Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 6 Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!

I am the last person who should be giving anybody grammar and punctuation advice, but I will tell you about the books that have made my self re-education slightly easier.  You could, of course, go right to one of the style books, but there are over a dozen, and many more blogs, columns, and other sources.  I was looking for something that would entertain me into better usage.

Of course, when it comes to usage, there is the question of whether you side with the followers of linguistic prescription (the rules are always correct) or linguistic description (actual usage is more correct).  There is no right answer, by the way.  Just MANY different opinions, and most people fall somewhere in the middle.

‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will disappear”

-Lao Tzu

This is a motto of mine.  All of these books were found in used book stores, gifting me with their timely appearance when I was on a strict budget.  Since I have been avoiding writing this post successfully–for a year–you are getting the added bonus of which book actually stuck around in my unreliable memory the longest.  Lucky, lucky you.

Scan_20171127 (36)Angels sang and the sky lit up with glorious rainbows when the prophesies came to pass, and I finally came across “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (Forth edition by Allen & Bacon, Massachusetts 2000).  It was a shockingly thin book. (Six different publication dates, 1935 the earliest.  That is some serious staying power.)  I’m not sure why it took me so long to find a copy, since every time I’ve gone to the book store since that day there have been at least five copies to choose from.  I guess I was not ready before that day.

The word ‘style’ in the book’s title is not an accident, and that style is concise. If a writer wishes to be clear and bold with the English language, then this is a benchmark to guide you. Even if your style is wordy and obscure, it will still make an excellent base for writing in general.  (I, personally, got a huge kick out of the older ‘misused’ words, but I’m a total word-nerd.)  White’s added chapter five, with its twenty-one approaches to style, is worth serious study.  I may not keep a copy of the book in my pocket, as is suggested, but it sits on a shelf, close to hand.

Scan_20171127 (30)“Mortal Syntax” by June Casagrande (Penguin Group, New York 2008) is next on the pile. Clever and funny, this book is actually a defensive rant about all the things the author was accused of being wrong about–repeatedly–while she ran a grammar column.  (This is actually her second book, and I’m keeping an eye out for the first.)  In these pages I learned there were several style guides, and they didn’t always agree with each other.  No wonder the arguments get so heated, for there is no One True Way.  I enjoyed her biting humor, but the funny stories stayed with me longer than the actual grammar advice, and that wasn’t for very long, either.  My search continued…

Scan_20171127 (34)“Words Fail Me” by Patricia T. O’Conner (Harcourt Brace & Company, New York 1999) is another good and clever book full of anecdotes, but the rules she tried to convey were quickly forgotten.  It’s a good writing style book to try on, like a rambling conversation with a knowledgeable writer while wearing comfy yoga pants and sipping tea, and worth it if your brain remembers rules better in this way, but of limited use to me in the long run.

Who is the clear winner, and the book I will read again to brush up on rules before self-editing?

Scan_20171127 (32)“My Grammar and I… Or Should That Be Me?” Caroline Taggart and J. A. Wines (The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, NY 2009) is the closest to a school textbook, and it shocked me that that was what I actually needed.  I guess logic-brain wins this round, when I was putting my money on creative-brain all along.  Now, don’t be fooled thinking this is just dry rules.  The authors sprinkle in just enough Sahara wit to keep you from nodding off at your desk, then drooling until the bell rings and startles you awake.  Most importantly, I came away with a working knowledge of grammar and punctuation, which was the whole point of this project.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a year since I read this, and while I may have retained enough to get by, I definitely need to read this, again.  Soon.  An added bonus will be when I self-edit, I will know what to call the things that went wrong.  (Other than “Bastard,” that is.)  “Compound conjunction” and “irregular verb” will mean something, and not be just static in a confused brain.  I’m getting giddy just thinking about it!

Well, that’s the best advice I can give to date on this topic.  There’s nothing to fear about grammar and punctuation, and I’ve run out of time for the bears (maybe next time).  Don’t go off thinking you can go straight to self-publishing after this.  This should be just enough to not get you laughed out of the publisher’s office, or make a complete fool out of yourself online.  Self-publishing is going to require more eyes than just yours!  Either find some highly skilled (but free labor) beta readers, or your going to have to come up with the money for a good editor. Don’t trust yourself to catch every thing!  Even professional editors go to another editor.

While hanging out with other writers online, I found a grammar/editor blogger named Thomas Weaver who is fun, interesting, and does a daily Writing Glitch series that is great for testing your knowledge.  Follow him if you like a challenge, or if you might need something professionally edited in the future.  https://northofandover.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/writing-glitch-547/#like-10679

You may have missed the other posts of the Low-Budget Writing Program:

  1. Butt in Chair
  2. Monster in My Manuscript
  3. Take Over the Literary World!
  4. When the Manuscript Goes Into the Garbage
  5. Fear is the Mind-Killer
  6. Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!
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Thank You, Random Newbie Writer!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, exactly HOW new do you have to be at writing to have JUST discovered Grammerly, yet still feel the NEED to tell a writer’s group you belong to that using it is lazy?  That writers should just pick up a book or a dictionary?  (Shall we tell them about Pro-writing Aid, Scrivener and the other dozen-odd programs that give writers a hand?)

Thank you, random newbie writer; I really needed a laugh today!

Mostly, because I’m still processing events from this weekend, and I wish I could say I was surprised, but it feels like I’ve been watching this happen in slow motion for a very long time.  So many warnings were ignored by those who needed to listen.  (Will they listen now?)  I also really, really wish I believed this would be the last incident.  My fears tell me the worst is yet to come.

As for my editing/revision adventure, I have tightened up the first chapter in the WIP, and already foresee things in later chapters that will get the CHOP.  I doubt there will be only one pass through the whole thing.  I haven’t really started incorporating the notes, yet, plus there will be a round of text-to-talk, and a round of Grammerly or one of the other aids.  Once that is finished, I will either start seeking an agent or small press, or take the chance on self publishing.  The plot thickens (hopefully).

Happy writing, y’all!

Shhhhh! I’m Busy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShhhh!  I’m busy writing, or at least typing.  The writing happened last week.

The rough draft of the short story came together, all at once, in 1600 words worth of missing scenes.  The rest of the week was spent in re-reading and taking notes.  I don’t remember exactly what was the tipping point.  Doesn’t really matter, since that is not the kind of thing you can re-create on the next project.  Each project requires a different set of circumstances.

Now I’m on to the second draft, typed this time.  What you should know about me is this is almost harder than the rough draft.  I’ve never worked in an office, so computers and technology are not my everyday tools, although I did take a typing class way back in high school.  My keyboarding style is best described as “Monkey-Chicken Hybrid on Caffeine.”

But, before I go, let me type up a few thoughts that occurred during the week.

Writing is work.  If you don’t also enjoy the process, please, go find something pleasant to do with your time.  Save your sanity.

Editing/revision is where you make sure the words are fit for another brain.  YOU understand the story, but will another person just reading the words–without your brain–understand what you are trying to say?

Watermelon is the food of the Gods.

Teenagers are crazy.

Graphic novels are pictures and story, and I LOVE them.

Punctuation, grammar, and slang should reflect the target audience.  Anything else is just making it harder to be read, understood, and enjoyed.

I gotta get back to typin’.  Have a good ‘un.

 

 

Grammar is Hard, and That’s No Joke!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A writer attempts to take a picture of a book page.

Grammar is hard.  It’s not brain surgery, or rocket science, but it only seems to comfortably fit inside certain shapes of heads.

I do not have the right head shape for grammar.

Take the above list.  It is found in “My Grammar and I… Or Should That Be Me?” by Caroline Taggart and J. A. Wines (The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, NY 2009).  This is not a book review because I am only on page thirty-seven.  It did, however, illustrate to me how my particular type of brain reads things.  Again.

I didn’t get the joke until number six.

The shame.

The embarrassment.

Four tingled my spider-sense.  Five waved a red flag.  But it was on number six that my brain made me stop reading for content and pay attention to the grammar.  “Wait, is this a joke?”  I started back at the top.  By number three I was grinning.  Eight, nine, and ten all made me laugh out loud.  (Luckily, I was alone.  Grammar books shouldn’t make you laugh!  Nerd!)

I’ve seen this phenomena described somewhere in all of the articles on writing and self publishing that I have read in the past year.  There are readers who never complain about mistakes because they are too deep in the content, and other readers who complain about every mistake (real or not) that you make.

I’ve gotten better.  Study has helped me become a more efficient writer, but there are still lots of things I can’t seem to hold in my memory.  Mnemonics and funny anecdotes only get me so far.  I still have to rely on the internal “sound” of a sentence, and that can really get you in trouble if you are too deep inside storyland.

Reading for pleasure–and as a beta–has highlighted this tendency.  If grammar and punctuation yank ME out of the story, the writer might need to take a reeeealy close look at their work.

I am a content reader.  As a writer, I will have to be militant with proofreading until I can afford a professional.  I will make a list of things to check for, culled from these grammar books, and reflecting my own blind spots.  The proofreading stage of my current work-in-progress will be later, since I am still in the content editing stage, but forewarned is forearmed.

If you have the same kinds of blind spots, keep an eye on this blog.  I will eventually get the grammar edition of my Low-Budget Writing Program published. Here is the first of the series.

The more you know…