Bob Schwartz

Category: Writing

Ten Reasons a Letter Board Is a Perfect Gift

Ten reasons a letter board is a perfect gift:

1. It is not digital.
For most people, most words are now digital. Words are not digital.

2. It is a perfect place for very short poems, including haiku.
The haiku on the letter board above is by Hokushi (1665–1718), a student of Bashō.

3. It is creative.
Some people have many creative outlets; some have few or none. This is one more.

4. It promotes awareness and mindfulness.
Enlightenment, however, is not guaranteed.

5. It raises awareness that writing is made with letters.
Paragraphs are made with sentences are made with phrases are made with words are made with…letters.

6. People will say, “Wow, that’s so cool!”
If being or seeming cool is important to you.

7. It solves gift giving.
People either already have a letter board and wish they had more or don’t have one but will wonder how they ever lived without it.

8. It promotes slowness.
Many things we do are done too fast. Many things we do are better done slowly. Putting words together is one of them.

9. It helps overcome fear of the blank page.
Facing a blank page is daunting for some people. But as you dig into the plastic letters, you will feel yourself emboldened to take a chance. What’s the worst that can happen? If you don’t like the words you put up, you can take them right down and start over.

10. Letters are sacred.
Almost all religious and spiritual traditions have special regard for letters. In some cases, it is said that all creation is constructed from letters.

To discover more about the joys of letter boards, visit Felt Like Sharing, who make the highest quality letter boards in all kinds of colors (black board, white letters is still my simple preference).  Or visit Felt Like Sharing letter boards on Amazon.


This I Can Almost Do

This I Can Almost Do

When I hear music I think
About playing I don’t play
When I see pictures I think
About painting I don’t paint
When I read I write.
Who are they to lay claim
To words on my lips
At my fingertips
Since words were born.
They don’t own the letters
Spaces stops and starts.
My music my picture.


Periods and Commas

Periods and Commas

I search the poems of
More artful and crafty poets
For punctuation
Periods and commas
Colons and semis
Dashes short and long
Where do they belong
For a while
I thought I knew
But at this moment
Give up pretending
Discard them all
They gather together
Leftover parts
From a ready to assemble kit
In cryptic conversation
Meaning no less
Than the words
They will all be back
As soon as later
Or now.


Random Torah: The Continuing Conjunction in Leviticus 9

Today’s Random Torah chapter (Leviticus 9) is helpful for bible students, students of translation, all writers and all lovers of language. All you need to look at is the very first verse.

In Hebrew the first verse is:

וַֽיְהִי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י קָרָ֣א משֶׁ֔ה לְאַֽהֲרֹ֖ן

(Vayehi bayom hash’mini kara moshe l’aharon)

Two reputable translations render it this way:

On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons (New Jewish Publication Society)

On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons (New Revised Standard Version)

But Robert Alter and a number of traditional translations (including the King James) show that something is lost in translation:

And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron (King James)

Or as Alter has it:

And it happened, on the eighth day, that Moses called to Aaron (Alter, The Five Books of Moses)

Alter notes:

And it happened. This formula (wayehi) is characteristically used to mark the beginning of a unit of narrative.

It is hard to know why so many translations leave this out and jump right into the story (“On the eighth day”). But this omission is more significant than it seems.

Beginning writers are often taught never to start a sentence with a conjunction. Like many rigid rules of writing, it can rob creativity and meaning.

“And” in this verse is what might be called a continuing conjunction. If you are a fan of TV series, you get this. Episodes begin with a “previously on” prologue, followed by the implicit “and now this.” Everything that happened before is still present, and now this is happening.

It’s true that as a writer I have a tendency (sometimes edited out when excessive) to start sentences with conjunctions. And I do recognize the habit. But if it’s good enough for Leviticus, it should be good enough for you or me.

Use Simplenote


If you don’t make and take notes, you probably should. Those great thoughts won’t remember themselves. And when you make and take notes, you should use Simplenote.

Simplenote is free and simple. Nothing fancy, not multi-function. It just lets you make text notes and sync them across devices. It is available for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux and the web.

Simplenote was bought a few years ago by Automattic, the folks who give you WordPress, the platform for this and multi-millions of blogs.

Simplenote is my most used and valuable app. Some notes are just one sentence or a link. Some notes are longer, the length of an essay, a poem or a blog post. In fact, the majority of my blog posts start out as Simplenote notes. Like this one did.

One Pen Two Caps

One Pen Two Caps

I inadvertently put caps on both ends of one pen.

I think this may mean something. But I don’t know what.

My Cheap Blank Tablet, My Tabula Rasa

I’ve started keeping a tiny blank black chalkboard on my desk, next to a stick of white chalk.

It is also known as a tablet. But I am not confused between it and the three other devices on my desk that have the same name, though it is just about the same size. This one cost about two dollars at Walmart and stays fully charged and useful forever. As long as I don’t run out of chalk. The others were substantially more expensive and need constant electrification.

There are the expressions “clean slate” or “blank slate.” Clean slate indicates that all is forgotten or forgiven, that one is starting over. Blank slate indicates thought that starts without prior or preconceived ideas.

In Latin it is tabula rasa, a clean, erased, or literally scraped tablet, based on wax writing tablets used by the Romans. Aristotle used this as a philosophical concept, as did John Locke.

I draw circles on it. I draw lines on it. It doesn’t have room for many words, just one or two, so I don’t do much writing on it. I do that on the other fancier tablets. Whatever I do chalk there, I always erase. Blank, for the next time.

Random Notes on Editing

Random Notes on Editing
1. Whether working on a business report, legal brief, story or even a non-written creation, you have either had the privilege to edit others or have suffered the tough medicine of being edited.

2. All works are improvable. Ask God.

3. There is a difference between edits that are improvements and changes based on subjective sensibilities, though there is a gray area in between.

4. It is easiest to identify improvement editing when the creation is discretely functional and results are measurable, as with some sorts of advertising copy. Some would say readability and clarity fall into this functional category—that is, unless tortured readability is a creative choice and can be handled deftly. Ask Faulkner or Joyce.

5. Voice may be the hardest part of editing. It may also be the hardest part of writing. Even the most technical sorts of work can convey a distinctive voice—you will find this in textbooks, in legal articles, even in judicial rulings. Some writers don’t know abstractly what a distinctive voice is because they just naturally have one. Others work to develop it. That is the dual quandary for editors. If a writer has a voice, or the beginnings of one, you want to cultivate it without editing it away. If a writer doesn’t have much of a voice, there is a risk of the editor—who is often a pretty good writer too—to substitute a different voice entirely.

6. The Bible is the most importantly edited work in Western history, maybe in human history. Speaking of voice, imagine being the one responsible for editing the voice of God, Moses or Jesus. Yet somebody did. These editors took no credit, though it is fun to consider what those acknowledgements might look like. “And finally I’d like to thank my editor, without whom these transcripts of my speeches would not have the power that they do. JC.”

“I Shook The Hand Of The American Dream”: Rick Santorum And The Weirdness Of The Tortured And Overextended Metaphor

This is about Rick Santorum speaking at the Republican National Convention. But it is not about politics.

It is about rhetoric, as in writing and speechifying.

Rick Santorum is a fearless stylist. Some of us love sweater vests, and were happy to see someone so openly and proudly wearing them.

But as a speaker, his RNC speech, while obviously heartfelt and clearly partisan, contained an over-the-top device that all writers and all speakers and just about any communicator needs to avoid: the tortured and overextended metaphor.

To begin with, metaphors are tricky for anybody, even the most seasoned writer. When a metaphor is off by more than a little, the term we use to describe it is “torturned.”

Beyond the tortured metaphor is the extended one. Even an apt metaphor gets its strength from its ability to surprise and hook our imagination. Like all great moments, it is here and should soon be gone. The extended metaphor milks that moment dry.

And so without further ado, this excerpt from Rick Santorum’s speech:

America is still the greatest country in the world – and with God’s help and good leadership we can restore the American Dream.


I held its hand. I shook the hand of the American Dream. And it has a strong grip.

I shook hands of farmers and ranchers who made America the bread basket of the world. Hands weathered and worn. And proud of it.

I grasped dirty hands with scars that come from years of labor in the oil and gas fields, mines and mills. Hands that power and build America and are stewards of the abundant resources that God has given us.

I gripped hands that work in restaurants and hotels, in hospitals, banks, and grocery stores. Hands that serve and care for all of us.

I clasped hands of men and women in uniform and their families. Hands that sacrifice and risk all to protect and keep us free. And hands that pray for their safe return home.

I held hands that are in want. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job, hands growing weary of not finding one but refusing to give up hope.

And finally, I cradled the little, broken hands of the disabled. Hands that struggle and bring pain, hands that ennoble us and bring great joy.

“I shook the hand of the American dream…. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job…And finally, I cradled the little, broken hands of the disabled.”

While Rick Santorum may be wrong on the issues, he has proved himself a man of conscience and conviction (maybe one of the reasons he failed to get his party’s nomination). But as a speaker, the image of those hands with eyes wide open, looking for a good job, may be one that sticks with us.

Writing Advice From Coco Chanel

Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel had a famous piece of advice for dressing with accessories.

It is also the single best piece of advice for writers or for any creative people. If you practice writing or any of the creative arts or crafts, or if you teach writing or any of the creative arts or crafts, this is a mantra that is guaranteed to improve any work:

Look in the mirror and take one thing off.