Monday, October 18, 2010

How to Write Right

I hope you love to write and receive personal letters like I do. Yes, I confess to being an e-mail addict -- so many messages to so many friends and so little time! But I receive a little thrill when I see a beautiful envelope addressed to me on the front of an envelope made of special paper in lovely, even script. *Sigh* I know the writer of this epistle, although it may be short and to the point, has spent several valuable minutes of time when they could have been doing something else much more important showing me that they care about me. And, I might add, showing me that they care about the kind of impression they are making on me. That sort of letter always leaves a very good impression, regardless of the length of the message.

We could all improve our handwriting skills. What better way to do this than in letter-writing. No, you are saying, my handwriting is terrible! I have a workable solution for you. Check out this writing handbook -- it's one of many that are available online.

Of course, the ultimate handwriting is calligraphy or italic handwriting. Once again, there are many courses available from online sources. I have several of these and have toyed with them. I hope to find time to actually sit down and take the course. Then you can be sure I'll write more letters so I can practice this skillful art.

Every beautifully written letter requires two other ingredients besides skillful writing techniques: a nice pen that will easily accomodate your new skills and lovely writing paper. The pen on the left is only one of scores of pens available online, this one from Amazon. I personally use the blackest ink I can find and cream colored paper. I have personalized writing paper which is embossed with my initials. They came with personalized gift card enclosures and note cards as well. I much prefer these to the generic variety that have 'thank you' printed on the front. Although I have received many notes written on generic cards that I treasure. The words, not the materials used always carry the most meaning to your recipient. However, the materials you use as well as the care you take in writing your letter or note reflect your values and care. Just as your choice of clothing, the way you care for your belongings, and many other habits reflect deeper character traits, even so the type of papers and style of writing you use to communicate your thoughts to someone will show something about who you are.

Next post, I'll talk more about writing papers.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Books That Help You Communicate Clearly

Noah Webster was an American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. In 1806 he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. In 1807 Webster began compiling an expanded and fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language; it took twenty-seven years to complete. To evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit. Webster hoped to standardize American speech, since Americans in different parts of the country used different languages. They also spelled, pronounced, and used English words differently.

Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, France, and at the University of Cambridge. His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessary, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing "colour" with "color", substituting "wagon" for "waggon", and printing "center" instead of "centre." He also added American words, like "skunk" and "squash," that did not appear in British dictionaries. At the age of seventy, Webster published his dictionary in 1828; it sold 2500 copies. In 1840, the second edition was published in two volumes. --source, Vision Forum sells a reproduction of this dictionary with all it's Christian connotations intact. Since that first publishing, many updates and revisions have taken place with the addition of thousands of newly adopted or created words.

A reward for sorting through a box of books I haven't missed for the six years I've lived in my current house was the discovery this week of a thrift store copy of The New International Webster's Pocket Grammar, Speech & Style Dictionary of the English Language. Although missing a few components such as accompanying examples in every area of instruction, nevertheless, every one of the 300+ pages is jam-packed with clear instruction in virtually every area of communication, spoken and written, even including a page of proofreaders' markings and how to interpret them on the last two pages.

A surprise was the chapter of almost 40 pages of foreign words and phrases common to English usage. Here's an excerpt from the forward to that chapter:
In a language like English, whose vocabulary is at least 80 percent borrowed from other language sources, it is not always easy to judge whether a word or expression should be considered as "foreign" or "naturalized." The chief sources of our foreign words and phrases are French and Latin. Other heavy contributors are Italian (particularly for musical terms), German, Greek, and Spanish. But English is a ready borrower and adapter, and we find in our list contributions from other European languages...from Semitic tongues, ... from languages of Asia, ...from the tongues of the American Indians; ... and even from the languages of the far pacific, notably Hawaiian. --p. 266
Following this excellent summation of the word-borrowing tendencies of our language is an easy-to-read explanation of the diacritical markings (pronunciation guides) of the words which follow. If you've ever been stumped at a restaurant featuring foreign words, this guide will be very helpful. Although there are many tools available in various languages that may fit the bill better than this one when travelling, here's a good place to start, especially if you are an "arm-chair" traveller.

Chapter IV provides helpful information for academic assignments such as research papers, book reports and reviews, science project reports and a section entitled, 'a precis.' If you are unfamiliar with this phrase, here is the description given:
A precis is a concise summary in your own words of the essential points of a longer piece of writing, usually one-fourth to one-third as long as the original. Learning how to do this provides excellent training in reading for comprehension and in mastering the technique of clear, concise, and accurate writing. It is a useful skill, if mastered, and will be a valuable tool both for schoolwork and in the business world. ... A precis, unlike a paraphrase, cuts wordage to the minimum, simplifying and getting to the essential meaning in very few words. It contains no details, examples or illustrations, and it does not allow any comment or interpretation on your part. The French meaning of the word, "exact," describes it accurately. --p. 225
Precise instructions for writing 'a precis,' follow this description. What a great idea! Are you rambling on with dependent clauses, semi-colons and wordiness that just won't find a conclusion? Stop and write 'a precis' before you find yourself lost in the maze of your words! What a great idea for students as well. Assign this as a daily or weekly exercise until concise writing, relying on nouns and verbs rather than modifiers, becomes easy.

Just as valuable if not more valuable are the sections on how to write letters of various types, how to write a resume, non-verbal and verbal communication, commonly misused and misspelled words and much more. I intend to purchase several copies of this valuable resource to keep on hand for gifts and may put one in every room of the house as well.

Roget's Thesaurus is an invaluable tool for any serious writer. Yes, we have availability to dictionaries and various other writing tools on our computers, but you need to learn to love to read your dictionary and thesaurus and become a word addict like me. Your writing skills will advance immeasurably. There are many different versions of the Thesaurus available now, as well as many different types of dictionaries -- dictionaries of synonyms (I think the thesaurus does about the same job here), rhyming dictionaries, Scrabble dictionaries, dictionaries for students ... on and on. Check it out.

I have a confession to make. When I was a child, I read the dictionary and encyclopedias for fun. We had Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia 12vol which my parents purchased from a traveling book salesman, I believe. I can still close my eyes and see the red bindings and the slick surface of the pages as my eyes slid over the mostly black and white images and words, gorging myself with information like a hungry child who fills his mouth too full. Now these encyclopedias are published by Britannica and are available on CD-Rom at a fraction of the price of the hardcover edition which you can still purchase for just under $1,000. I believe. I confess my delight in turning pages, rather than clicking on links. There is something wonderful about touching the paper and smelling the ink or the dusty emanations from old volumes that have been here longer and perhaps been held in the hands of other bibliophiles. 'Boring old books' can come alive if you love them long enough.

A word of caution, however, as you peruse the contents of the more modern dictionaries, thesaurus listings and encyclopedias. We live in a world that has lost its comprehension of a Christian mindset and world-view.

Believing that God is the Creator of all things and the Source of all knowledge and wisdom provides the foundation and backdrop for the Christian's belief system. "In Him [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," Colossians 2:3. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," Proverbs 1:7. But the humanists who largely dominate our educational systems today have stolen that heritage from us.

We read in the newer editions of dictionaries such as the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, definitions such as this one:
Christian:one who professes belief in Jesus Christ.
Compare that definition to the one given by Noah Webster in his 1828 dictionary:
Christian: 3.  A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.
May I encourage you to purchase the original Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary containing definitions of words from a Christian worldview. Vision Forum's link to purchase is:

Truth is not negotiable! Choose your words and their definitions wisely.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wonderful Words...

I'm so glad you could come to class tonight at my house...Mercy and I had a marvelous time hosting you here. Thanks for not parking on the wet grass. ;-)

Some of you wanted to order my little book of poems, "Roots & Vines." The books are $10. each, plus $2.00, shipping and handling, for a total of $12.00.
Send us an order with your check to: Becky Morecraft, 302 Pilgrim Mill Rd./ Cumming, GA 30040.

We've only just begun to consider poetry -- we'll continue to think about great poets, their poems, how to read and write poetry ourselves in the next two sessions. During one of them, I hope to have my sister, songwriter Judy Rogers, as a guest, helping us pursue the subject of writing poems as songs

Here's a link to some music and books I love. The "Little Lamb" song I sang tonight from William Blake's poem, was recorded by Carly Simon and one of her sisters in the '70's on a recording called, "Sing Songs for Children," which has recently been re-released. Judy and I sing it often to our grandchildren. You will love this recording! I think you'll enjoy all the children's songs on this recording, but I haven't heard the whole thing in a while, so 'disclaimer' if there's something objectionable -- I'm pretty sure It's all good.

Don't forget to go to my sister's website and listen to some samples from her recordings. The web address is  Judy's music is impeccably biblical and singable.  If you aren't already a fan, you will be after even one listen. You can also hear and download Judy's music at I'm privileged to sing many songs with her on the recordings, the most on "Arise! Shine!" Our children, all grown with children now, (except for Mercy), sing on the earlier recordings. What a blessing to see our children's children now learning and loving Judy's God-honoring music!!

Two of the women who have most influenced my writing are Suzanne Rhodes and Luci Shaw. Their books are wonderful and easily available. Suzanne's books can be purchased from Canon Press. The link for her student poet's manual -- The Roar From the Other Side -- which I referenced many times tonight is:

And her newly released book of poetic prose and wonderful poems about her life as a mother, wife and observer of God's grace is entitled, A Welcome Shore. The link:

Luci Shaw is one of America's premiere Christian authors and poets. All of her writing reveals her God-owned heart. I first read, Listen to the Green, when it was given to me as a gift in the late '80's. My thoughts about poetry have been expanded and my writing of both poetry and prose, become more compact ever since. I know you will love this book especially, although I have many of her others as well. Explore and enjoy.

Here's a little poem I wrote, fresh from the inspiration of her writer's retreat in 1997:

(background: I had just been to South Africa with my husband for a mission trip and saw Zulu and other tribal women sitting outside the Pretoria zoo, making beaded jewelry, belts and trinkets...)

Bartering, Pretoria
(for Luci Shaw at Kanuga)

All day she beads her bright poems
onto belts and bands,
squat in the dirt,
her baby tethered to her
by a long, red rag.

Her nimble fingers fly,
sorting fragments,
chips of hope on thread,
strung together
and sold for silver.

Around my waist I'll wear her bartered skill
to art shows, conferences and concerts
when I choose denim and Africa;
while she in trade
will feed her child tonight.


Tonight many of you asked for lists of poetry books I would recommend. Suzanne Rhodes and Luci Shaw have written many of the modern poems I enjoy. Most of their poetry is what is called 'blank verse,' or unrhymed poetry. They are both extremely skillful in this genre. But, I'm certain they could each write rhymed verse that is equally wonderful. In Listen to the Green, Mrs. Shaw's rhymed verse is breath-taking. I'll be reading a selection of some of her work next week, I hope. Rhymed poetry can become trite -- simplistic, soupy and wordy. Paring your words down to the 'exact' words needed to convey your message should be one of your goals as a poet, whether your poetry is rhymed and following exact patterns (we'll talk about those next week) or unrhymed, blank verse.

Who do I love to read? There are many, many poets I love and read as often as possible. I cut my teeth on poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Robert Service, Eugene Fields, Rudyard Kipling and many others. I came from a family of readers and writers, so I had early and frequent exposure to so many great writers in every genre. One of the greatest encouragements I ever gave my own children was to teach them to read using McGuffey readers. There are many wonderful poems in these readers! My son, John Calvin, recited, "The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but him had fled...," at about nine years of age...there wasn't a dry eye in the house! Read great poems of every type aloud to your children -- it's important to learn HOW to read poetry, not in a sing-songy voice, but putting the emphasis on verbs and nouns and not at the end of each line. And then have your children read them aloud -- find poems that are appropriate to your children's stage and age and have them memorize portions of poems or whole poems. These lines will stay with them FOREVER! Especially poems that are put to music will stick in the know what I mean, don't you?

Purchase a great book -- "Best Loved Poems of the American People." (see link) When our older children were able to read, we would frequently have a poetry reading night, sit around the living room and choose favorite poems to read aloud. What great memories that made! Alongside a collection of poems, I recommend your children memorize poetry. A common practice that has been abandoned in modern times, perhaps because so many children watch television which has brief segments of action, broken up with commercials. Modern children haven't developed the skills required for memorization. I highly recommend a book that I have a link for on this page called, Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization, student workbook. Also, you can purchase a 3-cd set of poems,  read aloud by Andrew Pudewa, along with instructional book. Here's the link: Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization, a Mastery Learning Approach , Poems Selected and Read By Andrew Pudewa 3cd's and 1 Dvd in Case. This book will guide you and your student through the steps necessary for memorization of poetry and show the additional benefits that will accompany this endeavor. Thanks to the Tully family for telling me about this book.

In terms of curriculum,  I would highly recommend your listening to Victoria Botkin's cd, (available from Vision Forum, I believe ?), on how to choose curriculum. Those Botkins are bright folks and I highly respect their educational advice.

But in terms of teaching writing, my best advice is to do what I did and give your children lists of books to read, appropriate to their stage, and report to you about each one. As they write a short report, you will be able to ascertain if they actually read and understood the content, as well as teach important grammar lessons. Mind you, reading for reading's sake may be valuable on some levels, but it profiteth little. Grasping the content and precepts of books should be your ultimate goal. I am working on an updated list of recommended books for each level; but for now, check out Vision Forum's books -- particularly biographies and historical fiction. I hope this gets you started! I've already recommended some of my favorite books for teaching grammar and writing skills on earlier blog posts. Just go to my archived section and look back ...
Please thank Mercy some time -- she really worked hard this week and was rewarded with a successful slide presentation as well as great audio. She has to work from my PC instead of her Macbook because of the program we use to record each session. Bless her heart...what a daughter!!
 God bless you and I look forward to our next class...the man of fire...who was he?