Archive for the ‘Writing Process’ Category
All is connected, all is real, and all is metaphor.
Do you think this statement is true?
Recently I ran across a website of metaphor examples. According to its author, the site is based on the idea that metaphorical relationships can be considered to be “universal” in scope: a sort of Rosetta Stone between disciplines, if you will.
A related view is that metaphors provide a set of tools to compare two (seemingly) unlike things that are alike in at least one important way. Pick the tool of your choice – simile, analogy, personification, and others – and use it to explore and better understand the unknowns.
Then there’s this definition: “A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea … Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance.”
If you follow some of the links in this post, you will see that metaphors of all kinds appear to be an indispensable key to understanding as well as creating our reality. They also allow us to connect to other forms of reality and to live beyond the boundaries of our own space.
Could we write, or communicate in any way, without metaphors?
Can you think of any aspect of your life that is metaphor-free?
If you were deprived of all metaphors, could you exist?
Do you think humans are responsible for creating metaphors, or do we just notice all the connections around us and attempt to describe their interfaces and correspondences?
In a recent post titled Language: The Government Wants Your Metaphors, I discussed IARPA’s Metaphor Program, which seeks to “exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture” in order to “characterize differing cultural perspectives associated with case studies of the types of interest to the Intelligence Community.”
Although analytically and intellectually admirable, at least as a mathematical construct, such a project may ultimately prove too daunting to be practicable, because what metaphors say is so complex, interlocking and interrelated that it seems quite a challenge to untangle all the possible meanings and connections. And never mind that all of those qualities are dynamic.
If, as some suggest, metaphors are the foundation of our conceptual systems, then apparently we require them in order to think and act.
And if we can only understand or experience one thing in terms of another, that is, by using metaphors, then what don’t metaphors say?
Now it’s your turn: Do you think metaphors are the engine of communication? Could language itself be construed as a form of metaphor for life? Without communication of all kinds would life exist? Thanks for leaving your comments! Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
This timeline caught my eye. It encapsulates the concepts of emergence, process, change and transformation so well; it’s colorful, witty; and I just liked the delightful style.
You could say this graphic offers us one view of human evolution. But on a larger scale, the drawing also conveys the overarching concept of transformation: things change, don’t they? They can adapt, mutate, flourish and take off in one or more directions. They can also stultify, remain static, wither and perish. A single, accidental mutation in one organism—or even the organism’s extinction—can give rise to a profusion of new, dissimilar life forms.
One thing for sure, though: Nothing stands still in time, at least not for very long. Time inexorably modifies, erases, transfigures, changes, enhances, diminishes, grows, dies, creates and destroys everything. Time is motion. We all obey time, and this charming timeline about us and everything else gets that point across beautifully.
And how about this clock?
The clock shows how the use of graphical elements like repetition and shadings of color can communicate change, transformation and adaptation.
Depending on the context, the clock graphic could represent the literal passage of time, nothing more. But drop the image into the history of an individual or a company, or a description of a manufacturing process, or an account of the evolution of an idea, for example, and the image takes on new meanings.
Beyond that, a skilled artist could re-work this or any other timeline graphic in all sorts of ways. The artist, who lives in a time stream, as we all do, is also one of time’s agents and, as such, behaves as a sort of time proxy and serves as an entity who has the power to alter things—in this case, a graphic image. In his drawings, M. C. Escher joyfully plays with just such self-referential notions.
The next timeline is a tongue-in-cheek image that purports to show how humans evolved from a more primitive life form—from ape to human in this example. As any biologist knows, however, such a representation is technically incorrect. Rather, it seems that humans and apes share a common ancestor, which means we are not the descendants of apes, but more like their kissin’ kin.
The previous image is like the first two images in that on a larger scale it says something about the essence of life, which includes concepts of emergence, adaptation and transformation. On a smaller, more specific scale the image says: If you are here reading this, then you can thank a very long line of ancestors (a line so long that it stretches, unbroken, beyond an ape-like ancestor, all the way back to single-celled bacteria so primitive they didn’t even have a nucleus).
You may have seen an adaptation of the previous image, one in which the final figure was a pair of high heels, representing woman. I don’t recall the context in which that image appeared, but the high heels completely changed the meaning by implying that the most advanced form of life was the human female. Or maybe the sort of female who wears heels.
The next and final timeline in this post shows another view of the transformation of human life, from extinct ancestral hominin forms to related hominids to … us–Homo sapiens, at the top of the left branch. Although incomplete, the evolutionary tree in the graphic shows a distinct bifurcation, with a right branch leading to the genus Pan (chimpanzees), our closest primate relatives.
This image is much more detailed than the previous one, and more scientifically accurate as well. It includes a timeline (on the left side) that shows a scale of millions of years. The image makes clear that as life flows along in time, it changes in myriad and unpredictable ways, and it is only after the fact that we can map out the transformations on a timeline and assign values to them.
Together, these four images show just a few of the many ways you can use timelines to get across concepts about emergence, change, adaptation and transformation. Whether you are looking at life in general, or some aspect of it, timelines are useful tools to communicate your ideas.
For more about timelines, you might like to read the following posts in my blog:
If you would like to learn more about the timelines of your own personal ancestry, visit The Genographic Project.
Now it’s your turn: Do you use timelines in your work? What is your subject matter? Do you think timelines are useful in communicating with your audience? Please share your thoughts about timelines. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
As we consider all the things for which we can be thankful during the Thanksgiving holiday, writers in every field and genre will give thanks for finding that new idea or a fresh angle on it. Which writer, in passing the cranberry sauce or savoring a bite of pumpkin pie, will not sigh in relief at having tackled a project and successfully wrestled it into a form that delighted a reader, a client or an editor?
As we look beyond the oncoming holidays and over the winter horizon, we writers anticipate our next projects and assignments with pleasure, even as we hope our “idea well” does not run dry.
In the spirit of holiday sharing and giving, then, here are some of the methods I use to keep ideas flowing.
- Practice “stream of consciousness” writing to jog ideas loose.
- Read news websites.
- Read blogs.
- Read and participate in online discussion forums.
- Search a topic, and then visit at least 10 of the sites that appear in the results list.
- Engage in conversation with colleagues.
- Read a wide variety of magazines, newspapers, and other publications.
- Talk with family.
- Talk with friends.
- Read product literature.
- Research a topic formally to learn the details and find out what the experts have to say.
- Read textbooks on the subject.
- Make diagrams as you read, to juxtapose topic points and make new associations.
- Take part in brainstorming sessions.
- Read encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesauruses.
- Make time for meditation.
- Ask yourself random questions, and take notes.
- Write down ideas that pop into your head as you go about other activities.
- Attend seminars and lectures.
- Take one or more classes.
- Look at photos, randomly or categorized by subject.
- Keep a running outline and list every point you want to make as you work through a “big idea.”
- Find out what people want to know about a particular topic.
- Surf the net to “shake it up.”
- Browse through bookstores and libraries – you never know what you’ll run across.
- Practice taking a subject and seeing how many ways you can spin it for niche audiences.
- Get out and about; have experiences, go on adventures and engage in activities.
- Mine your own life experiences: What are your interests? What do you enjoy doing?
- Use “freewriting” to spark ideas: Set a timer for, say, 10 minutes, and then just write. Write anything. Just keep writing until the timer goes off.
- Read your work out loud.
- Find your plinth, and then stand on it. This means establish your subject, or angle on it, and then focus relentlessly on it (especially useful for short pieces).
- Visit “question websites” (writing-prompt generators) to find questions to use as writing prompts.
- Listen to music lyrics from various musical genres to help jump-start your creative engine.
- Keep an idea notebook.
How do you generate ideas and new perspectives on them? What helps you write?
Share your tricks of the trade—we’d all love to hear your story. Thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
What does it take to improve the visibility of your web page or website in a search engine’s results list? Can you actually improve your search-engine ranking? And, most important, is that what really drives more visitors to your page or site?
A lot has been written about search engine optimization (SEO) and its value as an Internet marketing strategy.
Over the years, of course, search engines have caught on to so-called black-hat techniques, often referred to as spamdexing, which can get a page or site removed from a search engine’s index. So ethical website designers have learned to avoid bad practices like link farming, keyword stuffing and article spinning. And beyond the ethics question, to my knowledge there has never been any clear-cut evidence that such tricks ever really worked without any massaging of the results data.
Legitimate practices for optimizing a web page or site, the so-called white-hat techniques, include backlinking, removing barriers to the search engines’ indexing activities, cross-linking between a website’s pages and URL normalization.
Perhaps the most important technique of all, however, is to create worthwhile content that is truly relevant to your audience and also contains the keywords that your audience is most likely to use in their search queries. Place those keywords on pages, in title tags and in meta descriptions.
In my opinion, content wins, hands down, over other website-based methods of optimizing for search engines. Here’s why:
- In order to create content that is relevant and useful for your audience, you have to know your audience. This requires research, analysis and thoughtful consideration, not black-hat tricks.
- To develop keywords that make it easy for your target audience to find your web page or site, you must know how your audience thinks. You’ll probably have to dig a little to figure out which search terms your audience tends to use, run some tests and get feedback.
- To make your web page or site compelling enough to draw visitors, your content has to be useful, interesting and well written. Great page design and graphics certainly help, but those alone won’t save your site if your visitors decide the content is not worth the trip.
- Finally, to keep ‘em coming back for more, you must keep your site’s content fresh. So update and tweak as often as needed, which will depend on your company’s overall marketing objectives, the site’s purpose and your audience’s needs.
Gee, it’s beginning to sound as though you might need a marketing plan, isn’t it? Which is exactly where I think SEO belongs: as one part (and only one part) of your marketing plan.
What do you think? Do you use SEO? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
The deep-water oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico continues to blast out miles-long plumes of unmitigated disaster. Slimes of black and rusty oil, toxic bursts of methane and jets of volatile organics geyser outward, exploding, spurting, surging, leaping from the wellhead.
This defective, uncontrollable wellhead spews a cataclysmic onslaught that befouls the sea, the land, the air, and an entire way of life for generations to come. Up to 60,000 barrels a day for more than a month now. No end in sight. The misguided use of underwater dispersants increases the scope of the problem and makes cleanup unbearably arduous and maybe futile.
How to describe the genesis of this wellhead run amok? Was it due to carelessness? Stupidity? A gluttonous, one-quarter worldview that places profits before conscience? A freak accident? A fool’s notion of self-interest that blew up in everyone’s face? Whatever the pathetic and wretched misdeeds, the lazy missteps and pitiful intentions, our world is now sorely afflicted.
What do we want to know about pelican chicks crushed in their nests, their fluffy down tousled by hydrocarbon-laced sea breezes, because those who were placing booms did not know or care enough to avoid nesting sites?
What do we say to the Louisiana pancake batfish, which lives 1,500 feet below the surface, as its insides burn and dissolve from ingesting an oil-coated meal?
How should we talk about the numb, grief-stricken look in an oysterman’s eyes, the weary slump of his shoulders, as he stares out toward the Gulf, his mind whirring with memories, aware that 100 years of a family business are dying along with the oyster beds?
What words can we offer to help comfort the residents of the Gulf Coast states? Caring … moral support … financial reimbursement … volunteer … tourist … we stand with you. Do these suffice? What else?
How can we express our own feelings about the catastrophe? Rage. Bitterness. Anger. Bravery. Fear. Horror. Compassion. Grief. Patience. Shock. Steadfastness. Hatred. Anxiety. Dread. Fury. Courage. Hmm, courage? What else do we have to muster in order to move forward?
And what abject apologies do we beg Mother Nature to accept? “Sorry” just does not cut it. What about “We promise to do better next time, Ma’am”? Or perhaps “If we grovel, would you please, pretty please, let us off the hook on this one”? Maybe “Just make it all go away”? Nah. Our only realistic option is to start screaming “Mommy, help us!!”
Still we keep right on drilling and pumping, don’t we, even in the most tenuous and risky environments. All things considered, then, we’d better start polishing our words, better start honing our descriptions, better start buffing our phrases to a lustrous shine. Because it looks like we’re going to need a lot of them in the years ahead. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas