Even old dogs forget old tricks – Tool the First

Cover of "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Str...
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I find myself reaching for Roy Peter Clark’s “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer” now. The realisation that more people read my work has made me even more self-conscious. And my friends know just how much a nervous wreck I can be under scrutiny.


The first strategy or tool: “Begin sentences with subjects and verbs” seems like common sense.

I should know that by now, shouldn’t I? Looking at my writing, I think I have forgotten more than I actually know right now.

Writing is a discipline. You spend your life, if you care enough about it, mastering it and always working to be better than you were yesterday.

You take your work, and oftentimes yourself, apart. You question – does that comma really need to be there? – you verify, you obsess over ridiculous minutiae.

Clark advises, “The next time you struggle with a sentence, rewrite it by placing subject and verb at the beginning.”

For dramatic effect, he suggests, to occasionally place subject and verb at the end of a sentence.

So I try it to write a short paragraph about my father.

“He looms tall in my childhood memories. I still vaguely remember the days when I was small enough to wrap around a leg as he walked, gleefully holding on while he stomped around the room until finally he would pick me up and carry me. In my mind, he was a giant among men. To this day, I still believe that.”

I didn’t set out to put the subject and verb at the beginning of each sentence. Yes, I did consciously do so in the first sentence but after that it was all about fleshing out my childhood memories of my father. I find it funny how I placed subject and verb at the end of both my final two sentences. The two sentences are parallel in beat, in rhythm.

But too many writers, in a hurry to say what they want to say, write sentences but forget the subject. There was a very good reason our English teachers would laboriously make us find the subject, the clauses, the predicates in our sentences. You have to take apart sentences and then figure out how to put them back together, perhaps in better ways. Much like how children played with toy bricks, rearranging them in as many ways as they could manage. Miss a brick or put in the wrong piece and down your little toy castles would go.

Perhaps by blogging again I will remember just how the bricks of writing work so that my readers will see what I’m trying to build for them with my words. I will have failed if all they can see is not the meaning or message, only the words.

Tomorrow I’ll write about a writer who totally misses the point of putting words together.

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