Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Cloud based writing

One morning almost 60 years ago I entered a classroom to write my Grade 11 Composition final exam. I breezed through the first few pages, confident that I understood English grammar. The last page stopped me cold. It called for an essay on one of the topics in a long list. None of those topics stirred the slightest interest in my mind.

I glanced out the window. It was a glorious June day with puffy cumulus clouds drifting across the sky. I would rather have been outside, but I was stuck in that desk until I wrote the essay, or ran out of time.

Watching the clouds had a calmchild-830988_640ing effect. I saw a sheep being chased by a dragon. As I watched, the shapes slowly shifted and suddenly it was a Spanish galleon sailing through the skies. Cloud followed cloud and each one took on a recognizable shape then slowly morphed into something different.

Somebody coughed and with a jolt my mind came back into the room. The clock was ticking and the page in front of me was still blank. The list of topics was as uninspiring as ever.

Then inspiration struck: why not write about the things I had been seeing in the sky? I picked one of the topics that more or less fit and filled the page with my imagination. I handed my paper in and went outside into the sunshine.

I received full marks for that essay, 95% on the whole exam. Years later, I read in Writers’ Digest that a writer is doing the most real work when he is staring out the window. When he takes a pen in his hand or sits down at the keyboard that is just clerical work. I felt vindicated.

I still plot my stories and articles the way I did that long ago day in June. Only now the shapes I see are in my mind, not out the window. Clouds, people, ideas, arguments, incidents imagined or real, go drifting across my mind, often changing shape and becoming something totally different from the original idea. Some drift away, never to return. Some will drift through my mind for days, weeks, months, even years, before I put anything down on paper.

Sometimes I will think of a title and write it down. I might even write a list of words under the title, or a sentence or two. I have no idea how or where those words will appear in what I plan to write, but I think they will fit somewhere. Usually they do, but sometimes the whole shape of the story changes before I get it written.

I believe those idea clouds drifting through my mind are inspirations from the Holy Spirit. At least the ones that keep coming back. The changing shapes are the Spirit refining my perception so that I can understand how to put those ideas on paper so others can see what I am seeing.

Writers tend to classify themselves as either outliners or pantsers. An outliner has the whole plot down on paper before she starts – complete with descriptions of the characters, the main incidents and the conclusion. Pantsers start with an idea and proceed “by the seat of their pants” without a predetermined idea of where this is going to lead or what will happen along the way. Which category do I fall into? I don’t really know. I prefer to think of myself as a cloud-based plotter.

If you are a writer . . .

If you are a writer . . .man-29749_640.png

– you love words, you study words, their origins and all the nuances of their meanings. You don’t aim to dazzle readers with the knowledge you acquire, you want to be able to select the best words to make your readers see what you are seeing.

– you know that words are inadequate for what needs to be said. So you spend time searching for the words that come closest to saying what you want to say and avoid words and expressions that make no contribution to what you are trying to describe..

– you know that the reader can only see what you show him. A reader in Saskatchewan doesn’t know what a trillium looks like, or that many people in Ontario say youse when speaking to more than one person. A reader in Ontario doesn’t know what a slough is or what a chokecherry tastes like.

– you know that inspiration is not enough. Writing is the craft that brings the inspiration to life for your readers, by using just the right words and removing all the useless words that distract readers from perceiving what it was that inspired you.

– everything you see, and hear, and dream, becomes grist for your mill. You notice the little wildflower that is invisible to others, you hear the song of a toad at dusk, you see and hear the way people do and say things. These all become part of your storehouse and sooner or later they appear somewhere in your writing.

– you are a writer all the time. You have a full time job, you are a student, a busy mother, a caregiver to an aged relative. In all you do you find insights, nuggets of truth, startling images, moments of tenderness, moments of hilarity, and you tuck the memories away to be brought out when you sit down with a pen or at a keyboard.

– you are delighted to hear a reader repeat something you wrote that gave him new light on a subject, even if he can’t remember who wrote it.

Juggling jobs

I am getting old, I call myself semi-retired, but it seems that I have more demands on my time than ever before, and I’m not at all sure that I’m managing my time wisely.

I am a bookkeeper: A large part of my income is pension, but I still have five bookkeeping clients that I need to work for on a regular basis.

I am a member of the French editing committee of our church. This doesn’t take up a lot of time, but it is enjoyable and useful work. And I do get some payment for the time spent.

I am a writer: Besides this blog, and another one in French, I have other writing projects that are really important to me, but it is hard to find time for them.

I am a father and grandfather: At this stage that may mostly mean being a cheerleader. That means being there, paying attention. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of it.

I am a husband: My wife is going through chemo-therapy treatments for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I go with her to almost all her appointments. The treatments have worked, there are no more symptoms, but she still needs two more rounds of chem to keep it away as long as possible. Meanwhile, she needs a lot of rest and her resistance is low. One side benefit of the chemo is that it has pretty much eliminated her arthritis pain. I’m sure that is only temporary.

Monday was our 46th anniversary. To celebrate, I took her to our nearest town where one of the vets and her husband were doing a barbecue to raise money for their non-profit pet rescue organization. So we both had a hot dog, a can of pop and a cookie. I thought it was a good deal, Chris didn’t have to cook or do dishes and the money went to a good cause.

Yesterday we went out for a more formal meal at the Cave Restaurant in Saskatoon.

The origin of the Bible

[This is an attempt to write a Bible study lesson for twelve to fourteen year old children. I invite you to read it and tell me what you think. All helpful criticism, comments and suggestions are welcome.]

People who do not have a system of writing pass on their history from generation to generation by story telling. They sit around a campfire in the evening, or in a warm lodge during the winter months, old and young together, and the storyteller recounts a story from their history. The storyteller knows the old ones have heard these stories hundreds of times and they are so firmly fixed in their minds that he dare not change even one little detail. This is called oral history and it is as reliable as written history.

The book of Genesis is oral history that was later written down. During the whole time period covered by Genesis storytelling was the only means of recording history. Some other peoples developed systems of recording events through the use of pictographs. Pictographs use symbols that represent birds, animals, flowers, trees and people to tell a story. Such a system cannot record all the details found in oral history.

The first chapter of Genesis is not like the oral history of the rest of the book. It is an eyewitness account, but there were no people to see what was happening in those first six days. The only one who could have provided these details is God Himself.

How did this get put into writing? We have no description of how it happened, but we know that the Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet. There is no record of any such alphabet, no written history, no written law, before Moses went up the mountain and spent forty days with God. When Moses came down from the mountain he had the ten commandments written in a phonetic alphabet. It is logical to think that this is when he began the task of putting the book of Genesis into writing and that God revealed to him the details of events that had no human witnesses.

A phonetic alphabet uses symbols to represent each sound that makes up a word. This made it possible to record oral history word for word. The Greeks took the Hebrew alphabet and changed the shapes of the letters. The Romans changed the shapes again to give us the alphabet we now use. The word alphabet comes from the names of the first two letters. In Hebrew they were Aleph and Bet. In Greek they were called Alpha and Beta.

Now the people of God had a system for recording their history, their poetry and the words of their prophets. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Through the centuries that followed God inspired other men to write events and prophecies so that they would be preserved for future generations. This is history that we can trust.

Look up the verses and write in your own words how you would explain them to someone else.

1. Exodus 20:4-6.
How would it have been possible to teach this with pictographs that were themselves a likeness of things on the earth?

2. Joshua 1:8.
Why should we read the Bible?

3. Luke 1:1-4.
Luke was a careful historian. He checked his information, gave the names of important Jewish and Roman officials and other information that help us connect the events in his gospel to events in other written histories of the time. Does that help you to trust what he tells us about Jesus?

4. Acts 26:26
The apostle Paul is telling king Agrippa that the events of Jesus’ life were well known at that time. Why do you suppose some people today would try to say they never happened?

5. Deuteronomy 4:2.
How might we add to, or diminish from, the words of the Bible?

Writng tips #2: 10 tips for writing more simply

[I have borrowed, translated and adapted these tips from a French website. That explains the references to French authors, in case you were wondering. These tips are intended for use in writing for the web, but would be useful in many other types of writing as well.]

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1. Thou shalt write short sentences.

You are not Proust! So do not write sentences of more than one or two lines. If you hesitate between several constructions, always choose the one with the fewest words. Your texts will be more rhythmic.

Tip: exchange semicolons for periods.

2. Thou shalt limit thyself to subject, verb and object.

The subject + verb + object scheme is the simplest grammatically. It is instantly recognizable and understandable to the reader. So avoid complex grammatical constructions, subordinate clauses, interpolations and parentheses within the same sentence.

Tip: turn most subordinate clauses into independent sentences.

3. Thou shalt write one idea per sentence.

One idea per sentence, one point per paragraph, one subject per article. Don’t try to say everything at once, at the risk of drowning your reader. Prioritize your ideas and start with the most important.

Tip: If your article is too long, divide it into several articles grouped by folder or series.

4. Thou shalt simplify thy vocabulary.

You do not write to amuse yourself but to make yourself understood. Don’t try to dazzle your readers with exotic words or literary style. Favour simple words known to all.

Tip: use only words that you know how to spell.

5. Thous shalt translate jargon.

You don’t need to eliminate all trade or professional jargon, but ensure the first occurrence of such a word is translated into plain English, including all acronyms and words from other languages. Not only will your readers thank you, but it will be easier for search engines to find your page because you will broaden your semantic field.

Tip: imagine you are writing for your grandmother.

6. Thou shalt avoid negations.

It is forbidden to forbid! It is not always easy (as in this article which intends to be educational), but avoid negative terms as much as possible. Opt instead for positive constructions, more involving and more direct. Flee double negatives that need to be read twice to get the meaning.

Tip: always replace “do not hesitate to do this” with “do this”!

7. Thou shalt avoid the passive voice.

Better to write “The cat eats the mouse” than “the mouse is eaten by the cat.” Not only does the passive use more words than the active form (7 words against 5), but it is also more complex to analyse. Therefore reverse passive sentences, transforming the object into subject.

Tip: choose action verbs like create, produce, decide, etc.

8. Thou shalt avoid adjectives and adverbs.

“Journalists (…) who want to use an adjective come see me in my office. Those who will use an adverb will be shown out the door,”wrote Georges Clemenceau in a memo while he was editor of L’Aurore. Years have passed, the media have changed, but the counsel remains valid.

Tip: first remove all useless instances of “true” and “genuine” from your texts.

9. Thou shalt avoid the subjunctive.

Avoid the subjunctive: limit yourself to the indicative. Also avoid the tenses we learned at school like the pluperfect, future anterior, etc. Try to stick to the present, the past, the imperfect, the future and the imperative.

Tip: use the infinitive as much as possible.

10. Thou shalt read thy article out loud.

Proofread your text carefully before publishing it. Locate the long sentences, overly complex constructions, etc. Check that you have applied all the above rules.

Tip: re-read aloud to identify difficult to read sentences. Flaubert called it the gueuloir test, you will see, it works!

(I presume Gueuloir was Flaubert’s invention; it’s not found in any dictionary. Gueuler means to speak very loudly, to yell.)

If you read French, the original article is found at: http://editoile.fr/10-astuces-pour-ecrire-plus-simplement/

Give them reasons to believe

I just read a sentence from a children’s lesson about the Bible that leaves me bewildered. I don’t want to reveal the source, but here is the sentence: “Through the past centuries many ungodly men have determined and tried to destroy the Bible, the Word of God, but have not been able to accomplish it.”

Folks, this is whistling past the graveyard. The writer is saying:“I have this uneasy feeling that there might be something scary out there, so I’ll make a happy noise and pretend that I’m not scared.”

That just won’t do. Children who are old enough to read something at this level, with its bombastic writing style, already know that confidence in the Bible has been destroyed for the majority of the people in our country. Even among those who say they are Christians and go to church, many don’t believe the first few chapters of the Bible can be considered to be fact.

Our children deserve something more than “don’t worry, just believe.” We need to endow them with a solid foundation of why the Bible can be trusted. If it’s not being done, someone needs to write a new series of lessons for children who are coming into that age where they are beginning to question the meaning of life and the validity of faith. Let’s give them solid information, not platitudes.

I think I may have just talked myself into doing some writing.

The first step in keeping your child out of prison

Teach him to read.

Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but a young adult who is illiterate is unqualified for all but the most menial jobs. You can’t even work at McDonald’s if you can’t read the job instructions or the words on the screen of the till. 96% of the available jobs are out of reach for someone who is functionally illiterate.

Statistics from the UK show that 50% of inmates are functionally illiterate and 80% do not possess the writing skills to fill out a job application. There are supposed to be learning programs in the prisons, evidently they are not working, Two thirds of prisoners leave prison with no prospect of employment. Within two years the majority will be once again before the courts.

Systematic phonics is the one proven method for teaching reading. The public school system had abandoned it by the time I started school 68 years ago. Thankfully, I was already a prolific reader by then. The public school system has invested great gobs of money in new reading programs, remedial reading instructors, psychologists and other specialists. But they have no intention of ever returning to the one method that has been proven over and over again to work.

You cannot trust the public school system to teach your child to read. Reading to your child is the essential first step in introducing them to reading. Teach them the sounds of the letters and how they make words when blended together. Don’t trust commercial programs that are labelled “phonics.” The Society for Quality Education offers a free online reading course for children who are having difficulty in learning to read. You can find them here.

There are many other factors involved in crime and incarceration, including an unstable home life. But illiteracy is probably the number one factor in predicting who is going to have trouble with the law.

By the way, the masculine “him” in the first sentence was deliberate. Twice as many boys as girls struggle with learning to read and write.

 

Why Couldn’t I Be The Healthy One?

It was the morning after my father’s funeral and my cousin Dennis and I were sitting at a table with my mother looking at old photographs. Here was a school phot from when I was in Grade 2 in a one-room school. There were two little boys in the front row, one bright-eyed, smiling and healthy-looking, the other wearing a heavy sweater and making a feeble attempt at a smile. Impulsively, I pointed at the healthy looking boy and said “That was me!” Dennis gave me a funny look, then said, “No. That was David Harlton. This is you over here.” And he pointed at the sickly-looking boy.

Of course he was right. I think that I just wished that for one moment in my life I could believe that I was the healthy one.

I had frequent bouts of colds and flu as a child and was well-acquainted with Buckley’s White Rub and various other home remedies. I am a genuine phlegmatic; it’s not often that I don’t have some nasal congestion and a frog in my throat. My sense of balance has never been good either. I was probably about five when my parents put me on a merry-go-round, no doubt expecting I would be thrilled at the ride. My head began to whirl and my stomach to churn and they had to quickly take me off.

In later life, I realized that the “cold and flu” symptoms were almost all allergic reactions to dust, pollens and other stuff in the air. These reactions often led into sinus infections and recovery times were a matter of several weeks. This also affected my inner ear, giving me a poor sense of balance.

When i was in my twenties I discovered antihistamines and they have helped me cope with life. A little pill once a day, a corticosteroid puff in each nostril once a day, plus echinacea and/or decongestants when needed, keep me going most of the time. But I still can’t always escape those times when allergy symptoms leave me feeling wiped out. This time of year seems about the worst.

I have learned by experience that some occupations are best avoided. I’m just not the robust type who thrives on outdoor activities.

But maybe that’s alright. I’ve been coping with this for 73 years now and it hasn’t done me in yet.  Someone once said “A man show what he is by what he does with what he has.” That has inspired me to forget about what I don’t have and can’t do and to try and make the best of what I do have and can do.

I am even thankful that my frequent sicknesses facilitated my love for reading, and writing. Perhaps God has allowed these circumstances to help steer me in the direction He wanted me to go. In any case, here I am, with all the things I have experienced, observed and learned in life, and I want to use them all to His honour.

Book Review – Talent is Not Enough

Here is the long-promised review of Mollie Hunter’s book on writing for children.  First let me warn you that this is not a “Christian” book, it is not a book for those who merely want to entertain children, nor is it a how-to book.

But it is an inspiring book. Mollie Hunter has a rare insight into the heart of a child; it is apparent from her book that being a mother was closer to her heart than being a writer. She began by writing stories for her own two children and learned from their reactions how to write words that reach the heart of a child.

She writes about the trend in children’s writing to cover topics that were once taboo. Her conviction is that since some of these topics are part of some children’s experience, it is OK to write about them if it is done with sensitivity. Then she delivers this caution:

“The distinction between the normal and the abnormal – this, to my mind, is where the dividing line should be drawn in themes for children’s writing, with all that lies on the side of the normal classed as suitable, and all on the other side as unsuitable. This, it seems to me, is where the convention of care must operate most strongly – particularly in those tender pre-pubertal years. Otherwise, the law of diminishing returns is immediately activated, and the writer will only succeed in rubbing the young reader’s nose in the dirt of the world before the same child has had the chance to realise that the world itself is a shining star.”

For insights such as this, and her thoughts on the use of language, I would recommend this book to those who aspire to write for children.

A large part of the book is taken up with thoughts on folklore, Scottish folklore in particular but her perspective can be applied to all folklore. She shares historical evidence that fairies and elves were real people, not Disneyesque caricatures with gossamer wings, but real people who were shunted aside in the migrations of peoples into new areas, yet still lived in isolated villages not far from the newcomers. These people may have been somewhat smaller in stature, or maybe not, but the difference in their customs and lifestyle gave rise to the tales that have come down to us. This insight in itself is worth the price of the book.

Talent is Not Enough, Mollie Hunter, © 1975

Learning the craft of writing

The child that was myself was born with a little talent, and I have worked hard, hard, hard to shape it. Yet even this could not have made me a writer, for there is no book can tell anything worth saying unless life itself has first said it to the person who conceived that book. A philosophy has to be hammered out, a mind shaped, a spirit tempered. This is true for all of the craft. It is the basic process which must happen before literature can be created.

Talent is Not Enough, Mollie Hunter on writing for children, © 1976 Mollie Hunter, published by Harper & Row

I’ve always been writing – school assignments, letters, business reports, historical articles. I’ve always aspired to become a serious writer. I’m 73 now, I don’t suppose I have that many years left to attain that level. I’ve belonged to a writing group, attended writers’ conferences, read all kinds of books for writers. When do I stop learning and start doing? The reality is that they are not mutually exclusive, one learns more  by doing than by studying.

I’ve always known what I want to write, but it’s taken me a long time to see how to write in a way that will capture the interest of other people and not be combative or abrasive. I think I am finding my way to do that.  Part of that is what Mollie Hunter describes as hammering our a philosophy, shaping the mind and tempering the spirit.

Still, for the last while I’ve been in kind of a fog, perhaps afraid to step out and take the risk. Or perhaps confused because there are so many things I want to write. I have come to a conclusion now – I want to concentrate on two projects, one a book for children and the other a book that could be classed as Biblical apologetics. You will be seeing parts of that book in this blog in coming weeks and months.

I will do a review of Mollie Hunter’s book in the next few days, too.

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