Joanna Catherine Scott

A Brief Definitive Guide to Effective Writing


Write from the gut. Speak plain. Yet misuse language

perfectly. It isn't how you follow rules

but how you hang your heart upon the page

that makes the image clang onto the skull

and stick, like mud-packed rocks slammed

on the garbage can where all those readers huddle,

waiting for enlightenment. You must jerk them

out of there, take each by the ear

(the ear, you understand) and wring it

like the bell of doom, or like a cowbell, bell

on the cat or on your toes--ring! ring!--

until the image is embedded in the brain.


To accomplish this, forget the pedant's line

drawn in the dirt, like the border of a wealthy country

keeping all those nasty little foreign persons out,

declaring that on one side lies the poem, on the other

nothing but the poor third world of prose.

Ignore all that. Leap on whatever sentence gallops by

and ride it, bucking, down the road.

Don't be afraid of and and but, those darling

common little men in orange hats

who hold the stop-slow signs along the way.

Follow the trail of which. Such whistling blue-blood

     arrogance!

And if you're partial to a dash––then dash.

Use colons, semi-colons if you like. Regard the colon:

like a pair of fox eyes watching where to strike

to make the thought just right; and how the semi-colon

     hesitates

before it leaps onto the line.


Punctuate, or not

The end effect makes everything correct. Yet don't forget

the peerless way the period separates, neat

as the anus of a short-haired cat; or how the comma,

fishlike, wiggles one consideration to the next.

Recruit the adjective. Without it, we'd have faces,

granted, but not glowing, lecherous, remote,

or luminous with greed--yet still not poker-faced.

Toss in a fitting adverb here and there (note the chill

difference between creeping and creeping nakedly).

Use repetition, onomatopoeia, double-entendre,

apt alliteration's artful aid--anything you can

to clang and clang that repercussive can.


Don't try to write how other people write;

listen to the words reverberating in your head.

And when rejection slips come whistling through the air

like poisoned darts, or when they say you're dancing

on the edge of prose, that barbed wire line,

invite them to come join, not stand there grimly

on the side like flowers along an executioner's wall.

There’s no guarantee you'll never make a nickel out of writing,

so you may as well have fun, not fall into the hell of

affirmation--approbation--acclamation--

(listen to the syncopation in that line!)

Let the critics hang!