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Grammar is not just an educational issue. For some adults, it can sabotage friendships and even romantic relationships.
The research arm of dating site OKCupid looked at 500,000 first contacts and concluded that “netspeak, bad grammar and bad spelling are huge turn-offs”. The biggest passion killers were “ur”, “r”, “u”, “ya” and “cant”. Also damaging to online suitors were “luv” and “wat”.
On the other hand, correct use of apostrophes was appealing. Using “don’t” and “won’t” caused better than average response rates – 36% and 37% respectively, according to the research.
Uh oh! Bad grammar can apparently sabotage your love life. Actually, this is a bit of a story “Apostrophe now: Bad grammar and the people who hate it” by Tom de Castella of the BBC News Magazine. The Polished Paragraph is very much under the weather and is sending you Mr. de Castella and the BBC for entertainment, erudition, and possible conflict. Let me know what you think!
We all have envy at some point. As a rug hooker, I’m constantly looking at others’ creations be they rugs, paintings, or quilts and other fiber art products. Recently, I even attended a couple of “hook-ins” (get your minds out of the gutter; I’ve heard them all!) at which I was able to check out the mats and rugs other folks were working on. Wow! My first thought is always a demoralizing one: “I wish my work was as good as theirs.” Of course, it doesn’t help that my own rugs are less than traditional, made with not just wool, but recycled t-shirts, ribbons, denim, most anything I find. And the colors I use aren’t particularly rustic either. The brighter, the better is my mantra. Invariably, however, someone comes over and gushes about my rug. Then I relax and recognize/remember that, hey, my mat looks pretty damn fine too.
Writing is like that. As a reader, I can’t help but envy writers that I admire: Anne Lamott, Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, Kathleen Norris, and Billy Collins. I’ll never write like any of these authors. In fact, Collins and Norris are poets; I’ll never do that. Norris and Lamott also write great memoir; I doubt that’s in my future, frankly. But that’s okay. While I can learn from each of them, I don’t have to write like them any more than I have to hook like Judy Carter (who hooks freaking beautiful rugs!).
The truth is, it takes some nards to stand up and write anything. But if you love the creativity and challenge of writing, most likely induced by reading some great writing, you’ll do it because you have to. Damn, one of the members of my writing group writes crazy-good. Enough to be contemplating – realistically – his stories in the New Yorker. He’s even got an agent, for heaven’s sake! I’m not there. Sure, I’m a little green with the envy, but I know what Mike’s gone through to get to where he is. It wasn’t easy. And, I gotta say, while I love him, I don’t want to be him.
What to do when you feel less than someone else, whatever your craft. Bonnie Friedman has some advice:
The antidote to envy is one’s own work. Always one’s own work. Not the thinking about it. Not the assessing of it. But the doing of it. The answers you want can come only from the work itself. It drives the spooks away.
Has envy paralyzed your creative attempts? How do you overcome the green-eyed monster and move on?
HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY to all who celebrate the day in some fashion!
You get nervous with no one supporting you. People don’t always have the vision, and the secret for the person with the vision is to stand up. It takes a lot of courage.
- Natalie Cole
Do you practice writing or some kind of art? Yes? Good. Do you do it out in the bright light of day or in the dark, solitude of your room?
Either is fine. Really. I don’t share any of my stories until I’ve finished up at least a first draft and combed it for obvious errors and inconsistencies. Then I put it out there – selectively. My writing group gets it. They have one now, in fact. Wednesday night they’ll tell me what they think of it. Then I’ll take their thoughts and criticisms and my thoughts and criticisms and go back to the drawing board to revise. After that, we’ll see what happens to the story. If it’s good enough, I’ll probably submit it to some journals, maybe send it to a contest or two. If it gets published somewhere or if even one editor rejects it, but gives some good feedback, I’ll be ecstatic.
But what about the writer, the painter, the would-be actor who hides in his or her room, unable to share their work? Some, perhaps, are inherently afraid to put themselves out there. Maybe you feel as if your family and friends don’t support or understand you, what you’re trying to accomplish or just explore. They may not. They might even deride you for your efforts. Consider Thomas Edison being told by his teachers that he was too stupid to learn anything. Monet‘s impressionistic style was mocked by the art elite of his time. And Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team.
Sometimes it’s about parents and others not wanting their kid to be disappointed or hurt. Maybe Jordan’s mom kept hoping he’d join the chorus or something where he could hide in the crowd till he found an activity he was good at. As a parent, I get that. Still, you’ve got to let your kid try, try, try, especially if he’s enjoying himself. When they fun stops, she’ll move on. Or try harder and maybe even get better.
But what about the art folks during Monet’s time? Big deal, he wasn’t going along with the status quo. Obviously, he made them uncomfortable. He was doing something new, and some people don’t handle change well. It made them scaredy. Or possibly jealous. Fortunately, Monet pretty much gave them the finger – screw their support! - and went on his merry way to create the art that we still love today.
If a parent or a spouse or a friend has given you a hard time – or you’re afraid that they might give you a hard time – because you like to, say, write poetry, consider WHY this might be:
Once upon a time, Dad suppressed his own dreams out of fear, feelings of inadequacy, whatever. God forbid someone else should try to succeed.
Your brother thinks poetry is “girlie.” The green-eyed monster Jealousy has been stirred.
Since you’ve “changed” so much, your BFF expects you’ll want her to change too, to become more “intellectual,” not waste time and money on movies like The Hangover III.
Your wife is afraid that you’ll start spending all your time with your writing group while she sits at home with only TV and the dog to keep her company.
Here’s the rub, though: Even if you know why you’re not receiving the support you crave, if writing is important to you, you’ll still have to grab yourself by the balls (or your big girl panties), put your ass in the chair, and write. Maybe that’s enough. If not, you’re gonna have to stand up and put your work out there – to a friend, to a group, to a magazine. And it takes courage to stand up like that. As writer Susan Shaughnessy says:
I don’t always have faith in my vision of myself as a writer. Sometimes courage has to take the place of faith. I’ll stand up by writing today.
Do your friends and family shower you with support for your writing or other artistic endeavors? Or are you roughing it on your own? If you are, what do you need from us, the ones willing to support you? We’re here. You just have to ask us.
Revision is when you first get to recognize the distance between what you wanted to write, what you thought you were writing, and what you actually did write. That recognition often makes you want to throw up.
But all that nausea means is that your work could stand some fixing. It’s not as horrible as the teachers of Freshman Comp would have us believe.
Some of us suck at typing. Mistakes must be found and typed back in properly. And spellcheck doesn’t always clue in if your typo is actually a word. Spellcheck could care less how you use words, just that you spell them correctly.
Ideas were flowing when you initially wrote your memo or your short story. In your enthusiasm, you might not have typed in what you thought you did. Perhaps the metaphor you were going for doesn’t really work when you look at it in the light of morning. Or it’s not appropriate for your audience. Your boss might not appreciate that word.
You were in a bad mood when you wrote that report. Oh, and you were drinking too. Time to clean it up so you sound like someone doing his/her best or at least not trying to be fired.
You wrote too many words; the university clearly indicated that the application essay has to be less than 500 words.
You wrote too few words; the teacher wants you to support your opinion and cite examples. Sorry, one example is not enough.
You realized that quotation marks almost always go to the outside of the period. Maybe you should check your commas too. Never ever rely on your word processor’s grammar checker.
Here’s the thing; I can go on and on with this list. Even the best of us make mistakes. It comes down to this:
Check your work – any work, really, but here we’re interested in your writing. Check your work, so that you don’t look stupid in front of your boss, teacher, contest judge, client, publisher, whoever. Revision gives you a chance to put your best work forward. It’s about making an impression. And sometimes, sometimes we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
The method of revision that works best for you is: _________________________________.
My strategy: I print it out and put it away for at least a day, then I go back to it. That way it’s fresh again. Or I ask someone else to take a look at it.
Yesterday I got some news, not the kind of news you like to hear via a Facebook message, unfortunately. A good writing friend of mine died this past February. I was shocked to hear it. I hadn’t even had a clue that he was sick; he’d kept that trouble to himself.
John, you see, was one of those “new” kinds of friends that technology has afforded us – the friend we know through our electronic media – email, Facebook, chats, private groups. John (Florida) and I (Massachusetts) “met” through Literary Lapse, an online writing group. In fact, through Lit Lapse, we made other friends in Arizona, Australia, South Africa, Tanzania, Canada, and a bunch of places in between. John and I hit it off so well, that we started working together on some of his stories. He’d write them and then ship them up my way for editing and suggestions. In between, we’d chat about business plans, my kid, and rug hooking and his grandson, his nursing experiences, and football. You know, the stuff friends talk about. A couple of times it even happened on the phone! Usually, though, we communicated via email.
Yesterday his wife managed to track me down to tell me what happened. Clearly, her heart is broken; John was the love of her life. She asked me to share the sad news with our friends in Africa and elsewhere. With a heavy heart, I’ve done that. We’ll remember John: gung-ho about writing and helping others to write, sometimes curmudgeonly, always ready with a randy comment, always good-hearted.
Today’s editing tip (and let’s remember that editing is just a stage of writing) is about the resource books that can help you write better sentences and paragraphs. Everyone can use that kind of help – even those of us who actually call ourselves writers, editors, and proofreaders.
Do yourself a favor and keep a couple of basic, resource books on hand. Alternatively, you can go with the digital versions. Sure, when you have a question or an issue with grammar, you can head to some website, but why not just become familiar with one or two sources and save yourself the hassle of an online search that will probably devolve into a some kind of Facebook or other Internet distraction.
Below are the books that I keep on my shelf. Or at least the subset that has to do with basic grammar, spelling, and so on.
Bartlett’s Roget’s Thesaurus- This is the mother of all thesauruses (thesauri?). Unless you’re really into words (okay, I am), you won’t need this. But, damn, it’s a fun book!
Several pocket thesauruses that I’ve picked up over the years – One of these and the thesaurus that comes with your word processing program are probably all you’ll ever need.
The Little, Brown Handbook(by H. Ramsey Fowler and Little, Brown and Company, Inc.) – This is my real go-to book when I have a question or can’t remember something. My edition is from 1980, because I went to college in 1982, and the school required that we all have it. It’s definitely been worth the money my parents spent on it.
The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition (by the University of Chicago Press) – Okay, this baby calls itself “the essential guide for writers, editors and publishers.” If you write for a magazine or a newspaper (one that doesn’t use the AP Style), you might want this, but I doubt it. It can be cumbersome to use, frankly. For some it’s a bible, for the average person writing a sentence, it’s not an imperative.
A couple of big-ass, old-fashioned dictionaries – Because I am Luddite, pure and simple. When I’m reading or even writing, I don’t always have my laptop on to look at an online dictionary. It’s really quick to grab a “book” when I want to look up a word. I do admit that there is a problem with staying current. If you’re just starting out, go online.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White – It’s a famous, little book. Not really something you can grab when you have a question you need answered right away. It’s more about generalities like not being fussy when you write. Include only the words that you need and be done with it. You can read it in one sitting, if you’re so inclined.
Rewrite Right by Jan Venolia – It’s a nifty and useful book for professional, amateurs, and everyone in between. Check it out. And it’s got cute cartoons too. “This practical guide describes in clear, direct language how to effectively rewrite a report, letter, essay, or article, so that writers of all levels can improve the quality of their work and harness the power of language.” (Amazon.com)
Lastly, there’s The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (by Merriam-Webster) given to me by a friend who was unhappy with my old dictionaries mentioned above. Now we duel and challenge with a more up-to-date dictionary.
No more telling me that you can’t write. Pick up a book or two and keep it in your personal library, i.e., your book shelves. That way when you can’t remember if the period goes in- or outside of the quotation marks, the answer is just an index away.
Do you rely on any great resource books that you’d like to share with us?
(P.S. – The quotations marks almost always go to the outside of the period!)
These dark days have been tough on everyone. But living in the Boston area brought violence home in a new way. Frankly, Monday didn’t start off that well; Tom and I attended a funeral. But it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining for a change, and blooming daffodils and forsythia indicated that spring was really on its way – finally.
Once home, we turned on the television to see where the elite runners were on the marathon course. I used to run road races, though never marathons, till my feet refused and the plantar fasciitis won out. Tom puts his daily miles in on the treadmill. Lelisa Desisa (Ethopia) and Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) crossed the finish line to win the men’s and women’s divisions. We saw the top Americans come in, then turned the TV off to get some work done.
When you work on a computer, though, the world’s never far away. Tom saw the headline first. We switched back to television. Chaos. There’s no need to describe it; we’ve all seen and read plenty. But that chaos was only 35 miles or so down Route 95. And on previous Marathon Mondays, Tom and I have stood exactly where those people were standing, watching the runners come in, exhausted but triumphant. Everyone was sharing the jubilation, soaking in the sunshine, enjoying the holiday atmosphere.
And then they weren’t. Now many of us are sad, disappointed, angry, anxious, and all those other adjectives that describe what we feel when there’s another senseless tragedy.
What do we do with those emotions? What do our kids do with those emotions?
A fellow get born magazine blogger, also pretty local to Boston, posted on our Facebook page yesterday. Betsy was hurting, but instead of letting that envelope and swallow her, she asked fellow bloggers (we’re all mothers) to tell her stories that might make her feel better, stories to let her re-see the good in people, in our world.
Perhaps this is one way we can get through the darkness – we write (or talk) through it. We remind ourselves, and others if we choose to share, what makes life worth living. Adults and children alike can:
jot down some words about how they’re feeling;
pen a journal entry detailing the wonderful and inspirational moments they’ve witnessed the past few days;
tell a story about how someone helped them, how kindness often happens without a catastrophic catalyst;
make a list of the good they see around them, the people they love, who love them;
describe how spring always comes even when we think it won’t.
Out of the Boston bombings came tales of heroism, selflessness, rescues, compassion. That happened after Sandy Hook, after 9-11, after the Batman movie theater killings, after all the tragedies. Writing what we’ve witnessed, what we’ve felt, that assures that nothing will ever be lost. A few may perpetrate wickedness, but the many are good and, ultimately, stronger.
Have you tried writing out of the darkness? Or perhaps you have another method like painting or volunteering or whatever. Share your good story if you can.
Have you considered what a good, written company profile can do for your small business? With it you can do some serious promotion, thereby increasing your chances of getting more work for your company. Really, in one page – let’s call that 500 words – you can tell folks exactly what it is that you offer to clients and customers.
Who might read your company profile?
Does your hometown newspaper print pieces about businesses? Many do these days in order to encourage residents to “buy local.” Such an article could provide the basics of what you do and the kinds of people and companies that currently buy your product or services.
Some additional ways to “share” your profile:
At networking events;
On your company’s website;
On your company’s Facebook page and other social media sites;
On industry resource web pages and in printed materials;
At trade shows; and
In “snail mail” and other printed marketing materials.
Depending on your audience, your company profile can be tailored (which may just entail a few tweaks to the original copy) for particular audiences, specific uses, and sharing certain information.
Who will write your company profile?
Are you good with words? If so, go ahead and give it a try. Just make sure to share it with other business-minded folks you trust to provide good feedback. Know someone who’s got good English-language skills? Ask them to proofread it. You don’t want grammatical and other errors that will reflect badly on your business. Of course, having it professionally prepared is always an option.
A company profile can be an excellent way for a small business owner to share themselves and their services/products with potential clients and customers. It’s a way to personally share who you are, maybe various customer success stories too. Use your company profile in marketing and online materials and in press releases.
Note: Always include a good photo of yourself and/or your product. The old adage is true; a picture is worth a thousand words.
The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about (the ego eventually falls apart like a soaked sponge), but simply written; it’s a dreadful, awful fact that writing is like any other work.
- Janet Frame
And with that thought, I am off to work. Not on a client’s or even a friend’s writing, but on my own. I’ve been remiss, putting many other things ahead of it – this blog, my two Facebook business pages, my daughter, vacuuming, anything… My calendar is clean for the rest of today and, hopefully, tomorrow. Next week is school vacation; who knows what we’ll be doing? But today I will put my butt in the chair and I will work; I will write.
When will you make time to do what you are called to do?
I couldn’t agree more. I regularly find bizarre, TRUE articles in the newspaper and cut them out to incorporate into some fiction later. (Unless it’s a genetic thing; my grandmother hoarded clippings till her death…) I’ve had my husband wait while I wrote a story idea down in the midst of a steel drum music festival on Saint Martin. And I risked the wrath of a priest one day in church when I whipped out my notebook in order to record some important thought as he consecrated the host. (My faith is a tale for another day…)
If you write any fiction at all – or poetry, of course – the point (or idea!) here is to be open to ideas all the time. That means noticing what’s going on around you: sights, sounds, smells, tastes…
I just had a scrumptious lunch at a new Jamaican place in Providence (Rhode Island). It’s called Half Way Tree for anyone nearby who wants to try it. As I sucked down the rum punch and downed sweet fried plantains, as I wiped the fragrant curried goat from my hands and mouth, it it brought me right back to Treasure Beach on the southwest coast of the island. Things are small and quiet there, no big resorts, just friendly people and the Carribbean. An old man dared Tom to try the hottest sauce on the jerk chicken at his weekend-only, roadside stand. No problem, mon. (Tom can down the spiciest vindaloo; he’ll even use scotch bonnet sauce at a Mexican place near here.) The local fruit man offered me free samples of produce I’d never even heard of; I was there for the mangoes and papaya. Before we ate at Little Ochies, a rustic place on the beach in Alligator Pond (no alligators whatsoever!??!), we had to literally choose our fish out of the piles of fish caught just that morning and tell them how to prepare it. We drank rum (lots of it) after we saw how they made it at Appleton Estate, a nauseating, twisty-turny, two-hour’s ride from the hotel.
That vacation was four long years ago. And taste and smell are powerful recall triggers. My memory was working overtime this afternoon. But without my journal, I never would’ve remembered all the details of that trip. Each afternoon or evening, I’d sit out on the balcony and record what we’d done that day, where we’d been, who we met, what we ate, and so on. The best part: by the time I was sitting on the plane to take me back up north, a story was already forming in my mind, one that took place in Jamaica. The characters, a couple, played out their story at the same places Tom and I had visited. Within a week, the story was written, the details provided by the copious notes I’d filed in my journal. You can hear it at The Drum, A Literary Magazine for Your Ears.
Joyce Carol Oates is right; you never know where your next story idea might come from. You just need to be open. As Jessica P. Morrell put it:
Write close to you heart about matters and scraps of life that fascinate you. Remember that writers are collectors.
Has anything really bizarre triggered a story idea for you? One day I’ll have to tell you about the day my father got himself and his dog trapped in the car after encouraging a bear to eat our English muffins. Give me your best!