Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spying on the World from the Inside Out

Today I bought another book on sentences (see previous blog post), a craft book,  and yet another thesaurus. Does that render me a nerd? Yeah. No doubt. But the thesaurus (The Concise Roget’s International Thesaurus) is divided into Categories and has a section on phrases. How cool is that? A steal at $7.99.

As my friend (and fellow nerd) Amy Gibson points out, “Nerds are the new COOL.”

I teach writing, so books on sentences are imperative. This one, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, by Howard Fish, is a slim volume that feels good in my hands, and contains poem excerpts in the epigraph. I have only read Chapter One, but already I am a fan. Fish quotes good sentences from books and movies, and even one from a child’s essay. “I was already on the second floor when I heard about the bat.” What a great opening sentence. It contains location, mystery, and a hint of danger. The reader wants to know what happens next.


Fish’s premise is that by analyzing good sentences one can learn to write well. At the end of the first chapter he provides a formula for analyzing, writing and reading sentences:

Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation.

He e equates sentence analysis s with analyzing works of art. When one becomes closer to art, and analyzes it, one appreciates art at a deeper level.

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.”

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

The above quote comes from the third book I bought today (recommended by Maria Popova of, which if you are not following her on twitter and Facebook, you should be.) It is called How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith. The book is placed in the arts section of the bookstore, yet many of the suggested explorations are easily transmitted into writing assignments, for example exploration # 2, Experience collection. Smith suggests keeping a log of things you notice on your travels and experiences.  As a writer and teacher, this gives me an idea to have students take brief filed notes during a set time period. What one notices creates “telling details” usable in writing.


Your exercise today is from Smith’s book: Sit in a chair and quickly, without censoring, write down ten things you notice around  you hadn’t seen when you first sat down. Use those ten things in a poem or story.


Happy Writing.

1 comment:

  1. I love this blog, Moe! Keep 'em coming :-) Also, I'm now going to buy that book.