Thinking Outside the Box

Everybody wants creative solutions to problems and when they are looking to hire people to help them find creative solutions, everybody asks for creative problem solvers who can “think outside of the box” or who are “out of the box” thinkers.

Everybody does this. What’s outside the box about that?

What we need is a new term or phrase to describe thinking that’s outside the box. In fact, let’s stop passively describing it and start actively measuring it. Let’s rationalize out of the box thinking. Let’s give it a metric. Creative workers will tally up their Eurekas! and divide them by hours worked. Freelancers can include the figure on their CVs and recruiters can ask about it on their questionnaires.

“How many Eurekas per Hour do you average?” a recruiter might ask.  Once the measurement becomes the established norm, a recruiter might slip into shorthand and ask, “What’s your Eureka Rate?” At which point, we’ll know that we’ve finally slipped free of the box and I’ll need a new way to differentiate myself.

My response will be, “Hard to say what my Eureka Rate is. My box of Eurekas overflows.”

Syndeton, Polysyndeton, Asyndeton.

Syndeton is the coordination of elements in a sentence, generally with a conjunction (although not always, as with the title of this post). For example:

Lars Peterson provides writing and editorial services.

Polysyndeton is the use of conjunctions between all of the elements requiring coordination.

Visitors to lpeds.com will find Lars Peterson’s resume and a portfolio and contact information and a blog about writing.

Asyndeton is the absence of conjunctions between the elements requiring coordination.

At www.lpeds.com, visitors can see Lars Peterson’s resume, his portfolio, his contact information, his blog about writing.

Asyndeton and polysyndeton are not limited to coordinating items in a series. Both can be used with phrases and clauses, too.

Phrases and Polysyndeton:

A successful freelance project requires understanding client goals and developing familiarity with the material and transforming both into a compelling read.

…and Asyndeton:

A successful freelance project requires an understanding of client goals, familiarity with the material, solid language skills.

Clauses:

Polysyndeton:

The freelance writer, who has worked in publishing and who has worked in education and who has worked in fishing and who has worked in shipbuilding, brings lessons learned from all of his experiences to each of his projects.

Asyndeton:

The freelance writer has worked in publishing, he has worked in education, he has worked in fishing, he has worked in shipbuilding, and he brings lessons learned from all of his experiences to each of his projects.

When clauses are linked using polysyndeton, they can take on a sort of Biblical tone, which may or may not be appropriate to the material. Ernest Hemingway often connected clauses this way, particularly long strings of simple sentences. Polysyndeton can also make the copy sound laborious and tedious, which can be useful if the copy is describing something laborious and tedious:

The indexer read the page and looked for indexable words and finding one, noted it on an index card and began to look for another word for the index and finding one, noted it on the card below the previous candidate and turned to the next page and put the index card on the stack with all the other “used” index cards and drew another fresh index card from the deck and began to read the new page and looked for indexable words and not finding any continued to the next page and so on until all the pages in the manuscript had been pored over. Then the indexer collated the index cards and moved them to the new stack and began again at page one to double check his work.

Or, polysyndeton can give a list of items a sense of endlessness — and thoroughness.

Today the freelancer has to exercise and buy office supplies and do some marketing and fix the fountain in the front yard and teach in the afternoon and work on one of his spec projects.

Asyndeton can give coordinated elements a sense of hurried incompleteness — as if more of the same exists beyond the edge of the sentence or page.

The freelancer searches for new clients among online job-boards, among his friends and colleagues, among his neighbors, among his current clients’ contacts.

Parallelism

Parallel writing features repeating patterns that add rhythm, balance, and flow to sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Because of its effect on clarity and coherence, parallelism might be the most important skill a writer — of any stripe — can master. A good understanding of parallelism can help improve grammar, too.

Parallel patterns help writers group ideas with equal importance, and they help readers see connections between those ideas. The simplest patterns are made of words, such as items in a series or consistent use of similar adjectives and adverbs. Phrases, clauses, and even whole sentences can be arranged in repeating, parallel patterns.

Any part of a sentence can be repeated, or paralleled, any number of times. A little parallelism goes a long way. Try not to overdo it!

Continue reading “Parallelism”

Mystery Object

In my writing workshops (which is where I am a couple afternoons a week), we play a game called “Mystery Object.” I ask my students to describe a real world object — preferably something in the world around them — without naming it in their descriptions. Then, at the beginning of each workshop, the students take turns reading their Mystery Objects out loud while the rest of us try to guess what they are. There are a few rules: MO’s must be at least six sentences long; they cannot include the word “you;” each must contain one simile and one metaphor. Occasionally I add other rules: every word in the description (except for prepositions and articles and conjunctions) must begin with the letter ‘L’ (or some other letter); MO’s can only describe the effects of the object, and not its physical features; every sentence must contain a simile; and so on.

Recently a couple of students noticed that I wasn’t participating.

We refer to this object as a pair, even though it’s really just one thing, just as we do with a pair of pants. They are as familiar to their wearers as the ends of their noses, which is helpful because that’s where they often are. They are made of glass (and sometimes plastic), carefully ground to bend light in a special way, astronomical lenses for the common man. Cleverly designed frames hold the glass in place, and small arms reach back to hook behind the ears and anchor the device in place. Frames and lenses come in many shapes and sizes, but this particular pair features slender wire frames and clear plastic bridge-pads and shaped pieces of ground glass that offer rectangular windows on their wearer’s windows to the soul. People have used these to correct flaws in their eyesight for centuries. I have used mine for only a couple of years.

Eyeglasses.