“A dangling participle is an error in sentence structure whereby a grammatical modifier is associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all. For example, a writer may have meant to modify the subject, but word order makes the modifier seem to modify an object instead. Such ambiguities can lead to unintentional humor or difficulty in understanding a sentence.”Well, clear that a dangling participle would be a sample of bad writing, but I couldn’t really make sense of the definition until I looked through a few samples:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."Contestants in the Bulwer-Lytton contest are asked to compose and enter the opening sentence of a bad novel. I read through several entries from over the years and found a favorite that I thought to present in class, but questioned using a contest winning piece of bad writing. Then I saw a link to Sticks and Stones, a page where contest followers had submitted published authors who might have won the Bulwer-Lytton.
“Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal pre-eminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title 'Lord Of The White Elephants' above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolisings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things -- the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honour; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”
I'm sitting in a great little cafe--the Stable Cafe--on Folsom Street in the city, and writing this blog entry.* What’s great is that my writing is flowing now, not like a few days ago when the words seemed stuck somewhere and wouldn’t come out.
When I taught writing, I told students to observe themselves as they wrote so that they could figure out where they did their best writing.
I discovered when I lived in Cambridge that the best place for me to write was in a coffee house. I'd go to Harvard Square to the Casablanca and write poetry. Sometimes, the Casablanca would be fairly quiet and empty, but other times, I'd be surrounded by many people, usually all strangers, telling their stories to each other, some quiet and some loud. The gossip I'd overhear might distract me from my writing, but it would usually give me a boost that helped me write.
The Stable Cafe isn’t quite Casablanca, but it’s got that same energy, that buzz that fuels writing if you like to write in public places.
Where do you do your best writing? As an extravert, I’m at my best when I’m with people. In her book, Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers wrote that “extraverts think by communicating.” The implications of the are worth considering. If you’re an extravert and you don’t have an opportunity to communicate, you can’t think. And if you can’t think, you can’t write.
For me—as an extravert—writing in a coffee house solves that problem. In one way or another, I feel like I am in communion with those who are nearby, and we communicate silently. Although I may hear everything that my neighbors are saying, I pretend that I do not. And although they—in fact—may not care at all about my act of writing, I feel that I am receiving their silent approbation and applause, and with their inherent approval, I can give myself permission to write even more.
Do you need quiet to write or do you need to be with people? The conventional wisdom is that people do their best writing when they are alone in a quiet room. But now, many people do their writing in cubicles and open spaces at work rather than alone in rooms with doors that close. Or at Starbucks or Peets…. Or with earphones or earplugs firmly implanted so that they can feel alone when they are in fact surrounded by all of their co-workers….
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Where do you do your best writing?
*Why is it that when San Francisco natives refer to the city, they always mean San Francisco?