The link below is to an article that takes a look at 5 free design tools for writers.
The link below is to an article that comments on the ‘grammar police.”
The link below is to an article that looks at why readers aren’t writing book reviews.
The link below is to a list of 10 rules for novelists – which should provoke ‘some thoughts.’
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Bibliotherapy – the idea that reading can have a beneficial effect on mental health – has undergone a resurgence. There is mounting clinical evidence that reading can, for example, help people overcome loneliness and social exclusion. One scheme in Coventry allows health professionals to prescribe books to their patients from a list drawn up by mental health experts.
Even as public library services across Britain are cut back, the healing potential of books is increasingly recognised.
The idea of the healing book has a long history. Key concepts were forged in the crucible of World War I, as nurses, doctors and volunteer librarians grappled with treating soldiers’ minds as well as bodies. The word “bibliotherapy” itself was coined in 1914, by American author and minister Samuel McChord Crothers. Helen Mary Gaskell (1853-1940), a pioneer of “literary caregiving”, wrote about the beginnings of her war library in 1918:
Surely many of us lay awake the night after the declaration of War, debating … how best we could help in the coming struggle … Into the mind of the writer came, like a flash, the necessity of providing literature for the sick and wounded.
The well-connected Gaskell took her idea to the medical and governmental authorities, gaining official approval. Lady Battersea, a close friend, offered her a Marble Arch mansion to store donated books, and The Times carried multiple successful public appeals. As Gaskell wrote:
What was our astonishment when not only parcels and boxes, but whole libraries poured in. Day after day vans stood unloading at the door.
Gaskell’s library was affiliated to the Red Cross in 1915 and operated internationally – with depots in Egypt, Malta, and Salonika. Her operating principles, axiomatic to bibliotherapy, were to provide a “flow of comfort” based on a “personal touch”. Gaskell explained that “the man who gets the books he needs is the man who really benefits from our library, physically and mentally”.
Her colleagues running Endell Street Military Hospital’s library shared similar views about the importance of books in wartime. On August 12, 1916, the Daily Telegraph reported on the hospital, calling the library a “story in itself”. Run by novelist Beatrice Harraden, a member of the Womens Social and Political Union and also, briefly, the actress and feminist playwright Elizabeth Robins, the library was a fundamental part of the treatment of 26,000 wounded between 1915 and 1918.
“We learned,” Robins wrote in Ancilla’s Share, her 1924 analysis of gender politics, “that the best way, often the only way, to get on with curing men’s bodies was to do something for their minds.”
The books the men wanted first were likely to be by the ex-journalist and popular writer Nat Gould, whose novels about horseracing were bestsellers. Otherwise, fiction by Rudyard Kipling, Marie Corelli, or Robert Louis Stevenson rated highly. In the Cornhill Magazine in November, 1916, Harraden revealed that the librarians’ “pilgrimages” from one bedside to another ensured what she called “good literature” was always within reach, but that the book that would “heal” was the one that was most wanted:
However ill [a patient] was, however suffering and broken, the name of Nat Gould would always bring a smile to his face.
The literary caregivers at Endell Street worked responsively, and without judgement, a crucial legacy.
Library on the frontline
Literary caregiving also took place closer to the front. Throughout the war, the YMCA operated a network of recreation huts and lending libraries for soldiers. After losing his only son, Oscar, at Ypres, the author E. W. Hornung offered his services to the YMCA. Hornung – a relatively obscure figure now, but a literary celebrity then – authored the “Raffles” stories about the gentleman thief of the same name.
Arriving in France in late 1917, Hornung was initially put to work serving tea to British soldiers. But the YMCA soon found him a more suitable job, placing him in charge of a new lending library for soldiers in Arras. Dispensing tea and books to soldiers helped him process his grief. Hearing soldiers talk about their favourite books played a key role in his recovery – but he also sincerely believed that reading helped soldiers keep their minds healthy while they were in the trenches. Hornung wrote in 1918 that he wanted to feed “the intellectually starved”, while “always remembering that they are fighting-men first and foremost, and prescribing for them both as such and as the men they used to be”.
Writing a new future
Present-day veterans encounter the potential of reading and writing in equally participatory ways as interventions with the charities Combat Stress UK (CSUK) and Veterans’ Outreach Services demonstrate.
In CSUK, we read widely from contemporary work before undertaking writing exercises. These were designed to help provide detachment from the internal repetition of traumatic stories that some with PTSD experience. The director of therapy at CSUK, Janice Lobban, says:
Collaborative work … gave combat stress veterans the valuable opportunity of developing creative writing skills. Typically, the clinical presentation of veterans causes them to avoid unfamiliar situations and the loss of self-confidence can affect the ability to develop creative potential. Workshops within the safety of our Surrey treatment centre enabled veterans to have the confidence to experiment with new ideas.
Another approach, in workshops with Veterans’ Outreach Support in Portsmouth in 2018, explored the role of writing in training veterans to become “peer-mentors” of other veterans wanting to access VOS services, ranging from physical and mental wellness to housing benefits to job-seeking.
The results show that veterans responded positively to opportunities for imaginative writing. Trainee peer-mentors responding to a questionnaire told us that the exercises helped them to write fluently about their own lives. For people who spend so much time filling out forms to access various benefits, the opportunity to write creatively was seen as a liberating experience. As one veteran put it: “We are writing into ourselves”.
For 100 years now, reading and writing have helped veterans build relationships, gain confidence and face the challenges of their post-service lives. Our current research charts the influence of wartime literary caregiving on contemporary practice.
The link below is to an article that looks at writing when one has no time – it is the best time.
Have you ever thought you might have what it takes to be a writer? The link below is to an article that looks at traits that may indicate that you have what it takes.
If you want to write a good sentence, you must learn to love the full stop. Love it above all other punctuation marks, and see it as the goal towards which the words in your sentence adamantly move.
A sentence, once begun, demands its own completion. As pilots say: take-off is optional, landing is compulsory. A sentence throws a thought into the air and leaves the reader vaguely dissatisfied until that thought has come in to land.
We read a sentence with the same part of our brains that processes music. Like music, a sentence arranges its elements into an order that should seem fresh and alive and yet shaped and controlled. A good sentence will often frustrate readers just a little, and put them faintly on edge, without ever suggesting that it has lost control of what is being said. As it runs its course, it will assuage some of the frustration and may create more. But by the end, things should have resolved themselves in a way that allows something to be said.
Only when the full stop arrives can the meaning of a sentence be fulfilled. The full stop offers the reader relief, allowing her to close the circle of meaning and take a mental breath.
Full stops also give writing its rhythm. They come in different places, cutting off short and long groups of words, varying the cadences – those drops in pitch at the sentence’s end which signal that the sentence, and the sentiment, are done.
A sentence wields more power with a strong stress at the end, where it sticks in the mind and sends a backwash over the words that went before. Weak sentences have weak predicates that come to the full stop with an unresounding phhtt. If you say that something is “an interesting factor to consider” or “should be borne in mind”, then the end of your sentence is just mumbly noise, because those things could be said about anything. A sentence with a strong end-stress says that its maker cared how its words fell on the reader’s ear. It feels fated to end thus, not just strung out to fill the word count.
A good trick, when drafting a piece, is to press enter after every sentence, as if you were writing a poem and each full stop marked a line break. This renders the varied (or unvaried) lengths of your sentences instantly visible. And it foregrounds the full stop, reminding you of its power as the destination and final rest of each sentence. Winston Churchill wrote his speeches like this, in single-sentence lines, to more easily adjust his Augustan rhythms. If you keep pressing enter after every full stop, the music of your writing is easier to hear because now it can also be seen.
We live in an age when the full stop is losing its power. The talky, casual prose of texting and online chat often manages without it. A single-line text needs no punctuation to show that it has ended. Instead of a full stop, we press send. Omitting the full stop gives off an extempore air, making replies seem insouciant and jokes unrehearsed.
But writing is not conversation, nor a speech-balloon text awaiting a response. A written sentence must give words a finished form that awaits no clarification. It must be its own small island of sense, from which the writer has been airlifted and on which no one else need live. We write alone, as an act of faith in words as a way of speaking to others who are elsewhere. So a sentence must be self-supporting. It must go out into the world without the author leaning over the reader to clarify its meaning. Hence the full stop.
A sentence is also a social animal; it feeds off its neighbours to form higher units of sense. It needs a full stop not just to be a sentence, but so the next one can begin. Studies have shown that young people tend to read a full stop in a text as curt or passive-aggressive. On social media, a full stop is often used between every word to sound angrily emphatic: End. Of. Story. But in writing, a full stop is not meant to be the final word in an argument like this. It is a satisfying little click that moves the dial along so the next sentence can pick up where it left off. Its end is also a beginning.
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The judge’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover used in the landmark 1960 obscenity trial of DH Lawrence’s famous novel is to be sold at auction in October. The paperback copy will be sold with a fabric bag, hand-stitched by the judge’s wife Lady Dorothy Byrne so that her husband could carry the book into court each day while keeping it hidden from reporters. The lot includes the notes on significant passages that Lady Byrne had helpfully marked up on the book for her husband, and a four-page list of references she had compiled on the headed stationery of the Central Criminal Court.
After six days of evidence and only three hours of deliberations, the jury found in the favour of Penguin Books, its verdict allowing the publisher to print copies of the novel for the first time. The trial was seen as a victory for liberal ideas over the old establishment. In literary terms, it signalled the opportunity for authors to write with a new type of language and freedom.
But was Lawrence really the first writer to use obscenity in literature? And were liberal readers of the 1960s the first to appreciate the literary potential of obscene words and sex scenes? In short, the answer is no. The literary world which Lawrence and his fellow modernist writers inherited was that of the Victorian establishment. An establishment that had silenced earlier writers who, like Lawrence, used obscenity for literary ends.
One of the most important writers to be wiped from the publishing record during the 19th century was the poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Even today, we continue to find the obscene language and images found in Rochester’s poetry shocking. Take, for example, his A Satyr on Charles II a critique of the monarch as a man governed by his penis:
‘Tis sure the sauciest prick that e’er did swive,
The proudest, peremptoriest prick alive.
Though safety, law, religion, life lay on ’t,
‘Twould break through all to make its way to cunt.
Restless he rolls about from whore to whore,
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.
Following his death in 1680 publishers scrambled to produce editions of Rochester’s poems – correctly perceiving the public appetite for his verse. An initial run of pirate editions of Rochester’s poetry was quickly supplanted with an authoritative collection, produced in 1691 by the leading literary publisher of the day, Jacob Tonson. Tonson is credited with popularising John Milton’s (up to that point, fairly unsuccessful) poem Paradise Lost and also producing the first footnoted editions of William Shakespeare’s collected plays.
So why did a respectable publisher such as Tonson take the gamble of printing Rochester’s verse? The answer lies in the recognition of Rochester’s poetry as literature rather than obscenity. Just as with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, we need to read past the obscene language and images of the work to understand what Rochester is really saying.
The animal in human skin
Rochester is a poet of the human condition. He strips man down to his barest drives and desires to see the animal lurking underneath. In this way, he was much like the contemporary philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who famously pronounced that life was “nasty, brutish and short” and that underneath it all man was a beast like any other.
For Rochester, the sexual realm is just another place where we see (and feel) this stark reality. Rochester strips away all sense of love and romance from his depicted sexual encounters. And there are many of them. His images are those of the mechanics of sex, its failures, disappointments and disease. Take his notorious poem, The Imperfect Enjoyment, a work that opens with a scene indicating the sexual promise to come:
Naked she lay, clasped in my longing arms,
I filled with love, and she all over charms …
Quickly, this promise is destroyed. The poem’s speaker prematurely ejaculates:
But whilst her busy hand would guide that part
Which should convey my soul up to her heart,
In liquid raptures I dissolve all o’er,
Melt into sperm, and spend at every pore.
A touch from any part of her had done ’t:
Her hand, her foot, her very look’s a cunt.
The speaker’s lover encourages him to try again, but to no success:
Trembling, confused, despairing, limber, dry,
A wishing, weak, unmoving lump I lie.
The obscene language Rochester employs in The Imperfect Enjoyment – and the sexual act on which it focuses – led generations of readers to view the work as pornographic. But this is to misread the poem. The clue is in the title: the poem portrays the ultimate failure of desire. The emptiness of human experience. And its cold, clinical and obscene language (sperm, spend, pore, cunt) is contrasted throughout the poem with phrases that point to the scene’s absent romance (the sexual act “should convey my soul up to her heart”, but it doesn’t).
The beast within
Rochester is often seen as a dangerous or obscene writer in the way he glamorised the licentious world of the Restoration court. But when we read his poetry more closely, we find little glamour in the language expressed. His verse exposes human feeling and behaviour, showing the superficiality of our social world with all its polite manners and codes of behaviour. And the use of obscene language is key to that project. As Rochester succinctly phrased it in his correspondence, “Expressions must descend to the Nature of Things express’d”.
The Victorians couldn’t cope with Rochester’s poetry, and there were no editions of his work published in the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1963, in the wake of the Chatterley trial, that American scholar David M. Vieth began work on a modern uncensored edition. Vieth gave us back the real Rochester and made it possible for readers to access his poems once again.
Obscenity might not make for comfortable reading, but that’s often its point. The purpose of literature is to make us feel, and to give us new ways of experiencing and thinking about the world around us. For Lawrence this involved using a new language that cut across class and gender in celebrating the sexual act – for Rochester it involved looking into the mirror and confronting the beast within.
While browsing for recipes online, I found this: “Give your Friday night fish and chips an Asian twist with tempura-battered cod and a spicy wasabi tartare sauce.” Sounds delicious? Perhaps – but more exciting to me is the use of the second person possessive. “You” and “your” in the typical recipe are markers of inclusivity and universality – they include us all. The expectation is that everyone eats fish and chips on a Friday so everyone will be enticed by this fusion-tinged variation.
When we consider a common location for the second person voice – the self-help text – matters become complicated. Jordan B Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018), to take a recent controversial example, appears to behave like the recipe. In the declared pursuit of “a shared cultural system” in which people “act in keeping with each other’s expectations and desires”, Peterson uses the second person in a universalising way.
If everyone follows his imperatives – a typical example being: “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today” – the implication is that the result will be order, harmony, contentment. The illusion of inclusion (for it is only an illusion) is bolstered by the liberal use of the first person plural: “we”. In my opinion, Peterson isn’t really giving advice – he is luring the reader into complicity with his neoliberal, individualist, masculinist world view. Observations such as “you must be prepared to do anything and everything, in case it becomes necessary” merely reassert Peterson’s male authority. Any supposedly shared beliefs are those of the marketplace.
Sympathy for the devil
Reading Peterson, one is reminded, bizarrely, of Scottish writer Iain Banks’ use of the second person in his 1993 novel Complicity, in which the reader is tempted towards sympathy with the views of a serial killer. The difference is that Banks’ narrative style encourages the reader to put themselves directly into the situation being described:
Then the door closes and they are there in front of you and in that instant you see him turned slightly away, putting his briefcase down on the table beside the answermachine … You swing the cosh and hit him very hard across the back of the head…
This demands that the reader reflects on the ethics of sympathy and complicity and questions the values being espoused. Complicity is a well-known novel – but the second person in literature is rare enough to be a curiosity.
One of the reasons for this might be that, if used very extensively – as in Paul Auster’s memoirs Winter Journal (2012) and Report from the Interior (2013) – it can feel forced, awkward and, frankly, irritating: “Until that morning, you just were. Now you knew that you were.” Whether or not – as critics such as Irene Kacandes have argued – the second person enhances reader involvement, overuse can feel like a form of harassment from someone trying too hard to get into your head.
Auster gestures toward universality, claiming in Report from the Interior that he writes not because “you find yourself a rare or exceptional object of study, but precisely because you don’t, because you think of yourself as anyone, as everyone”. This is disingenuous: the experiences he describes are too personal and specific to be universal – and to assume they are is presumptuous. Even if he is trying to gain distance from himself by using the second person, Auster is still talking only to another version of himself. After all, “you are still who you were, even if you are no longer the same person”.
Talking with yourself
Karl Geary’s 2017 coming-of-age story, Montpelier Parade, works in a similar way to Auster’s memoirs – the adult writer addresses a youthful self, adding sage, gently ironic reflections with hindsight: “You were the hero in your dream of saving her.” The irony derives from differing levels of experience and knowledge, but again the reader watches from a distance as the narrator talks to himself.
In both Auster’s and Geary’s texts, narrators compare themselves to who they were yesterday, as Peterson recommends. What is revealed is an idea of literary selfhood closer to the strong, adaptable second person of the self-help book than we might expect.
By contrast, the most effective second person literary narratives are those which deliberately satirise the self-help text. In Lorrie Moore’s 1985 collection, Self-Help, the stories The Kid’s Guide to Divorce and How are moving precisely because they show that the second person does not instruct or help in practical ways. All it does is catalogue the sadness, the multiple disappointments of a person’s everyday life: “You will meet another actor. Or maybe it’s the same one. Begin to have an affair.”
Likewise, Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013) begins by acknowledging the paradox of self-help books. “You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author” – and then goes on to admit that “the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one. And slippery can be good”.
Slippery can indeed be good. In fact, the power of Moore’s and Hamid’s stories is their paradoxical nature. They show that individual experience is messy and that it is not amenable to generic recipes for success, and they are more inclusive and universal for doing so. It is easier to relate to a narrator who turns out not to have all the answers – one who, like Hamid, realises that every “you” is different.
Used in such ironic, ambiguous ways, the second person becomes a powerful tool because it reminds us that, as Canadian philosopher Lorraine Code argues, “persons essentially are second persons”. No matter how clear my sense of self, I am always somebody’s other. You may well have found that yourself.