Monday, March 26, 2018

Misplaced Any Modifiers Lately?

First, please accept this disclaimer: I am not trying to criticize the writer of the book I describe below. That is why I am not including the title of the book or the author's name or even the characters' real names. I simply wish to make the point that this shouldn't be happening, and to encourage writers (and editors!) to take steps to prevent it. I suppose you could argue that "the average reader" won't notice or doesn't care. But some of us do notice and will care. And it's so easy to fix!

The mystery novel I'm currently reading is loaded with misplaced modifiers. It's distracting and causes me to stop in the middle of reading and think, "What?" (Authors: You don't want to do that to your readers, do you?)

All four examples below occur in the first 300 pages (the first 1/8 of the book, if you like). To me, this constitutes more than an occasional misstep. It's a pattern, a habit. And no, it is not the writer's "style." Please.

Below each example, I have made a few notes and supplied a simple "fix" for the error.

(1) "Twice her age, with two sons and a successful vasectomy, Mary was the closest thing he'd ever have to a daughter."

This was the first one I saw that stopped me in my tracks. It reads as if "Mary" has "two sons and a successful vasectomy." Major "what?!?!" factor.

The FixHe was twice her age, with two sons and a successful vasectomy. She was the closest thing he'd ever have to a daughter.

(2) "Quiet and still in the dawn hours, she took twenty minutes to survey the center of town..."

She may be "quiet and still" herself, but the sentence clearly intends to refer to the town. The reader has to think about it to get that, however.

The Fix: The town was quiet and still in the dawn hours. She took twenty minutes to survey...

(3) "An avid runner and study junkie, Bill knew Mary was either snaking through campus with headphones dangling from her ears or already at the library with her hair in a ponytail..."

This reads as if the male character is "an avid runner and study junkie," which (as it turns out) the reader knows he is not. The reference is to the female character, but you have to take a moment to figure that out.

The Fix: Bill knew that Mary was an avid runner and study junkie. She was either snaking through campus...

(4) "Typically a morning jogger, the four-mile path along the beach in Miami was a common route she took a few times each week."

The "four-mile path" apparently is "typically a morning jogger." Again, what?!?!

The Fix: Typically a morning jogger, [female character name] took the four-mile path along the beach in Miami a few times a week.

So stay safe out there, writers, and please please please don't misplace your modifiers!

Friday, March 13, 2015

10 Reasons Writers Should Learn Good Grammar

I am pleased to welcome Ben Russel as a guest blogger here on The Writing Blog.

10 Reasons Writers Should Learn Good Grammar
by Ben Russel 

Among writers, there is a long-running debate over the importance of learning proper grammatical skills. In one camp (myself included here) are the writers who find it immensely important to know and use the policies of good grammar. Some writers, especially the avant-garde, rules-are-meant-to-be-broken type, reject the “conformist” standards of correct English in favor of purposefully erroneous prose. While I do agree that these styles of writing are fun and imaginatively innovative (and a writer in such styles may never feel compelled to exercise good grammar skills in his or her works), it is still a good idea for all writers to invest the time and effort in learning all the rules. Here are a few good reasons why.

1. Learn the rules (so you can break them)

The most efficient and effective way to rebel against anything is to know what you’re rebelling against! If you want to be a true menace to literature and break the mold that the English language has forced upon your craft, then take the time to learn what those standards are. According to college paper writer at, your arsenal of ground-breaking language will be stronger and have more of an impact on your readers when there is a method behind your madness instead of just careless, sloppy grammar.

2. Have respect for your craft

As a master (or master-in-progress) of any skill or trade, you have to learn from the bottom up. Respecting the process of becoming a writer by building a foundation of rudimentary skills spells the difference between Jackson Pollock’s paintings and those of your four-year-old sister that look somewhat similar. Any true master of their craft would have enough respect for their chosen medium to learn the basics, and then develop their artistic individuality from there.

3. Gain respect as a writer & taken seriously as an authority

I would assume any writer who produces works for others to read is hoping to gain respect for their writing. It’s a no-brainer that you should take great care in upholding the standards of whatever medium you choose to work in. You simply will not acquire respect as a writer if you are not aware of how to properly use your chosen language, as this is the only fundamental skill required of a proficient writer! A writer takes the time to learn spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style rules; if you’re not willing to do that, consider finding another way to disseminate your thoughts or creative juices. Furthermore, if your main concern is not the writing, but the topic or story therein, your credibility as an authority in your chosen field (or as a storyteller) will be tarnished by a blatant disregard for grammar rules. Showing ignorance in the very creative vehicle you’ve chosen to express your ideas is, well, ignorant.

4. Your ideas will be communicated more clearly

Speaking of being an authority in your field, there is a very large margin of error in communicating your ideas if you are not aware of good grammar rules. We’ve all heard the humorous ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ as opposed to ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’ examples of serious grammar follies. This sort of seemingly trivial mistake can have dire consequences for your writing, including skewing your words to mean something terrible!

5. People will actually want to read what you’ve written

Many writers (I, for one) don’t necessarily take into account their future audience when feverishly typing or putting pen to paper. But it serves a writer well to take into account who, if anyone, will honestly want to read their work! This is where competent grammar skills are most important for the fate of your creative endeavors: if your writing is extremely slipshod, with grammatical blunders and irritating punctuation faux pas, no one will want to read it. For some, they simply won’t be able to understand what you’re trying to say; for a grammar freak like me, I will lose interest in a piece that has one negligible comma missing. Don’t lose readers because you didn’t take the time to learn the most elementary grammar skills!

6. Incompetent writers don’t stand a chance in publishing

In today’s cutthroat publishing world, even the most profound writers with a solid grasp on proper grammar are receiving rejection slips on a regular basis. Not adhering strictly to good standards of grammar will dismiss your submission or manuscript from any editor’s desk immediately. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an editor is sitting at a desk just waiting to take a red pen to your piece and offer you money for it; most editors don’t have time for even the diamonds in the rough, and will be abhorred by your negligence to clean up your grammar mistakes before sending off your work. Doing so could be a permanent mark on your reputation with a particular editor.

7. Working with & saving money on an editor

If you ever decide to hire a professional editor to read your work (which every aspiring author should, regardless of their skill level in English), you are going to break the bank if she or he has to perform grammatical surgery on your novel. What’s more, some editors won’t even go that far—if it’s too much of a disaster, it would barely be recognizable as your writing when you got it back! Editors are not just there to do your dirty work for you—a good editor/writer relationship will include honest feedback and constructive criticism to polish your work to its maximum potential. If you aren’t knowledgeable about grammar enough to engage in this sort of conversation with your editor, you are not getting your money’s worth, and your writing is not reaping the benefits, either.

8. Bend language to your whims

With a thorough comprehension of grammar rules, you can better use language as a tool to unlock the magnificent wonders of words. In my classical art training, I learned about the color palette. It was an arduous and rather boring process; I just wanted to start painting already! But when I did finally master color theory, I was amazed at how I could use these different tints and shades to harness my creative beast. Spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure are the same way in the context of writing: respect the medium, learn the rules, and then bend them to create your one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

9. Break the cycle of poor grammar

Everywhere we look we see terrible grammar: advertisements, tabloids, social media, the text message you just got from your friend. As writers, we should uphold the standards of good grammar, even if we are the only ones in this day and age who think it’s important. You don’t have to stick to every rule in your writing; just learn good grammar for the sake of learning, which is another concept that is quickly dwindling in the digital age. Save the sacred nature of the English language, your chosen apparatus of expression, since the following is inevitably true…

10. The evolution of language is in writers’ hands

Who keeps the craft of writing relevant to each unfolding generation? Writers, of course! Literature, essays, poetry, and even nonfiction books have shaped the ideals of revolutions, subcultures, governments, and cultural phenomena. Alongside the ideas these books instill in their readers are the intrinsic nuances of linguistics woven through written works, holding those ideas together. A writer’s use of language is the driving force behind the inevitable evolution of a language, along with verbal communication, which is much more unruly. Preserve the beauty of the English language by devoting some time to learning good grammar; the future of writing and reading is dependent on it.

Author bio: Ben helps students with their admissions essays. One of his recent published articles is on how to write an admissions essay for nursing school.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Making the Time to Write

I am pleased to welcome Nikolas Baron as a guest blogger today. Nick works for _Grammarly_, an automated proofreader and "personal grammar coach." I have not personally used this program yet, but I encourage you to go check it out. To learn more about Nick, read the Bio below the article.

Making the Time to Write
by Nikolas Baron 

The Inspiration

Recently I started reading Time to Write: Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing into Your Busy Life by Kelly L. Stone, a book I think all writers should pick up. Whether you’re already writing full-time or you desperately want to start, this book can help get you on the right track.

I’ve already learned that you have to have “the burning desire” to write to keep yourself motivated and driven toward your goals. But you also have to realize that you’ll never have the time you think you will. There will never be a span of a few months where all of your activities require less time than normal. There will never be a time where you can sit for days writing while you’re working full-time, trying to clean your house, and finally organize all those bills. You have to take a chance, cut out some TV time, and get to work.

The Reality

Making the time to write is hard. While you support your writing habit by working at a full-time job, or freelancing, or walking dogs, you must also get some work done. I’ve found that the life of a writer is consumed by all the ordinary tasks in addition to working extremely hard on improving and getting your writing done. I’m always on the lookout for tools, books, or advice that helps me write better, faster, or with more oomph.

In addition to the Stone book I mentioned above, I frequently like to use Grammarly to help me with my writing. Grammarly gives me the freedom to use it whenever and wherever I want, and it constantly looks for ways to improve my grammar, style, and word choice. I like that the proofreading tool can help me clean up my writing quickly and accurately. When I’m trying to push myself to spend more time writing, I sometimes have to take a step back and realize that writing is not necessarily putting pen to paper. Sometimes, it involves proofreading and editing.

The reality is that many online tools like Grammarly or books like Stone’s can help you save time in your day to allow you to have just a few extra precious minutes for writing. They can inspire you, motivate you, and remind you that writing is truly something you love and are willing to sacrifice for. Save time where you can and make sure that you always make time for one of your true loves, writing.

The Goal

One of the best suggestions I’ve been given is to make a schedule. Making a schedule not only commits your time to writing but allows other members of your home to see when you will be locked away in your writing pit. It also gives your brain a time to know that at 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, you’ll be writing. The familiarity and constantly keeping up with the schedule will put you in a habit that helps improve your writing while getting you to finally make time for it. You’ll find that it’s easier to start once you have an official time in place to meet every week with your computer, pen and paper, or typewriter.

The goal is to write more in general. You don’t have to be slaving away at ten pages a day as well as editing to feel successful. The goal is to make the time to fulfill your “burning desire” to write or read to help your writing or proofread. You don’t have to write every day but solidifying a time every week will force you to keep yourself honest and help you write more. If you want to be a successful writer, you have to be willing to take time out of your day, put down the mint chocolate chip, and write.

Nikolas Baron discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.