Wednesday, August 19, 2009

English as a First Language - Grammar for Beginning Writers

Do you second guess yourself while writing? If you're like me, you do it often. I know I'm not as careless with my spelling these days because word doesn't underline things as often. (It doesn't like my fragments; but hey, isn't that the way we talk and think?) Grammar... ugh! I've always thought my grammar was very good. It is, compared to the people I've spent the most time around. But what about in the world of publishing? I'm just guessing, being a newbie; but I'd say the standards in publishing are probably higher.

I've read so many blogs of people that are aspiring writers that have worse grammar than my pre-schooler. I know we're all more careless with our blogs than our novels. I don't proof read my blogs. I can imagine the things you've seen in my posts! Thank you for your kindness in not mentioning it... (except for that time I misspelled Shih Tzu. EVERYBODY commented on that one!) But honestly... If you don't know the difference between to, too, and two, or weather and whether, should you be writing? If the notion of starting a sentence with a capital letter is foreign to you, is writing your talent?

I'm not saying you should give up your dream if you're grammar is not stellar. But, if your writing resembles that of a grade-schooler, maybe you should put the manuscript on the back burner while you brush up on your weaknesses. If you're serious about writing, you'll want to improve.

What if your writing is good, but you have an occasional dilemma? Or maybe you're stuck on using the same three punctuation marks because you're unsure of the others. If you're looking to perfect your grammar and punctuation, where do you look? Do you Google? Do you use an 'answer' site? If so, how do you if the source is reliable?

I'm addicted to ellipses... true. I could use them... oh... say every sentence... though I try not to. Seriously... I use them a lot in my e-mails... I don't know why. I use them frequently in my blog posts. Fortunately, they are not as prevalent in my ms. Do you know when it's correct to use them?

How about colons and semicolons? Punctuation inside/outside quotation marks? Do you know the difference in a dash, an en (--) dash, and an em (---) dash? Do any of these marks of punctuation draw questions? It seems, no matter how comfortable we are in writing and using punctuation, we all have moments where a certain passage makes us doubt. Why do I say that? Because I see the questions posted by so many on sites that give the answers... and on sites that don't. (Please don't use a bulletin board type site as your reference. A lot of contributors think they know the answer.)

If you're serious about learning correct form and punctuation, then there is a bible for you. It's called the Chicago Manual of Style. I don't remember how I discovered it; but I immediately bookmarked it! Don't get me wrong... I'm not the queen of grammar! I do, however, want my manuscript to be as perfect as possible before I even thing about sending out a query.

While writing last week, I wrote a sentence that didn't seem right. I wasn't sure how to punctuate it. Maybe I needed to completely reword it. I remembered the bookmark for the Manual of Style. I had my answer in no time. It's the first time I've used it since starting my ms, but I'll probably need it a lot during the editing process.

The website offers a subscription for around $30, I think; but if you're a long way from being finished, don't worry about shelling out the bucks. They have a great Q&A section that's totally free, and will probably provide the answers you need for now. Once I'm finished and ready to seriously edit, I'll probably subscribe. I think it would be a good place just to spend time surfing. We can never learn too much...

BTW ;) is not a form of punctuation!


Al said...

Hi Lilly,

Like you I am addicted to ellipses, did I spelt it right? But I don't know if I use it correctly. I've read that ellipses can only be used in some form of sentence, but I don't care, LOL. Grammar, I don't have any idea if I'm using the correct grammar when I write blogs. I am not an aspiring writer but I just wanted to share what I know, and what I have, especially when I'm in the writing mood and I have a lot of things in my mind to write. Proofreading, I just don't know why I still have some errors in my blogs even though I have proofread it for so many times, do I have an eye problem? That's all I can say. I ran out of words hahaha.


Historical sites with charmine said...

Thanks Lily for all that info,I don't plan my blogs and usually write it as fast as I can....I guess it takes on a form of it's own LOL. Good grammar helps though!

Rae said...

I generally try to use the right grammar, but my punctuation is often wrong. My typing skills are even worse, so thank goodness for Word catching my typos. I think my spelling is getting worse because I've let Word help me too much, or maybe getting older is making me forgetful. Surely not. LOL

Susan R. Mills said...

This is too funny! My post is about the same thing! Yours is more in depth and much more helpful than mine. :) I'm going to check out that site!

Lesley said...

Lily - what a great, informative post! I often bend the rules of grammar and punctuation. In copywriting, simpler is better. So I use lots of sentence fragments and I stick to commas and periods. No colons, semi-colons or other fancy stuff!

TC said...

I am the daughter of an English teacher, I guess I'd forgotten what an ellipse was, just a bunch of periods strung together.....

Anyway THANKS for the link to the Chicago Style Manual, I bookmarked. How did you know I had to look up bated this afternoon?

Terri Tiffany said...

I'm addicted to em dashes!! ANother great easy book that takes the CMS is Polishing the Pugs by Kathy Ide. She condenses all the hard stuff!

Amy Platon said...

Cute post Lily. Good luck with the edits when you get there. I think you'll find that editing is endless. I know I never feel like the job is done, not matter how short the piece.

Lille Diane said...

Great post!

When I first went on a dating site looking for Superman, I was shocked to find so many men who were clueless about grammar and lazy with their spelling. Perhaps they weren't educated. I'm not sure. I was not looking for a perfectionist in a man but these things mattered a lot to me. I looked at it this way. This probably spared me meeting too many frogs before I met a real Prince.

I use abbreviations, and the slang my kids use when texting, and sometimes blogging. Maybe I just wanna be kewl. But I know the difference, and I agonize over my ms, too. Thanks for the tip about the Chicago Manual of Style. I will check it out.

Now let's make a deal OK? I won't scrutinize your typos, punctuation and spelling on your blog if you won't mine. LOL I get cha 3000% misspelled or not.

I'll leave you with my normal exit.