Thursday, October 11, 2012

Escaping One's Own Shadow

Here's another guest post from Kristen Murray at Temple University:

The New York Times Opinionator Blog has an interesting piece called Escaping One’s Own Shadow, in which writer Michael Erard discusses “structural priming,” through which “your brain’s activity in one part of the day shapes it in another, especially when it comes to creating sentences.” The piece offers advice about writing across different contexts, genres, and styles:

"Each time you sit down to write, you should cleanse your linguistic palate by reading some things that are vastly unlike what you’ve been writing. I like to page through Virginia Tufte’s 'Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style,' which is a catalog of the flexibility of the English sentence. As a warm-up activity, you might try actively imitating a writing style different from your own. It’s hard to do and highly unpriming.

"Also, it’s imperative that you shut off the Web and don’t look at e-mail while you’re writing. Each time you look at Facebook or Twitter, you get primed with another kind of language, whether it’s your friends’ or your own. But maybe you want to write like you tweet. In that case, prime away."

I’m now thinking about how the concept of priming affects my own writing (articles, emails, tweets, blog posts, and so on) and how I might introduce the concept to my students. (Credit to my colleague Ellie Margolis, who passed the link along to me.)


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