece on the job or for publication.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Really Real and for Real, Really: Adjective-Adverb Confusion, Part 5

In addition to considering parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series on adjective-adverb confusion, we should look at certain words that can be both action verb and being verbs. They include appear, become, continue, fall, feelget, grow, lie, lookprove, remain, seem, smell, soundstand, stay, taste, and turn. Using the action-being verb test explained in part 1, we should be able to settle these tricky words.

The Action-Being Verb Test
A sure way to decide whether a verb is an action verb or a being verb is to substitute the verb with the verb to be (e.g., am, are, is, was, were, shall be, or will be). If you can substitute the verb to be, then you have a being verb; if you can’t, then you have an action verb. 


Example
Test
Answer
Result
You appear strong.
You are strongly.
Yes
being
You appear weekly.
You are weekly.
No
action
She grew tired.
She was tired.
Yes
being
She grew tomatoes.
She   was tomatoes.
No
action



Now you can easily choose adverb forms (for action verbs) or adjective forms (for being verbs):
  • You were strong in holding your grip.
  • You strongly held your grip.
  • She seems tired.
  • He works tiredly.
Questions? You can always write me at Phil@PhilVassallo.com.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Really Real and for Real, Really: Adjective-Adverb Confusion, Part 4

Earlier this year, I began a series on adjective-adverb confusion. (Click on these numbers to read parts 12, and 3.) Getting these words wrong is so common in everyday speech that we might have trouble deciding on which word form to use. For example, we often hear expressions such as "I'll see you real soon" (not the correct really) or "I'll get there quick" (not the correct quickly). It's no wonder that we struggle with knowing which word to use when writing.

Part 1 describes the way to choose the adjective form (real and quick) or the adverb form (reallyand quickly). It usually comes down to the verb used. In short, being verbs (e.g., amareiswaswerebebeingbeen) require adjective forms (e.g., you are real, she was quick), and action verbs (e.g., try,work) require adverb forms (e.g., you really try, she works quickly).

But some words function as both adjective and adverbs, so you do not have to worry about the rule. Here are some instances, all of which are correct:

  • I am alone (being verb), or, I will travel alone (action verb)
  • We are fast (being verb), or, We drive fast (action verb)
  • His work is hard (being verb), or, He works hard (action verb)
  • She was late (being verb), or, She arrived late (action verb)
  • You were silly (being verb), or, You acted silly (action verb)
Why is English such a confusing language? If you really want to know the answer to that question, you'll get more than you asked for by reading The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker. Until then, you might want to review this series on adjective-adverb confusion.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Art of On-the-Job Writing

Become a more effective and efficient writer today!

More than a technical manual of writing style and grammar, The Art of On-the-Job Writing offers a unique method for achieving workplace-writing success by offering four critical tools: the PDQ integrated writing process (planning, drafting, quality controlling); the 4S Plan for composing writing product (statement, support, structure, style); techniques to move writers from a me-focused style of essay writing to a results-oriented, us-focused business writing style and it-focused technical writing style; and the groundwork for becoming and remaining a successful on-the-job writer through inspirational, memorable, and relevant writing tips.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Art of E-mail Writing

Write e-mails: faster ... purposefully ... thoroughly ... clearly ... concisely ... correctly. Manage your e-system: filing ... attaching ... copying ... initiating ... responding ... forwarding. It’s all here in The Art of E-Mail Writing: a powerful, workable, and reliable method for:
  • jumpstarting the writing process without cluttering your mind
  • getting to the point without missing a beat
  • laying out your ideas without overloading your readers
  • keeping a fresh style without breaking the rules

Saturday, September 06, 2014

How to Write Fast Under Pressure

Anyone who regularly deals with work-related writing deadlines knows the kind of paralysis that can take over when there's too much to accomplish and not enough time to compose a clear sentence. How to Write Fast Under Pressure contains an easy, efficient, and confidence-building process for keeping up and being productive, even under tight time constraints and concentration-sapping obstacles. The book contains an immediately usable approach based on the mnemonic DASH, standing for the four critical components most needed for writers working under pressure. Filled with helpful tools and time-saving techniques, this indispensable guide reveals how anyone can break through writer's block and write faster and better.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

American Haiku

American Haiku is a collection from four decades of my work on the traditional Japanese three-line, 5-7-5- syllable poetic form. Always enamored of the haiku's demand for concision, I nevertheless break from its usual pattern by adding a fourth title line to many of the pieces in this volume. 

Readers of this work will immediately capture the essence of experience with a uniquely American perspective of angst, longing, and hope in an unstable, unpredictable world.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Like the Day I Was Born: 40 Poems, 40 Places, 40 Days

Like the Day I Was Born: 40 Poems, 40 Places, 40 Days is my first collection of poems. All of them were previously published in literary journals and websites around the world over a 20-year span.

The connection between poem and place in this volume is not always apparent. In truth, the duality of human nature is evident in our ability to have our bodies present in our environment while our mind transcends it. Thus, many of these poems see people isolated and desperate, trapped in a mechanized world and in conflict with nature or themselves. But underlying each poem is a reaffirmation of the will to live.

The book is divided into four sections of ten poems each around the themes of knowing (the marvels and limits of our knowledge), having (the things of this world we possess or desire), doing (our daily interactions with our work), and being (our reflective moments). I wrote each in a different location from age 19 to 39. Therefore, my hope for this collection is that it reinforces what I write in the preface: Poetry is. Everywhere. Always. 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Questions Asked of Dying Dreams

Questions Asked of Dying Dreams adds up to a rousing maiden voyage for new playwright Vassallo and a challenging and enjoyable evening of theater. … Cynical, sarcastic, funny, or angry, all four playlets are insightful and engaging—no mean feat—and each takes a hard look at life, their characters always questioning its meaning.” — Bob Coyne, Asbury Park Press

Since I was a college student, I have seen writing as a dialogue, not a monologue. For this reason, I am not surprised that my way into creative writing of any sort is through dramatic scripts. Whether they are talking points in a guidance memo or a play for professional production, dialogues have always rung in my ear as a real way of communicating ideas, beliefs, and actions.

My attention to the way we speak to each other paid off when my first group of short plays, Questions Asked of Dying Dreams, led to my first staged show in New Jersey, followed by a New York premiere, as well as a playwriting fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Questions Asked of Dying Dreams, a collection of four related one-act plays, looks at unanswerable questions we often ask ourselves, questions that inspire and disappoint us but ultimately keep us alive, whether in personal or business relationships:
  •    “What Do You Charge for a Cure?” (35 minutes), concerns a director of a clinical program for who confronts her professional and personal doubts as she deals with one of her clients and a new intake.
  •    “How Silent Do I Sound?” (15 minutes), is about a bigoted, aging moving man who unexpectedly meets his new coworker and his own destiny.
  •    “Do I Bleed in the Dark” (25 minutes), looks at a homeless ex-boxer who has a final chance to make something meaningful of his life in his dying moments.
  •    “Isn’t This the Way You Wanted Me?” (25 minutes), focuses on an embittered, frustrated wife who reassesses her marriage and life in light of her husband’s remarkable transformation.

People who have seen or read these plays have talked about their interesting blend of comedy and drama that energize these stories.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Person to Person: Essays from Two Centuries

One of the joys of writing is the opportunity it affords the writer to reflect on anything in his experience. That fact rings true in the case of Person to Person: Essays from Two Centuries, a collection of 26 essays on my abiding passions as an educator, poet, and playwright. The book focuses on theater, communication, society, literature, film, education, and sports. Often, I find links among these divergent interests.

This 172-page collection spans the last decade of the twentieth century and first decade of the twenty-first, when I worked as a reporter, columnist, professor, and artist for diverse organizations in the New York metropolitan area. In this volume, my second collection of essays (The first is The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy), I write on a wide range of issues, including race relations, eating disorders, childcare, criminal law, school choice, the environment, cinema, playwriting, and literary biography. Twenty-two of the essays previously appeared in literary journals (The Sewanee Review), political bulletins (Cato Institute) scholarly periodicals (Et Cetera, Exit 9: Theory and Politics, Institute for Critical Thinking Conference), and trade publications (The Dramatist, Teaching English in the Two-Year College), newspapers (New Jersey Family, Home News Tribune, Rutgers Review), and e-zines (Cyber Oasis, Decathlon 2000, Education News, Srishti).

Two of the essays are looks at the writer’s life. Two are technical reflections on language. Six are on education issues ranging from contexts of history, film, school choice, corporate training versus traditional classroom teaching, the politics of textbook publishing, and critical theory. Three are appreciations of Robert Penn Warren and Tennessee Williams. Two are on the athletics discipline of the decathlon. Six are on social issues such as multiculturalism, child molestation laws, eating disorders, upward mobility, cultural reproduction and resistance. Finally, five are book reviews of On Dialogue by David Bohm, A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown, Dialogue: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation by Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard, Fatal Flight by Natalino Fenech, Genesis by Emanuel di Pasquale, Dialogue and theArt of Thinking Together by William Isaacs The Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele, and The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation by Daniel Yankelovich.

The line of thought in this book varies as broadly as the interests, and the conclusions can be surprising. In any event, reading Person to Person is like reading a part of me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy

One question aspiring authors frequently ask me is, "How do I get started in the writing business?" After stating the obvious answer, "By writing," I might go deeper by explaining what other established writers did on their way from obscurity to fame and acclaim: "Start small." Many novelists started as short story writers and either collected their published stories as a volume or expanded one or more of those stories into a larger literary work. Writers of any type do the same. Playwrights often begin with short plays leading to full-length ones, poets with a diverse batch of published poems that they shape into a book-length collection, and essayists with a single 1,500-word article on a subject they later master, leading to a comprehensive treatment in a 75,000-word study. Starting small minimizes the risk of wasting huge chunks of times on a potentially abandoned project, mitigates the pain of receiving countless rejections from publishers, and hastens the gratification of completing a project.

The next question I might hear is, "But even starting small, where do I start?" The temptation is to give the curt answer: "Start by writing what you know." Instead, I say, "Start with what you have already written." By reviewing past writing, the novice becomes an instant editor, reviewing a manuscript for quality just as a professional editor would.

Starting small and using what I had were the case with my book The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy. This book is a collection of 17 essays, 7 of which appeared in various literary and scholarly print and online journals, and 4 more of which appeared in publications after the book release. I wrote some of these essays in response to my eclectic reading, some as presentations for professional conferences, and even some as homework assignments when in a doctoral program. None of my work went to waste, especially when I saw a pattern emerge among these pieces.

The common bond of these essays is my passion for education, writing, and philosophy. The first essay, the prologue, titled "Reflections of the Inner Voice," describes how writers and writing teachers might integrate their reading and living experiences to realize their inner voice. The first section, "Foundations," collects 11 essays on great ideas from Western educational philosophy, including works of Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Vico, Hume, Kant, DiderotRousseau, Dewey, KierkegaardNietzsche, Dostoevsky, Camus, and Sartre. This part provides new writers and writing teachers with a basis from which they may ground their learning and teaching strategies. The middle section, "Considerations," offers 2 more essays as a means of assessing the writing and teaching profession. The final section, "Applications," includes 3 practical approaches for the writing teacher: in integrating the personal and the professional, and in dealing with administrators, and in teaching students. 

Writing students and teachers, developing writers, and armchair philosophers will find some of their own ideas in this book--and they'll be sure to discover an idea or two along the way. So write what you know and start with what you have.