Compare the ways these two texts present the life of a writer.
You should consider:
- how they use language and structure
- the ideas in the texts
Here is an extract from the diaries of John Steinbeck.
Lincoln’s Birthday. My first day of work in my new room. It is a very pleasant room and I have a drafting table to work on which I have always wanted – also a comfortable chair given me by Elaine [his wife]. In fact I have never had it so good and so comfortable. I have known such things to happen – the perfect pointed pencil – the paper persuasive – the fantastic chair and a good light and no writing. Surely a man is a most treacherous animal full of his treasured contradictions. He may not admit it but he loves his paradoxes.
Now that I have everything, we shall see whether I have anything. It is exactly that simple. Mark Twain used to write in bed – so did our greatest poet. But I wonder how often they wrote in bed – or whether they did it twice and the story took hold. Such things happen. Also I would like to know what things they wrote in bed and what things they wrote sitting up. All of this has to do with comfort in writing and what its value is. I should think that a comfortable body would let the mind go freely to its gathering. But such is the human that he might react in an opposite way. Remember my father’s story about the man who did not dare be comfortable because he went to sleep. That might be true of me too. Now I am perfectly comfortable in body. I think my house is in order. Elaine, my beloved, is taking care of all the outside details to allow me the amount of free untroubled time every day to do my work. I can’t think of anything else necessary to a writer except a story and the ability to tell it.
Here is an extract from Stephen King's advice book and memoir, On Writing. He is talking about his writing desk.
‘The last thing I want to tell you in this part is about my desk. For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room - no more child's desk in a trailer laundry-closet, no more cramped kneehole in a rented house. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study (it's a converted stable loft at the rear of the house). For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship's captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere.
A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been, picking out the pieces and a nice Turkish rug with my wife's help. In the early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat pizza. They usually left a boxful of crusts behind when they moved on, but I didn't care. They came, they seemed to enjoy being with me, and I know I enjoyed being with them. I got another desk - it's handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. Rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave. That eave is very like the one I slept under in Durham, but there are no rats in the walls and no senile grandmother downstairs yelling for someone to feed the horse. I'm sitting under it now, a fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover. I'm doing what I know how to do, and as well as I know how to do it. I came through all the stuff I told you about (and plenty more that I didn't), and now I'm going to tell you as much as I can about the job. As promised, it won't take long.
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around.’
Writing a Good Essay
Many of my students find writing an essay a daunting task. Getting to grips with a text is one thing, but when you are studying English Language or Literature, you are also required to write about it in a structured and coherent way. Here is a brief, step-by-step guide, on how to approach answering an essay question. I hope you find it helpful.
What is an essay?
- Answering a question
- Putting forward a point of view which is focussed, clear and supported
- Explaining what you think with evidence from the text
Remember, before you begin an essay, you must know your text well.
- Your response to the question
- How you intend to answer
- What your essay is going to say/explore/argue
- State your point of view
- Your interpretation of the text
- Are you aware of different levels of meaning?
Consider: the question, the text and the author
AVOID simplistic and irrelevant value judgments (for example, ‘.... is good...’)
2. Following paragraphs
Develop and support your point of view.
Use your paragraphs to develop your argument using the following method:
Point – make a point/express an opinion relevant to answering the question
Evidence – use quotations and refer to the text to support your view
Explain – discuss this further
- Why is this significant?
- How is it being done (e.g. the poetic/dramatic methods used)?
- What can you say about the language, style or structure?
- Why has the author used those words/expressed an idea in that way?
- How does it affect the reader/audience?
- How does it affect the themes/meaning(s) of the text?
- Complexity – could there be more than one interpretation?
- Does the style alter or develop across the text?
When using PEE, you should:
- Comment on the method used by the author
- Look at the effect of the language used
- Analyse reasons why this might have been done
Always work logically through the text, from beginning to end (this shows that you are also analysing the author’s structure). This will also help give your essay a sense of building up to a conclusion.
AVOID telling the story!
Instead, discuss the ideas or messages ‘behind’ the text. Aim to show how these are created, developed and revealed.
Other things you might want to think about...
- Consider the genre conventions and how these might shape meaning and interpretation
- Consider author’s context
- Consider author’s motivation, intention or purpose
3. Conclusion – summing up
- Tell your reader why you’ve said what you’ve said in your essay
- What are the wider issues raised by your discussion?
- Leave a final impression – give the reader something to think about