I receive occasional email newsletters from Bridget Whelan, author of Back to Creative Writing School, with hints and suggestions for aspring writers. This one has just arrived, and her suggestion is:
When you have time to write, but don’t know what to write….
Find the 10th book in your home (or where you are right now). Go to page 10 and find the 10th word on the 10th line. That will be your title. Use it no matter how difficult, even if you have to look up its meaning, even if it is THE. Write for 10 minutes.
Whilst THE sounded challening enough, I thought it was just my luck to end up with BY. So here goes…
By. What does that word suggest? Immediate response is that it means ownership. Something may be written by me (like this) or it may be owned by me, like the laptop I’m using to write on, or the desk that I sit at or the rather snazzy art deco style chair I sit on when using the desk.
If “by” suggests ownership, it also means the responsibility that comes with it. I have to own and use my possessions in a way that doesn’t harm others; if I write something and get it published with my byline saying it has been written by me, I have to own the views and opinions that I’ve included in the article or blog post or tweet. I can’t wriggle out of something I’ve written or said and pretend it’s not been said by me; to do so would be dishonest and inauthentic.
So “by”, in the contexts mentioned relates to ownwership.
Other verbal or written expressions of the word “by” might be spelled differently and have different meanings – “Bye!” as in goodbye; a “bye” in cricket is a run scored from a ball that passes the batsman without being hit; “buy” is commercial, in the sense of buying goods or buying into an idea or scheme. And if we stand or sit near something or someone, we say we’re by them or beside them.
That’s my ten minutes on “by”. By me, naturally!