On this day, January 1, 2018, I was going to write a long post about where we went and what we did on our 2017 summer vacation. It seemed a fitting way to reflect on the outgoing year. I was going to sprinkle in recaps of our days in The Netherlands, describe the five coastal towns my husband, Hoyt, and I hiked in Italy (Cinque Terre), effuse about the Bordeaux wine tour we indulged in, recap the presentation I gave at the International Cultic Studies Association’s annual conference in France, and revisit the history of the medieval town of Luneburg, Germany, where I gave a presentation about my book, Undertow, at Leuphana University. Thanks to the best tour guide ever, Hoyt, our weeks were full of unexpected (in good ways) and enlightening events worth telling about. Later.
Instead … read about sentences
Instead, on this, the first day of the new year 2018, I want to talk about sentences. Weird, I admit. And probably not as exciting to most people as a European tour recap. I also admit that the above paragraph is a not-so-sneaky way of telling you about our summer vacation anyway. Sometime, I might write more about it, though. It was full of surprises and personal growth for me. But today, for me, the sentence feels more urgent.
What is a sentence?
One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day, a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.
What else is a sentence?
“A word, clause, or phrase or a group of clauses or phrases forming a syntactic unit which expresses an assertion, a question, a command, a wish, an exclamation, or the performance of an action, that in writing usually begins with a capital letter and concludes with appropriate end punctuation, and that in speaking is distinguished by characteristic patterns of stress, pitch, and pauses.” Merriam-Webster
Writing a sentence
I’m a writer. Writers write. And writers also read other people’s writing. Today, I pulled a few books about writing off my shelves and stashed them close by my desk. I aim to read them again, to challenge myself, to further study and practice my craft, specifically sentence-making. I want to put a decent sized dent in the coming 365 days by composing lots of sentences with specific intentions that fit each kind of story or article I write. How about you, fellow writer?
First up, the New York Times Bestseller: How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish. Back to basics. (Notice “Back to basics” is not really a sentence, only a fragment, but I used it to make a point, which, if you’ve read this far, is that I’m going back to study the basic unit of complete thought and sturdy writing: THE SENTENCE.
No writer is above the sentence.
What is a good sentence?
Stanley Fish, professor of law at Florida International University in Miami and the author of fourteen books (among other credits) tells us, “Content, the communication in a thrilling and effective way of ideas and passions, is finally what sentences are for.” (37) And he points out something else worth stating here: “People write or speak sentences in order to produce an effect, and the success of a sentence is measured by the degree to which the desired effect has been achieved. … The first thing to ask when writing a sentence is ‘What am I trying to do?’” (37)
So, what am I trying to do?
Not too much. Just write a note. Blog posts, in my view, are not highly polished essays, but little peeks through the doorway into your day or your writing space to say, “Hi, here’s something to think about.” Today, I hope to inspire us to read about constructing good sentences, to study them, to give them some undivided attention. In the coming year, let’s listen to them without prejudice, craft them to convey whatever is in our hearts, use them to express what’s honestly on our minds.
Write sentences in 2018
Stanley Fish’s little book about sentences is only 160 pages long—well worth the time and effort, in my view. Plenty of other books about writing exist, too, but try and read his. If you find another one about the amazing SENTENCE and the feats it can perform when we use it with intention and care, let me know.
Happy writing in the coming 365.
Your writer on the wing,