craft tips from the high desert and your brain on Jane Austen

I want YOU to read Mansfield Park (photo from wikimedia)

Good morning, Reader. The toddler invasion begins soon, and I will be a busy auntie. But first, here are some craft tips I picked up at my writing retreat. Many are tips we’ve heard before, but I find a refresher course on craft never hurts.

  • At the end of a line a comma or no punctuation leads to forward propulsion of the poem; a period stops forward propulsion.
  • Ending lines with short words also creates forward propulsion.
  • Use commas to help organize the reader, but not for pacing. Use line for pacing.
  • If you have two adjectives, choose the best one unless they are doing two very different things.
  • Being attentive to the music of the language makes a small poem bigger.
  • If you’re going to enjamb in a way that causes a slip in meaning, make sure this strategy is working for the poem.
  • You can almost always make your poem better by chopping off the first few lines and the last few lines (Don’t you HATE that!?).
  • Use all five senses: this is how we know we’re human.
  • The ending is a door out of the poem, and it should open out. The door out of a poem often looks nothing like the rest of the poem.
  • An image makes us re-see and refocus on what we thought we already knew.
  • Use Anglo words, which tend to be more immediate and intense, over Latinate words, which tend to be more abstract (to wit: “School’s closed because of a bad storm,” vs. “The educational institution is not operating due to inclement atmospheric conditions.”).
  • Avoid “cognitive handles” — don’t say “I remember” and then tell what happened; just tell what happened (the concept of “cognitive handles” was attributed to Heather McHugh).
  • Vary the syntax of your lines — you’re writing music.
  • Use linebreaks to heighten seeing.
  • A poem is an enactment, not a report.

That last one is my fave.

And now, here’s a really fascinating article about your brain on Jane Austen. Doesn’t it make you happy to live in a world where scholars will study what happens in our brains when we read Jane Austen? Me, too. In a nutshell, the research shows that when we read closely, our brains act as if we are experiencing the book, not simply reading it. No wonder I can’t bear to read in-depth articles about politics.

Have a great day, Reader. I think the toddler and I will do some Halloween decorating. Wish me luck with that.

13 thoughts on “craft tips from the high desert and your brain on Jane Austen

    • Ha! I wrote it before the toddler arrived. Tonight (as I answer) I’m definitely toddler affected, but I love having him around.

      • Yes, it’s nice when you have them on loan. LOL.

        (every time I’m around babies/toddlers/very small children, I think, hmmm, maybe I should have had more than three…then I think…nah.) 😀

  1. Pingback: tuesday’s poetry from prompt | naked

    • All kinds of you’re welcome! My brain is alive with the sound of silence….. but it’s late….. we’ll hope for some syntax in the morning :).

  2. Another list of gems, Molly – thanks so much! “Use line for pacing” and ‘Vary the syntax of your lines – you’re writing music’ were cold gusts of air across my cheek – awesome.

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