The style often used in composing texts, tweets and e-mails is taking a toll on the communication skills of young writers, says one concerned University of Central Florida instructor who created a summer camp to instill principles of good writing in middle- and high-school students.
Terry Ann Thaxton, an associate professor in the English department, doesn’t blame computers and technology, but rather the new communication techniques that make it easy to shortchange precise and lively writing.
“Computers have brought writing more to the foreground,” she said. “Communication is part of being human, but social-media writing is taking out all the imaginative threads, all the description, all the interesting parts of language.”
Thaxton has taught at UCF since 2000, and also interacts with public school children during the year through The Literary Arts Partnership at UCF that she founded 10 years ago. The partnership offers free storytelling and poetry workshops to underserved children, youth and adults in Central Florida.
She said that when she first started offering the writing workshops she noticed that many of the children didn’t have an imagination, so they just gave up trying to write creatively.
“We had to show them how to pretend,” she said. Learning how to write creatively helps enhance an author’s literacy, attitude, character and self-awareness, which also benefits the community, she said.
Thaxton organized the July 9-13 writing camp at UCF after receiving requests from parents and seeing firsthand the increasing need for young writers to improve their skills.
“Also what I’ve noticed in the classrooms in public schools is that teachers are pressured into having high scores on the FCAT, so they focus on teaching just those skills but not the ‘meat’ of writing,” she said. “Creative writing allows students to draw from the raw materials of their life and be imaginative. You need your imagination for writing everything from journalism to a memo for your boss.”
And what are some simple tips to improve writing?
For starters, Thaxton said, tighten up sentences, don’t rely on spellchecking, and reduce reliance on adverbs.
“Many writers overuse adverbs by using one for every verb,” she said. “If you’re using too many of them, you’re probably not using the right verb.”
The summer writing camp will have morning and afternoon sessions at UCF Continuing Education, 12565 Research Parkway, Suite 390.
The morning session (9 to 11 a.m.) will study the basic structure of a screenplay as a starting point for writing stories and short scripts.
The afternoon session (1:30 to 3:30 p.m.) will focus on writing as an act of imagination, and memory as a source of ideas for creative nonfiction.
The fee for each session is $100, or both for $175. For more information or to register, go to http://ce.ucf.edu/creative. The deadline to register is July 5.
Proceeds will go toward supplies for The Literary Arts Partnership’s free writing workshops during the year at public schools, foster homes, community centers, residential treatment facilities, shelters, prisons, and assisted living facilities.