Margin Notes



What I Was Reading: 

When poet Maggie Smith’s marriage ended after nearly 19 years, she found herself struggling to write poetry. In her words: 

When I write a poem, I don’t begin with an idea and then seek the language for it; I begin with the language and follow it where it leads me. But now I had ideas to work through, stories to tell, and I knew I would need a different kind of writing, a different container for my thoughts. (p. 3) 

She started writing a daily “note to self” and posting it on Twitter. Keep Moving is a combination of these affirmations and short, reflective personal stories. It is filled with hope, inspiration, and encouragement. 

Many of the entries are tweet-sized poems and, as I read, I couldn’t help but admire Smith’s use of punctuation, especially her use of colons. Here are 3 examples: 

  1. Instead of struggling at every roadblock, make a new way entirely. Keep and open mind: even the destination may change. (p. 50) 
  1. Think of the moon, how solitary it looks, and know that’s just a trick of perspective: the moon is not alone and neither are you. Remember how vast and star-filled your universe is, and how it continues to expand. Shine on. (p. 91) 
  1. Let go of the narratives you’ve dragged around for years: you are not who you were as a child, or in year X or on day Y—at least, not only. You do not have to fit yourself into those old, cramped stories. Be yourself, here and now. (p. 148) 

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making: 

  • Instead of using the colon to introduce a list, I like how Smith uses the colon to introduce an additional complete sentence. Unlike the semi-colon used as a connector between two closely related sentences, these colons signal that what follows is directly linked to the first sentence.  
  • In each case, the sentence following the colon builds on what preceded it, by adding further explanation and detail or by completing the thought. 

Possibilities for Writers: 

  • Read these sentences as a writer to notice other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader. 
  • Reflect on the similarities and differences between the three examples. 
  • Use one of the sentences as a model and write an example of your own. 
  • Revise a sentence in your writer’s notebook or work-in-progress by using this move to link two shorter sentences. 
  • Look for similar examples of this and other unique punctuation choices in your reading. 

Here’s my example: 

Instead of setting out to write a masterpiece, start by getting your ideas down on the page. Write with an open heart: the act of writing will lead you to what you want to say. 

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