Notes

Writers write, so this is our blog.

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    What Gord Downie Can Teach Us About Writing

    You may or may not be a Tragically Hip fan. No matter. Let’s set that aside. In fact, let’s set their music aside completely – along with the shattering fact that Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. Instead, let’s take a look at the structure of their song lyrics.

    Downie’s words exemplify a reality about writing: for a piece to startle and stick, it needs to combine vivid and captivating concrete images with swirling and electrifying abstractions. Hit the listener/reader with too much material detail and you bore them. Drown them in abstract language not anchored in reality and the meaning disappears.

    Either way, the writing won’t be memorable.

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    Sport, Culture and Star Power: Hockey vs. Baseball

    In the negotiations before Sumner & Lang was founded, Karen made it clear that being a Blue Jays fan was a precondition of employment here. So from the time of our first writing gig, I’ve been making up for a lifetime spent following hockey by getting in as much baseball fan time as I can. Now, three years later, I devote the bulk of my sports attention to baseball.

    Along the way, I went through a series of adjustments as I learned how to watch and appreciate baseball. Near the top of the list was trying to understand how stars in hockey and stars in baseball are similar and different.

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    Why We Will Never Have Advertising On Our Website

    Aside from our website’s role to explain who we are and provide a portfolio of our work – which is a form of advertising – we will never place ads on our pages.

    For example, we could design our blog around making money. We could have topics like coffee and write about all the intricacies of the brew – even tell a daily coffee story – while providing clickable banner ads or hyperlinks to coffee makers we endorse. Since some topics we like to write about include sports and technology, it would be easy to go clickable.

    Internet gurus share all the tactics we’re supposed to employ in today’s online market economy to boost our earnings. But we never will.

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    Karen’s Identity Experiment: The iPod On Shuffle

    One of the few tech gadgets I own is an iPod Mini of some obscure generation. It lives in my car and I only use it there. Being neither an Apple aficionado nor musically intelligent, I don’t add to it a lot. Plus, I lost most of the content of my iTunes library a few years ago when I switched laptops and mangled the transfer. The next time I synced my iPod, it divested itself of a lot of music I had collected over the years.

    All of this to say – I’m not particularly musical, but my son and I listen to my iPod in the car on the daily drives to and from school. Which means he has heard a lot of what he calls old timey music over the years.

    I do seem to have a lot of old timey music.

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    A Background in Education Makes Us Better Writers

    For fifteen years, we worked in a leading independent school that takes educational research seriously. That means keeping on top of the continual flow of new information in areas such as how memory works, the role of emotion in learning, how to help students develop perseverance and resilience, and so on.

    Spending so much time within a context that values research taught us a lot about how to connect to others through language. To be good teachers and effective school leaders, we had to help students understand how they learn, write documents to support their learning, and stay abreast of the research.

    Here are 5 insights we gathered as educators that make us better writers:

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    Writing at the Limits

    John Dewey, an Olympic athlete and my capacity for writing walk into a bar.

    Dewey is the bespectacled and revered American philosopher who argued that the primary focus of human experience is learning: adaptation as an end in itself.

    Rather than having some big shiny goal at the end of it all that makes living worthwhile, like self-actualization, Dewey felt that meaning comes from fulfilling our innate need and ability to improve and evolve.

    That’s where the Olympic athlete comes in.

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