So many of us have such busy days, so let’s be realistic. There are times when short and sweet is best. It is this kind of brief yet diverse text that we will focus on in this post. Before we get started though, here are a couple of things to think about.

jug,ink,plume,writing,pastel

Illustration in Pastel by Amanda Tamsin

Read to Write

I recognise as I re-read my own texts, how much I have learned from others. Whilst I wish to copy no-one, I know that by reading their work I can be inspired and then write with more depth. This is also true when writing in another language. Inspiration can take place at word-level, for example, we could develop our vocabulary by simply noting down some interesting collocations (two words that make a good couple). Then looking at the bigger picture, we can note different text structures and styles, creating our own unique fusion. There are so many choices as to what to read; on a typical day I choose blogs, newspaper articles, novels, quotes and a short poem or two (my Facebook news feed is full of the last couple).

When to read and when to write? For me, I like to write when I’m most mentally alert. That’s mornings (…and afternoons now that I’ve mostly given up added sugar, but that’s another story…).  I save reading for the evenings, when I’m usually quite tired but still receptive.  My writing in the evening is not always great and midnight isn’t called the witching hour for nothing! Things can get a bit weird then so, after a late night writing session, I find it especially important to proof-read the next morning!

Setting the Right Environment

It may not be easy and it may not even be possible to set the ideal environment for your writing so just do what you can. I like to have a writing desk that is relatively clear – I’m calmer and have more clarity of thought then.  I make sure that my chair is as comfortable as possible; the table with my laptop on is a bit high, so I place a couple of cushions on the chair. I listen to some ambient music, choosing sounds which are good for focus.  A warm drink helps too, especially if in cold climate, as Broadstairs is at the moment…  It’s green and lemon tea for me right now.  Sometimes I like to light an incense stick or a good quality scented candle.  Burning peppermint oil seems to give me extra writing zing too!

Working method…

Something that I have learnt the hard way is that you need to have breaks.  I used to see it as a virtue to work, work, work; not stopping until a task was done.  Yet, I find that writing does not have to be like that and nor should it be.  A little break helps, even if just to go out and look at the sunrise.  This is especially the case if we work in front of a screen as we don’t want to end up with ‘square eyes’ and a horrible headache. Creating can provide a wonderful relief but if rushed and overdone it can be exhausting.

Some of my favourite things to do whilst taking a pause include:

  • The gentle activity of making pastry (you can get back to writing while it is resting in the fridge),
  • Doing a pastel drawing (perhaps an illustration to go with your text?)
  • Yoga (great for blood flow and concentration).
  • A walk along the beach with my family (often inspires).

Really though, do whatever makes you feel refreshed.

Short and Sweet Writing Ideas

Now onto those writing ideas… I suggest you pick one or two for now, not too many in case you get overwhelmed and then disheartened. You might like to introduce more into your repertoire once you have at least one writing practice which has developed into a habit.

Journal Writing

Perhaps it is not so likely that you will want to write a whole journal entry in another language (if you do, good on you!). Nevertheless, you may like to find a way to include a few words in the target language (that is the one that you are studying). There are many ways to do this. A few suggestions include:

• Keep a mood tracker in your journal. Format this however you like. You could just write a line, or even a word, to describe your mood that day. This idea came from Camille’s or @passioncarnets post Deep Dive: A Year in Pixels via Little Coffee Fox.

• Write a line or two to describe the weather (describe both the weather outside and inside, if you like!).

• Find a quote of the day in the target language or in your own language and then translate it into the target language.

• Write a sentence (or even a word!) which summarises how the day was for you.

• If you keep a bullet journal, you probably already write a daily brief yet sophisticated ‘to do’ list. Why not write it in another language? This would be a sure way to learn vocabulary relevant to your daily life. See Camille’s website if you want to find out more about what a bullet journal is.  However, even the simplest ‘to do list’ on a post-it could be written in another language.

Poetry

We will look at poetry later on in the blog post but when we’re talking about the shortest of texts, why not consider doing a haiku (a Japanese-style poem with just three lines)? Think of a theme (traditionally relating to the natural world but could be pretty much anything) then maybe add a grammatical goal (i.e. include three tenses). How about using a different tense for each line?

haiku poem in Spanish

Haiku for grammar practice

Traditionally, a haiku has five syllables on the first line, seven on the second and then five again on the third. You could follow this tradition for extra challenge or if a set structure helps you. Once you’ve written your haiku you could even put it into a Tweet…

Tweets

As well as being perfect media for haiku, tweets are great for topical language practice. For example, if you’re working on the theme ‘holidays’ you could write a tweet imagining where you are on your ideal holiday or your nightmare one (if you’re that way inclined…).  Alternatively, you could use your tweet for commentary and reflections on any matter of interest. Writing these meditations in another language is an excellent way to have bite-size practice.  As a bonus, you may get others responding to your tweets (i.e. in the Spanish of Peru) which could initiate excellent language practice.

Book of Quotes

How about creating a Book of Quotes? You could create your own as they come to mind and/or translate favourites into your language of choice. Why not illustrate it too? (if you enjoy doing so)  Maybe create lettering in a style that represents the meaning of the quote?  I find that I’m more inclined to look back on writing which is decorative.

One word at a time…

What about playing a game based on literacy? Boggle and Scrabble are great when we take things down to word level. I don’t think much more of an explanation is needed here. Just pick your language… You may need to create your own games for some languages but that could be fun. Accents might be an issue but perhaps you can do without them for the Scrabble and with Boggle you can simply fill in the accents as you write out the words. Improvisation is key here.

Still on the topic of individual words… How about keeping a book of word graffiti? Here you write one word per page and decorate it (covering every available bit of space). The word could be written in the style of its meaning. Think how you could do this as a vocabulary learning technique… How would you write ‘ojo’ (‘eye’, in Spanish) in a way that suggests what it is? Or ‘effrayant’ (‘scary’ in French)? This last idea is good for arty-types and for tired students on a Friday afternoon… The good thing is there is still something to be learnt here…  ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” said Lao Tzu. Love that quote!

Well, we’ve taken writing right down to word level in this post.  In Part 2 we look at further developing your writing skills, going beyond sentence level and writing extended texts in various and fantastical forms.