Egyptian Scribe

egyptianscribeA Scribe’s Education

At the beginning of Egyptian history, in the time known as the Old Kingdom (about 2575 BC to 2130 BC), scribes passed on their knowledge from father to son, in their own homes. This system was eventually changed to one in which boys were sent to special schools. The schools where built within the grounds of temples, to which they were linked. They were called “Houses of Life”.

Boys went to school from the age of four or five, whereas girls did not go to school at all. Boys learned to write by copying out words and passages from well-known texts over and over again. They wrote their school exercises on many different materials, such as pieces of broken pottery and flakes of limestone, or on wooden boards that could be wiped clean and re-used. By the time he was sixteen years old a boy was ready to leave school, and start work as a professional scribe.

    The work of a record-keeper

    Scribes were record-keepers, and in Egypt’s highly organised society it was important to have detailed, written information. They recorded just about everything – from brief notes about how many cattle a farmed owned, to long reports from the vizier about the progress of work on the pharaoh’s building sites. Scribes also copied out religious, scientific and historical texts. They drew up contracts for the sale of land and goods, and wrote and read letters for ordinary people who could not do it for themselves.


      When scribes wrote, they usually used an everyday script that was quick and easy to use. At first, they used a script called hieratic. Hieratic was used for hundreds of years, until it went out of fashion around 600BC. From then on scribes preferred an even simpler script, called demotic. As well as being able to write and read these two scripts, scribes could also use Egypt’s most famous script – hieroglyphs. To write Egyptian hieroglyphs, scribes had to learn more than 700 different signs. Hieroglyphs were slow to write, and their main use was for writing sacred texts.

        Other Facts on Scribes

        To write, a scribe sat cross-legged on the ground. He pulled his kilt or skirt tight against his knees, which made a flat surface for him to rest on. He wrote with a reed brush or pen, held in his right hand. He used his left hand to hold and unroll the papyrus roll on which he wrote.

        A scribe carried his brushes and pens in a wooden writing case. Most writing cases had two hollowed-out circles, where the scribe mixed his writing inks. He made black ink from soot or charcoal, and red ink from a mineral called ochre. Water was added until the ink was the right consistency with which to write. The ink took time to dry, and the scribe was careful not to smudge his work.

        The most important writing material for a scribe was papyrus. It was a kind of fine white paper, made from the pith (the soft inner part of a plant stem) of the papyrus water reed. Reeds were gathered from the banks of the River Nile, their tough outer stems were removed, and the pith strips were placed together at right angles, then beaten until the plant fibres became a single flat sheet, about 50 by 40 centimetres. Sheets were joined together to make rolls. There were usually twenty sheets in each roll, but rolls themselves could be joined together. The longest known papyrus roll is more than 40 metres in length.

        Change of Plans

        I recently had an offer from an editor to read through my completed manuscript and tell me if there were any trouble spots. Unfortunately, he found some. Yet, as a writer, I know that his comments are true and I’m willing to go back and do… yet another… rewrite.

        The editor said that by the end of chapter 3, he was quite prepared to murder the main character. This is not the first time I’ve been told this. Apparently, the other characters are fine but the main character is enough to drive a person to suicide… or murder.

        I’m a serious writer, and while some people will hide in a corner and cry, I will take note and do something about it. The editor didn’t make that comment and leave it at that – he made heaps of suggestions on how to improve the character’s personality. I love those suggestions and after some discussion, I’ve decided that she will be given a complete “face lift”.

        So… change of plan. I was using the snowflake process to plan a new novel but I’m now using the process on this manuscript instead. I started yesterday, and I’m onto step 3 already. This shows that I know the plot and characters well (by the way). I have to work out how I’m going to change the scenes to reflect the character’s new personality. It should be fun!

        I have a positive feeling about these changes.

        History of Pens & Pencils

        Early writers didn’t have the enormous range of pens, pencils and other writing implements we have at our fingertips today. In the Middle East, where writing began, reeds and rushes grew in many areas. So people cut lengths of reeds, sharpened the ends, dipped them into soot or ink and used them to write with.

        Since then, writing has progressed leaps and bounds. And the need for greater accuracy and speed has led to many improvements in writing instruments. The basic rules behind pens and other tools of the trade, however, have remained much the same.

        Quill Pens

        The first quill pens were made in about 500BC and were still in use in the 17th and 18th centuries.

        Quill pens were made from swan or goose feathers, cut into a point at one end to make a nib. This was then dipped in ink.

        Quill pens were quick and handy to use. The only problem was that they kept going blunt and having to be resharpened.

        Stylus Style

        In Greek and Roman times, metal and bone replaced the reeds of the earliest pens.

        Writers used styli of bronze, bone or ivory to scratch letters on to was panels. The pointed end of the stylus was used for writing with, the blunt end for erasing mistakes.

        Nibs of Steel

        The first metal nibs were so hard and rigid, they scratched paper to pieces. But by the mid-1800s, things had improved and steel-nibbed pens became very popular.

        The first fountain pens used eye-droppers to contain their ink but the ink kept clotting and clogging up the nib.

        The first workable fountain pen was produced by Lewis Waterman of the USA in 1884. You can still buy Waterman pens today. One problem remained, however. Every time the pen ran out of ink, it had to be refilled. This could be messy and time-consuming.

        In the 1950s, an answer was found – the disposable ink cartridge. Once its ink supply was used up, it could be thrown away and a new cartridge inserted.

        Pencil Power

        Pencils were first made in about 1795. A pencil is a stick of “lead” (it’s actually a mixture of clay and graphite), held inside a wooden case. Bet you didn’t know that?!?

        Pencils have different degrees of hardness or softness, indicated by the letters printed on them. Soft pencils (B and 2B) contain more graphite in their lead. Hard pencils (H and 2H) contain more clay.

        Ballpoint Pens

        These days, we live in the “disposable age” and most people use a ballpoint pen, which has a tiny ball-bearing in its writing tip, instead of a nib. As you write, the ballbearing gets coated in ink from a tube inside the pen and rolls the ink on to the paper. When the ink runs dry, you can throw the pen away and get a new one.

        Did you know…?

        The inventor of the biro was Mr Ladislao Josef Biro, a Hungarian living in Argentina. He registered his invention in 1938.

        The American, Thomas Edison, is best known for his invention of the electric light bulb and the phonograph. But another of his more unusual inventions was an electric pen. It was designed to make copies of handwritten documents but it never really caught on.

        In Ancient Roman times, ink was made from soot and water.

        Rejection: How should it be handled?

        Rejection is something you will have to think about sooner or later if you decide to try and get your work published. Everyone gets rejected but what you need to keep in mind is that it is only your piece of writing that has been rejected, not you as a person. No matter how difficult it may be try to see the rejection in a positive light. The fact that you actually completed your story, revised it and rewrote it until you were satisfied that it was good enough to be sent to an agent or publisher is an accomplishment in itself. Not many people get this far, no matter how fond they are of their work.

        If you received your manuscript back with a rejection slip or a quick “thanks but not interested” letter, sit down and go through your work again looking for obvious mistakes or inconsistancies. You should also remember that the rejection may simply be because that particular person or company doesn’t deal in your genre so you’ll be prompted to do your homework before sending your manuscript off next time. Also remember that what one reader loves, another will find to be trash.

        If on the other hand, you received your manuscript back with an explanation as to why, swallow your disappointment and use this valuable information to your advantage. Read the letter through over and over again to make sure you understand exactly what it is saying then turn to your manuscript. Rewrite it if you have to but make sure you improve it in every way possible.

        You need two things in this industry, which are, perseverance and determination. Even though rejection is painful and hurtful, accept it as inevitable. It’s going to happen. When it does, turn to someone who “understands”. Confide in family and friends or join a writers’ group for support and encouragement, but never… never… give up.

        The Funeral

        Warning: This is not suitable for children or the faint hearted.

        The entire civilization of Ancient Egypt was based on religion, and their beliefs were important to them. Their belief in the rebirth after death became their driving force behind their funeral practices.

        Egyptian cemeteries were on the Nile River’s west bank, because the sun set, or died, in the west. Most people lived on the east bank, so funerals meant crossing the river. This symbolised the journey of Re’s (the sun god) boat across the sky and the journey to the dead person’s new life.

        Priests would put the coffin on a bier covered with a canopy. The bier was on a sledge pulled by oxen and headed the funeral procession to the Nile. Professional mourners tore thier clothes and threw dust on their heads as signs of grief.

        The tomb-owner would continue after death the occupations of this life and so everything required was packed into the tomb along with the body. Servants followed with furniture and clothes for use in the next world. Also, writing materials were often supplied along with clothing, wigs, hairdressing supplies and assorted tools, depending on the occupation of the deceased. Often model tools rather than full size ones would be placed in the tomb; models were cheaper and took up less space and in the after-life would be magically transformed into the real thing. Food was provided for the deceased and should the expected regular offerings of the descendants cease, food depicted on the walls of the tomb would be magically transformed to supply the needs of the dead.


        At the tomb, a priest dressed as the jackal-headed God Anubis, protector of the dead, held the mummy upright for the ceremony of “opening the mouth”. This enabled the dead person to answer questions put to them by the gods in the Hall of Judgement, where his (or her) heart would be weighed against the Feather of Truth. If the heart of the deceased outweighs the feather, then it was believed that the deceased had a heart which has been made heavy with evil deeds. In that event, the God Ammit would devour the heart, condemning the deceased to oblivion for eternity. But if the feather outweighs the heart, then it was believed that the deceased had led a righteous life and was presented before Osiris (God of the Dead) to join the afterlife.

        When the ceremonies were over, the priests swept away all traces of their footprints and sealed the tomb behind them.

        The final part of a funeral was a funerary banquet, at which the relatives and friends of the deceased, sure that everything possible had been done for the safety of their loved one, could relax a little, and remember the good times.

        Lords & Ladies

        knightThe Knight

        Knights – After the lord on the social ladder came the knight. The path to knighthood began at the age of seven, when a vassal sent his son to the lord’s house to become a page. For seven years a page was cared for by the women of the house, who instructed him in comportment, courtesy, cleanliness, and religion. At 14, the page became a squire, a personal attendant to a knight. From the knight he learned riding and all the skills of war, as well as hunting, hawking, and other sports.

        The Knightly Code – At age twenty the squire was knighted in a religious ceremony after spending the night guarding his armour before a church altar. He had to swear to the knightly code which asked him to “protect the weak, defenceless, and helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all.” This code was rarely lived up to, but it remained the standard for chivalry and proper behaviour amongst the nobility for centuries. In theory the squire could be knighted on the battlefield for exceptional valour, but this event was much rarer than Hollywood would have us believe.

        Fighting – Battles were usually small affairs, fought between the knights of individual lords. The object in a fight wasn’t necessarily to kill an opponent, but to capture and ransom him. Your foe was worth more to you alive than dead.

        The Tournament – The object of the tourney was simply to unhorse your opponent, though often the fighting was so fierce that men were killed. Challengers erected tents at one end of the ground and hung a shield outside. A knight accepting the challenge rode up and touched his lance to the shield. The winner of the jousts was awarded a prize by the Queen of Beauty, elected for the occasion from amongst the women present.

        By the 14th century tournaments became rousing fairs complete with singing, dancing, and feasting which might last for several days.

        The Maiden

        medievalladyMost noble girls were also carefully trained. They were usually taught at home by their mothers, often with the help of tutors or governesses. Some girls went to convents for their education and later became nuns, while others went to court of another noble. She was trained in good manners, hospitality, and household management. These skills were learned by observing the lady of the castle and following her example.

        It was also common for the daughters of lords to learn to read and write. Some mastered other languages while most were expected to be able to do arithmetic and be familiar with land laws. They were taught to ride, to train and hunt with falcons, and to play chess. The ideal lady also knew how to embroider and weave, sing and dance, play a musical instrument, and tell stories. Having some medical knowledge was also thought to be useful for the future wife of a knight.

        Word Count

        This is an issue that haunts most aspiring writers. Most word processors are equipped with a word count feature, but this is NOT the way to do it. Even though using this feature will give you the actual word count used, the printing industry works it out differently.

        If you look at any two pages in a novel and then counted the actual words on those pages, you’d get a varying answer. It stands to reason that most pages will be different so the printing industry uses a formula to work out the average word count per page.

        There are many formulas to be found but I’m only going to mention two. These are the two I’ve seen used the most and once you decide which formula you are going to use, whether it is one of the following or another, stick to it and stop worrying about word count.

        Before I go into the formulas themselves, the page setup is an important factor. Most editors want us to use a standard size paper: in USA this would be 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch; in other parts of the world it is 210mm x 297mm (commonly known as A4). We should also use a non proportional type face such as courier new in size 12 font, as it’s easier on the eyes when reading. The margins should be at least 1 inch on all sides.

        I actually used both of these methods on my own work and was amazed that they gave me the same answer, so I can safely say that I write 450 words per page (single spaced) but remember to change your manuscript to double spacing before you send it out.

        Formula 1
        Take a sheet from your manuscript that is quite full of typing. Don’t use a sheet with a lot of dialogue. Count the number of letters, including spaces and any punctuation marks, across one line of text. Say you get 60. Divide this by 6 and the answer is the number of words per line, which is 10 in this case.

        Now count the number of lines that can be typed on down the page. Remember to count the blank line between paragraphs. Say you get 45 lines for single spacing. You multiply 45 by 10 and this gives you the number of words per page (in this instance 450 words).

        Then you multiply the words per page (450) by the number of pages for the whole manuscript and this is our total word count.

        So if I have 250 pages to my manuscript, this means that my total word count is 112,500 words.

        Formula 2
        The other method is to count the number of words in 10 lines (say you get 100) and divide the total number of words by 10, which means you have a line word count of 10.

        Count the lines on an average page (again, say you get 45). Multiply the total number of lines (45) for the sample full page by the approximate word count for one line (10). This gives you the word count for one page, which in this instance is 450.

        Then multiply this total count for the words on one page (450) by the total number of pages (our example is 250) in your manuscript. This is the total length of your manuscript in words would then be 112,500.


        • Always use single spacing to work out your word count but remember to change to double spacing before sending your manuscript to an editor.
        • Even if there is only three lines of type on a page, the page is still considered to have a word count of 450 words because in the printing industry the area used is what matters not the actual number of words.
        • Be sure to check with the editor or on their website, before sending your manuscript to them, to find out if they have a preferred method of working out the word count because some publishers do.

        Punctuation in Dialogue

        This is an area I know a lot of people have difficulties with. I’ve seen a lot of mistakes made where writers are not sure where to put a comma or full stop. Here is an example of the correct way to use them:

        “I meet a wizard today,” Sam announced.

        “Sam, you’re nuts!” Peter replied. “Wizards don’t exist.”

        “They do,” Sam insisted, “because I meet one today.”

        With the first piece of dialogue, some people make the mistake of placing a full stop after the word “today” (ie “I meet a wizard today.” Sam announced.), which is wrong. The dialogue tag is part of the overall sentence.

        In the second set there are two complete sentences so a full stop is placed at the end of the dialogue tag. Also, when using a name or another word like – hey, oh, well, boy – you should always place a comma after that word. A good way to test this out is to read the sentence without the word, if it makes sense without it use a comma – if it doesn’t make sense then a comma is not required.

        With the last line, the dialogue tag is placed in the middle of a complete sentence so you should place a comma after the first part – the word “do” in this case – and at the end of the dialogue tag as shown.

        Oh, one more thing, ALWAYS start a new line for each person who speaks. ALWAYS!