Sadly, I have lost many of his helpful writing techniques over years of practicing mostly flavorless, academic writing with a heavy emphasis on policy analysis. And I’m sure I have already used an outlandish number of his “forbidden words” in this post alone. I cringe at the thought of him reading my blog posts with a green pen. He went against the grain by using green corrective ink instead of red – at least that was the case during my stint in his class.
One thing I remember from this teacher’s class was his helpful image of a ketchup bottle:
Imagine you’re out to lunch and your thick steak fries are just begging to be dunked in a bowl of ketchup but unfortunately, the new-fangled ketchup pumps are no where to be found. Instead you see a small glass bottle perched at the edge of the table, wedged between the sugar shaker and the dessert menu. What is this and how on earth does one use it? You open the bottle, give it a few shakes expecting a nice flow of thick red sauce to evenly pour into the dish. Instead, there’s nothing. Nothing at all has come out of that bottle. So now you’re just gonna give that ketchup bottle all you’ve got because those fries are worth it. Shaking vigorously seems to have loosened the sauce a bit …. but …. it’s just not coming out…….. GLOP. Oh hey, that bottle was indeed full of red, tomato-based sauce and now your plate is full of red sauce, the table is covered in red sauce, your pants are steeped in red sauce, your glasses are smeared with red sauce, your nose is dripping with red sauce and there’s something wet behind your ear?
(Oh-kay, that may have been slightly dramatic.)
The point, as you may have guessed, is that sometimes great ideas – or even just mediocre ones – get stuck inside the brain like ketchup in a glass bottle. It’s okay to shake that glass bottle until the ideas pour out in one giant glug. When it hits the page it sure won’t look pretty, but you’re well on your way to communicating your big idea. I think for writers just getting something on the page is half the battle. Am I right?
So, thanks Junior-Year-Honor’s-Literature-Teacher. Who knew I’d still be using your advice nearly a decade later.
Also, I forgive you for the whole tree-essay incident. 🙂
P.S. I was going to use real ketchup to create the picture above and then I discovered that I have no ketchup in my house. Am I even a real American?