Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1.2 Writing

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Writing (Update: 08 Aug. 2018)
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For most of us, writing does not come easily
 Magnifying glass improves the efficiency of editing
What to Write
use size-14 Century bold font
A major motivation to write
concept of Amateurism in writing. 
Factors in Success to popularize a book: 
End Note on writing style 
Writing by Dictation 

For most of us, writing does not come easily because we do not, on first try, choose the right words. My first draft is confused and poor sounding, and as an unskilled writer I need much rewriting. Computers have given us the word processor and have added Internet access to quickly get facts, spelling, grammar and meaning, and have made rewriting efficient, effective and time saving for hackers like I. 
   Once you make a draft, repeatedly review your text to delete what is repetitious or not needed, to correct error of fact, to remove excessively fancy language, and to further make your text easier for the less educated or non native reader. I benefit much from being aware I have readers for whom English is not native. It makes me try to write less words, clearer and simpler. One wants to keep an individual style and use elegant or poetic words or phrases when needed, but do not try it merely to impress.
   Magnifying glass improves the efficiency of editing. It is like subjecting your writing to microscope - you pick up error normally missed.
   What to Write? One needs something useful to write. That gets to content, aim and imagination. In my case, I wish to leave to the future my idea of living efficiently and happily so I wrote (and am still writing) the Slim Novels accessed through For my advice on good health and long life, I wrote Physician’s Notebooks accessed through
   Do your typing using computer graphics, and internet pictures and cover design. I use size-14 Century bold font (You are reading in it now; but perhaps you have enlarged the size, which is a little different from the font that takes spacing into consideration as well as size of letters, to make it easier for you to view) for main text. The size-14 is the largest you can use without too widely spaced lines, and is easily read by persons with aging vision. Keep your books slim. Because the thicker book is apt to elicit an "Oh! Too much reading !", the slim book psychologically, on viewing, keeps a potential reader's interest better than a thick book. If you need to write a huge tome, break it up into many slim books.
A major motivation to write is to make money and get admirers. For a few it happens but many unpublished writers waste time and money on vanity and vague hopes. The literary agent today charges too much for merely receiving a manuscript. And most of the time she or he will not even try to find a publisher because the market for unpublished writers is glutted with too much material. It is OK to use fame and money to energize your starting a book, but, once you have started, continually up-edit to perfect your writing and develop a readership via an internet blog like this one, If your book has commercial value, you will get readers.
   It is important at some point in writing a book for its writer to decide on its worth to society, its value as entertainment, and its potential for commercial success. If any one of these seems valid, keep improving your book and keep pitching. 
Here I want to comment on my concept of Amateurism in writing. Too many authors take their being a writer too seriously, ie, calling oneself, for example, an "artist", a term which ought to be reserved only for someone who paints well. One can be an amateur at a particular activity, do it uncommonly well, and not need to flatter oneself by terms like "artist" or "writer"; for example, click next on the URL--
  --for the following, brief film on the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, William Faulkner. It is an interesting film to watch but also notice right at the beginning that the great writer starts off by referring to himself as "a farmer, who also writes" by which I take him to mean the concept that I have given for an Amateur: someone who does a thing uncommonly well but does not value his or her taking money for it.

Factors in Success to popularize a book. 
 a) Writing talent, by which I mean the ability to edit in one's head and to put together words to fascinate a reader; and to make a good story or narrative. Talent is not usually something one is born with although circumstances of birth may help (cf. W. Somerset Maugham, Edith Wharton; their European continental upbringing); it is learned, sometimes by hard study, daily writing and observing other writers' good styles. 
  b) Content and imagination, which relates to the subject(s) of a book. Certain content appeals to a reader's instinct for survival, or addresses his or her anxieties or it promises the reader big rewards. You should keep aware of your book's appeal to readers. An appeal of content may over-ride the reader's dis-incentive from its poor writing.
 c) The power of hype, persuasion and advertisement is a factor that can override factors of content and writing talent. For example, O.J. Simpson's writing How I Killed My Wife and Got Away Free would have been an automatic best seller not because of O.J.'s (or his ghost's) writing talent but simply because of his appearance on the TV news. Name recognition, eg, "Meghan Markle", is important and, even in the absence of fame, you may get it by getting on a website that gives worldwide exposure.

End Note on writing style, syntax (word order), grammar, and orthography (the use of punctuation marks). Of course, good sources exist: two books, E.B. White's Elements of Style or Donald Hall's Writing Well, ought to be read at leisure purely for the pleasure of reading the good style. Here I try to give a few ideas that new writers in English, especially non-native, may use to make their writing clearer and more compelling especially to those readers who have less education or for whom written English is not a first language.
Writing style by which I mean the feeling your writing should give to a reader is best done in what I call a friendly, informative way, which means paying attention in a reader-friendly way. For example, if you use a foreign language quote or a rarely understood slang expression be sure in footnote or brackets to include the standard English meaning. And neither be overly formal nor too informal, which means no use of slangy or foreshortened or show-off words, unless in context, but also relating to the reader by the not too frequent use of "You", again in context. 
 Grammar and spelling  should be perfect; it means using computer correction but also good knowledge based either on birth in the language or, for non-native writers in English, on previous intense study in writing the language. Do not experiment with word shortcuts or slang; it distracts the reader from his or her main attention which ought to be meaning. Above all strive for clarity and simplicity (in words and syntax).  Rewriting is an absolute must and never satisfied.
A few words on the use of commas. Always keep in mind the one rule that you should never ignore: the comma (or other orthography) should never cause confusion or confuse meaning. It's purpose should be to improve clarity - example, the comma is well used to separate the grammar function of words without which, if not separated, confusion may arise. Sometimes we may need to use a comma because it is strongly customary. (After an "if" clause) and lack of its use may prove a distraction even though it is not really necessary for improving clarity.
Unless you are a Nobel prize writer like William Faulkner, avoid long, complex sentences. When you see you have written one, in rewriting, break it up into smaller, simpler sentences that express each idea of the complex sentence. And edit out words that really do not add anything to what you wish to express as an idea; words like "very", "much" and the like, unless of course they are truly needed for exaggerated emphasis.
Writing by Dictation:  Most persons start off writing with pencil/pen and paper and then typing/computer. I did that for years then, one day recently, I got to write by dictations. What a difference!  Both have good points and I do not mean to hype dictation; however, the big benefit of dictation is, it gives you more time to think about the content and method of your writing. When you write directly off your hand or computer, your mind and body are so occupied by the direct action of the writing that you do not usually consider other aspects. But when you dictate, you become also a more slow-motion observer of an act of writing that happens to be your own, and hence a better critic and editor. I find I add alternative points of view, modify extremes of my prose and see errors better. Perhaps writing directly allows one to express high emotion better than by dictation. In a sense, writing  by  dictation combines writing by hand with editing your first draft, but taking the editing alone, of course, it lacks the original inspiration of spontaneous writing. In any case, dictation is useful if you can get it.

Poetry is a nearly lost art so I end with a description of what makes writing poetry, especially involving Metre (also spelled meter) and Rime (also spelled rhyme).
METRE is a regular pattern of accented and unaccented syllables running through the lines of a poem. Rhythm is the longer, more irregular rise and fall of emphasis throughout the lines as they read. Rhythm follows the pattern of the metre in a general way, but it has many variations. These are caused by the sound and meaning of the words, by pauses, by extra syllables tucked into some of the metres, or by changes in the metre itself. You may have noticed something like this when listening to music. For example, a waltz like THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE, has a regular, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, time-beat running though it, but the music flows in and out and rises and falls in a rhythm of its own, never really losing touch with the time-beat, but making many variations which give beauty and life to the sounds. 
Not all poetry has metre; there is one kind that is called free verse because it is not governed by metre. But all poetry does have some kind of rhythm.
In the English language there are four metres which are most used because they suite the natural stresses or accents of the language. These are called by names that have come down to us from ancient Greek poetry.---the iambus, or iamb; the trochee; the dactyl; and the anapest. Each is a little pattern repeated as many times as the length of the line makes necessary. When we scan a line of poetry, that is, read it to find out where the accents fall, we use a mark (above the syllable) like this --- (straight line) to show a stressed or accented syllable, and a mark like a curve-like cup facing down above the syllable to show an unstressed syllable. Thus each of the four metres has its own little pattern of marks, and the syllables which make up each little pattern form a metre or metrical foot. 
An iamb is a 2-syllable foot, with the stress on the second syllable, as in the word "begin" (cup over "be"; horizontal line over "gin"). An example of iambic metre is the line, The shades of night were falling fast. (Horizontal stress marks over ever 2nd syllables)
You will find a great many poems in English made up of iambic metre, for it seems to fit the natural stresses of our written and spoken language better than any other metre. Shakespeare used it with wonderful skill in his plays. Many of our great epics or story-poems are in iambic metre. It can be varied so that it does not become tiresome. It also has life and sparkle in short poems.
The trochee is also used a great deal. It is an iamb turned round, for its stresses are on every odd syllable starting with the first, as in the word "little". The nursery rime, Twinkle, twinkle, little star, is an example of trochaic metre that every boy and girl knows. The word trochee comes from a Greek word meaning "running," and you should notice that the metre does seem to jog or run at a good, swift pace.
The dactyl is a 3-syllable foot with the stress on the first syllable, as in the word "galloping." The name comes from dactylos, the Greek word for finger, because a finger has three joints, one long and two short. Dactylic metre suggests emotion, but the nature of the emotion it expresses can vary greatly. In the first lines of Tennyson's CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE,

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them, 

the words in their dactylic arrangement have the ring of danger and the excitement of battle. In the first line of Browning's LOST LEADER

Just for a handful of ribbon he left us,

 the dactylic metre brings out the sorrowful scorn that the poet felt for the leader who had deserted his cause.
The anapest is another 3-syllable foot; in fact, it is a dactyl turned round, with the stress upon the last syllable instead of on the first. Short lines made up of anapests, such as Cowper's

I am monarch of all I survey,

 have a brisk, determined air about them.
   Perhaps you have noticed that the different lines we have quoted do not all have the same number of metrical feet. In English poetry a line may have anywhere from one to eight feet. Lines of three, four and five feet are most used. Each kind of verse (a verse is a line of poetry) takes its name from the Greek word for the number of feet it has. Thus we have monometer (one measure, or one foot), dimeter (2 measures), trimeter and etc., until the eight-feet.

A poem written entirely in monometer would naturally have to be rather short or it would soon become tiresome. Poems in monometer usually express a single thought in the fewest and most exact words. Monometer verse is very rare, but the seventeenth century poet, Robert Herrick wrote this famous example
Thus I
Pass by
And die
As one
and gone
As you may note, each of these lines is a single iambic metre. 
The lines from Tennyson's CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, which was quoted before to show what a dactyl was like, are also a good example of dimeter.  Look at them again and you should see that each line is made up of two dactyls, or two dactylic feet.
Trimeter has three feet to the line. The second and fourth lines of JACK SPRAT are iambic trimeter.
His wife could eat no lean,
They licked the platter clean.
Tetrameter, the four-foot line, often occurs in English poetry. Here are two very different examples of this line. The first, from Tennyson, is iambic tetrameter
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye
The second, from Byron, is anapestic tetrameter:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.

   Pentameter is the five-foot line and is one of those most frequently used in English poetry, easpecially iambic pentameter, as in the following line from Kingsley:
O Mary, go annd call the cattle home.

The other three kinds of verse that have mentioned, hexameter, heptameter, and octameter, are not so often found in English. Longfellow wrote EVANGELINE in hexameter, made up chiefly of dactyls, and the first line of that poem will show you how long-drawn-out six feet of dactyls can be.
This is the forest primeval; the murmuring pines and the hemlocks.

Byron makes use of heptameter, seven iambic feet, to say
There's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away.

Poe creates the mournful magic of THE RAVEN partly with trochaic pentameter, as in the opening line:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary.

You may have noticed that in some of the lines quoted, the poet has shortened the last foot, or has made two short syllables take a single stress in a foot. These are among the many ways in which poets vary the rhythm of the lines. This rhythmic variation, as it is called, does two important things: it helps to bring out the meaning and beauty of the words, and it keeps the verse from sounding dull and monotonous. If you try to read a verse strictly according to the mechanical beat of the metre, you will find that it becomes uninteresting as the ticking of a clock. 
Sometimes a poet will add an extra beat to one of the feet. Sometimes a dactyl will be placed in a trochaic line, or an iambic line will begin with an anapest. A poet who has a true sense of rhythm, and who is skilled in the selection and arrangement of words, very seldom sticks to a mechanically perfect metre throughout a poem.


There are two kinds of rhythmic variation that you will often meet when you are reading poetry. The first is the caesura, or cut, in the flow of a line. Read aloud the first line of EVANGELINE, with attention to the sense of the words

This is the first primeval;/ the murmuring pines and the hemlocks.

You can see that there is a natural pause marked by a semicolon, after the word "primeval," a pause that comes between the two weak stresses of a dactyl. That is a caesura. The mark for it is /, as shown in the quotation above. It breaks the long line in two and keeps it from dragging.
The other common rhythmic variation is a metrical foot called a spondee. It is a two-syllable foot in which both syllables have the same stress, and its pattern mark is tow long accented lines like this --- --- (above the word line). It is brought into a line to give a slower, or more stately emphasis to a particular point in the rhythm. Notice how the spondees vary the rhythm and emphasize the meaning of Pope's iambic pentameter line,

And ten slow words oft creep in one dull line.

When accented syllables or whole words have the same sound, such as go and flow, or dreaming and gleaming, we say that they rime. In poetry  such rimes often come at the end of the lines, though you may notice that some poems have rimes inside the lines as well as at the end. This is called internal, or medial, riming.

Rime is almost the first thing that people notice about poetry---at least about English poetry. Some languages do not use rime and others use it very little. Even very young children like and remember best those songs and sayings that have simple rimes. This is probably because the riming words give such a swing to the lines, and because repeating the sound of the end words helps us to remember them. And yet, strange to say, during the earliest centuries of the English language its poetry had no such rimes at all. Instead, it had alliteration, which some people call initial rime. Alliteration is still used in our poetry. 
There are several kinds of rime. First, there is the simple kind made with one-syllable words, such as cat and rat or moon and soon, or with the last syllables of longer words, such as while, beguile, compile, defile, or arose, suppose, unclose. One-syllable rimes are called masculine rimes.


Two-syllable rimes in which the accent is on the next-to-last syllable are called feminine rimes. Fountain and mountain, beauty and duty, spoken and token are feminine rimes. You will notice that the masculine rime brings the rhythm of the line to a distinct pause, while the feminine line has a smooth, swinging effect.
There are triple rimes such as fragility, versatility, he left us, bereft us, and some poets have been able to manage even more complicated rimes. These polysyllabic rimes are generally used in clever, humorous verses. As a rule you will find that the more serious poetry has simpler rimes. This is partly because complicated rimes tend to draw attention away from the poem's mood and thought.


Rimes may be arranged in any number of ways, and this is one of the most fascinating parts of making up verses. They may be arranged in pairs, in couplets, as in

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose

or the first line may rime with the third and the second with the fourth, as in this quatrain, or four-line arrangement:

He is gone on the mountain,
    He is lost in the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
     When our need was the sorest.

An easy way to count the arrangement of rimes is to use a letter of the alphabet for each different sound that ends a line. In the quatrain we have just read, the rime-scheme is abab. In the following quatrain from Whittier the scheme is abcb, only the second and fourth lines agreeing in sound.

The pines were dark on Ramoth hill,
     Their song was soft and low ;
The blossoms in the sweet May wind
     Were falling like the snow.

A line of poetry is called a verse. A number of verses, or lines, are generally grouped together according to a certain rime-scheme to make a stanza. The couplets and quatrains we have been quoting are stanzas. A stanza may be of any length.Four, six and eight-line stanzas are the most common. The stanzas within a poem usually have the same number of lines and follow the same rime-scheme, though this is not always true. In long poems, especially, the stanzas are likely to vary in number of lines and in rime-scheme. In this way the poet avoids monotony.


A stanza in poetry may be compared to a paragraph in prose. Each stanza expresses a single thought or picture, or a number of ideas which form a thought or picture. The number of lines in a stanza is closely connected with the rime-scheme. In Tennyson's poem THE EAGLE, there are only six lines, rimed aaa bbb. With such an arrangement of the rimes, the most natural way to group the lines is in two stanzas of three lines each. If the rime-scheme had been ababab, it would have been better to arrange the poem in one six-line stanza. William Blake's THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER has six lines rimed aabbcc, and falls naturally into two-line stanzas, or couplets.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house filled with doves and pigeons 
Shudders Hell in all its regions.

A dog starved at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

We have mentioned alliteration, or initial rime, which has been used in English poetry for more than a thousand years. Alliteration is the use of accented syllables which have the same initial sound, as in Swinburne's line,

Their ways to wander and their wards to keep.
or as in Tennyson's line,
   I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance.
In both of these lines the alliterative letters are consonants.
In vowel alliteration the accented letters do not have to be exactly the same, so long as they are vowels. A good example of vowel alliteration is Swinburne's

No elf no ouphe nor ought of airier kind.

If we were to give an example of the Old English alliterative poetry, it would be difficult to read, because our language has changed so greatly since those days. Here, however, are two poems from an ancient poem called THE WANDERER, which has been put into modern English words by Stopford Brooke.

Darkens then the dusk of night, driving from the nor'rard
Heavy drift of hail for the harm of heroes.

The accented d's in the first line and the h's in the second line give strength to the rhythm of the verses, and the very sounds of the letters seem to make more vivid the poet's foreboding of the dark northern winter.
Alliteration must be used with great skill and the poet must be sensitive both to the sound and meaning of words, to see how far one can go with alliteration. For example, in THE SIEGE OF BELGRADE the poet used only words beginning with a in his first line, words beginning with b in his second line, and so on to the end of the alphabet. Even he was not able to think up a suitable line made up of words all beginning with j, so he left that letter out. This sort of thing is amusing, but it is more of a word game than a poem.


The third kind of riming about which must be told is assonance, or vowel rime. When two or more words have the same vowel sound, like stone and roam, wander and ward, we have assonance. The tones of such words seem to flow into one another and blend like the sound of bells that have been tuned alike. Hundreds of years ago, in the poetry of southern France and Spain, assonance played an important part in verse-making. It has never been quite so important in English poetry, yet most of our skilled poets have made use of it to lend a special glow and color to their verses. Here are two lines from Coleridge which have assonance:

Where Alph, the sacred river ran,
Through caverns measureless to man.

Rime, alliteration and assonance are called tone color. This is a fitting name for them, because they all have to do with the varying qualities of sound, which are like the shades of light and color. A poet must be able to select the words with which he creates a mood or picture, not only for rhythm and meaning but for the kind and color of sound that they give. Poetry is still, as it was in the days before people began to write things down, a form of singing. That is why you can understand and enjoy it more when you read it aloud.
Just as some artists are greater in the use of line and others are greater in the use of color, so there are poets who excel in the creation of rhythm, and poets who are masters of tone color. A few have equal mastery of both, and one of the greatest of these makers of word-music was Edgar Allan Poe. If you read his wildly exciting poem THE BELLS, you will discover scores of wonderful examples of the different kinds of rime, or alliteration and of assonance, all giving glorious color contrasts to the complicated rhythm of the song.
In THE RAVEN, Poe uses these same poetic devices, but with a different effect ! When you read THE BELLS, you feel a mounting excitement, that rises with the voices of the bells, until at its height there is a break, and the deep fateful tones of the iron bells chill your spirit with their message of doom. THE RAVEN does not make the reader's pulse beat faster. The rhythmic flow of its lines and the somber richness of its tone color seem to lay a sorrowful enchantment over the mind.
To read the poems we have mentioned that are not here in text just Google the poem name and read out loud. Then try your own poetry

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