Practice Exercise: Comparison/Contrast ~~
"Learning to write is like learning to play a musical instrument."
STEP 1: Establish categories to focus your analysis.
then decide upon several appropriate categories for your topic which will focus
how you look at each subject. List them below:
- The degree to
which each one cam be an art form
- The kinds of
skills each one requires
- The kinds of
effects each can have on audiences
STEP 2: Brainstorm raw material by applying these categories to questions about
Ask what is similar
and what is different about my two subjects based on the categories you arrived
at above. Write down everything you can think ofyou can rearrange it later.
(similarities) between learning to write and learning to play an instrument
1. when you do
it well, it's an art
2. it's a skill you acquire with time and patience. Process is as important
as end-product when you are beginning to pick up the skill.
3. learning the scales is a lot like learning structure. It's what you personally
do with these foundations that makes your writing stand out.
4. like music, good writing has "color" and "tone"-it
can evoke emotion.
5. like music, good writing can be created collaboratively (though this is
between learning to write and learning to play an instrument
1. Unlike music,
writing evokes thought as well as feeling.
2. Unlike music, it's usually created solo rather than as a group effort.
The closest analogy is the singer/songwriter who's been traveling alone his
or her whole career. Sometimes
3. Unless we are professional musicians, we don't need music skills on a daily
basis; writing, however, is something we use in a variety of practical ways
in a variety of environments other than leisure.
Step 3: Assemble
Now examine the
points you made and compile your raw material into paragraphs by using one or
both of the methods described in Chapter Six (pp. 339-341). Write a topic sentence
to focus your comparison/contrast; it should state your subjects and the assertion
you want to make about them as a result of your analysis. After you write your
topic sentence, write the paragraph(s) below. Attach extra paper if you run
out of room.
Do you see where
the paragraphs below use the subject-by-subject method and where it uses the
Even if you've
never tried to learn a musical instrument, you can probably relate to the
way learning to write can be compared to learning a musical instrument. They
both require a set of skills and both, when they're performed well, can be
considered an art with power to greatly move audiences.
In the first
place, learning any musical instrument can be a grueling process, but once
you learn to play competently, you're rewarded by the beautiful sound of music
at your fingertips. Once you gain control over the notes you're trying to
reach, and the tones those notes create, you can consciously set a mood, create
an atmosphere. You can make people dance for joy or make them weep. But you
don't gain that control overnight. Learning an instrument requires a big time
investment, a lot of patient practice. Your fingers have go over and over
the same positions as you learn scales and practice exercises that increase
dexterity. The sounds you produce may be ugly at first: discordant, disjointed,
off rhythm. But through continued practice you'll begin to play more smoothly,
with greater feeling, and with fewer mistakes. Pretty soon, you'll feel like
you've arrived. You can play.
well is an art in the sense that it has an "aesthetic" experience
to offer us-when we're finished we may have created something truly beautiful.
Reading a good piece of writing, we can experience its truth and beauty. It
has the power to affect us intellectually, emotionally. But learning to write
well is a skill we can acquire only through time and patience. In the beginning,
"process" is as important as "product." While we're learning
drafting, revising, and editing skills, our first attempts may be fumbling
or unfocused, incoherent, and full of error, but if we keep practicing the
fundamentals, before long we get the hang of it. Concepts like structure,
unity, coherence, development, style, and syntax aid rather than intimidate
us. They provide the solid foundation upon which we express new ideas.
Writing and making
music aren't always similar. In a few key ways, these skills are more different
than they are the same. First, whereas music and writing both have the power
to evoke strong feeling, writing is probably better at making audiences think.
Second, whereas music is often created collaboratively, writing is often created
solo. Even when writing projects are collaborative, individual writers often
work separately on unique tasks and then assemble the group's work into a
whole. They rarely do the work of writing face to face with other group members,
though they may seek advice and feedback from group members. Finally, the
biggest difference between writing and making music is that, unless a person
is a professional musician, we don't use music skills on a daily basis in
the variety of environments that we use writing.
Given that learning
to write and learning to play music can be so similar, it makes sense to evaluate
a writer's skills at the end of a course rather than at the beginning. It
isn't what students know when they start that counts, or even what you know
along the way; it's what a student can do by the end that really matters.