Emily Dickinson’s Top 4 Writing Tips

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In the spirit of reading, I have recently picked up books from my all-time favorite writer, Emily Dickinson. Given her great impression on poetry, it is hard to imagine anyone being unfamiliar with Emily Dickinson.

Dickinson was an American poet, a literature legend, but unpublished in her lifetime. She bound over 800 poems into small booklets, and these booklets were mostly kept private, only shared with her closest inner circle. These booklets were discovered and published accordingly.

Today, she is regarded o be one of the great American poets of illustrating complex emotions and ideas using metaphors from her life.

In this article, I shed light on the four most notable traits of her writing. Who knows? You might be the next literary legend.

Dickinson rarely strayed far from her deeply domestic existence. Though the year that she attended school, was the longest time she did. Because of this, her personal experiences were small. However, she easily made up for this with how deeply she wrote about the experiences she had, both emotionally and philosophically. Oftentimes in her poetry, she would take a daily task — watching the sunrise, for instance — and use them as an entry point into greater ideas.

In her poem, I’ll Tell You How The Sun Rose, Dickinson starts with a description of the sunrise but ends the poem by turning towards a reflection on the uncertainty of perception.

How to apply:

Start by writing a description of something mundane and simple that happens in your day-to-day life. Then you can push this idea and see what more sweeping insights you can understand from it.

2. Capitalisation Of Nouns

An interesting technique Dickinson practices is capitalising the nouns in her work. This is a characteristic she likely picked up from her grammar book, William Harvey Wells’ Grammar of the English Language. Her reasons are not entirely clear, but many believe it’s for emphasis. It is also indicated that Dickinson may have intended for the dashes to serve as pauses when reading the poem aloud.

Here are the lines of ‘I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose’.

‘The Hills untied their Bonnets –
The Bobolinks — begun –
Then I said softly to myself –
‘That must have been the Sun’!’

If you read it aloud, you might find that — without thinking about it — you naturally stress the capitalised words. This creates a level of writing skill that goes beyond the average writing because the words actually feel authentic.

How to apply this:

Copy down some of your favourite writing ideas, but use capitalisation. Do you feel as if it looks different on the page? Try reading both the original and the modified versions out loud. Do you read it differently both ways or just one? You might start to notice the effects in your own work, whether it’s a good change is up to you.

3. Dashes at the end of lines

A note-worthy technique that is most often punctuated in Dickinson’s work, is instead of the more expected array of periods and commas, she used dashes throughout her work. While using dashes in place of traditional punctuation was a practice commonly taught, most writers of the mid-19th century used dashes liberally. The intended effect was perhaps to create a more clear pause in reading, thus allowing her to control the poem’s pacing.

How to apply this:

Try writing down one of your ideas, but switch out the dashes for the more traditional punctuation — the comma — and notice the effect on the tone of the poem and the pacing of it when you read it aloud.

On the other hand, try implementing dashes in your own work whenever you want to create a longer pause than a comma might provide. Notice how the change of pacing makes it feel more conversational and fluid.

4. Tantalise readers using engaging titles

To a writer’s unconventional start, Dickinson didn’t actually title her poems. It was in fact what led to editors using the first line of each poem as the title. This was a fortunate turn of events for Dickinson and later on, it paved the way for poets and writers alike to have emulated this technique. It is such a simple and effective way to tantalise readers, through not only a good hook but an eye-catching title. It gets them wondering what the writing might be about, urging them to read on.

How to apply this:

This is pretty simple. If you have a good introduction, then all you need to do it look at the first line or paragraph and summarise it into a snappy title. Don’t think about it too much, and it might not work out all the time but it’s worth giving a shot.

  • Make mundane subject matter into greater ideas
  • Capitalisation of nouns
  • Dashes at the end of lines
  • Tantalise readers using engaging titles

Take your time to experiment with the different writing techniques until you find one that best matches what you’re looking for and helps you improve your writing.

Choose one or two of Emily Dickinson’s writing tips and try various combinations until you find a writing pattern that helps maximize your writing abilities and performance.

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