Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.
Getting Frank About Writing
When you think of Benjamin Franklin, what comes to mind? Founding Father? Inventor? Writer? Would you believe that the man who helped draft both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence considered himself to not be a very good writer at all? Yet he went on to author Poor Richard's Almanac and even his own biography! He accomplished all this by using his own method to teach himself to be a better writer.
Called the deconstruction and reconstruction method by some, Benjamin Franklin's approach to storytelling and writing was actually much simpler than that title sounds. It involved breaking apart stories he enjoyed and then trying to put them back together, or reconstruct them, himself. Let's take a closer look.
Franklin's Writing Model
We know that Franklin was an avid reader who enjoyed writing, but struggled with it from an early age. In his autobiography, he recalled his father telling him he lacked ''elegance of expression,'' a criticism that likely fueled his desire to grow as a writer.
The improvement method Franklin chose follows a pattern of deconstructing a story or article by breaking it apart, writing passages in his own thoughts, and then going back to his own writing later to reconstruct the writing into something meaningful and elegant. The entire process is based on the concept of imitation: ''About this time I met with an odd volume of The Spectator,'' Franklin said, ''I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.''
Let's break down each step of Franklin's writing strategy.
A Five-Step Framework
1. First, Franklin found articles he liked. The Spectator was a favorite publication; he enjoyed the writing he found there and wished to write like its authors.
2. He would read the article he selected and then write notes, in his own words, about the intent and meaning of each sentence. In modern writing, we might think of this as a type of outline.
3. After writing his thoughts, Franklin would step away from them. That's right. He would take a break from his writing. When a few days had passed, he would attempt to reconstruct the piece using only the notes he had taken from the original article. His goal was to write as elegantly as the original Spectator piece.
4. Once his new version was created, Franklin would return to the original article and compare his writing to the writing he was trying to emulate.
5. Comparing his work to the original, Franklin said he would become more aware of his own faults, which lead to the final step, step No. 5, of making edits and corrections. The goal would always be to improve on his own version each time.
Franklin summarized his efforts to improve his writing: ''I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try'd to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.''
He repeated this sequence over and over again, honing his craft and becoming the writer we all recognize today.
Application for Today
The technique Franklin used more than 250 years ago can still be applied today. If you want to be a better writer or do a better job telling a story, look for writers you admire. Maybe it's Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou or Stephen King. Read what these authors write. Deconstruct their paragraphs, sentences and words into your own way of storytelling, your voice. Think about what the writing is trying to say and reconstruct it in your own words. Leave it. When you come back to it, compare it against the original and look for areas you can strengthen and make your writing better.
Benjamin Franklin, believed by many to be one of the greatest writers in history, was not always so talented in his writing pursuits. Instead of quitting, he created his own method for teaching himself to be a better writer. The deconstruction and reconstruction method he used involves a five-step process centered on imitation for improving one's own writing style. Franklin would start by looking for writing he liked and then try to summarize that author's thoughts into his own words. After deconstructing the writing and reconstructing it as his own, he would leave it and return in a few days. Then, he would compare his writing to the original and looks for areas he could strengthen and improve. In this way, Franklin grew his own writing style, repeating the sequence over and over until he became the writer we still recognize hundreds of years later.
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