Sunday, February 28, 2010

Anaphora and Parallel Structure

Beginning to shape the sentence.

The Declaration of Independence is a stirring testimonial that called men to action and inspired them to act in their own best interests. Take a look at it; it’s everywhere, even online. This time, however, simply observe how the author, Thomas Jefferson, and his editor, Benjamin Franklin, begin numerous sentences and phrases with the same word.

Search for “that,” “He has,” and “For” followed by an –ing form of a verb. In reading for these words, you will find anaphora: the practice of repeating words at the beginning of sentences, phrases, or clauses. This element of style can also be identified as effective repetition or parallel structure.

No matter what term describes the practice, it is a powerful beginning. Anaphora makes messages emphatic, clear, and memorable.

Patrick Henry employed anaphora effectively in another gem from American history: his speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765, more commonly known as the Give me Liberty or Give me Death speech. Anaphora appears often in this speech, notably in paragraph six where Henry reviews what the colonists have done to preserve peace. Henry’s carefully crafted parallel construction lends power to his argument, and that is exactly why writers should play with their wording in order to make good use of parallel phrasing.

Consider a paraphrase of Shakespeare’s memorable comment on the human experience, found in Twelfth Night: some folks are born lucky, others are able to work hard and earn good fortune, and for a few guys, luck just lands in their laps.

When Shakespeare conveys the same idea, his observation leaps off the page and endures for hundreds of years; it is repeated by writers and speakers who have never read Twelfth Night because Shakespeare’s version makes excellent use of anaphora (some) and effective repetition (great and greatness). Shakespeare writes: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Writing Challenge:

Practice beginning sentences and phrases with anaphora. Return to your free writing or the work you did with the word, serendipity. Pluck out significant sentences and passages from your writing. Play with them by adding and deleting words; alter word choices and sentence patterns to add the emphasis and power of anaphora.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing Often Improves Writing

If I dream of becoming fit and strong, I must begin to eat less and exercise more. If I long to play the piano beautifully, I must begin with scales and devote time to practice day after day, year after year. If I wish to write or need to write, then I must begin.

The question most often asked by those facing a writing task is how do I begin? My students often hope that I will answer that question with a foolproof strategy. Alas, the answer is neither foolproof nor magical. The answer is: begin.

Even if you are not yet sure of your point, even if you hate the first sentence and would like to start over, commit by beginning. You can always add, subtract, and re-write. You can also use what you write to discover good phrases worth saving and uncover main ideas because writing helps you clarify your thoughts.

In addition, I can help you shape what you have written, but only if you begin. So make a start. Put words on paper. Make a list or write freely, letting the words take you where they will. If your ideas are well developed, make an outline or a chart that begins with your main topic and branches off into sub-topics and sub-sub-topics. No matter what form your early writing takes, just begin.

Some illustrations of what your beginning might look like appear below, but before you begin, remember not to close off ideas. Be honest and thorough. Write down everything that comes to mind, and keep at it for at least five full minute. (Set a timer so that you will not be tempted to look up or away from your task.)

Example: What do you hope to gain by completing a college degree?

Beginning with a list.

Friends Someone to love Recession-proof life
Knowledge A great income
Security A job on Wall Street
Parents’ approval Ability to retire young
Expertise Options

Beginning by writing freely.

I want a better life than my parents have. They are always worried about where the money is going to come from. Food and insurance and everything go up but their paychecks stay the same. They joke that they will retire when they win the lottery. They are cutting back to help me go to college. I know it’s important to them—that I finish college. They have told me many times that a degree will open doors. I’m not sure what doors they have in mind . . . .

Beginning by preparing an outline.

Thesis: A college degree will provide important opportunities.
A. To learn about people with different backgrounds
B. To learn about satisfying careers
C. To prepare for a rewarding career
D. To build a strong foundation for a secure future

You can also begin by making a list before writing freely. Then, you can use the information that you have set down to make decisions and choices for an outline.

Assignment: Practice beginning. Use the sample prompt above, search for a different prompt by reading college and scholarship applications, use a prompt that you have been given by a teacher, or use this week's writing prompt, listed below. Then, make a list, write freely, develop an outline, or write all three in sequence. Just make a start.

Writing Challenge:

Serendipity: A happy accident. Be open to serendipitous events. Write about the surprises and good fortune that exist everywhere.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Good Reasons for Everyone to Write

My Writing and Editing Coach is a mentoring and tutoring service that provides an experienced eye and ear to help you discover and put down on paper the stories and ideas that matter to you. The same eye that has read and absorbed thousands and thousands of words will provide you with encouraging critiques so that you can revise and improve your messages.

So often today, in the college admissions process and work searches, the first impression you make is not with the clothes you wear, but in the words you choose. Fewer face-to-face encounters take place until the candidate has offered a résumé, a letter of interest and inquiry, or an essay. I have served as a guide for many people through these processes, and they have told me that my help has made a difference in the number of acceptances and interviews they were able to earn.

1. At least 40% of colleges and universities require an essay for admission
2. Highly competitive, first-tier colleges and universities require an essay for admission
3. The majority of scholarships require an essay
4. Sixty-six percent of students graduated with debt in 2008; the average debt was $23,186 (Goff, Lisa. “The Best Way to Pay for College.” Reader’s Digest Dec. 2009/Jan.2010: 153).
5. Students who complete a college degree can expect to earn $1.2 million more than a high
school graduate (Goff, Lisa. “The Best Way to Pay for College.” Reader’s Digest Dec. 2009/Jan.2010: 153).

Therefore, high school seniors need to be effective, competitive writers in order to a) gain admission, b) secure scholarships, c) reduce debt, and d) increase career earnings.

In addition,

1. Work searches for competitive, salaried positions begin with résumés that require quality
cover letters.
2. In today’s market, with so many people searching for work, writing is often the first gateway
to a face-to-face interview and/or application for the position.

Therefore, graduates and workers searching for post-education earning opportunities need
to write effectively in order to market themselves.


1. An aging population often becomes reflective, longing to tell his/her stories so that the next
generation will know and remember the lives of those who have gone before and perhaps,
profit by them.
2. Although writing tasks can produce stress and even avoidance syndromes, writing can also
be therapeutic because writing a) exercises aching joints and digits, b) clarifies thought and encourages both memory and sorting activity in the brain, c) helps writers remain mentally alert, and d) provides purpose.

Therefore, adults need to write and can be coached to do so, leaving a history for their
children and/or taking a journey toward an enhanced quality of life.

Stay tuned for weekly writing tips and assignments.