Andrew Pudewa, in the first edition of the Structure and Style teaching videos, relates an occasion when his daughter burst in on him, exclaiming, “Dad! Dad! IEW is here in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography!” Then she showed him the following passage:
When my Father happened to find my papers, he took occasion to talk to me about the manner of my writing, observing that although I had the advantage in correct spelling and pointing I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances. I saw the justice of his remarks, and thence grew more attentive to the manner in writing, and determined to endeavor at improvement.
About this time I met with an odd volume of The Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished if possible to imitate it. With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.
But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it . . .
I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts.
By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (html version, paragraph 17)
Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write well by reading and then imitating good writing. His method was very similar to the IEW method, which is sometimes referred to as “the Benjamin Franklin method.” Here is how Franklin indeed became “a tolerable English writer,” and how his method is implemented in IEW and in my writing classes:
- Franklin began by “making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence,” a technique we call Key Word Outlines. Sentences, and later ideas, are notated using very few words, so that students can remember the idea but state it in their own words. Every type of writing in all Writing to Learn classes begins with a Key Word Outline. As the type of writing changes, the way they find the information for their outlines also changes, but the same rules apply to all types of Key Word Outlines.
- Franklin next worked on developing “method in the arrangement of thoughts.” This is what is known as “structure” in writing. Students learn how to arrange their outline information to produce different kinds of writing, such as stories, reports, and essays.
- Franklin came to recognize the importance of having “a stock of words” which could accurately and pleasingly communicate his meaning. As students are learning to structure their writing, they also learn how to intentionally use a variety of words and sentence types, “writing tools,” to create clarity and interest in their writing. These tools are called stylistic techniques.
And here is the incorrigible wag’s observation on why it is important to write well:
If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are rotten,
Either write things worth reading
Or do things worth the writing.