14 - Optional Interview with Writing Coach Daphne Gray-Grant

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 14

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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14 - Optional Interview with Writing Coach Daphne Gray-Grant

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Daphne Gray-Grant grew up in the newspaper business.

Her father owned a struggling weekly paper in Vancouver, Canada.

While going to high school and college,

she worked there until she graduated and for a few more years.

Then, she became a senior editor at

a large metropolitan daily where she worked for about eight years.

Following that, she became pregnant with triplets,

and decided she still didn’t have nearly enough work.

She wanted to be self-employed.

So, the Publication Coach was born.

Interestingly, Daphne says that she struggled

with writers block during all of her years of newspapering,

and didn’t address the problem until she started her own business.

She’s also the author of the popular book,

Eight and a Half Steps to Writing Faster, Better.

Through her website, www.publicationcoach.com,

she offers the weekly newsletter power writing.

It’s weekly, brief, and best of all, it’s free.

I’ve been a subscriber for years myself,

and I encourage you to sign up as well.

Meanwhile, it’s my great pleasure to welcome Daphne here today.

Daphne, you’re a professional writing coach.

Tell me about your own past struggles with writer’s block.

Well, you know, the interesting thing for me is that I struggled enormously with writing,

even when I was a professional reporter at a daily newspaper.

Now, you might think how can someone who works at a daily newspaper have writer’s block.

Didn’t you have to write every day?

But the thing is, I was a born editor,

and when I worked in newspapers,

I did a little bit of writing and mostly editing.

I loved editing, I’ve always loved editing.

The few times when I had to write when I worked for the daily newspaper,

I found it very stressful and extremely difficult.

Partly, I guess because I was an editor, and so,

I was a little bit embarrassed about how slow a writer I was,

but also because I hadn’t really learned the tricks and techniques I’ve since learned,

to make writing faster, easier, and better.

Well, I think we’ll be talking about some of those tricks,

and one of the ways I think that we might talk about that is just,

how did you teach your triplets to write?

Did you use some of those tricks?

Well, I taught my triplets to do many things.

They’re twenty years old now,

and they’re all at university, which is great.

They’re so different you’d barely know they were siblings, never mind triplets.

I don’t know whether it would be fair to say I taught them to write,

but I certainly gave them some of the tricks and techniques I give my own clients,

and they too have found them very helpful.

Well, let’s hone in on one of those tricks.

I mean, how would you describe the difference between diffuse mode and focused mode,

when you’re thinking about,

and when it comes to writing?


That’s a really really important point because,

for me the diffuse mode,

I call that the creative or writing mode.

The focus mode, I call the editing brain.

One of the big mistakes that many people make when they’re writing,

is they try to write with their editing brain.

The metaphor I like to use is, I say,

imagine that these two different parts of your brain are like two different people,

and now put them in a car.

What do you know about that?

Only one person can drive.

So, if you’re critical or focused brain is driving,

your diffused brain is asleep in the back seat,

and that’s not what anyone wants when they’re writing.

You want your diffused brain to be active and awake,

to be the one that’s driving when you’re writing.

So, one of the techniques I like to use to help

people engage their diffused brain, is mind mapping.

Now, the important thing about mind mapping is,

its a little bit different from concept mapping.

I don’t know too much about concept mapping because I’m not an academic myself,

but mind mapping which is also called clustering,

some people may know it by that name instead,

is where you take a piece of paper and you turn it sideways,

and that’s really really important.

Having the paper sideways is essential,

because what that does is that,

kind of liberates your brain,

and it says, oh,

I can go off in any direction.

If you have a paper in the sort of standard eight and a half by 11 way,

that’s going to make your brain think that you need to write a list,

or worse an outline.

I really encourage students in particular,

not to outline before writing.

I know this flies in the face of

what many grade ten English teachers will counsel you to do.

But the thing is, if you think about it,

outlining engages your focused brain.

That’s the part of the brain that’s good at spelling, and grammar,

and alphabetical order in this sort of very specific tasks.

When you’re writing, you want to create,

you want to think of things,

you want to make new connections,

and that’s where you really need the diffused brain.

So, to mind map,

take that piece of paper,

turn it sideways and write the topic in the center of the page,

then draw a circle around it.

Once you’ve drawn that circle around it,

then, just write whatever springs into your brain.

The thing I also like to say,

and people find this a little bit gross sometimes,

but I say it’s kind of like vomiting onto the page.

So, don’t criticize yourself,

don’t second guess any of those ideas that occurs to your brain,

then write it down.

So, I did a mind map some years ago,

and I use this when I’m teaching mind mapping all the time,

and I did it on the first day of school.

I don’t mean I wrote the mind map on the first day of school.

I wrote the mind map about the first day of school.

So, what I wrote in the center of the page was,

first day of school.

Part of the reason I picked this topic,

was because it breaks very neatly into some obvious marking points.

So, one is grade one,

one is high school, one is university.

So, you can have different first days of school tied to those events.

So, then I wrote those down,

and you’ll see I’ve marked them with little cross hatches.

I did that after the fact, just so that,

when you look at the mind map you can see this easily.

Then, if you look,

you’ll see next to the one I’ve marked grade one in the top right hand corner,

I’ve written the words, bee sting.

Now, what does a bee sting have to do with the first day of grade one?

Well, when I went to grade 1,

first day of school I’m standing in the school yard with my mother,

and I got stung on the lip by a bee.

I will never ever forget that moment.

For me, first day of school will always be

linked with being stung by a bee right there on the lip.

So, all I have to write is two words,

bee sting, and everything comes back to me.

I can picture the spot,

the exact spot in the playground where I was standing.

I can remember the crabby old nun who came up to me and said,

“What are you making such a big deal about?

Because I was crying.

So, it’s almost like a movie.

I can play in my own brain,

just based on those two words.

Now, one of the questions I often get when I talk about this is people say, “Well,

I can see how mind mapping would be very useful for fiction,

and I could see how it might even be useful for memory,

but, what does it have to do with non-fiction.

I have to say that I use mind mapping everyday of

my writing life and I have never written any fiction ever.

So, I use it entirely for non-fiction.

What you can do is when you interview someone and you take your notes,

then you put the notes aside and you do

the mind map based on your memory of that interview,

and the things that are most interesting,

I guarantee your brain will remember.

Now, for university students,

the issue is going to be a bit different

because it’s less likely you’re going to be interviewing a bunch of people.

It’s more likely you’re going to be reading a bunch of

books but the same principle applies.

If there is something that is really interesting to

you and important and integral to your research,

you’re likely to remember that and the things that are

most important are going to float to the top of your memory.

So, you will remember them and then you can mind map about them.

This is very interesting because it’s related to

the techniques that brilliant Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist,

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, used when he was trying

to really understand what was going on at an anatomical level.

He would look very carefully at the cells he was watching in

his microscope and then he would turn and he would try to draw them.

He would draw and re-draw until he had abstracted the key chunks that stuck in

his memory from when he was looking at them with

the microscope versus when he was trying to draw them on the page.

So, in some sense, it seems what you’re doing is to try and abstract

the key ideas that have somehow crystallized in

your mind through using the mind-mapping technique.

That’s a really really good way of putting it.

It interests me in terms of education these days.

I think we are down playing a bit the value of memory.

I don’t know about you, but I have all my phone numbers entered into my iPhone.

I don’t remember a phone number anymore to save

my life and people don’t memorize poetry anymore.

There’s all sorts of things that used to be part of

the regular day to day life and regular school life that aren’t there so much anymore.

So, I think we’re a little bit wary of forcing ourselves to rely on our memory at all,

but the thing that strikes me about mind mapping is that if

something is interesting or important to you,

you’re going to remember it.

At least you’re going to remember well enough to mind map it.

Then, of course when you get to the point where you have to do citations,

of course you have to look it up.

You have to get that 100 percent right or you’re quoting someone else,

you need to check it word for word.

But for doing the mind map for inspiring yourself to write,

you’re not needing that kind of 100 percent accuracy,

you’re just needing the inspiration.

That’s what mind mapping is so valuable for.

I couldn’t agree more and I also couldn’t agree more about the importance of memory.

I think what we’ve done is mistakenly by thinking, well,

memorization can be sometimes a bad thing

if you’re just sitting there memorizing things without understanding them.

But, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water,

we’ve said memorization is always bad and that’s actually not true.

I mean, great poets have said,

“Memorize a poem because it helps you

to understand the underlying meaning much more deeply.

In the same way, when you memorize for example an equation,

it can help you understand that poetic under tone

that underlies the equation and that’s often the lost.

But I have to bring out something

you’ve alluded to in the past and that’s simply the idea of,

when you’re trying to get into that diffuse mode and I’m saying this

a little bit metaphorically because we haven’t truly analyzed what’s going on.

But that mode where you’re stepping back a little

bit and you’re not focusing completely and intently,

and you’re trying to get something down on a page that

sometimes in order to avoid that editorial mode,

the best thing to do is to cover up your screen with a towel or something like that.

That helps prevent you from going back and trying to

edit what you just wrote and just get it out onto the page.

Absolutely, you know that is the number one mistake that most students.

You don’t have to be a student to make this mistake.

Most beginning writers make is they edit while they write and I like to

say that that’s kind of like trying to clear the table while you’re still eating dinner.

It just doesn’t work very well.

One of the tricks I suggest to people if they’ve developed

this habit is that they turn off their monitor while they’re writing.

So, of course you need to be a touch typist to be able to do that.

But, if you are a touch typist,

then turn off your monitor and if that feels to drastic or

if you have a Mac that doesn’t let you turn off your monitor separately,

then just hang a towel over it and write without looking at what you’re reading.

I wrote for probably more than 40 years while

I edited constantly while I wrote and that was so dysfunctional and so bad for me.

It slowed me down so much and made writing so difficult and traumatic.

That I finally made the decision that I had to break that habit.

So, I started turning off my monitor.

I tried some other things as well that also really helped.

There’s a great app on the Internet called write or die.

So, it’s writeordie.com.

If you scroll down that screen a little bit,

then you’ll get to an area where you can enter the number of words you want to write and

enter a time limit for yourself and then you press a button that says,

I can’t remember what it says,

but something like start and then you get a blank screen and you start to write.

What inevitably happens is we will write a few words and then we

stop and we look off and stare into space while we’re trying to plan what to write next.

What happens is the software notices we’re not typing and after X number of seconds,

I think it’s about 10 seconds of not moving the keyboard at all,

then the screen starts to pinken and I like to compare it to a blush.

Because the screen’s embarrassed for you.

It gets pinker and pinker and pinker the longer you go without writing.

I haven’t timed this in a long time so I can’t

remember exactly the time limit it gives you.

Let’s say it’s 20 seconds.

If you’ve gone 20 seconds without writing at all,

then you get a loud punishing noise.

So, its either a crying baby,

a car alarm, or ’70s disco music.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which is worse,

but it’s a very clever technique

for teaching you to break the habit of editing while you write.

I’ve used Write or Die myself and I think it does work very, very well.

I love this approach of separating your editing from your actual writing.

For me, what I sometimes find is when I think of

something and I’m about to put it down and then I think, that’s terrible.

I can’t write that.

Then I’m editing in my head before I’m writing and when I stop that,

when I just say, “Okay,

I have got to get that out.

Hey, that’s terrible.

But that’s the way it is,

it’s going to come out on the page terrible.

I’m so surprised later when I looked back and I find,

hey, you know what?

That actually wasn’t as terrible as I thought.

In fact, it got me started and it’s pretty good.


That happens to so many people.

I have to tell you, I have taught writing for so many years now.

I can tell you that when I talk to people about

that nasty little editing voice that’s in the back of all our brains,

we all have that voice and it says the same thing to all of us.

It says things like;

this is no good,

my boss or teacher is going to hate this,

this is boring, this is really really bad.

That voice says really negative essentially unhelpful things to all of us.

We’re all in the same boat.

So, what I like to do is I like to talk back to that voice and I say things like,

could you shut up for a minute?

I don’t have time to talk right now.

I will talk to you when I’m editing but I’m writing right now.

I’m too busy.

If you can be conscious of that voice and talk back

to it rather than just let it yammer in your ear,

then you’re better off.

So, I think the number one technique for dealing

with that is just recognizing that it’s happening.

Recognizing that it happens to everyone and taking some steps to deal with it.

Well, I thank you so much Daphne.

This was very useful and a fantastic reminder even for me.

I want to encourage everyone out there to please go ahead and explore signing up

for Daphne’s free newsletter which is at www.publicationcoach.com.

I’m a subscriber as well and maybe even take a look at her great book,

Eight and a Half Steps to Writing Faster,

Better or Daphne’s email course which is called Extreme Writing Makeover.

So, thank you so much again Daphne and we’ll see you on the flip-side.

Thanks Barb, nice talking to you.

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