A Novel Approach

Writers need more than just something to write about. We need to write those somethings in interesting ways. However, all too often we confine ourselves by the familiar, being limited by our experiences, our acquaintances, and our language. We know this as ‘writers block.’ So, is there a way to infuse new thoughts into our work, to use different words, expressions, and (dare I say it?) novel points of view? There is.

Learn another language. Spanish. French. Urdu. Pashtun. Chinese. Every language is a gateway to a different structure of terms and patterns of thought. However, to me, the most potent benefit is that in learning a second (or third or fourth) language, you also will open a window into a way of life that is not familiar, a voice and images that will take your writing to a new level. Let’s look at an example.

Paseo is a Spanish word, probably familiar to you, that means ‘walk’ or ‘stroll.’ But, in Mexico, a paseo also is the procession around the town plaza on a Sunday evening, the girls hand in hand flowing in one direction, the boys marching opposite, furtive glances, hopeful or hoped-for pairings. However, in Argentina, a paseo is the torrid and glaring lover’s challenge during a tango. There are American words for paseos, but no American equivalent. Languages do that.

In the process of your studying them, languages often open the doors of unused English, particularly tenses, by directing you to learn (with a bit of anguish) to write in more than the past, present, and future. In addition to ‘I wake up, I woke up, and I will wake up,’ there is ‘I awake, I had awakened, I will have awakened, and I will be awaking,’ conditional periods of time (and mood) that often sit alone in the author’s corner, waiting to come out and be part of the story.

And reveille? Of course, everyone knows that it is the military way of telling everyone to get up. It comes from French, no surprise there. But isn’t the story with a reveille in it more interesting if instead of a drill sergeant storming through the barracks yelling GET UP to the tune of a recorded bugle call, there is a soft voice, a head on a pillow in the dark, touching your face, whispering ‘réveilles, mon amour.’

And so the doors open. A second language. Reveille. Wake up.

See you next week.

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Number 2: February 2009


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