Toolbox

How to Improve Your Writing – Part 1: from Tolstoy to Grohl

9 min read 1 English textbook 1 Book rec 1 Style Guide 4 Writers: Tolstoy to Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters) Improve writing immediately, ages 9 to 99 Toolbox AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify * I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of...

On Flesh-Eating Beetles and Sins of the Mother

7 Min read Sense writing: traditional five plus two more 2 Reading recs: historical novel and story 1 Writing guide Improve writing immediately Toolbox, ages 9 to 99 AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify * Writing Through the Seven Senses When I'm working on an aspect of my...

Spooky Hour with Spirits of the Dead

6 min read Word Work 2 Lexicons: Webster's NID 2nd Ed and Shorter OED 1 Book rec Halloween, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day Fall mocktail, easy and delicious AVAILABLE ON PODCAST SPOTIFY Lakeview Cemetery next to my father's grave * No pressure but what are you doing...

What’s in Your Trunk?

5 Min read New England's largest flea market* Poetry for Emergencies--on the folly of fame, legacy, empire Sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley Book rec on writing song lyrics Toolbox, use 7 senses to improve writing** Texan king in a cow pasture AVAILABLE ON PODCAST...

Confusables, Contronyms, and Jane’s Potato Salad

2 Min read Word Nerd special Humor and the paraprosdokian Usage manual rec - The authority on grammar, usage, and style Essay rec - DFW on assignment to research the above lexicon and the Usage Wars AVAILABLE ON PODCAST SPOTIFY * The limits of my language means the...

The Master Sentence and the Centenarian

5 Min Read One book rec Punctuation guide Sentence construction Language Lover and Word Nerd Special Toolbox, ages 9 to 109 * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * A master sentence tends to be long though length is not its sole characteristic, nor is it a sign of a...

Three Days in Sun Valley and the Best Writing Teacher

5 Min read Book rec Photo journal Ernest Hemingway Pioneer Cabin Trail hike Foodie highlights Toolbox, to improve writing for ages 9 to 99 AVAILABLE IN PODCAST SPOTIFY iTunes * All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. A...

Classic Prose: Thought and Presentation

4 min read 2 Book recs Toolbox, improve writing immediately Music in Prose, Ocean Vuong * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * In the classic stand on the elements of style, writing is neither a way of thinking something out nor an art that exists for its own sake....

Goggins, Pushup Yoga, and the Art of the Paragraph

5 Min read 2 Book recs, memoir and writing craft Forty percent rule Pushup Yoga Toolbox, improve writing immediately AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * [Wordnerd alert: pay attention to the numbers at the end of each for the types of paragraphs. Spoiler alert: pay...

Degree of Separation

5 Min read Social connection on Earth in 2023 Network theory U.S. Army and Armed Forces Math geek special, logarithm AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Thought exercise for the day. How many friends between you and anyone on the planet? In popular culture this...

What Makes a Speech Great?

2 Min read Admiral McRaven Operation Neptune Spear Toolbox, Speaking skills AVAIlABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes Admiral 'Bill' McRaven spoke at the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment event to commemorate Operation Neptune Spear. He started by saying he was...

Weasel Words

3 Min read 2 Book recs on grammar, usage, and style Toolbox, ages 9 to 99 Improve writing immediately AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes * One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called weasel words. When a weasel sucks eggs it sucks the...

What Makes a Single Person’s Death Feel Large?*

4 Min read 2 Book recs, on writing and on jigsaws Toolbox, the Eulogy 1 Elegy, What is Dying? for the bereaved * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST SPOTIFY iTunes * Four friends died recently and three were my age: one from acute liver failure, one from Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS),...

Today is a Numeric Palindrome

1 Min read Word Nerd Alert Toolbox * * Today has a date format which is a numeric palindrome. Or, a palindromic number. Or, a palindromic number sequence. Fun, if you're in to such things as I am, sequences and syntax and such. Or alliteration. Or sentence fragments....

ChatGPT on the Meaning of Life, Love, War

3 Min Read Prompts on life's mysteries Artificial Intelligence generates short answer, sonnet, couplet, haiku, blog post Writer's Toolbox OpenAI and ChatGPT * Three times a charm. I finally got onto the site in the witching hours; maybe a 3:30 AM login helps. If you...

“Good Luck and Smooth Sailing” in the Year of the Cat

3 min read Lunar New Year Vietnamese Zodiac, Cat vs Rabbit Year 2023 Writing tip, lyrics, backstory on Al Stewart's hit song * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST on SPOTIFY iTunes * Chúc mừng năm mới 2023!! Happy Lunar New Year! * It's the Year of the Water Cat according to...

How to Capture a Life in 400 Words

3 Min read The Obituary AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Writing an obiturary is a sobering task. I'm not sure if it is harder to write one for someone you know, because I haven't had to do that. My husband wrote his parents' obituaries and my father had written...

“Pithy and Practical” – Time in Memoir

4 Min Read Time as a Literary Element The Divided Self Christmas and the Solstice Readers Call to Action AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Not to toot my own horn, but I'll let my cousin do so. She wrote in her Christmas card that she loved the TreeHouseLetter...

Which Part of Speech Makes Up Most of the English Language?

4 Min read Toolbox, Parts of Speech 1 Book rec, grammar guide Word nerd alert Ages 9 to 99 * Let's talk about the parts of speech. As for the seven words in that sentence, the first two-- let's talk--are a sort of conundrum. They're not spoken at all, though I am...

What Music Teaches Us About Writing

7 Min read The Music in Prose Creative Writing Forum, West Point Sentence rhythm, Beryl Markham and David Foster Wallace Writer's Toolbox, Improve writing immediately * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes I met with the Creative Writing Forum at West Point to discuss...

Books I Love

5 Min read 17 Books, 19.5 including mentions in footnotes Genres: Memoir, Essays, Fiction, Writing, Love, Poetry, War Toolbox, Texture in writing Contemporary and classic books from the top of my stacks, my more current reading. * The most common question I get is,...

What Book Would You Take to a Desert Island?

7 Min read 2 Book recs Film rec Article abstract, on Virtue and Vice* Toolbox, Improve writing, ages 9 to 99 AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes * What book would you take to a desert island? I didn't know and hadn't given it much thought until Saturday when I told my...

Charlie Munger and the Art of Swearing

5 Min read EXPLICIT language, Ages 13 to 103 True Story, investing Toolbox Essay and book rec, Ursula Le Guin Patton's Speech AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Charlie Munger was making the rounds with investors. A living icon in the investing world, he was some...

The Sentence Fragment

3 min read Toolbox, Ages 9-99 Improve writing immediately 2 Book recs: on writing and on essays AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * (1) When you haven't seen someone you love for a while, you notice them anew. The tongue that touches the side of the mouth. The wisps...

No Ordinary Hike: Marchback for USMA Class of 2026

7 min read Figure of speech, synecdoche Long Gray Line Marchback AVAILABLE ON PODCAST On Spotify On iTunes * The long gray line of us stretches / through the years of a century told / and the last one feels to the marrow / the grip of your far off hold.* To the...

On the Double Negative, Circular Definitions, and Children

4 min read Double negative 2 Book recs, 1 short story Roe v. Wade A Double Negative by Lydia Davis At a certain point in her life, she realizes it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.*...

Notes on a Year of Love

3 Min read The Music in Prose Simile and metaphor 2 books AVAILABLE ON PODCAST On Spotify On iTunes My book group chose to read love stories. We read seven or eight books, a mix of modern and classic. The night was perfect, the trees lush and full; my skin felt alive...

Why I Write

5 Min read Creative process AVAILABLE ON PODCAST ON SPOTIFY The main window with view of pine, poplar and birch in the TreeHouse where I do most of my writing. MacBook with this letter on a portable table. I sit in a Herman Miller office chair, an essential for the...

“The Q-tips Are for Your M4” and the Art of the Paragraph

3 Min read Writer's toolbox Improve writing immediately Book rec AVAILABLE ON PODCAST On SPOTIFY The Q-tips are for your M4, Norah's uncle said as she held them up when unpacking her 7.62 ammunition canister. Norah reached in the green ammo can and took out 100 feet...

The Last Recital

2 Min read Piano music, composers Writer's Toolbox: the series and the infinitive phrase AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Silvermine School of Music, former Carriage House (built 1903) I shall not forget the old carriage house, the hayloft used for bedrooms, the balcony...

Most Underused Punctuation Mark in American Writing*

Short take Writer's Toolbox Em-dash Book recs So says the lexicographer and usage genius Bryan Garner. My desk copy of the 4th edition of Garner's Modern English Usage states on page 750, "The em-dash is perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American...

What Makes a Speech Great? An Admiral Tells 3 Stories

6 min read Writer’s Toolbox Public speaking AVAILABLE ON PODCAST HERE Admiral McRaven commemorates the 11th Anniversary of Operation Neptune's Spear What makes a speech great? There are a lot of good speeches and good speakers. But a great speech is one you remember....

Exercises in Style: a Writing Tribute

3 min read Book rec Writing Toolbox Wordplay Ages 9 to 99 AVAILABLE IN PODCAST HERE Titles begin with letters as human forms Narrative One day at about midday in the food line, behind the checkout of a more or less busy Costco, I observed a person with a very big...

Bedside Counselor on Parenting in Anger, in Two Translations

6 min read Book rec Prose for emergencies Writing feature AVAILABLE IN PODCAST, CLICK HERE For solace and for counsel, I have several books I find myself returning to again and again, and to this one, most recently, as my third child prepares to leave home.* For...

Each Sentence Reflects 3 Choices

2 Min read 1 Essay Toolbox How to improve your sentences immediately AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes Google Podcast Each sentence reflects three choices. What to write about and what we want to accomplish by writing about itWhich words to useWhat order to put them...

Writing on the Road and the Creative Process

5 min read 4 book recs on writing 1 novel Toolbox, Ages 9-99 AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes Google Podcasts How do you write on the move? A computer and phone work for me. When I'm not in the TreeHouse I miss my books, dictionaries, and style guides. Worse, there...

Adult Child and a Zen Koan

2 Min Read 1 Book Rec 2.5 Zen Koan** Em Dash* AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Anchor.fm/emelle Spotify iTunes My adult child--an oxymoron when you consider that there is no single word for grown offspring in a language with 171,476 words of which 47,156 are obsolete, but please...

If You Want to Write, Your Writing Has to Have Rhythm

7 Min Read Ages 19 to 99 Precocious 9+ AVAILABLE ON PODCAST   Anchor.fm/Emelle Spotify iTunes   Toolbox: On Sentences and How to Improve Your Writing Immediately   If you want to write, your writing has to have rhythm. No one ever taught me this. But,...

Books as Trophies? the Bibliophile vs the Bibliophagist

6 Min read 2 Book recs Music in Prose Funniest passage in modern literature Toolbox, Ages 9 to 99 Word Nerd Special AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify anchor.fm/emelle * * I have a book problem. It's a good kind of problem because books teach me a lot and I get to...

The Sexy Semicolon, Really?

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify Anchor.fm Loved and loathed, sexy and sinister may not be modifiers that come to mind when you think of the semicolon. Cecelia Watson argues otherwise in her deep dive on this misunderstood mark, concluding a decade of research,...

National Punctuation Day – the Vulgar Pronoun – Read THIS

I was looking up the definition of the demonstrative pronoun this last week, and got a lesson in modern American slang. Gestures help with understanding just what this means in certain circles, but if you give it some thought, you will realize that the mean and the...

Grammar Matters – So, Three Pronouns Walk Into a Bar

    Grammar matters. OK, really truly, it does.  So here are some grammar matters worth sharing with fellow word nerds.  AND there's even a little something for math geeks too. BAR JOKES Three pronouns walked into a bar.  She let him have it. An interjection...

History Teacher Provides a Lesson – But Not One She Intended

Some unlucky souls have already returned to school and we will keep them in our thoughts. Meanwhile, stretch out on the lounger, kick off your shoes, and crack open a cold one while we consider our luckier path, no school till AFTER Labor Day. Let's contemplate the...

Cut the Flab, a Writing Primer

Simple steps to improve bloated writing   In a digital world, many people only know you through your writing. At work and in your personal life, social media extends our connections across the globe.  So it’s more important than ever to write well. But who has time...