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One Simple Rule for Improving Your Writing

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Don’t do everything blogger/columnist/book author John Scalzi says.

In response to a reader’s query, Scalzi posted ten suggestions for nonprofessional writers who’d like to “write better.” He offers a few good tips, such as “when in doubt, simplify” and “learn to friggin’ spell,” which really means “use the friggin’ spell checker.”

But he leaves out a couple of key guidelines, and his grammar and punctuation suggestions will create more chaos than they’ll clear up.

What he forgets

Scalzi omits one absolutely vital guideline rule: Use the active voice. Instead of saying, “The running back was tackled by the linebacker,” say, “The linebacker tackled the running back.” The passive voice moves the actor (subject) away from the action (verb) and makes it seem like the whole world sits around waiting for something to happen.

More tips:

Use simple, strong verbs (not simple, weak ones, like “use”). For example, instead of saying, “The linebacker tackled the running back,” say, “The linebacker torpedoed the running back,” or say, “The linebacker flattened the running back.” Vivid verbs appeal to the reader’s senses and help make sentences more memorable. (A little alliteration doesn’t hurt, either.)

Sleep on it. In these days of blogging, breaking news, and instant gratification, it’s hard to give our writing what it probably needs the most: time. Before you publish, try to put your piece down and come back to it a day or two later. You’ll end up thinking about the piece while you’re away from it, and when you come back, you’ll look at it with a fresh eye.

Get feedback from at least two people. One, a member of your target audience and the other, a more experienced writer than you. Unless you’re Emily Dickinson, you shouldn’t write in a vacuum. During the drafting stage, a reader’s impressions or another writer’s advice can help you shape your piece or even take it in a new direction. Post-publish comments on your blog may provide some insight, but when people know you’re looking for help while you’re still writing, their feedback tends to be far more constructive.

What he nails

When he says:

Front-load your point: If you make people wade through seven paragraphs of unrelated anecdotes before you get to what you’re really trying to say, you’ve lost….Now, sometimes people write to find out what their point is; I think that’s fine because I do that myself. But most of the time after I’ve figured out my point, I’ll go back and re-write.

That’s like the old rule of thumb that recommends writing your article and then, when you think it’s finished, deleting the first paragraph.

I also like Scalzi’s point about writing as a thinking or discovery process. Writing is thinking, after all (where else would gems like this post come from?). I can think things through more clearly if I’m putting words down somewhere, and I eventually figure out what I really want to say. So the endings of my early drafts often become the openings of later ones.

With that in mind, I would just switch the order in Scalzi’s advice. I’d say: Write to figure out what you want to say, and then edit to make sure you’re quickly getting to the point.

What he gets wrong

Aw, hell, nobody’s perfect, and Scalzi’s imperfections show when he gives punctuation and grammar help. Go ahead and follow his rules for the colon and exclamation point, but venture not into the land of the period, comma, semicolon, or grammar. For these, he offers some seriously bad advice.

Mistakes in grammar and punctuation are usually, as Mina Shaughnessey said, errors of thinking by people who don’t know the rules. They guess or make up their own rules based on some vague memory of the actual rules. They can tell you why they put that comma, semicolon, or period there — because they honestly thought about it — but they’re usually wrong.

Scalzi is a professional writer, so he probably knows the rules but doesn’t have the time or inclination to write a handbook in a blog post. Or maybe he’s a porno-grammarian, someone who can’t define a proper sentence but who knows one when he sees it. Either way, he’s made up his own rules for other people to follow, and they simply won’t work.

Periods

Scalzi says: “When you’re writing down a thought and you’re at the end of that thought, put a period.”

Scalzi could mean one of two things here. He could be repeating the layman’s definition of a sentence as a complete thought, in which case Scalzi is telling us what a sentence is and where it ends. But contrary to popular belief, a sentence is not “a thought.” Like Homer Simpson, for example, I have lots of thoughts that aren’t sentences. Plus, a sentence can contain more than one thought, and if you put a period after the first thought, you may actually say something other than what you intended.

Or Scalzi could be saying that we shouldn’t worry about whether or not we have a complete sentence. When we’re done with that idea, we can just plop down a period because sometimes a thought should stand alone. Even if it’s not a “legal” sentence. If that’s his meaning, then he’s right, but it’s bad advice for budding writers.

When you know that you’re breaking a rule and why you’re breaking a rule, you can do it effectively. But writers who don’t know the rules break them accidentally and poorly, especially when they’re applying a nebulous guideline like “just put a period at the end of a thought.” It causes all sorts of chaos for the reader: choppy sentences, fragments, and syntax oddities appear everywhere instead of only where they’re most effective (if a syntax oddity can ever be effective).

So the rule for developing writers should be: When you’re writing down a sentence and you’re at the end of that sentence, put a period.

Now, what the hell is a sentence? That’s the problem, isn’t it?

A sentence is a structure, rather than a series of words. The most basic grammatical sentence is the one-word imperative (“Go!”). But most sentences have at least a subject and a predicate (“Jesus wept.”). Once we get past those two simple structures, the trouble begins. Writers need to learn all the pieces available for constructing sentences. If we can’t identify them, we’re going to have a very hard time figuring out if we even have a sentence, never mind if we’ve punctuated it correctly.

The only way to know where to put a period is to know where a sentence ends. And the only way to know where a sentence ends is to learn the parts of speech, usage, and sentence construction.

Semicolons

Scalzi says: “Put these in your writing in the place where, in conversation, you’d arch your eyebrow or make some other sort of physical gesture signalling that you want to emphasize a point.”

No. Not at all. That explanation has absolutely nothing to do with reality. It’s completely made up and entirely wrong. There’s just no other way to say it. In fact, it’s so far off the mark that I read it through a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t misreading.

Semicolon rules are very simple, which makes Scalzi’s explanation even more perplexing. Why make up your own rule when the real rule is, for once, very straight forward?

The real rule: Semicolons are like periods. You use them at the end of sentences (complete, grammatically correct ones). The distinction between when to use a semicolon instead of a period: When the next sentence is very closely related to the one you’re finishing and you want to illustrate that relationship with your punctuation.

Example: You can put a period or semicolon here; it’s really up to you.

Notice what’s on the left and right of the semicolon: complete sentences. That’s because (repeat after me) semicolons are like periods. They go at the end of sentences. In order to use a semicolon, you put it at the end of a sentence and then begin another sentence right after it. The only weirdness is that you use a lowercase letter to start the sentence after the semi-colon. Other than that, when you use a semicolon, you have nothing more than two complete sentences separated by a semi-colon instead of a period.

Now do you see why it’s important to really know what a sentence is? Once you do, you’ll know exactly when and where to use periods AND semicolons.

If you’re still not sure where semicolons should and shouldn’t go, then don’t use them. You could live your whole life without using a semicolon, and you’d never be wrong. (Unless you needed one to set off a series, but that’s another ball of wax.)

Commas

Scalzi says: “When you’re writing down a thought and you want to take a breath, whether mental or physical, put in a comma.”

This is how we get comma splices (commas placed where periods or semicolons should go), sentences dripping with gratuitous commas, or sentences with commas missing from important places.

First, what in the world is a “mental breath”? And second, if you have to concentrate so much on your breathing, please see a respiratory specialist. But whatever you do, don’t stick commas in your sentences to coincide with your breathing patterns. In fact, ignore your breathing as you write. (Luckily for asthmatics and their readers, English grammar books say nothing about commas and breathing.)

The real rule: Use commas only where they must go or can go and no place else. If you want to breathe, breathe some life into your prose with the active voice and some daring verbs, but resist, resist, resist the urge to sprinkle commas in your writing as you would oregano in a saucepan. “Need a little more flavor here, need a little pause there” doesn’t work. It confuses the reader.

If you want to learn how to use commas correctly, you have to learn the rules and keep a grammar reference nearby. You’ll understand the rules best when you understand sentence structure. (Is the horse dead yet?)

And yes, we have a lot of comma rules. Sorry.

Grammar

Scalzi says: “Grammar matters, but not as much as anal grammar Nazis think it does.”

If he’s reading this, Scalzi probably thinks I’m a grammar Nazi. But give this post a close proofreading, and you’ll see otherwise. First and foremost, I believe writers must figure out what they want to say and then organize their ideas in a logical way. Then they can worry about checking grammar and punctuation and revising for style. But I think I think grammar is more important than Scalzi thinks it is. (Ya think?)

Scalzi also says: “The problem with grammar is that here in the US at least, schools do such a horrible job of teaching the subject that most people are entirely out to sea regarding correct usage.”

Okay, now we’re talking the same language. But Scalzi seemingly believes that new vague guidelines will help writers better understand the old vague guidelines they “learned” in school. They won’t.

As I’ve tried to illustrate, punctuation and grammar are intertwined. Once you learn the parts of speech and sentence structure, it’s much easier to learn punctuation rules. The shortcuts don’t work, unfortunately. You have to do the time and learn the rules.

(Finding an editor doesn’t hurt, either.)

If that makes me a grammar Nazi in some people’s eyes, so be it. But I’m really not. I’m not even a grammar zealot. Seriously, I’m sure someone will find a mistake or two in this post. I just don’t think writers should muddy the waters for aspiring writers or imply that the real rules are too difficult or not important enough to even try to learn. After all, look where not learning the rules has gotten us in the U.S.

So when it comes to improving your grammar and punctuation, and therefore your writing style and readability, there’s really only one rule: Sit down and suck it up, people.

——–
Also posted at Educated Doubt.

About Lori Mortimer

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    …If you make people wade through seven paragraphs of unrelated anecdotes before you get to what you’re really trying to say, you’ve lost.

    my, oh my, i am so totally screwed!

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Lori,

    Having taught freshman English for many years (as well as high school English and 7 & 8 grade English), I’d say this post is right on the money. It should be read by writers (in college or not).

  • http://detectivebobbygoren.blogspot.com/ Trinket

    Thank you several times over. I know I can edit a piece several times and still find something that can be sharper. Walking away or sleeping on it if you can, is probably the best advice I’ve ever been given. Mistakes really jump out then.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    This was awesome, awesome, awesome.

  • http://darkeroticism.blogspot.com swingingpuss

    Thanks for the pointers lori. Being a porn writer I have realized that nothing puts the fire out faster than a spelling or a grammatical mistake.

  • http://desicritics.org Aaman

    Excellent post – it has been cross-posted to Desicritics.org, for greater appreciation and adulation – check there too for comments.

  • MrGrinch

    I haven’t read the original so if I mention something that was in the original article then my bad.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your points and have an additional observation/piece of advice for aspiring amateur writers.

    The goal of writing is to have somebody read your stuff. To make it easier on your reader, you will want to pay attention to the aesthetic of your writing, how it looks and flows.

    The easiest way to do that is to keep your paragraphs in small, bitesize chunks and avoid superparagraphs as much as possible. This makes the writing less intimidating at first glance.

    You will also want to speed up your sentences as much as possible. Keep your commas to a minimum if you can and above all else, omit needless words.

  • http://www.theleveebreaks.co.uk levee

    Interesting post, and thanks for pointing me to the other resource by Scalzi. Definitely food for thought!

  • Laurie Cheers

    IMO, the best advice for improving your writing and punctuation is to read lots (of well written and punctuated prose), not to learn rules. That’s the natural way; that’s how you learn language in the first place.

  • Jimmie

    Ham. Johnnie Walker. That was a very helpful article.

  • http://corporatespices.blogspot.com Shrikant Joshi

    Strange. Your Comment policy says that Personal attacks are not allowed.

    Yet, that is exactly what you seem to have indulged in, with this post.

    Let me clarify at the outset that nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong with your post. It makes perfect sense. But personally, I feel, you may have gone a little overboard with your critique on Scalzi. I have read the post before you wrote about it and i found it pretty good for non-writer

    Come to think about it, hasn’t Scalzi mentioned right at the outset that the post is for non-writers? Why the venom, fella?

  • http://wyome.com John Cox

    I had my eyebrows up in anticipation of using a semicolon when I read Mr. Scalzi’s article as well. While I am not a very refined writer, I did recall the rules for the semicolons from the little time that I paid attention in High School English.

    Nice article, and thanks for the clarifications.

  • Guesty

    I agree with the grammar aspects of this post; I really do. ;)

    But with the “What he forgets” section, I disagree. A blog should not be altered to make it sound more dramatic or memorable. I think a blog should give the facts, as opposed to using catchy words or phrases to make the blog sound more interesting than it actually is.

  • http://ragesossscholar.blogspot.com Sage

    I’d say there are really only two rules, and Scalzi gets them in numbers 7 and 8:

    1. Treat every time you write anything–email, notes in class, anything–as a chance to improve your writing skills. (And of course, write a lot.)

    2. Read good writers. All the time. Pay attention to how they use the written word, what elements stand out, how they structure sentences, everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading fiction and writing nonfiction; studying effective prose gives you a chance not just to learn “rules”, but to understand why to follow them (or not).

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Great piece, and good takeoff on Scalzi’s post.

    I think Scalzi was doing a somewhat tongue in cheek, quick and dirty post aimed at “non-writers” who don’t want to look totally foolish in their day to day writing. But I feel that even those who have no aspirations for being a noted author would find your piece and his to be useful.

    When I see even a comment or e-mail that is carelessly thought out with gross mispellings, many times I find it hard to take the writer all that seriously. That goes double for those who sometimes make me scratch my head because I can’t even figure out what side of the fence they’re sitting on, because they don’t make it clear except in their own head. Seems to me it’s a good idea for any writer in any medium to try and get some of the basic rules nailed down–and to PROOFREAD before hitting “send.”

    I do think that if one is a voracious reader, it is possible to learn most of the “rules” intuitively by observing others. And I also think if one aspires to be a good writer, or a pro for that matter, reading others’ writing is pretty much a prerequisite.

    People can also “fall in love” with their own writing and be blind to the fact that it may need editing to make it more readable to others. As a much younger writer, I remember how I used to try to load my prose with big words and long ponderous sentences. This was fine for academic treatises, but not if you want the average person to sit up and pay attention. Knowing “le mot juste,” however, can be very valuable as long as it’s used judiciously.

    Thanks for the great post.

  • http://ihavebeenfloated.org Brad Root

    It seems to be there are two camps of writers.

    Those who write literature, and/or those who get books published, non-fiction or fiction.

    And those who talk about writing.

    Now Scalzi might not be the best candidate as the example of an author, but he’s the best I got. His rules aren’t flawless by any means, but they’re certainly a lot easier to swallow than your nearly flaming piece here.

    His rules are great, even if flawed, if only because the give you the best advice you can get. He tells you to read great writers, and to pretty much do as you please within reason. Anyone who has written fiction knows that pin-point precision to the rules is pointless. Your speaking voice isn’t anywhere near grammatically correct. I don’t think your writing voice should be either. But, again, within reason.

    English is a constantly evolving language, and in no place has this been more apparent than in literature. Every author writes differently. They have their own rules. Some comma splice it up; some never use quotation marks when writing their dialog; some just slaughter the language with run on sentences that are all commas. (Was that proper usage of a semi-colon? I don’t know, but it felt right.)

    I’m deviating from my point, though I did front-load it.

    There are those who talk about writing, they might teach it even. They’re bogged down in the science of the language. They write stodgy papers full of rules, dos and don’ts about writing. They live a life almost completely devoid of creativity, and if they do write something in the realm of fiction, it’s generally boring and stale. I hate to insult all English teachers in the world, but I find this holds true almost all the time.

    The people who write, however, will more often than not tell you that writing is nothing more than doing what you feel is right. If you’re a terrible writer, then don’t write. If you’re a great writer, well, there you go.

    No amount of rules, hints, tips, guidelines, or inside out knowledge of sentence structure is going to make you a good writer.

    … Course, if you’re a terrible writer with a desire to dissect the language until you remove nearly all the joy out of it, then maybe you should look into writing guides on how to write properly.

  • http://ihavebeenfloated.org Brad Root

    Oh, and, by the way, your advice to have a writer show someone else their work is the worst advice you can give anyone. At least you should specify that you should show someone when you are DONE with what you are working on.

    Showing someone a work in progress is generally the greatest murderer of creativity. It depends on the writer, of course, and what you’re writing. I’m talking mostly about fiction here. Every time I have shown a WIP to someone, I haven’t been able to continue it.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone, and thanks for all the additional suggestions for people who want to improve their writing.

    A couple of replies:

    #11 Shrikant Joshi: I’m not a fella. 8-) But that’s neither here nor there. Scalzi says he’s responding to a query specifically about people who “aren’t aspiring professionals but who would like to write better,” not nonwriters. They’re clearly writers, but they’re not writing professionally. Also, Scalzi adds this nota bene: “These [the ten tips] work pretty well for people who do want to be pro writers, too.”

    Also, Shrikant, I’ve made no personal attacks against Scalzi. I critiqued his writing advice, and that’s it. In that critique, I also said he offered some good tips.

    Re: #16 and 17, Brad Root: I’m so sorry to have hurt your feelings by critiquing “the best guy you’ve got.” Go ahead, insinuate all you want that I’m not really a writer myself if it makes you feel bigger. You make good points about the difference between fiction and nonfiction writing, but your approach makes anything you have to say pretty much disposable.

    Also, I noticed you posted comment #16 on your own blog, but that you don’t seem to allow others to comment there. (At least I couldn’t find a link.) I’d like to note for the record that I never said, “Don’t listen to John Scalzi.” I said, “Don’t listen to everything John Scalzi says.” If you’re going to quote me, please do so accurately.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Actually, I need to quote myself accurately. I said, “Don’t do everything John Scalzi says.”

  • coolguy

    tanks; now i can reely rite good!

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Interesting and well-written post Lori, but I would point out that you may be reading a bit too literally on the comma and breathing section. It is fairly clear from Scalzi’s post that he is not suggesting you place a comma in your work everytime you breathe. He is suggesting that, if you were to read the sentence aloud, as though someone were speaking it, the comma would be placed at the pause points for the breath.

    In the context of how he presents it, it is not a bad rule of thumb. Obviously it is not consistent or correct at all times or in all places, but it can give a non-professional writer a good take on when and where the usage of a comma may be called for, without consulting a grammar nazi for advice.

    Otherwise I thought both Lori and Scalzi have provided some excellent advice.

  • http://scalzi.com/whatever John Scalzi

    Relax, folks — she’s not attacking me personally, she’s merely disagreeing with some advice I gave.

    Now, I do believe Ms. Mortimer misinterpreted the primary audience for the piece. In fact I did aim it at non-writers, which is why the title of the piece is “Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don’t Want to Work at Writing” — non-writers in this case being people who don’t write for a living or as part of their living (filing reports, etc). I think the advice is applicable for pro writers and non-pros who write in the course of their work, but clearly one’s mileage may vary. I also think that in her response to my advice she’s neglecting a salient point, which is that my advice is aimed toward people who don’t actually want to *work* at writing better, while hers clearly is.

    I would also respectfully disagree that my punctuation and grammar advice will cause chaos (chaos!). They work just dandy for me, and I’ve been supporting myself as a writer for 15 years. I cop to being occasionally chaotic on a personal basis, but my writing usually works out just fine. I wouldn’t tell non-writers to do something I wouldn’t do, writing-wise; that would seem kind of mean.

    Having said that, I find her advice here to be generally good and sensible, so if you *do* wish to work on your writing — which, to be clear, I think would be a good thing — then you should listen up to what she says. If you just want to give the *appearance* of working on your writing, then I expect my advice will do well enough… although again, your mileage may vary.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Good to see you around, Scalzi!

    It should be noted that John Scalzi is responsible for article #1 on this site: a review of an album by a band called Dorman.

  • Justin

    Nice work, Lori. It’s refreshing to come across proof that there are still some people who care about proper grammar, punctuation, and the like. Bravo!

  • http://www.bookliner.blogspot.com Deano

    You can also find a review of his book Old Man’s War at http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/11/06/231914.php.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Ugh, I didn’t even think to link to Scalzi’s books at the end of my post. Thanks for the comment that brought it to my attention, Deano. I sent a message to EO asking him to add a couple.

    And who knew (besides Phillip) that Mr. Scalzi authored the very first BC post? (Only to be nitpicked to death a few years later by another BC.)

    Sir John, thanks for commenting. I appreciate your feedback, courtesy, and sense of humor.

    [I also like your bald head. But that doesn't seem relevant to the discussion.]

    After reading a couple of comments here, I admit that I did wonder if I’d flamed you personally, but I’m glad that you don’t think so because that certainly wasn’t my intent.

    My mileage on the grammar/punctuation rules definitely differs from yours, but I certainly respect you for not wanting to be mean. I’m generally not that considerate. 8-)

    Again, I’m not a grammar Nazi, just someone who thinks that we shouldn’t be afraid to tell people to hit the books first and then worry about nuance later. Some people can learn grammar and punctuation incidentally by reading, but experience shows me that most people can’t.

    Thanks again for dropping in.

  • http://www.scalzi.com/whatever John Scalzi

    Lori:

    “And who knew (besides Phillip) that Mr. Scalzi authored the very first BC post?”

    Indeed, and here’s another fun little fact: I actually named the joint! In fact, I reserved “Blogcritics.com” for Eric Olsen so no one else would take it from him (but then he went and reserved Blogcritics.org, the silly man. Nevertheless Blogcritics.com still points here). Ah, the early days of teh Intarweebs.

    “Again, I’m not a grammar Nazi, just someone who thinks that we shouldn’t be afraid to tell people to hit the books first and then worry about nuance later.”

    Oh, and I agree to that. I was merely working with the constraints imposed by the fellow writing in the request. In a perfect world, people would have grammar/punctuation drilled into their heads whether they liked it or not. I had that as a freshman in highschool, and while I hated it at the time, I’m glad for it now.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Indeed, John Scalzi is a friend of BC from the pre-inception days (back when the rallying cry was “Free CDs for bloggers”)! IIRC, the switch from .com to .org came as part of an emergency host switch, when we couldn’t get .com redirected in time, but that’s no matter now. They both work, indeed!

    I don’t mean to get us off-track. Lori’s got some excellent writing advice up above, so I’ll be quiet. :-)

  • http://blogcritics.org Chelsea Snyder

    Phew, I’m glad this lady also is my “real world” editor! Good to know I’m under good guidance. :)

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    But someone named Mary is your copy editor because that job is for grammar Nazis.

    ;-)

  • oxxygen

    strunk and white: elements of style.

    http://www.bartleby.com/141/

  • http://www.7daywonder.com lee pennington

    These tips are dynamite… yes… wow; come for a writing holiday in France or Spain with http://www.7daywonder.com

  • http://life.outtacontext.com Jeff

    Sleeping on a blog post is one of the most important things I do. I can always make a story better; sometimes it’s only a word or two (hey, I like using semicolons).

  • http://irrelevantopinions.blogspot.com Faraz

    This is great advice. This article and the one it references is something I will definitely bring to the attention of my students. When reading the original piece, I was also thinking that those punctuation rules were ridiculous, and appreciate that you have taken the time to correct them.

    I have occasionally written on this same topic on my blog, but I put most of the blame on poor grammar skills on technology. One hardly needs to learn these things, because a word processor’s grammar check will usually catch the errors first. Furthermore, Google has rendered research into a trivial exercise so there is little thinking required when writing any piece of writing now. It’s sad really, but I suppose that’s the direction we’re heading in this brave new world.

  • http://annotatedlife.blogspot.com Edie

    This is all good advice. In my opinion, it matters why one is writing as to which tips should be utilized (particularly sleeping on it, consulting others). It depends also on why one is keeping the blog and who is reading it. I began a blog to practice my writing skills, and surprised myself at how much better and faster I got in six months, not only at writing, but at reading, synthesizing information, and thinking in general. Communication is the most important tool we human beings have, so practice–even clumsy practice–never hurts.

  • nugget

    You people are nerds.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Seriously! This is a 2000-word post about periods, commas, and semicolons, and people actually seem to be reading it.

  • http://coppermountainmesa.com Bob Deloyd

    Thanks Lori! I write a small column for a local newspaper and I think I do an ok job at it. But sometimes I have problems on commas and semicolons; I am just too lazy to look up the correct way. Little reminders like this blog really helps. //bob

  • Jeremy M.

    Fantastic post. This is one of the more useful things I’ve read lately.

  • Eric Olsen

    brilliant job on this Lori, and we all would do well to take heed and go forth and sucketh no more.

    HI John – Looks like you are buzzing along famously – you have a permanent place in the foundation mythos of Blogcritics and shall be remembered ever thus!

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    You: “Before you publish, try to put your piece down and come back to it a day or two later. You’ll end up thinking about the piece while you’re away from it, and when you come back, you’ll look at it with a fresh eye.”

    Me: “Before you publish, try to put your piece down and come back to it a day or two later. You’ll end up forgetting you wrote it, and when you come across it six months later, you’ll be grateful.”

  • stephen

    Lori.
    You sound like a real beyotch.
    Relax.
    Poorly placed commas and periods are not the end of the world.

  • Rodney Welch

    Are too.

  • http://www.inorganicallygonzo.blogspot.com A Mc

    I don’t know how anyone could have missed the passive/active voice rule. Nice catch.

  • http://realtownblogs.com/?u=Maureen Maureen

    Thank you. I obviously played hooky the day they taught semicolons at school. I was glad to see: “If you’re still not sure where semicolons should and shouldn’t go, then don’t use them. You could live your whole life without using a semicolon, and you’d never be wrong.” I feel absolved of years of semicolon sins.

  • http://www.markbellinghaus.com Mark Bellinghaus

    Lori! Please marry me–we could be the team of the future, cause my writing stinks and is so miserable and I know that I am making mistakes–Eric Olsen already taught me to use way less exclaimation points. But: If you are asking me to write a master piece in German–I will write them ALL against the wall.
    And one of my close friends who is a successful writer tells me “Anybody can type.” And: I just went to a lecture with Paul Haggis and that blew my mind. He was the biggest inspiration to anybody. He was fired many times as a writer from shitty shows in Hollywood–yet he believed in himself and now he did what nobody before him achieved. He won back to back Oscar for best screenplay (Million Dollar Baby & Crash). He was so down to earth and wonderful.
    I know I make many typos, but it is the though that counts and it is also the thought that sells!

  • Inspiring writer

    I’am a high school student trying to write a novel and I hopefully plan to get it published. Do you have to have a college degree or any college education before you try to get one of your novels published?

  • http://www.io.com/~arcangel Elizabeth McCoy

    I sold a short-short (200 word) story some… weeks, I think it was, after I graduated from high school at 17. So really, all you need to be able to do is… write well. Know what the words you’re using mean, know how to spell them, make verbs and subjects and tenses agree, and know what you’re supposed to do with punctuation.

    I will say that college really honed my ability to sit down and write; after grinding through enough papers that I didn’t want to write, it was great to be able to write something I liked. Alas, the novel that I wrote after graduating from college is still my Grand Unpublished, but every aspiring author needs one of those, right?

    The most important part — after writing well — is to follow the rules when you submit your novel to a publisher or agent. It is very easy to look the publisher (or agent) up on the web and find their rules for submissions. Find Them. Pay Attention To Them. I have a part-time job which sometimes involves looking at someone’s email to me in teeny-font Arial HTML, and writing back, “I’m sorry, but I cannot consider submissions that do not follow the online guidelines.”

    If you know what you’re doing, you can break the rules of grammar and make it work. (If you don’t know what you’re doing, breaking the rules of grammar will look ignorant.) But if you want a publisher (or agent) to look favorably upon you, you had better follow all the rules — and especially the ones which are designed to make your manuscript more readable.

  • http://www.marketingease.com/web-marketing-blog/copywriting/knowledge-is-power Krista Johnson

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