Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 5 of 10)

Insight is a major quality of good maxims. They’re not phrased in a conventional way and don’t try to say, “Do this.” Instead the purpose is to penetrate our thinking and make us say, “Yes! That’s how I want to live.”

“A lifetime is one long now.” Olivia Dresher wrote that and when I read it, it took me a few seconds before I could grasp her meaning. Then I smiled and nodded.

Thomas Farber penned this one: “Not comfortable sharing, low need for affiliation. An only child, he became an only adult.”

Here’s one I wrote after spending an afternoon with a group with whom I realized I had little in common:
Standing by myself,
if I’m contented, I call that solitude;
if I’m uncomfortable, I call it loneliness.
Try your hand at writing one. If you’d like, you may send it to me personally at cec.murp@comcast.net.

In this series, I’ll give you axioms that seem original to me. On a few occasions, I’ve written one, only later to learn that it’s remarkably similar to what someone else said 500 years ago.

Aphorisms make me smile before I say,
“I never thought of it that way.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 4 of 10)

Succinct statements flow from those who have experienced life and pass on their wisdom. The best examples are simple, practical, and often playful. They preserve traditional values and offer glimpses about often ignored behavior or as a guide to change.

These dictums have a way of expressing my feelings in such a way that I can learn to think differently. I enjoy reading pithy statements and saying, “I wish I’d written that.”

If we write aphorisms, we not only write short, crisp sentences, we also make those statements meaningful to readers. I’m frequently asked (and delighted to comply) when people ask to copy one of my maxims.

Another form is the epigram, which is usually a short poem, often with a witty ending.
Fleas: Adam had ‘em.
Here’s one I call a poem that I worked on and refined over a period of four weeks. Although it doesn’t rhyme, it’s among my favorites because of the rhythm—the poetic flow. Each word in the second maintains the cadence of those in the first.
I am passionately involved in the process;
I am emotionally detached from the result.

The best maxims flow from life experiences, 
and are stated in such a way that they connect with others.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 3 of 10)

Aphorisms flow from ancient writings. For example, we read them in the book of Proverbs and hear them quoted by public speakers. The ancients focused on graffiti-length tidbits. Their readers were poorly educated, so to help them remember, they wrote succinctly.

Thus, they tried to pack wisdom into terse statements and make a sharp point—something we need to keep in mind for contemporary readers.

Brevity also works today but for different reasons. We’re better educated, and somewhere I read that we have an 85 percent world literary rate. Despite that, our need for insights is as urgent as ever. We’re too busy, too pre-occupied, and too tired to read five paragraphs to extract a single sentence.

More than 100 years ago, T.S. Eliot said that we’re “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

We have so much information available that the meaning seems flattened into mere information. Internet experts have shrunken cultural achievement as deep thought, original insight, or facility with language into the single word: content.

Consequently, we skim rather than absorb. Pushed for time, we settle for shallow. Or as the high school kids say, “Read the CliffsNotes.”

As difficult as it seems, we can learn to write with flair, rhythm, and create simple, memorable sentences. The one factor to remember is that aphorisms must have a twist—an element of surprise. Strong aphorisms seduce and surprise us.

Whether we’re aware, we quote aphorisms regularly and (sadly) many become cliched, tired sentences: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Boring today, but in the beginning, those few words held significant meaning.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Work as if you were to live 100 years, pray as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Write your own, and cut extra words. Keep your sentences simple.

We remember short sentences;
we skim long ones.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 2 of 10)

I heard a man say, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” That now-overworked dictum fits my definition of the term. It’s simple and obvious in meaning—his statement of truth (even if not original) spoken in a witty way. To qualify as an aphorism, a statement contains a truth in a terse manner.

Aphoristic statements are quoted in writings as well as in daily speech. The fact that they contain truth gives them universal acceptance. Scores of philosophers, politicians, writers, artists, athletes, and other individuals are remembered for their famous aphoristic words.

You can teach yourself to write philosophical or moral truths. You focus on human experiences and help readers relate your brief words to their own lives.

Just recently someone said this in a political speech—and I don’t know if it was original, but it grabbed me: “Not strong morals, but weak stomachs, keep us from being vultures.”

I Peter 3:15 exhorts us to always give a reason for our hope. How about writing a simple statement that’s memorable, brief, and states your theological position? “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) is a memorable biblical example.

Just as I finished writing the above paragraph, I thought of my own answer.

What I couldn’t do for myself
Jesus’ love accomplished for me.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 1 of 10)

These days with Twitter and texting, we’re learning to write shorter sentences and paragraphs. In pre-computer days we urged shorter sentences and referred to it as the “economy of words.” That meant we tried to eliminate words that carried little weight.

Here are a few examples:
  • He drank some coffee. We can nearly always cut some and make a good clear statement.
  • She managed to leave the house: She left the house.
  • Jess wasn’t hungry at all. Jeff wasn’t hungry.
In learning to write tight (or tightly for the purists), I stumbled on aphorisms. Most of these blog entries end with them. My prodigious use of them began years ago when a publisher pulled statements out of various chapters and boxed them—we call them call outs (or callouts)— short texts that illustrate or make a strong point.

I enjoy writing aphorisms. If that’s not a common word for you, think of adage, proverb, moral, or principle. They’re brief observations that contain a general truth. Their pithiness makes the text easily remembered and quotable.

Try these:
  • Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old age regret.—Benjamin Disraeli 
  • Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.—Benjamin Franklin 
  • Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.—Khalil Gibran
This series is to encourage you to sum up your understandings in brief statements. It’s like the elevator pitch, which refers to the possibility of your getting on the elevator with an agent or editor and you say, “May I tell you about my book?”

“Sure,” the person says. “I’m getting off at the third floor.”

That means you must sum up everything in a few sentences.

Although no publisher has ever asked, when I write a book proposal I insert my elevator pitch immediately following the title page. It’s my summary of the book—usually one brief paragraph. That brief statement saves editors time by helping them see whether it’s something they want to pursue or to delete it from their hard drive.

Try doing this with your articles, stories—anything you write. It also helps you focus on what’s important.

I’ve been doing them so long, most of the time they flow out of my writing.

Here’s an aphorism for what I’ve written above:

I write summary statements to clarify 
and to keep my thoughts focused.