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Richard Hugo's Nuts and Bolts

Below is my Top Twenty from the Nuts and Bolts chapter of Hugo's book, The Triggering Town. I've shortened a bit and, of course, eliminated his examples and discussion. Hugo was writing about poetry. I think some of these are applicable to all writing.

1. Write with what gives you the most sensual satisfaction. Pen, pencil, keyboard.

2. Write in a hard-covered notebook with green lined pages. Green is easy on the eyes. The lines tend to want words. Blank paper begs to be left alone.

3. Cross out rapidly and violently, never with slow consideration if you can help it.

4. Make your first line interesting and immediate.

5. Never want to say anything so strongly that you give up the option of finding something better. If you HAVE to say it, you will.

6. Sometimes the wrong word isn't the one you think it is but another close by.

7. When you feel finished, print it. Put a typed copy on the wall...read now and then.

8. End more than half your lives and more than 2/3 your sentences on words of one syllable.

9. Don't use the same subject in two consecutive sentences.

10. Don't overuse the verb "to be."

11. If you ask a question, don't answer it, or answer a question not asked, or defer.

12. Maximum sentence length: seventeen words. Minimum: one.

13. Make sure each sentence is at least four words longer or shorter than the one before it.

14. Use any noun that is yours, even if it only has a local use. Don't be afraid to take emotional possession of words.

15. Beware words necessitated by grammar to make thing clear but dilute the drama of the statement. Words of temporality: meanwhile, while, as, during, and.
Words of causality: so, because, thus, causing.
Words of opposition: yet, but.

16. Beware using "so" and "such" for emphasis. Phony words when uttered.

17. When writing, assume the right of all things to be resides in the things themselves.

18. Any stance, no matter how melodramatic, is prefer to none.

19. Locate the events in your poem, with specificity.

20. Style and substance may represent a class system. The imagination is a democracy.


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