Commentary on Recent Writing Group Experiences

Once or twice a year, I spend two weeks with my friend Kathleen.  In February and July this year, we sat to write together 10 times within each visit, capitalizing on morning energy.  Exercises included creating timelines for our collaborative activities and other important relationships (Christina Baldwin), “I know/I don’t know” or “I remember/I don’t remember” (Natalie Goldberg), and exploring memories that haunt (Elizabeth Andrew).  In July we developed a workshop on Writing Legacy Letters, tributes to whom we owe a legacy and ‘values’ messages to younger loved ones. When we tested our ideas with two small groups, one participant made a valuable intergenerational suggestion – to write to a younger person about connections and legacy from one of our elders.

At home, my friend Donna and I have launched a new Project Writing Group –  intended to support each member as she moves forward with a major project –  collection of poetry, memoirs — for me a memoir in prose and poetry. Members will seek constructive feedback on the writing itself, on purpose statements and outlines, as well as on strategies for moving forward, maintaining momentum, crafting drafts, and shaping a final product.

Great Sentences

Write the way you would like to talk…
Attune yourself to the sound of your writing.
~ Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd

Good prose starts with good sentences, including some great ones.  All sentences should be clear, most should be short, some should be engagingly long.

LanhamRevisingProseRevising Prose by Richard Lanham addresses the basic architecture of the English sentence. His Paramedic Method is emergency therapy for prose. Writers apply the method to increase awareness of sentence structure. They manage readers’ attention by enhancing the rhythm both within and among piecesentences.  Sentences become concise, more active, and more intentionally varied.

ZinsserWritingWellZinsser’s classic On Writing Well adds the notion that often a troublesome sentence can be omitted altogether and the warning to avoid what he calls ‘creeping nounism’ (e.g., “the education development program project”).

The Cumulative Sentence is a specific type of intentionally long sentence — composed of a simple independent clause, followed by a number of dependent phrases and clauses which flow along building both rhythm and meaning. See Wallace’s recent blog summarizing and illustrating the creation of such sentences.

Writing Exercise

Take out a piece of writing from some time ago — a story or memory or work document,  perhaps even a meaningful passage from an email message. Craft the prose by using editing tips included in this Blog. Read the two versions aloud to yourself. You can also ask a friend to describe the impact of the two different versions.

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With this seaside shadow photo,
I bid you adieu,