Flavorwire: Advice from 10 prolific writers

JoelTrainsAuthors is mostly about non-fiction. But this advice (which came via Copyblogger, whom I thank) is useful to all writers.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Build a web

He wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days, but he wasn’t in too big a hurry to mind the web of “sound patterns” essential to the delicate art of constructing sentences, which he elucidates in the first chapter of his 1919 essay collection, The Art of Writing:

Music and literature, the two temporal arts, contrive their pattern of sounds in time; or, in other words, of sounds and pauses. Communication may be made in broken words, the business of life be carried on with substantives alone; but that is not what we call literature; and the true business of the literary artist is to plait or weave his meaning, involving it around itself; so that each sentence, by successive phrases, shall first come into a kind of knot, and then, after a moment of suspended meaning, solve and clear itself. In every properly constructed sentence there should be observed this knot or hitch; so that (however delicately) we are led to foresee, to expect, and then to welcome the successive phrases. The pleasure may be heightened by an element of surprise, as, very grossly, in the common figure of the antithesis, or, with much greater subtlety, where an antithesis is first suggested and then deftly evaded. Each phrase, besides, is to be comely in itself; and between the implication and the evolution of the sentence there should be a satisfying equipoise of sound; for nothing more often disappoints the ear than a sentence solemnly and sonorously prepared, and hastily and weakly finished. Nor should the balance be too striking and exact, for the one rule is to be infinitely various; to interest, to disappoint, to surprise, and yet still to gratify; to be ever changing, as it were, the stitch, and yet still to give the effect of an ingenious neatness.

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Taking Stock: A Good Starting Point

Today is “Erev Yom Kipur,” the eve of the Jewish Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day of the year for Jews–the conclusion of ten days of spiritual “inventory-taking” that began on the Feast of Trumpets, now known as Rosh HaShana, the beginning of the lunar year.

All Jewish holidays–indeed, all days–begin at sundown and end at sundown. Every week, Shabat–our sabbath–begins at sundown on Friday, and ends at sundown on Saturday. (This is because Genesis reports of the days of Creation, “It was evening, and it was morning, the (first, second, etc.) day.”)

We examine ourselves during the ten days between Trumpets and Yom Kipur, and take action–asking forgiveness of those we’ve hurt, making restitution, finding a place of repentance. Then on the Day of Atonement we sum it all up, admit our faults to God, express our sorrow and our determination to do better, and seek forgiveness. Thus we are prepared to begin a new year, with a clean heart.

This narrative of taking stock, sorting things out, examining our feelings and attitudes, taking appropriate action, and beginning anew, is a recognizable human behavior pattern. It’s a journey people understand. So you can use it as a pattern for your book.

How might this work? Let’s say you’re a coach. You could arrange your initial outline like this:

  • My personal story
  • Things got bad
  • Things got worse
  • Finally, I realized…
  • I faced my situation, made restitution, asked for forgiveness
  • Started over
  • Became a coach
  • Have helped others
  • I can help you

For a consultant, it might be something like:

  • I worked in a company
  • Encountered problems
  • They got worse
  • Then I realized…
  • I took action and made things right
  • Decided to help others deal with similar issues
  • Worked with a client (repeat pattern)
  • Worked with another client (repeat pattern)
  • Now I help lots of clients, and can help you

Your turn.

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