TEN BASICS OF EFFECTIVE WRITING
Give yourself permission to dream. Consider memories: places lived, embarrassments, important people, a lie you told, a hardship, a triumph, a failure, someone who bullied you, someone you helped or someone you admire. Tell your story from the point of view of a loved object: list specific specifics: names of songs, movies, shoes, jewelry, trips, or sports equipment. Try a cluster outline. Brainstorm. Try music. Select a topic and free write or read other poets to stimulate your writing. Some of us walk.
#1 Work first from your right brain, work small, start with a free write:
Select a vivid memory, then help the reader step into it. Explore multiple aspects. This isn’t a logical or linear activity. Review rules for free writing: set a timer for seven minutes, always keep your hand moving, don’t stop, don’t edit, cross out, proofread or correct. Forget neat, grammar, and spelling for now, scribble, lose control and take risks, write from your heart not your head, avoid logic – leap. If it will help, write with crayons or colored markers. Order the disorder later. Go back and highlight vivid phrases and images, pull them out. Start again, rewrite in formal English, incorporate only the gems from your free write, get out of your mind first, then reclaim it as you proofread and edit.
#2 Be yourself.
Avoid gobble-de-gook and most abstract nouns! (Like truth, love & the American Way) Relax. Speak in your own voice. Don’t work at being clever or erudite. No one wants to read or is fooled by writing that sounds like you are running from yourself. Have fun. Fall in love. Play. Make yourself and the world cry. How? Skip ahead to number three. Then remember: “Fail, fail faster, fail better.” Embrace your fear. I include below a five minute free write on failure:
Failure. Always and often — the F+, the F, the F-. Why and how to avoid the label? All labels, the good-bad trap, the failure trap, the nonsense of what other people think, the tyranny of teachers and all the evaluations, the tyranny of culture, religion, education, family – even with the best of intentions. And then the not knowing, and then the “Am I good enough?” nonsense, the boot camps of evaluation, addictions to good girl and being right, and am I worthy? How to get out of this trap? A cage with the door open, which isn’t a cage at all if you look at it properly and then just step out, then stay out.
#3 Show don’t tell
See it, hear it, smell it, feel it, taste it, tell it like a film: use images. Show us a situation that evokes emotions; do not tell us about it. Effective writing is never plot summary. Help your writer live it. Use present tense. Trim excessive adjectives and all redundant adverbs, shun adverbs like slowly or loudly. Use images instead. Let us see it, feel it or hear it! Adverbs only tell and do not engage the reader. Avoid weak verbs of being such as: is, am or are. Stick with present tense action verbs: waltz, grovel, delight or howl.
#4 Use a narrative hook
Open with a hook or attention grabber. See the section on opening. Compelling dialogue or images work best. Invest much of your planning time on that initial hook, then focus on the conclusion and finally, add an epigraph and spend time on your title.
#5 Be specific and concrete; avoid abstractions.
Use lists. Avoid generalities. Write about the willow not trees and the hibiscus not a flower, refer to Nikes or stilettos not shoes. Do NOT pepper your writing with abstract nouns like love, truth, soul or honor. Use these words sparingly, at first, if at all. Evoke the feelings in your reader first without using these labels. Definitions are often fuzzy or personal. Again see #3. Show don’t tell. Include specifics of geography, costume, time, food, music or character: use dialogue – describe habits and quirks.
#6 Use understatement not hyperbole
Avoid the angst-ridden sort of writing that makes many of us groan. Write honestly about pain but don’t go for suffering. Revise hyperbolic phrases like “crying tears of blood” or melodrama. As the Dali Lama is reputed to have said “Pain is inevitable but suffering, optional.” Convey it, but why wallow? If you need a good rant get out your journal and enjoy a private catharsis or seek therapy. Don’t confuse art with therapy. (Or if you use hyperbole do it with awareness, for instance, use it for satire.)
# 7 Style: Use PVC
Parallel structure, sentence Variety and Conciseness. Many thanks to Kevin Coll, one of my son’s teacher’s, for this one. Sentence variety refers to the length of your sentences. Do not write a series of monotonous eight to ten word sentences. Vary the length! Mix short, simple sentences with complex or complex-compound sentences. Read the entire rough draft, and revise it to include parallel structure, then reread and delete for conciseness, then rewrite for sentence variety. Reread again and delete another 25% your words. Done!
#8 Use figurative language, allusion and synesthesia, but sparingly
Experiment with a simile or metaphor or personification as well as literary or historical allusions or references. Mix your images: smell a sound or hear a feeling or taste a feeling as in the clichéd phrase, “I could taste his fear.” Mix an abstraction (music) with a sense (feeling) as in, “the hard-blue music of a winter sleet storm” Go back and hone or add after you have an acceptable early draft and know both your focus and the structure.
#9 Locate an epigraph
Google quotation.com or other sites to find an appropriate epigraph. The epigraph for my last book of poetry, Riffs, is inscribed below using the proper form. No quotation marks are required, only italics with the author’s name justified to the right of the text directly below the last line.
We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.
#10 Revise, Revise, Revise
Not happy? Recycle. Try another topic, Free write again. Recycle. Diligence pays. Expect to put in time. Yes! Hours and hours. Expect to have fun exploring, defining and recreating your life and stories. Slay your darlings. Think of revision as a verbal slide show: a way to record, capture and savor. Use the Rough Draft Rubric and Revision Recipe. Recycle. Finally, use the Revision Worksheet.
THE NAYLOR METHOD
It’s not the strongest of the species that survives. Not the most intelligent. It’s the one that is most adaptable to change.
— Charles Darwin
Select a model. Read it. Do a six minute free write, then a cluster brainstorm.
Write a rough draft. Utilizing over 70% of your model’s tips & instructions.
Proofread for plagiarism! Use only strategies & techniques, not exact words.
Incorporate your best phrases from the free write & cluster brainstorm into draft.
Then evaluate with the Rough Draft Rubric. Revise again.
Fill out the Revision Worksheet and Revision Recipe.
Locate a sympathetic reader and/or workshop. Share your piece.
Revise again. Incorporate only the feedback that feels right.
Read aloud, again. Tweak it. Take it to a workshop.
Revise again & submit for publication.
ROUGH DRAFT RUBRIC
- Techniques (5 points)
___Specific details (furniture) use of at least one allusion 1
___Image or sensory-based, concrete not abstract, show don’t tell 1
___Language: diction, dialogue, fluid, syntax, no chopped prose 1
___Figurative Language: metaphor, symbol, personification, simile 1
___Sound/music: anaphora, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, tone conforms .5
___Voice: author in control of subject and tone .5
- Mechanics: (2 points)
Punctuation, sentence errors, spelling, line breaks, usage, tense or POV changes,
pronouns, agreement, usage, epigraphs punctuated, present tense, active verbs!
- Coherence: Clear focus: title, content & format reinforce one another
- Style: Plain, sentence variety, parallel structure, concise, panache
- Manuscript Style:
No bold or centering, 12 pt. fonts, Times New Roman, spacing 1.5 poetry
& 2 for prose, CAPS for titles, margins left, no auto caps
___Epigraphs: extra credit + 2 out of 100
___GRAND TOTAL (10)
GRADE A, FIRST-CLASS, TOP-NOTCH, SURE-FIRE, REVISION RECIPE
___1. Check off or add an epigraph below your title and before the text.
___2. Use at least one literary, artistic, historical, scientific allusion or reference.
___3. Figurative language: add metaphor, synesthesia, oxymoron or paradox.
___4. Upgrade vocabulary of three words. Use a thesaurus but don’t overdo! Avoid verbs of being (is & am) use action verbs.
___5. Use two lists for music and momentum.
___6. Use an auditory image, add an additional image, one should not be visual.
___7. Read aloud. Listen for sound. Consider euphony, cacophony, refrains.
___8. Parallel structure: I came. I saw. I conquered. Or Of the people, by the….
___9. Conciseness: trim any extra words. Avoid redundancy.
___10. Use sentence variety. Vary short sentences or frags. Combine short sentences to achieve more complex expressions.
Ask the “so what?” & “who cares?” questions. Does your work startle our delight? If not try again. Use irony. Proofread for unity, logic & coherence. Check facts. Research. Volunteer to give & get help from a peer editor.
GLOSSARY OF LITERARY TERMS
ALLITERATION = repetition of initial consonant sounds.
Example: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
ASSONANCE= repetition of vowel sounds. Example: The loud howl of the owl.
ALLUSION = a reference to an historical, mythological, literary, artistic or scientific event fact or person.
Examples: Apollo, Einstein, Napoleon, the Gettysburg Address, Darwin, Picasso, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Pearl Harbor.
ANACHONISM = something outside its historical context.
Example: A helicopter flies over the battle of Gettysburg.
ANAPHORA = a refrain or repetition of single words usually at the beginning of a phrase.
Example: I remember Paris, I remember Jean Val jean, I remember the Louvre, …
CACOPHONY = harsh, grading sounds.
Example: clickety-clack or screech.
DICTION = word choice,
Example: The dictions of professor and beggar vary dramatically.
DIDACTIC = intending to instruct,
Example: preachers, teachers and parents are often didactic.
ELEGY = a poem written to praise the dead.
EPIGRAPH = a guiding quotation that is placed beneath the title and before the text. It should have relevance to your topic the words are italicized – no quotation marks are necessary since the author’s name is placed below the quotation. Put a dash in front of the author’s name and line up the last letter of his or her name with the last letter in the quotation.
ACERBIC WIT: A BIOGRAPHY title
Living well is the best revenge. quotation
– Oscar Wilde author
EUPHONY = the use of soothing and harmonious sounds.
Example: The sweet susurrations of a loon.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE = The use of literary devices like personification, metaphor, simile or symbols
FREE WRITE = It’s important to know that writing poetry is often more emotional than cognitive. Recognize also that the two are often inextricable. This is where the value of a free write emerges. Do it. Don’t over think it. Fire your internal editor. Just dabble and play. Surrender to your right brain, start with a seven minute free write. Instructions below.
Select a vivid memory. Step into it. Be there. Explore multiple aspects. This isn’t a logical or linear activity. Set a timer for seven minutes, then keep your hand moving, don’t stop, don’t edit, cross out, proofread or correct. If you can’t think of anything to say write, “I can’t think of anything to say” until you do. Dive into your subconscious. Forget neat, forget grammar, and spelling for now, scribble, lose control and take risks, write from your heart not your head, avoid logic – leap. If it helps, write with crayons or colored markers or non-dominant hand.
Order the disorder later. When you finish, go back and highlight vivid phrases or images, pull them out. Start again, rewrite in formal English, incorporate only the gems from your free write, get out of your mind first, proofread and edit later.
HYPERBOLE = exaggeration.
Example: the traffic jam almost killed me.
IMAGERY = the incorporation of our five senses in writing.
Example: Employ visual, taste, smell, auditory or kinesthetic (feeling) senses
IRONY= the unexpected. There are three types: verbal, situational and dramatic.
Verbal= saying the opposite of what you mean, often used in sarcasm.
Example: I just love mildew.
Situational = when an unexpected situation occurs,
Example: a firehouse burns down or a cop is handcuffed to a police car.
Dramatic = always involves an unexpected ignorance.
Example: in the drama, Oedipus Rex, the King searches for a murderer but
is ignorant of the fact that he unwittingly murdered his own father, then
marries his mother. Whew!
LINES = Some say this is the only concrete or measurable thing that separates a poem from prose. Prose is written between the margins of a piece of paper, a machine or your hand fills this space with words, while the poet determines and controls line length in a poem. The poet determines what line length serves his purpose best. Dickinson wrote small cramped lines, reflecting her ideas and disposition, while Whitman wrote his Song of the Open Road in long, expansive, loping, almost prose-like lines. When your form reflects the content the reader receives a more coherent message. It’s up to you to experiment with lines and determine whether you will stick with a signature line length or vary it depending upon your content. Lines may end at the end of a sentence or phrase or clause or it may be enjambed or dropped down and wrapped into the next line as in the lines /all fall/
Enjambment is a special tool best utilized by the proficient. Avoid it early on as well as the heavy-handed use of rhymed couplets or end rhyme which produces a sing- song, Dr. Seuss or Hallmark card tone or effect. If you do employ these devices it’s prudent to get feedback from those whose work you respect.
LISTS = a series of specifics that provide texture and call up a variety of connotations. Below is a short list poem I wrote consisting of a series of names.
Faizaan, Avrumie, Salomon, Jaime, Qi An, Javi.
I savor the alien sounds of my teaching, turned gypsy,
gone are all those Tom, Dick and Harry’s,
as I, still somewhat stationary,
merge with immigrant, with movement, crises,
with change, as cultures, eras, institutions,
insist on the dynamic, the vital,
the fluid, chanting our new song:
Qi An, Jaime, Avrumie, Javi, Salomon, Faizaan.
METAPHOR = an indirect comparison, such as “the rose-fingered dawn”
MODEL=a recipe or set of instructions derived from a successful poem. The model, analyzes strategies so students may select and duplicate techniques while incorporating their own content, diction and tone. See the section titled Six Models for many examples.
ONOMATOPOEIA = when a word sounds like the thing it describes.
Examples: buzz, rasp, hiss, shush, whisper, cuckoo, slurp, etc.
PARALLEL STRUCTURE = a series of grammatically similar phrases
Example: “of the people, by the people, for the people” repeats a series
of prepositional phrases or consider “His writing a comedy, his life a tragedy,
Oscar Wilde….” The parallel is in the repetition of a phrase that starts with a
pronoun, then a noun, an article and finally, another noun or remember Caesar’s
famous line: “I came. I saw. I conquered.” Here three first person pronouns (I)
are followed by the three past tense verbs: “came, saw, and conquered.”
PARADOX= an apparent contradiction.
Example: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” or the phrase, living death.
PROMPT= a writing assignment
Example: Describe your family’s front porch when you were twelve.
SATIRE = to ridicule institutions or powerful people with either the intention of improving
society or just for fun or for the entertainment value.
SIMILE = a direct comparison using like or as. This is less subtle than the metaphor.
Example: the dawn looks like a series of rose-colored fingers.
SYMBOL = when one thing stands for or represents another.
Example: You are as American as apple pie. Apple pie = America
SYNESTHESIA = a mixing of two of the five senses.
Examples: I could taste his fear. OR The heat of her voice mesmerized us.
SYNTAX = refers to word order. Vary the structure of your sentences.
Example: Do not automatically use the standard formula of subject/ verb /object, as in “I waltz with fairies.” Try instead to use an introductory phrase or clause
like “Only after waking, do I waltz with the fairies.”
Experiment with a bit of playful taxsyn. Suit yourself, nothing else. Really matters. It does. Not. Matter. Yo ho ho & a bottle of fun. Break one rule a day. Get’ over. It… (note to editor. Leave this alone!)
TONE= the mood or emotional attitude of an author or literary work.
UNDERSTATEMENT = minimizing or downplaying a situation. Opposite of hyperbole.
Example: Her grief was minor.
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott & Poemcrazy by Susan Wooldridge
Writing Down the Bones, also Wild Minds, Natalie Goldberg
Writing Toward Home, Georgia Heard
You Are a Writer, Jeff Goins
The Idiot’s Guide to Writing Poetry, Nikki Moustakki
Ordinary Genius, Kim Addonizio,
The Poets Companion, Kim Addonizio & Dorianne Laux
The Maverick Poets by Steve Kowit
Any by Billy Collins, Galway Kinnell, Robert Hass, Mary Oliver, Jim Daniels, Maxine Kumin, Campbell McGrath, Tony Hoagland, Gerald Stern, Jack Gilbert, Richard Blanco, Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, Mark Halliday, David Rivard, Stephen Dunn, Tess Gallagher, Bob Hicok, Mark Cox, Naomi Shihab Nye, Heather McHugh, Linda Gregg. Stanley Plummley, Czeslaw Milosz, William Stafford, Mark Strand, Sharon Olds, Tracy Brimhall Pablo Neruda, Alberto Rios, Fanny Howe, Danez Smith, Donald Hall, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gary Synder, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane Ackerman, Raymond Carver, Christian Wiman, Marie Howe, or Thomas Lux.
Anthologies: Best Poems of 2020 or any in this series from the last ten or fifteen years.
Online journals: Rattle & SOFLOPOJO, South Florida Poetry Journal(monthly)
Prose: Stories by Barry Lopez, J.D. Salinger, Ellen Gilchrist or memoir by Annie Dillard.
Other: Oxford Reverse Dictionary
1. Goals: what would you like to accomplish?
2.. Are you all in after making a commitment?
3. Consider what has affected your attitudes about writing. Describe. Return to nursery school if you need to.
4. What kind of writing do you do today? Do you enjoy it?
5.How do you get started?
6.. What is the hardest part of writing for you? The easiest?
5. Are you limited by genre? Do you write only poetry or memoir, business copy or stories?
6. What is your favorite writing location?
7. What are your criterion for a positive writing experience?
8. Do you usually write more than one draft? How do you feel about revising?
9. Who reads your work? Are you comfortable reading to a small group?
10. Have you ever experienced writer’s block or anxiety while writing?
16. What books do you read? List a few recent titles.
17. What are the qualities of the ideal writing workshop leader? The ideal workshop member?
18. Have you ever felt the gratification of writing well? Is writing easy for you? If so, explain.