Thursday, May 19, 2011

In the beginning...there was Grammar

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.
In thinking about the road to becoming a writer, I’ve been wondering where to start. Writers write, right? But, if I’m honest with myself, there really is more to it than the application of words to paper or computer screen.  There’s more to it if you want to be more than someone who records words, if you want to be a good writer, a great writer, or a published writer.

I think the first step is actually to write stuff down. Write a short story, start a blog, write a first draft of a novel, poem, screenplay, whatever. It is the second, third, fourth, etc., step that I’m getting at here. I started writing my first novel, and even wrote a couple of short stories, but what else should I be doing in order to become an accomplished writer?

I started my search for the answers with my browser (after all, modern quests start here). I started by typing in the names of my favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy writers. This led me to various authors’ blogs and how-to-write type sites. One link led to another, and I found some good material out there for beginner writers, one such example being the site Writing-World. The site, by author Moira Allen, has a wealth of free information on everything from the inspirational to the practical: a beginner’s section, plot development, grammar, copyright information, author interviews, and much more. In fact, there is so much information on both this particular site and spread throughout the Web in general, that it is overwhelming. Well, one has to start somewhere, so I chose grammar.

I know, I know, grammar is not exactly a sexy word, but if you want to be a published writer, you can’t ignore it. I don’t know about you, but it has been many years since I’ve written anything and had it reviewed by a teacher or professor for grammar and structure. However, I study foreign languages, so grammar is still something I study on a regular basis.  It is familiar to me, and I don’t think my grammar and punctuation are terrible. Still, there are some things that are hard to keep straight, the example that pops immediately to mind is the comma.  Think about how used, abused, and neglected the common comma is. Can you explain all of the points on when to use the comma? I certainly can’t.

So, yeah, that’s where I’m starting. The Writing-World site has grammar and usage information under the “Becoming a Better Writer” section.  Another site I’ve found that is full of great information is Odyssey, the Fantasy Writing Workshop.  It has a writing tips section, where tip #1 is on punctuation. I’ve just read through the comma section.  I actually enjoy reading about this stuff, but I really love language and writing, which includes the language’s punctuation, grammar, and usage rules. This is not to say I’m an expert or always use language perfectly or effectively when writing. In fact, I’m not even a stickler for grammar rules in general. However, if there is one thing every publishing how-to blog or site has stressed, it is that your manuscripts have to follow the accepted usage.

On my writing desk, right next to the computer screen, I always have the following books:
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style
  • The Oxford English Dictionary (Just one of my many dictionaries, actually)

The books are a handy, searchable reference with information that I trust to be accurate and accepted in the publishing community. The web sites give me a lot of the same information, but I use those for a sort of tutorial, if you will. They tend to be written as such. 

That’s what I’m working on now, in conjunction with getting into a regular writing groove, of course. I’m using the sites I’ve mentioned to point me towards the grammar I should be reviewing first, and the manuals and reference books to supplement and expand that knowledge. I’ve been reading about the comma, for example, because the writing sites with grammar tips always include a section on the comma.  The Odyssey site has a clearly written comma section with examples. It also has a short exercise at the end of its comma section, which I’ve used to check my understanding. I’m also trying to review some of my writing with the comma information in mind.  By applying the rules that I’m reviewing, I’m finding that it is trickier than you might think to apply them and that the application cements the information in my mind.

Studying proper grammar and usage: one more step closer to becoming a writer!

What about you? What sites have you found helpful in revising your work for punctuation and grammar? Do you have a favorite reference?

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