Tag Archive | writing advice

Grammar’s so confusing with all those terms!

As a writer, I, obviously, use grammar on a daily basis. As someone who works in a writer center (I edit students’ papers for them.) I also come across grammar regularly.

However, when I’m editing someone else’s paper, we’ll call her Mary, my convesation generally goes like this:

“Now, we want to place a comma here, because this is–it’s something special, but I forgot the name to it. But it’s like when we have ‘My sister, comma, Ellanna,’ that’s what we’re going for here.”

The only grammatical terms I can remember right now involve noun, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions and articles. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember the difference between a phrase and a clause.

And yet… And yet my boss in the writing center (G.), thinks I’m good. Why? I’m not sure. But I made the comment that I’m thinking about being an English teacher and I still can’t remember a lot of the names of things yesterday. Nearly all of my editing is intuitive.

She responded by pointing out that it’s actually okay. The fact that I know it intuitively is actually good. When I need to teach about something, I’ll have a textbook.

This brings up the whole question of whether one should even bother teaching grammar at a school, or if one should teach students how to edit instead. Right now, my intuitive skill has been developed over years and years of editing.  However, that’s a whole entire other post.

The point is right now that you don’t need to know a lot. My advice: know what makes a sentence. That’s all you need to know and all you need to know how to place are commas and periods. Don’t bother with M-dashes, and semicolons, and colons. Then, get people to edit it for you, look at how other people write, and I think you may learn in time.

Just remember: EDIT, EDIT, EDIT!

“I’m not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.”

–James Michener

Apparently, it’s not about knowing; it’s about doing.

Almost always, I find inspiration at bookstores. I walk through one, browsing the numerous titles, thinking about how much I’d love to see my own book(s) there, and eventually end up at the writing books. There, I pick up some books, browse through them, and find some glimmer of wisdom to enhance my writing and motivate me to write on the way home.

For the first time in several months, I finally had a chance to go to the bookstore today. No, it’s not for lack of not trying to; I live an hour away from anything decent. And don’t get me wrong–I found several good books–but I also came out rather depressed. Why?

Because every mistake writers make or every “rule” of writing that I read today, I either know about and follow, or haven’t written anything that requires me to followed them. Basically, I know a lot of it.

Worse, one of the “rules” I wasn’t sure about, the author says she doesn’t need to explain it. Moreover, she skips possibly the most important “rule” in that all chapters should end with a question.  (That I consider to be a practical explanation of how to build tension and suspense, but that’s another post all together)

I was reading Thanks but This Isn’t for Us, and as i went through each of the suggestions, I found some interesting things. (Like with romance stories it is good to have at least one character who has some reason why he/she can’t be in love.) But almost all of her common goofs, I sat  there and explained to my sister that yeah, I know this is a problem for this and this and this.

So here it comes down to it: I apparently know how to write. I need to just sit down and write. After eight years of skimming writing books (I only own two.), writing a few stories, editing my few stories, working through problems and everything else involved with writing, I realize that I know enough I can practically write a writing book.

So in the end, it all comes back to the fact that to be a writer, a real writer, I need to write.  Starting tomorrow.

Follow the rules… or not. Whatever.

As part of a critiquing website that I occasionally take part in, we are told to make recommendations. Dont’ slam the person in the critique  and realize that grammar rules are meant to be broken. They are more guidelines .

That is all fine and good, until I critiqued  a story for a guy who could not get his quotations right. It drove me insane. He sometimes had the punctuation on the inside, sometimes on the outside, sometimes he didn’t even close it.

Because of time, I edited one chapter, sent that to him, and then edited the other two later on in the week. In the between time, he made a comment that caused me to think he is still maybe late highschool or early college. He writes a lot–yes!–but I think I misjudged his age.

As such, at the end of my critique, I sent him a quick summary of quotation rules, and phrased it as, If you didn’t know these, well, here go.  Soon afterwards, I wrote a post about quotations as an FYI.

This may seem like a side note, but my brother is going to school for graphic design. He is so good at what he does that he is making things like videos and ecards for the school.  He gets frustrated though with video tutorials that say something along the lines of, “Here’s the rule of thirds. But you know what? This is art. Be creative.”

This is his opinion, and as such, I think it very much applies to writing.

Follow the rules of grammar, unless you can give me a good reason why you aren’t.

So I’m not saying that you can’t be creative with how you present information. Writing is creativity. But make sure you have a good reason why you don’t follow that rule before you decide to break it.

Why One Should Read Classics.

Although I tend to write more science fiction than anything else, and I find that science fiction classes are not always the easiest to find, I have a special place on my inner bookshelf for classics. I actually read enough classics in highschool, and as such, I will never say not to read a classic merely because it is old.

Because of that, I have come up with five reasons why you should read classic books as writer.

1) They are all well written.

That may seem silly, I know, but think about it this way. You go to WalMart or Barnes & Nobel, and you pick up a book that is said to be a New York Times bestseller. That book may be popular, but it was written–what?–two years ago? Who says where it will be in the next five.

Compare that to we’ll say a Jane Austin book. That book has been around for almost two hundred years.  By the mere fact that it is still read two hundred years after it was written, we can be pretty certain that it is good.

3) They didn’t waste words.

Two hundred years ago, they didn’t have computers. They didn’t even have typewriters. All books were handwritten, copy by copy. Personally, if I had to write each copy of my story out, I probably would have given up writing a long time ago. I most certainly would be very careful not to use any more words than I need to. So they demonstrate good writing, while not saying too much.

2) They have some of the best examples of good writing.

All writers look to find the best examples of dialogue, narration, character development, ect. At least, all writers should be. Why not read how to develop these from books that are older, and from a time when people spent more with each other? This goes back to the last one, but still stands on its own, because sometimes the best way to see how a character develops the best is to read it from a really, really good book.

I have done that with The Three Brides, and it actually worked for character development.

Now, besides that, many of them were written in a time period when it took a lot less to shock people. As such, you can see how to take something small and make it serious.

4) They’re not all bad.

This sounds really bad, coming from someone who has been singing about the praises of classics. However, when I first thought about reading classics, I thought, “Boring.” Really! With the exception of Hemmingway, I have found very few classics that are truly boring. And what is better to say?

“I don’t like Hemmingway.”

“Why not?”

“He’s just so old!”


“I don’t like Hemmingway.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve read two or three of his books and they just didn’t sit with me. Not to mention he’s not that clean.”

5) They are long.

This is an added bonus. See, what would you rather read? A two hundred page book where you get friends and then lose them, or a five hundred page book where you can gain your friends and keep them longer before you lose them? Personally, the longer the book the better.

So where do you find these books? There are numberous itouch apps that have them, so you can carry them around. I don’t know if ibook does (I just downloaded that.) but look around and you can find some.

Also, Project Gutenburg contains a lot of out-of-print books for free. I’d suggest starting with either the top 100 downloaded books or by starting with one of my favorite authors, Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Anyone have any other recommendations on what to read?

Three Tools of Proofreading

(Abigail Side Note: I’m sorry about the nothingness of last week. I”m trying to juggle a new semester and about five new responsibilities. Hopefully things will start to balance out soon.)

Proofreading, which is basically just like editing, is something that everyone needs to do. No one should bang out ten pages of some random paper and call it a day. I have discussed elsewhere the benefits of editing but I think that the tools of the trade must be understood.

1) Spell checker. I will admit, I love spell checker. I am a horrible speller. I just learned last year how to spell “necessary”. Before that, spell check picked it up for me. One of the first things I do after I’m done writing is run a spell check on it. That clears up all the obvious errors.

That being understood,

You cannot rely on spell checker.

Seriously. There are so many similar words, like dug and drug, rely and relay, defiantly and definitely, summery and summary. None of these words mean the same thing, but they will show up as correct on spell check.

Also, a spell checker can’t distinguish between  parts of grammar. If I drop an -ly from a word, it won’t know. It just looks at what you wrote, and compares it to what it finds in the dictionary.

That being said, we move on to tool number two.

2) Eyes. Imagine the horror of actually having to do something  manually. </sarcasm> Seriously though, you do need to actually read though what you wrote slowly, looking for all those little errors that spell check missed, and typos you made. Usually, when you do this, something that made sense before might not actually make sense anymore. Understand: That’s Okay! That means you found a place that you’ll have to edit anyway later.

3) The Pen: This is going to seem like a nuisance, but, having a pen handy to mark where your mistakes are is a very valuable tool. Wait–I can’t mark with a pen on my computer. That would ruin it! Well, then that means you probably want to print it out.

See, I know that it may seem like a waste of trees. And for a long time I thought that printing things out to edit hem was, in fact, a waste of money. But after I have seen how many errors I missed when I didn’t print it out, I learned my lesson. Waste the trees! Your project will love you.

So that’s it. The three basic tools of proofreading. Yes, you can use one without the other, but it isn’t very advisable. You need all three to make sure that your manuscript is as good as it can possibly be.

How School Helps Writing.

This would be school. And me.

So, I’ve talked about two things with school. First, I’ve discussed how school doesn’t help me write. The stress and the homework are suitable enough distractions that I do not wrong nearly as much as I should. The other thing I’ve mentioned with school is how I don’t want to go back. And if I haven’t, well,  I just did.

School started for me today however. Again. And although it’d make more sense for me to boast on here how in one year from now, I will be a published author, it is fair for me to say that in one year I will be a registered nurse. But this recent entry into school again got me thinking on the benefits of school and writing.  So let’s see what I can come up with.

!) There are more information sources while at school. See, if I’m having a hard time, with something, I can always talk to the English Teacher I work with. Or. one of my writing center mates. At least as far as grammar and such go.

2) I need to sit down and actually do something. During the summer time, I might sit down and start to do some writing, but then I get stuck, it’s too hot, I think that I need to give the dog a hair cut and fix the desk drawer and paint the bedroom and all sorts of things. While at school, I have to sit down and focus, and sometimes it helps to focus on writing instead of homework.

3) More brain stretching. However much we may not like homework, we do get our brain stretched.  Brain stretches mean our brain is more active and we should, in theory , be able to produce better stories.

4) In the same idea as number 3, introduction of new ideas. My Wednesday posts are basically things I’ve learned in class that I give to you all. But they are things that I think might someday work well into a plot, or even as a subplot, or should probably be something considered in some circumstances. However, without school, these new ideas would never be found.

5) There’s not a lot of time. This may seem like a contradiction of ideas. After all, seriously, if we are to be in school, we’re not going to have time, which is why we like summer, we have loads of free time. But this works actually in our favor.  Reason being that if we have ten minutes on the computer before dinner is finished, which are we more likely to do? During the summer, we’d figure that we would have plenty of time after dinner to write, but during the school year, we can probably figure that we should take that extra ten minutes and use it to our advantage.

So there we have it. Five reasons why school helps, instead of hinders, writing. So maybe that’ll make me a little more optimistic about starting.

Everyone’s Writing Stinks.

So although I normally post links on Thursday, and interesting facts on Wednesday, I’m breaking from my usual routine for a very simple reason. (Well, two simple reasons.) First, I’m much too tired to put any energy into writing a decent post tonight. Second, I really would like to write a post about my bus trip, since buses are commonly used in fiction and I think an accurate portrayal of them makes sense to explain.

That being said, my friend shared this funny page  about one star reviews for classic books on Amazon. This is as a reminder that even the best writers are told their books are bad.

Some from the books I’ve read/know:

The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Author: John Steinbeck

“While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.”

The Great Gatsby (1925)

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

“It grieves me deeply that we Americans should take as our classic a book that is no more than a lengthy description of the doings of fops.”

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)

Author: C.S. Lewis

“I bought these books to have something nice to read to my grandkids. I had to stop, however, because the books are nothing more than advertisements for “Turkish Delight,” a candy popular in the U.K. The whole point of buying books for my grandkids was to give them a break from advertising, and here (throughout) are ads for this “Turkish Delight”! How much money is this Mr. Lewis getting from the Cadbury’s chocolate company anyway? This man must be laughing to the bank.”

1984 (1948)

Author: George Orwell

“Don’t listen to anyone who tries to distinguish between “serious” works of literature like this one and allegedly “lesser” novels. The distinction is entirely illusory, because no novels are “better” than any others, and the concept of a “great novel” is an intellectual hoax. This book isn’t as good as Harry Potter in MY opinion, and no one can refute me. Tastes are relative!”

The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Author: John Steinbeck

“While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.”

do it your own way

So, I have recently been attempting to try something called the snowflake method of writing. (Forgive me absence of a link. I have very poor internet at the moment so finding it is difficult. If you are very curious, look at previous Friday posts.) Basically, you write small summaries of your story, and summaries of characters, and you continue to expand them until you have a good enough synopsis of everything that you can just write.

So, I tired it. I got as far as step three, where I write a synopsis of a character, and got stuck. First, I’ve never actually seen a synopsis of a character and second, although I have upward of ten characters, the story I think is mostly only told from Daria’s POV. Third, some of characters were stubborn and didn’t tell me what I wanted to know when I wanted to know.

So i resorted back to my old fall back. I went back to paper.

I don’t know what it is about paper or why I can operate better with paper, but ever since I started writing, I have almost always done my brainstorming on paper. Just scrap paper with my microbiology notes works well enough. And I fill these pages with tiny, tiny little letters and sentences and thoughts.

And it worked. Mostly.

I figured out some of the characters’ names. I figured out what kind of scenes I need. I figured out a lot of plot holes. I figured out almost everything that i couldn’t figure out on paper. The only thing, that I know of, that I haven’t figured out yet is what happens to one of the character’s sisters.

So the only other question I have is if I want to change the POV. Orginally I was going to write this much like I wrote Shad, with only there being the main character, Daria’s, POV. But now that I’m looking at it and I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I want to put in more POVs.  Particularly, if I can do it, the captain’s, because that would add a lot of tension if the reader knows why Daria suddenly got a promotion, but Daria doesn’t know why.  (If you have any thoughts about putting the antagonist’s POV in a story, I’d really like to hear them.)

My only problem is it might make things weird, but I think it might be worth it to have it weird.

Anyway, lesson learned: If you know that something works, sometimes that is your best bet when you’re stuck in a story. Sometimes something new works, but sometimes the way you’ve always done it works too, and we have just stopped it for whatever reason.

I’m going to start working on the outline, and maybe I’ll be writing it by next week. (This is a real time post, if you care, so next week is really next week.) No such luck with Shad though. These synopses  seem harder than I thought and I’m lacking the motivation to write it.

Concerning what NOT to write

Your life story would not make a good book. Don’t even try.

–Fran Lebowitz.

I suppose this is why I often find people who say, “I thought I’d make a story about myself,” so curious.

Slush Piles Stories

A universal guide to very problem ever found in a slush pile story can, on occasion, be a real treasure. This is actually a mixture of humor, advice and… other things, but it seems pretty good.

Warning: it is slightly crude, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, don’t read it.