Getting to the point about good writing

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

I'm taking this opportunity to teach a remote writing class. First of all, what's the hardest thing about writing? Finding topics? Yes, it's better to write about something we care about. But what's the most difficult thing? No one? It's getting started. Why is starting so hard? Because we have a voice inside our head that says our writing is bad. That our sentences are stupid. You know how you have a really great idea but as soon as you start writing it down, it doesn't come close to what you were thinking. So the first step to writing is to turn off that voice that tells us our writing is bad.

To make our writing better we have to think of writing as music. Now what are the two elements of music? What's that? Yes, music has a beat or rhythm. So how do we create rhythm with our writing? Nobody? Who said punctuation? Well, you're on the right track. We create rhythm by varying the length of our sentences. If all of our sentences are the same length, it's boring. What we need are long sentences, short sentences and medium sentences. We don't want run-on sentences that have "and, and, and." We break those down into shorter sentences. Two- or three-word sentences can be very effective.

Now what's the other element of music? What's that — the notes? Right, the other element of music is melody. How do we create melody with our writing? We create melody with alliteration. We repeat consonant sounds like, "the tops of the tall trees." Or, we can repeat vowel sounds, "How now, brown cow?"

So when we're choosing which word to use, we try to use words that have similar consonant sounds, or vowel sounds to the other words in the sentence. By varying the length of our sentences and using alliteration, we make music with our writing.

Writing is also Jenga. We build our sentences and then take out unnecessary words, so that our sentence is still standing but with no extra words. Nothing will improve our writing more than eliminating unnecessary words. This includes phrases like, "I started to, I was thinking of, I was going to." These are word-wasters. Just get to the point. Don't start to climb the mountain. Just climb.

Our assignment for next week is to write a five-paragraph sentence about ourselves. The format for the essay is called SHAPE. S is for special gifts we have. Maybe we're good listeners, or we're loyal, or we have the gift of hospitality. H is for hobbies and passions. A is for abilities. Are we savvy with computers? Are we good at basketball? P is for personality. Are we shy introverts, or are we outgoing extroverts? Finally, E is for experiences. What experiences helped us grow as a person? So write a paragraph for each of these character traits.

The hardest part will be connecting our paragraphs. We need transitions that lead from one paragraph to the next. Coming up with transitions is difficult. If we have to, we can always use, "Speaking of" or a transition like that. Email your SHAPE essay to me by next week. Don't send them at the last minute. I don't want to correct a tsunami of essays right before our next class.

Speaking of which, did you all get your haikus back? I don't usually take points off of poems but some of you didn't have the correct number of syllables. I realize this isn't math class but remember: three lines, seventeen syllables, 5-7-5. OK, I'll see you all next week.

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