Lesson One

Lesson One

The first lesson in writing is always to write.

That’s (mostly) it. While there are many variations on the to write aspect of the lesson (and you are in no way done with the first lesson), the reality of the lesson is that in order to get better, you need to write something every day. Period.

The second part is always to read.

Meaning, not only should you be writing something every day, you also need to read something every day. In fact, the second part is **so so so ** important that it should happen before you do the first part, or before you write something.

One way to look smart is to give credit to the people from whom you got an idea or quote and so on (see, The Logic of Citation below).

The Four Parts

  1. Author
  2. Publisher
  3. City
  4. Date
  5. Website and Date Accessed*



The publisher is the company or “house” that is responsible for the publication of the book you’re reading. Publishers include:

  • Random House
  • Penguin
  • Hachette
  • HarperCollins
  • Simon and Schuster
  • and many, many, many more.

In some cases, the publisher will be confusing as each of the major houses have lots of imprints, or names used for different kinds of publication and some books will change publishing house depending on books type (e.g. hard cover, trade paperback, mass market, library, and etc.).


The City is a convention used, primarily, for books and represents the City where the publisher is located. Most publishers are based out of New York, though Boston, St. Paul, Minnesotta, and San Francisco (and other places) are becoming more common. In addition, London, England is a popular publisher city.


This will be the date of publication. Knowing exact dates is a good thing, though - most frequently (and for books) - you will only need to know the year.

Website and Date Accessed

In many cases, when doing research or simply reading, the act will happen online or via some kind of electronic device. One of the immutable truths of the internet is that websites and web content can and does change over time. Meaning, what may exist today can be very different tomorrow. This introduces a lot of issues when attempting to adequately cite online sources; though there standards in place to help.

In this case, you want both the URL and the date.

A URL is the universal resource locator or web address. URL’s will most often look like:


In reality, the URL can look like a lot of things and should simply be copied from the “address” bar at the top of the browser.

On Magazines

Magazine citation requires all of the same as above, but will look a little different. For example, a magazine is published in Volume and Issue with Volumes often covering an entire year and individual issues the magazine publication by month, bi-month, quarterly, and so on.

In the case of magazines, the publisher becomes the magazine including volume and issue, while the author will either be the author(s) of the article or, as is sometimes the case, staff (when an author cannot be identified).

The Logic of Citation

The logic of citation is (in my opinion) simple, to allow someone who is interested in seeing what you saw, the way you saw it, the opportunity to find and review your source material. That’s it. You’re giving the necessary path for an individual to follow in order to see what you saw.

As a teacher, what this means is if I want to see what you saw I need to follow your path.

As a student or writer, this means you need to give the path. You are not responsible for providing the source material with your work.

In other words, if I want to see what you saw, I need to be willing to look it up.

Part One or your first long reading assignment

Part Two or your first long writing assignment

Part Three or An Introduction to Details and Description

In order to write better, you must write every day. And read. Every day. Period.

However, writing as a discipline doesn’t exist as a single area of focus. While understanding (and then periodically reviewing) the principles of writing, focus on the act of writing is what’s necessary to improve.

There are more than on kind of writing. As in, writing fiction is a different beast from writing non-fiction, from poetry, from essays and reports, and from white papers and technical documentation. Each area requires slightly different skill sets and different areas of focus.

Before you can get to those areas of focus, though, you must first write.

Top Down or The Waterfall

When writing, there is a structure to consider as you make your way through what you’re writing. I tend to think of this as a waterfall. At the top of the waterfall is a rather condensed amount of water that begins to fall over an edge. Once it’s been released over the edge, the water spreads out where it begins to fall, some of it turning into a mist, some blowing away, some getting lost, but most of it landing in a pool at the bottom. At the bottom, the water reforms into a body and flows away.


Most of writing is like this (roughly). You will start with an idea that will turn into a thesis. A well formed thesis will have parts (see, The Power of Three) that will be explored individually. Finally, at the very end of your writing, you will bring it all back together in a conclusion.


Fiction follows similar structure with an idea that begins with scene and setting, characters added on top, character description, action, and dialogue. The writing will expand out to include plot points, story, details, and so on until it comes back together with some kind of conclusion or denouement and then you’re done.

In both cases, Though with slightly different approaches, you begin with the general, move to the specific, then return to the general.

Show v Tell

In the world of creative writing, there is a divide between show and tell when it comes to narrative.


In terms of creative writing, show is the process of exploring the world within your writing with the characters. It’s a lot of dialogue and direct action, takes place at the most intimate level, and results in a far more personal experience.


Tell is when you drop into expository writing and explain for the reader what is happening, what to expect, and what the characters are doing or thinking.

Show and Tell

In reality, all writing is a process of both show and tell. It’s neither one nor the other and requires a balance. Establishing balance is a process, which is one reason why writing every day is important (see, The Two Rules. By writing every day and exploring different ways of narrative exposition and narrative dialogue, the show and tell will become far more natural.

Desciption Sine

An amazing example of how this is used is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The book is about Nick, Gatsby’s neighbor, who is from the midwest and has moved to New York to be a bonds broker. He’s moved into a small house next to where J. Gatsby lives and throws really big and loud parties.

In The Great Gatsby, each chapter begins with a lot of establishing of characters and place, following a theme until the end of the chapter, each chapter one more step in the life and romance of Gatsby.

As a book, it’s a beautifully formed narrative portrait that gives an intimate look into a single person. Extra information (tell) is left out and a lot of personal details and dialogue (show) build the narrative foundation of the book.

Understanding how Show and Tell works

Show and Tell works in a specific way, by moving back and forth between the two narrative styles and both showing and telling what’s happening to the characters or by establishing changes in location, setting, dialogue, appearance, and so on.

Consider how movies are written:


The scene opens in the middle of a large room in an old house. There is furniture all around, arranged in a semi-circle where a coffee table should sit. There’s nothing there now. Most of the room is empty except for a man standing alone. This is MICHAEL, the current owner of the house. He has blonde hair and a medium build and a five o’clock shadow.

What happened here?

I don’t know. It was like this when I got home.

The camera pans to an entry into the kitchen where SARAH is standing. She’s a tall, attractive woman with dark hair and blue eyes. It’s clear she and Michael belong together even though she’s taller and more attractive than him. There’s just something that makes them fit together.

I don’t like it. Have you called the police?

Of course. They said they’d be here soon.

Michael makes a noise and leaves the room.

Don’t touch anything. They said we shouldn’t touch anything.

On Starting Down

Typically means you’re jumping straight into the characters actions and interactions, their thoughts, dialogue, and so on with the expectation the audience will continue reading to figure out what the “middle of the action” is all about.

Drop the openning scroll from the Star Wars movies and each movie begins in the middle of some event or action, requiring the audience to work to figure out what’s going on and who they need to follow.

On Starting Down

Typically means you’re jumping straight into the characters actions and interactions, their thoughts, dialogue, and so on with the expectation the audience will continue reading to figure out what the “middle of the action” is all about.

Drop the openning scroll from the Star Wars movies and each movie begins in the middle of some event or action, requiring the audience to work to figure out what’s going on and who they need to follow.

* — Yes, there is a fifth item, which is used when accessing content and citing content online.

† — There are literally more publishing houses than can be identified. These houses vary in terms of size, location, what is published, and even how long the publishing house is open and operating. Which doesn’t include nature of publication (electronic versus paper) and a lot more. Your job is to do your best to identify as much information about the publication as possible.