I came across this passage in a Times story by the mother of a high school student who wrote letters to successful dyslexics asking for advice, and thought it would be fun to see if I could punch it up a bit using principles Katharine and I teach in Europe in the Modern World:
Aidan had started the project in a moment of despair right after getting back his spring grades in ninth grade. They were disappointing. They didn’t reflect how hard he had worked. We were standing in his room at the time. I had pointed to a poster he had tacked up over his desk of successful adults who have dyslexia. “I wonder how they made it?” I had said.
First thought: personal writing is harder than it looks.
This is a successful piece of writing; it was published in the Times, after all.
Even so, the rhythm needs work. There’s a choppy, start-stop quality to the sentences that makes them read more like a list than a paragraph.
Speaking of: paragraphs are a topic I’ve been contemplating for a while now.
What is a paragraph, exactly?
I’m not sure anyone knows–people don’t seem to study the paragraph per se–but one thing a paragraph is not is a list. To write a proper paragraph, you have to do something to make each sentence feel connected to the one before. You have to create “flow.”
Flow is hard, maybe especially hard in personal writing, where every sentence logically begins with “I” or “he” or “she” or “they” or “we.” Too much of that and you’ve got a list.
So I thought it would be fun to see if I could make the sentences in this paragraph flow.
It wasn’t easy.
I see it’s getting late – back tomorrow with the rest.
How to turn a list of sentences into a paragraph – 9/20/2016
Get me rewrite – 9/24/2016
Why it’s hard for a memoirist to write non-choppy prose and sound like a normal human being – 9/27/2016