If I had a nickel for every time someone has said to me, “I like to write but I’m afraid of grammar,” I’d be sitting here counting nickels instead of writing. I imagine they remember their fourth grade writing class – those English primers – that teacher telling them that they can’t start a sentence with a preposition. That teacher rating them on their grammar usage rather than the content. Are you sweating yet?
Let it Go
And what’s worse than the memory of your fourth grade English teacher? That grammar snob sitting in the cubicle next to you (or maybe they’re down the hallway). You know that person – the one that LIVES to correct you, usually during a meeting in front of half the office.
I admit, I’ve been places and heard someone say something wrong (my favorites are merlot pronounced mer-LOT and potpourri pronounced POT-purry) but I censor myself. I weigh my options: should I correct them, and if so, how can I go about it without crushing their soul or making them feel stupid?
I’ve been on the receiving end of a not-so-nice English correction (obviously I’m working out some issues in writing this blog). It’s great to learn something new – to improve oneself. It sucks if someone’s giving you the lesson in less than a caring way.
Get ‘er Done
Writing is a creative endeavor. It’s also about business. And communication. Who would have thought that young people could suffer from carpal tunnel from texting? Who knew that they’d be thumb typing out their life stories on a 4-inch screen? Clearly they aren’t afraid of writing. Maybe what people are really afraid of is not writing well.
The truth is that you don’t have to be afraid to write. I promise you, my fourth grade English teacher is not standing over my shoulder right now, and I’m sure yours won’t be either when you decide to put words to paper.
So, all past judgment-passing memories aside, how do we get to what we want to do, which is to write a compelling piece of copy – be it an email, or letter, or a blog? You have to start somewhere.
Read All About It
When someone approaches me and says, “I want to write this story….” I ask them, “So what are you reading right now?” There is often a puzzled response – usually because they aren’t reading anything right now, and they haven’t read a book since, well, the fourth grade.
Reading will help you be a better writer, I promise you. I compare it to playing a piano. How are you going to play a piece of music on a piano if you’ve never even seen a piano or heard how it’s played? So if you want to write, read the types of things you want to write. Become an apprentice of the work you want to do.
Research, Like Your Teacher Told You
Don’t be afraid to take a stroll down the writing reference section at your local bookseller or library. There are so many references you can draw from and many of them are user-friendly. You’ll still find the strictly grammar books there as well, and it wouldn’t hurt to grab one or two of those. Trust me, the rules will make more sense now, and once you learn the rules, you’ll be able to break the rules.
One of my favorite grammar books is Nitty-Gritty Grammar – A Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication by Edith H. Fine and Judith P. Josephson. It has all the stuff your fourth grade teacher tried to tell you, but it’s presented in a fun, easy to digest, you’re-a- grown-up-now, kind of way. We’re talking the who/whom, lie/lay, I/me stuff along with all those ways to punctuate a sentence. And if that’s not enough, they followed it up with More Nitty-Gritty Grammar.
Another book I purchased for the title alone is Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies – A Guide to Language for Fun & Spite.
There are also a number of style guides you can use, in print and online, such as The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook . Of course you’ll find all of those other motivating, get-you-writing books, depending on what your issue is. It’s worth taking a lunch hour to peruse the bookstore or library, if for no other reason than to get your creative juices flowing.
And, if you don’t want to stroll down the aisles of a book store, you can surf the web. Some of my favorite sites include Purdue’s OWL (Online Writing Lab). They give you the rules, examples, comparisons, etc .– all in the comfort of your home, office, or cubicle. Another site I go to is Quick & Dirty Tips.com by Grammar Girl great for those simple, I-need-to-know-now questions. Does the period go inside or outside the quotation marks? (I’m not going to tell you; the point here is that you need to seek out the answer.)
Just Do It
There are a slew of sites out there to help you with grammar and punctuation or just to motivate you to get your fingers sprinting across the keyboard. I visit sites around quotes, phrases, and idioms for inspiration. I stalk dictionary.com. I hit up the thesaurus. The point is, you can save your nickels, your sanity, and make your fourth grade English teacher proud, with just a little research and gumption. And duct tape. Duct tape fixes everything. If you’re out of duct tape, give us a call and we’ll see what we can do to fix you up.