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Too busy to write: Editor's Notes #380
December 14, 2022

He not busy being born is busy dying.
—Bob Dylan

In this issue:

1. Too busy to write
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt
5. Letters to the editor

1.Too busy to write
Today I spent my out-of-office-and-house time standing in line-ups or staring at empty shelves. Both seemed to me to be time thieves, and I started to feel stress because I already had an unrealistically long to-do list.

Here is what helped.
  • I used more precise vocabulary. Once the to-do list was rightfully named unrealistic, I had a choice: argue with myself about it or yield to the laws of the universe that give me only twenty-four hours each and every day no matter how much I may want to think and act as if I get a bit more than the rest of you.
  • I stepped aside. The first time I saw the line-up at the post office, it was so long I knew that standing in it would not be productive, so I did some grocery shopping, came back to a line that was even longer, and drove to another store to buy other items I needed. The third time I checked, the line had only two people ahead of me and one stepped away. You may be saying, "Lucky you. That could have ended differently," and you would be right. But in this case, I did get everything done. If I hadn’t been able to buy stamps, no one would have died. But if I had stood in that line, I definitely would have run out of time to do pretty much anything else. My stepping aside was more than physical. I was willing to let the stamps go because something HAD to go.
  • I told someone. At the deli in the grocery store, I told the worker that I had not been able to find anyone on the floor to tell me whether an empty space on a shelf could be restocked. She went into the back herself to check. There was no stock, so I was able to stop looking and could move on to other errands. Having a sympathetic ear lifted my spirits even though I was disappointed to be going home without an item I wanted.

It’s easy to put writing aside during the holiday because there are so many other things to do. Some of us feel guilty if we can’t get everything, including writing, done. Before you load up the guilt saddlebags, try other actions.
  • How reasonable are the things you are trying to do? Using more precise language about the to-do list you have may help lessen your stress.
  • What can you step aside from? Instead of holding yourself hostage until you have done everything no matter how impossible the list is, walk away from something. That something might even be your writing. Remember that the walking away works best when your mind, as well as your body, walks away and that walking away is not necessarily forever.
  • Share your frustration. Someone may help. Be fair. Don’t stuff your guilt into someone else’s bag. Simply explain your problem and accept whatever response you get.

The reality is that a very busy writer may not stick with a non-holiday schedule during the holiday season, but someone who is doing what can be done to relieve stress may very well find little snippets of time to write. We notice those times better when we are not focused on our own lack of time.

And remember that the holiday season will end. Make your plan now for how you will pick things up when all the decorations are tucked away. Future issues will offer ways to make and stick to a plan.

2.Tickled my funny bone
From a church bulletin: All singles are invited to join us Friday at 7 p.m. for the annual Christmas Sing-alone.

3. Interesting Web site
Here are some interesting ideas to keep you writing during the holiday.

4. Writing prompt
The winter holiday season is marked by strong sensory memories. Make a list of your personal holiday sensory memories. How may senses can you include? Write a piece about the holiday and include some of the specific senses from your list. Alternatively, make a list of senses you can include in a piece you are currently working on. Then try sprinkling a few into your current piece. Attention to sensations tends to ground your writing and give it authenticity.

5. Letters to the editor


Sheila Weaver is a local fellow writer, and our association is long-standing. Because she lives here, we had an extended conversation on the topic of rhythms in writing that I cannot repeat here because we were not taking notes, but I asked Sheila if I could quote brief parts of emails she sent me in response to the issue of Editor’s Notes linked to above.

My reply here contains what I think are the most salient points of my response to Sheila. I am putting my reply here on the theory that if one person is confused or objects to what I say, there are others who think the same thing.

So, first comes Shelia.

Good morning Audrey,

Iambs are the basic building blocks of English? I haven’t read the longer piece you suggest, or examined dialogue, but I've underlined the syllable the emphasis is on in your first couple of paragraphs below, and am puzzled. Looks to me, in this quick reading, as though, in "practical" English at least, the first syllable is emphasized far more often than the second.

My question was why you stated that iambs are the basic building blocks of English. I didn't go through & underline them & compare my numbers of underlines, but I'm guessing, based on your statement, that numbers may not be the determining factor.

All the best,

And now, Audrey in response.

I probably put more on the plate than anyone could be expected to eat comfortably, so let me outline briefly some big ideas that I hope will provide context for what I wrote previously.

First, my goal was to offer a new tool to those who may not be aware of how rhythms of speech work on the human mind and emotions. There are people writing Phds about the topic, so no newsletter has enough space to cover everything.

Second, there are many other patterns of stress and non-stress in English that I did not mention in the article. The link I provided in Interesting Web site in the original article lists other patterns along with excellent examples of each. (see link at the start of these remarks)

Third, rhythms are trickier than one might think at first glance for at least two reasons:

  1. An intermediate stress intrudes sometimes.
  2. We usually mark stress and unstress in connected speech, not in single words. This leads to legitimate debates about stress patterns among linguists because they measure "feet", and it’s not always clear where one foot ends and another one begins, but for practical purposes, the rhythm applies to the whole section of speech, not a single word. Again, I refer anyone who wants more about that topic to see the link in Interesting Web site in issue #378 (see link above).

Finally, writers have voices, and I would not be surprised to find that mine leans toward trochee. I find iambs soothing. They make me think of sitting on my dad’s knee with my head against his chest hearing his heartbeat. I, on the other hand, am usually stirring someone to action, and that possibly works for me, at least in part, by using trochee. Regardless of my own proclivities, the existence of left-handed people and freckled people in the world does not negate the overwhelming existence of right-handed people and people without freckles. The same goes for the rhythms. The fact that someone usually uses trochee does not negate the fact that most use iambs.

PS. I apologize for tackling too much too fast. That was a misjudgement on my part. Please keep me on my toes in this regard, and feel free to question anything I write.

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