Wednesday, July 20, 2011

So you want to write...

In my experience everyone has at least one good story in them. Maybe you want to write your personal history for your family or you want to create a memoir to share with others. Eat, Pray, Love was one woman's odyssey that turned into a multimillion dollar book and movie deal. Your memoir may never make it that far, but if you are planning to write something it's good to get the basics down first. Good grammar, correct spelling and the right period or comma in the right place will make all the difference in your finished work, no matter who ends up reading it. I received the following via e-mail recently. It reinforces the importance of something as simple but critical as capitalization.

"Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse."

Crude but it makes the point. Getting your written work as close to right as possible makes all the difference in the world. I say as close to right as possible because I know, having spent years writing for various publications and as a community developer writing reports, proposals and other communications, you cannot put hundreds and thousands of words out there and not have an error two; that's what proof readers and editors are for.

If you would like to see more examples of anguished English check out the books of Richard Lederer. Here are a few examples from his past Anguished English tomes:

On the subject of astronomy:
"Comets...are thought to be ruminants from the beginning of the universe."
Headline: Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?

On the subject of birds...
"In 1957, Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise. Each Thanksgiving it is a tradition in our family to shoot peasants."
News dispatch: "The crime bill would reinstate the death penalty for certain violent crimes: assassinating the President; hijacking an airliner; and murdering a government poultry inspector."
"Can anybody explain why Kiwi International Airlines is named after a bird that cannot fly?"

On the subject of botany...
"The pistol of a flower is its only protection against insects."
"I don't want to cast asparagus at my opponent!"
"Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce."

So you get the idea of why it is important to get intimately acquainted with the basics of writing.

There are some good websites where you can get free writing instruction. One of them is Daily Writing Tips. It even has tests you can take to evaluate your proficiency. Yes, the site is selling something, but in the process you learn quite a lot about words and how to use them.

For those who argue that creativity must be paramount I would suggest that if people can't make heads or tails of your brilliant prose it may not be all that brilliant.

I love to write. An editor I am not. I did the editing of my first three books—The Ballad of Bawdy McClure, Not Just Another Day and Future Imperfect. Errors got past me and into print. The content is great, but errors make people stumble and sometimes stop reading. As  I read recently on the Daily Writing Tips site, the end result is about prose, not about product.

Having said all that, do not let anything keep you from writing if that's what you want to do. All those technical skills can be learned. The fire of literary creation burns hot and fast. You sometimes have to just get it down and then go back later and fix it. Natalie Goldberg talks about that in her book, Writing Down to the Bones. It is one of the finest little books on writing I have in my library. You can get it from any online retailer and I'm sure Tome on the Range has it in stock. If not they can order it for you.

If you have writing tips you would like to share, please leave your comments or e-mail me at

For more information about my work or to order my books, go to

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