WRITING: INSIGHTS and APPROACHES to FREEING YOUR MUSE
Learning to sing one’s own songs, to trust the particular cadences of one’s own voice, is also the goal of any writer.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
FINALLY!!! I was encouraged to include a blog on my website. The goal was to use posts to write about writing. As a preliminary, albeit preparatory, step, I was asked to come up with categories pertinent to my craft. I found the assignment difficult to complete. Although I came up with stuff, in hindsight the task would have been much easier if it had been carried out ex post facto.
The good thing is I achieved clarity after I learned how to upload my draft posts to my blog site. Once copied into the framework set up for creating entries, bloggers can select tags apropos to the content. These words and phrases are picked up by web crawlers after the entry is posted and serve as both search engine optimizers and categories for each piece once it loses the top spot. Now I get it! Now I can write about writing for publication in an electronic format.
Writing is an art form some argue is rapidly vanishing from use. It’s the subject of a long-running – and hotly debated – discussion. Dependence on electronic devices – many of which anticipate thoughts and attempt to dictate word choices – has collectively eroded the ability to spell, correctly employ the English lexicon, and construct sentences expressing complete thoughts. Text shorthand isn’t just confusing; it has become the default position for many who simply cannot remember basic grammar. The results are evident in the unimaginative, sometimes rambling, and often disjointed Pablum masquerading as meaningful content. Social media platforms do not encourage the use of sound syntactical practices. Despite its immense popularity, this medium has distinct limitations built into its uses and applications, which vary from one stage to another and stymie originality. Complaints abound deploring the absence of competence evident in descriptive or explanatory composition. Position descriptions increasingly stipulate good – or strong – writing skills as a requirement without elaboration. Knowing how to compose purposeful, proactive, internally consistent, and linguistically correct text remains a necessity. Writing well is re-emerging as a must-have capability.
Those who yearn to be writers must understand, and embrace, the process by which media, in any format, is created. Connecting with others – sharing thoughts, feelings, or observations – through the written word requires:
- A continuously expanding vocabulary.
- Knowledge of, and familiarity with the dictionary characterized by efficacious use of its contents.
- Knowledge of, and familiarity with the thesaurus characterized by effectual use of its contents.
- A firm grasp of the parts of speech of the English language coupled with demonstrable proficiency employing them.
- An eye, and an ear, for the flow of words.
We don’t write the way we talk, a simple premise which accomplished scribes fully comprehend. Casual, and sometimes formal conversations are often littered with interjections, pregnant pauses, and idiomatic expressions. Meaning and context are frequently inferred, implied, or suggested rather than explicitly delineated. Personal exchanges aren’t vetted for conciseness, clarity, or substance. We occasionally walk away from verbal interactions nonplused, bewildered, or piqued unsure of what we really heard. Formal discourses are generally conducted with care, to avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretation. Textual content, regardless of the format, suffers when the author is unable to express her, or himself legibly. Two major contributors are redundancies and limited lexicons. Tautology foreshadows a document’s demise.
Hardcover dictionaries with guides to usage are treasure troves of data designed to initiate and facilitate exposure to words, their meanings, etymologies, history, and application. There is no substitute for the material they contain. The aspiring writer who chooses to bypass this resource knowingly imposes a barrier which will have a significant impact on the quality, clarity, and individuality of her, or his work products. He, or she, owes it to themselves to learn how to use the dictionary.
Repetitiousness is a curable condition and the course of treatment is painless. The prescription? A thorough knowledge and ideation of the thesaurus. This document is an inditer’s dream for it contains synonymous word choices, free of charge. It offers an unlimited world of possibilities. A word of caution: use of the thesaurus is an exercise in consciousness-raising. One must exercise her, or his, intellect, and be comfortable relying on intuition, instincts, or the proverbial sixth sense to obtain desired outcomes. The thesaurus offers chroniclers words in their best order [Coleridge]. However, a keen sense of knowing how text is to be phrased is necessary to achieve this objective.
Two additional items also come highly recommended: Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition, and William Strunk Junior’s timely tome, The Elements of Style. Contemporary thesauruses no longer contain arcane, esoteric, or obsolete words. They offer choices based on language currently in vogue including popular clichés, colloquialisms, and idiomatic phrases. By using the fourth edition, journalists, inditers, chroniclers, and authors have access to more words and phrases, which, when used imaginatively translate into attention-getting text. Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition is a comprehensive text containing a wealth of terminology, in parlances which help set the gifted writer apart from everyone else. Look for a copy in a used bookstore. Strunk self-published his manuscript in 1919 for in-house use at Cornell University where he taught. He stressed the importance of writing to please oneself and urged scribes to aim for one moment of felicity, an apt sentiment coined by Robert Louis Stevenson, another well-known author. Professor Strunk wrote:
“…Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell…” (Excerpted from Elementary Principles of Composition, The Elements of Style)
The English language comprises ten parts of speech although there are many more which are relevant to other languages. There is wisdom in learning what they are and how to use them to maximum effect. Hardcover dictionaries include them in the guides. Additionally, every entry contains a part of speech label.
Writing well is intuitivist: unforgettable aphorisms, succinctly organized maxims, and proverbial sayings are the creations of authors attuned to the innate lyricism of the flow of words. They possess precognitive antenna which enable them to sense what works, what fits, and conversely, what doesn’t. They have the ability to discern the melodic eloquence, edifying, evocative, and satiating nature of words so ordered to reflect the highest and best use of the lexicon. Meaningful writing isn’t accidental. Ultimately its value is determined by reactions and results.
Creativity, in prosaic composition, as in other mediums of artistic expression, emanates from a space within the human consciousness. The locus can only be accessed via ownership of an innate hankering and receptivity to the offerings of the Universe. Writing is seminal, inspired, and esemplastic. Articulating quality content which will become a saga, blog post, magazine article, newsletter, an annual report or some other document calls for a methodology conducive to devising work products which are tangible, pellucid, and digestible.
Ideally, scribes should establish a sacred space in which to write. Here – or there – the inditer can assemble the tools and manage the ambient environment of an area where he, or she, can receive what resides in the fantasy-fueled region of the subconscious. Among the recommended items for this site are the belletrist’s tools:
- A current hardcover dictionary.
- A current hardcover thesaurus.
- Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition.
- The Elements of Style written by William Strunk Jr.
- Scratch paper or writing tablets – sized to suit.
- Ink pens, colored pens, pencils, a pencil sharpener, erasers, a ruler, a pair of scissors, and a bottle of glue or rubber cement.
- A table, preferably one at least six feet in length.
- A comfortable chair.
The chronicler’s work site should be welcoming and include amenities which support creativity: music, white noise, Feng Shui – whatever will help set the tone and ease the transition. Setting the mood is essential. The inditer’s offerings emerge as expressions of the soul, therefore, setting up this space should reflect careful thought. Do not use computer desks – all electronic devices should be separate from the area where the actual writing is done.
Why the array of writing utensils, scissors, glue, and the ruler? Writing is organic. It is both exhilarating and rewarding when done in long hand. There’s a spiritual, supersensual relationship between our brains, our appendages, our eyes, and ears. Our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies work together to invigorate imaginations and energize muses. This experience cannot be duplicated by sitting at a computer and inputting thoughts. Writing is insightful: it is mind-body-soul synergy.
I compose using colored pens – usually medium felt tip and Liquid Expresso instruments. I love colors and they are easier to read when uploading material. I employ a different hue for each new page – this is one of my fancies. My favorite shades are purple, blue, green, red, and black. I also use hot pink, orange, apple green, and pale blue. I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler, but I like to have a margin on every sheet of paper I use. Everything I produce is initially – and intentionally – done in long hand. I don’t put anything in the computer until I’ve completed a rough first draft. I write in long hand because it heightens my love of, and appreciation for the art of being both a belletrist and a scribe. I derive a deeply personal sense of satisfaction from what I’m doing. When I put pen to paper, I’m in my element. I’m at peace with myself and life is good. I find writing to be a joyful, liberating, empowering, and inventive activity.
I’ve been writing professionally for nearly twenty years and have produced an assortment of documents from which I sometimes draw material which works in multiple settings. Why reinvent the wheel when I can cut and paste? After generating my initial draft and uploading it to my desktop, I print it out to edit and proofread. It isn’t unusual for me to decide to reorder paragraphs to achieve internal consistency and legibility, hence more cutting and pasting.
As a last step in setting up the sacred space, use a table rather than a desk. Avoid stuffing your legs and feet into tight areas with limited maneuverability. Personal comfort is critical to animating illusions and rousing the aura of sheer fantasy. Locate the work site near a window, preferably one which affords a refreshing, visually appealing, and mnemonic view. Streaming daylight is such a magnificent environment in which to tap into one’s muse. Keep writing utensils, scissors, and ruler in colorful ceramic containers; they add to the serenity of the setting.
Of all those arts in which the wise excel,
Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.
John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham and Normanby
Essay on Poetry 
Ah, now on to the actual writing! Scribes, inditers, belletrists, authors, take time to relax… release the tensions of the day, let go of the inane thoughts competing for your attention and visualize your opening sentence. Focus on the expressions inhabiting your subconscious, and bring them to the fore. Start writing. Don’t entangle yourself with a title – it can come later. I often use quotes to set the tone for what I’m going to write. The beginning is tantamount to a first impression – make it unforgettable, compelling, and polished.
Savor the sensation of receiving material and the gift of allowing your thoughts to pour forth. The initial writing consists of committing the basic draft to paper. This is a methodology which thrives on an open mind, a receptive heart, and enthusiasm. You won’t need your thesaurus while you’re writing, however, do consult your dictionary on spelling, definitions, and usage. Writing is an exercise in mindfulness. You’re developing a style which is uniquely yours while gaining insight into the appeal of this art form. Just write, absorbing the yin and yang of your creation as it emerges. Just write as your message comes together and the underlying narrative comes alive. Just write…
DO’S and DON’T’S of WRITING
While committing the visions in your head and heart to paper, be advised: there are rules worth following. They can make the experience pleasurable or painful.
- Don’t do any editing while composing the first draft.
- Don’t do any proofreading.
- Don’t stop to conduct research.
- Don’t attempt to refine, or revise during creation of the first draft.
- Don’t write when feeling physically tired, hungry, angry, tense, or distracted.
- Don’t write if you can’t give the work your undivided attention.
- Do set a designated time to write every day and be disciplined.
- Do allow yourself the luxury of enjoying this experience. Have fun.
- Do take five minutes to visualize what you’re going to write before starting.
- Do make sure you have everything you need to get going.
Write every day – not every other day, not when the mood hits, not when you feel like it. Do not wait until the stars are aligned in your favor! Perseverance, diligence, focus, and commitment are an absolute necessity. Take advantage of opportunities to compose, construct, develop, or create whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason:
- Personal letters and notes.
- Blog posts.
- Articles for newsletters and magazines.
- Business correspondence.
- Letters to the editor.
- Jingles, taglines, mottoes.
- Letters to elected officials.
- Resumes and cover letters.
Write…email and text – using proper spelling and punctuation, of course. Write…announcements, fliers…The next time you have occasion to send a card, purchase a blank one and compose something personal. Write as if your life depends on it. Your expository composition competencies will not manifest by talking about what you want to do, dreaming about what you want to do, or assembling the tools without ever using them. Writing is, above all else, a skill. For those who truly aspire to be scribes concentrate on expanding your vocabulary. Build your lexicon; learn how to construct grammatically correct and internally consistent content.
I continue to create because writing is a labor of love and also an act of defiance, a way to light a candle in a gale wind.
The foregoing quote spoke to me the first time I read it and it has become my anthem. I believe writing is a labor of love. This is my perception and I own it, without apology. Patience, skill, a substantial and a continuously expanding vocabulary, fecundity, self-confidence, enthusiasm, and deep desire are essential to efficaciously express, in writing, what’s in the head and the heart. An eye, and an ear, for the flow of words distinguishes the truly gifted from the wannabes. Soaring text energizes the senses, engages imaginations, enriches lives, inspires, informs, entertains, edifies, and uplifts. Writing purposefully is an act of defiance. Giving voice to thoughts, feelings, ideas, and perspectives in a persuasive, cogent, and memorable way requires focus, vision, tenacity, perspicacity, and ability. Writing something worth reading does light a candle in a gale wind.
Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
Gene Fowler² (² Also attributed (in various forms) to sports columnist Red [Walter Wellesley] Smith (1905-1982)
Writing is a journey. Like any trip, especially one without a clearly laid out map, or even a known destination, there will be missed turns, false starts, U-turns, gridlock, bad roads, stormy weather, and detours. Accept them. Don’t give up – on yourself or your work. Don’t give in to disappointments, setbacks, delays, stress, discouragement, negative energy, or lack of faith. If writing is truly your calling, surrender, open yourself up to the joy of receiving and giving for the enjoyment, satiety, and edification of others.