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Lately, I've been having great trouble revising my work for rhythm, because it is hard, not only to think of different word orders and sentence structures, but also to think of other words and phrases to use for the same word or phrase. This seems to happen because I attempt to do it haphazardly while revising a sentence, having no process. So should I write down all the synonyms for each content word before revising a sentence, so that I will have plenty of things to try out, in my head or on paper?

What process should I use? Thank you.

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Whatever works. Some writers use techniques that make other writers boggle in astonishment that it works.

Experimenting with different ways helps develop ways that work for you. Particularly generating more possibilities if you have difficulties with that.

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'There is no line of my verse or prose which has not been mouthed till the tongue has made all smooth, and memory, after many recitals, has mechanically skipped the grosser superfluities'

Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937, p 223.

If you feel the rhythm of a piece of writing doesn't work, you will automatically have an instinctive idea of what element isn't working. You'll feel instinctively whether a phrase needs to build more, to have more suspense. You'll know whether a word is just one or two syllables too long. You'll know whether something needs to be stretched out or whether it needs to be contracted. You'll know whether something suddenly changes from duple metre to triple metre unexpectedly and jarringly.

As soon as you've defined what the problem is, it will be easier for you to fix it.

As Kipling (who is a master of rhythmical writing) notes, reading aloud is key - and doing so repeatedly really helps.

It sounds like you may need to break the elements of rhythmic writing down more precisely, working from the basic elements of vowels and consonants upwards to words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs and larger sections.

It's hard to gauge the familiarity and skill level you have, but books on the elements that I've found useful are:

  • Ezra Pound's ABC of Reading
  • Geoffrey Leech's A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry and
  • Geoffrey Leech and Mick Short's Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose

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