And While We’re On The Grammar Theme…

Thought for the day

If you are using an adverb you have chosen the wrong verb
Mark Kelly

I picked this up on, an interesting aggregator. Its nature seems to vary between dark and negative, and just interesting. I recommend it… cautiously.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

You may know what Mark Twain said about “very”:

“…substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

English has wonderful nouns and verbs. Use them. Question your inclination to include an adjective or an adverb. Do not omit them entirely; just make them rare enough to be valuable.

The Diaeresis: Punctuation Lore From The New Yorker’s Comma Queen

This is a delightful — and very brief — lesson. Enjoy!

The semicolon

A marvelous account of infatuation, rejection, and redemption. With Kurt Vonnegut.

Semicolons: A Love Story



Draft is a series about the art and craft of writing.

When I was a teenager, newly fixated on becoming a writer, I came across a piece of advice from Kurt Vonnegut that affected me like an ice cube down the back of my shirt.

“Do not use semicolons,” he said. “They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

At the time I was less struck by the cranky, casual bigotry of the statement (a great deal of Vonnegut’s advice sounds as if it was rasped between grandfatherly coughing fits) than by the thrilling starkness of the prohibition. A writer was simply not to use semicolons. Ever.

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Comma, comma, comma, comma, com-comma

James Taylor

James Taylor

(My goofy title is an allusion to the first line of “Handy Man,” of which Wikipedia says: “Handy Man” is a rock and roll song credited to singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell. It was originally recorded by The Sparks Of Rhythm, a group Jones had been a member of when he wrote it, although he was not with them when they recorded it. In 1959, Jones recorded the song himself, in a version which had been reworked by Blackwell [1], who also produced the session. “Handy Man”went to number three on the R&B charts and number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, becoming a million seller [1]. The song was a hit again in 1964 for Del Shannon and again for James Taylor in 1977. Taylor’s version of the song was the most successful, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the adult contemporary chart [2].})

I’m a fair grammarian, but this NY Times piece taught me a lot. Here’s a snippet:

The Most Comma Mistakes

As I noted in my earlier article, rules and conventions about when to use and not to use commas are legion. But certain errors keep popping up. Here are a few of them.

Identification Crisis. 
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. I’m referring to a student’s writing a sentence like:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well. None is correct — unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:
I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:

I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

You need a comma after “movie” because this and only this is Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and before “Jessie” because she and only she is the writer’s oldest friend.

The syntactical situation I’m talking about is identifier-name. The basic idea is that if the name (in the above example, “Jessie”) is the only thing in the world described by the identifier (“my oldest friend”), use a comma before the name (and after it as well, unless you’ve come to the end of the sentence). If not, don’t use any commas.

Grammatically, there are various ways of describing what’s going on. One helpful set of terms is essential vs. nonessential. When the identifier makes sense in the sentence by itself, then the name is nonessential and you use a comma before it. Otherwise, no comma. That explains an exception to the only-thing-in-the-world rule: when the words “a,” “an” or “some,” or a number, come before the description or identification of a name, use a comma.


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The best thing to happen to my writing

A backspace key in its natural habitat, having...

Susie Brown wrote this guest post:

There I was, in the middle of writing a very important article, and the craziest thing happened. My laptop’s keyboard, which I had always been so trusting of, failed me. At first, the “backspace “ button just started looking a little bit out of place. But then the right side actually started sticking right up in the air above all the other keys. Saying that it “stuck out like a sore thumb” sounds just too cliché, but it is so fitting. The right side of the backspace button seemed to protrude just a little bit higher each time I pressed it. Until finally the unthinkable happened, and my “backspace” button fell off.

The truth is, I have had buttons pop off my trusty laptop keyboard before, and I knew what to do from previous experience. I applied enough pressure to that backspace button to flatten a penny, which seemed to help. I continued to write.

Then, the button fell off again. I put it back, and it continued to jump right off of the keyboard. It turned out that a minuscule piece of plastic that holds the button in place had worn off–the button was ruined.

I was crushed.

It turns out that you can order computer buttons online for about $5 each, plus shipping. It would take days for the new button to arrive. I live on my keyboard. “What will I do in the mean time?” I wondered.

Whether out of habit, or mere stubbornness, I continued writing. “I’m not going to let losing a cheap piece of plastic cramp my writing style,” I thought.

If you have never lost a keyboard button, there is something that you should understand about the construction of a keyboard. Even if the plastic top of a key falls off, there is still a small rubbery doohickey underneath, that you can press to get the same result as you would from pressing the key. The problem with the rubber doohickey is that most times that you aim to hit it, you miss, so it’s arguably not even worth bothering with. How frustrating it was when I began writing without a backspace button! But after a while, I began to enjoy it.

And then it set me free.

All of a sudden I began writing free-flow. Whenever I made a mistake, which was often, I wouldn’t bother attempting to hit the rubbery protruding doohickey that was once my backspace button. Instead, I just wrote without correcting, and my fingers started to write whatever my heart wanted to express. My writing had been imbued with a new spirit. I wasn’t just putting words on a page anymore, I was plucking my own heartstrings as my fingers created a free flow of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Looking back, it was the best thing that has ever happened to my writing.

I recommend trying the experience sometime. You don’t need to break any keys off of your precious keyboard; rather, just avoid hitting the backspace key while you write your rough draft. Then, watch as your thoughts develop naturally. Without the pressure of trying to write perfectly, your mind will become free to think about what you actually want to say. No more shackles of second-guessing yourself mid-sentence, no more frustration from stopping for a few minutes in order to ponder which word would fit just right. Just write.

When you read what you put on the page you will probably be surprised at what you have written. Writing this way takes a lot less time than interrupting the flow in order to click the backspace button every few words. Of course, editing takes a bit more time too.

Author Bio: Susie Brown is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business author. FastUpFront offers a fast business loan alternative based on business cash flow.

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What’s your “why”?

Unless you know why you want to write a book, you are unlikely to produce one. If you know why, you have a good chance of knowing who your readers will be. And if you know that, you can figure out how to reach them.

There are lots of reasons to write a book:

  • To bring your message to the world
  • To record your life for posterity, or at least for your family
  • To teach something
  • To entertain
  • To draw attention to yourself, your company, your product
  • To organize your thoughts and knowledge about a subject
  • To establish yourself as an expert

All0w yourself to invest time in discovering your “why.” Develop an intense curiosity about it. When an answer occurs to you, write it down. Then ask yourself, “And what will that get me?” Write down that answer, and ask again: “And what will THAT get me?” Stop only when you start to repeat yourself.Why?

Now that you know why you want to write a book, think about your audience. Who are they? What do you want to tell them? Why will they want to read it? And where will you find them? The more detailed your answers, the better and more successful your book will be.

Your “why” will keep you going. It will give you the strength you need to finish your book and to promote it. Find your “why.”


Do you make these 3 disastrous book-writing mistakes?

I’ll say it again: Most people think that writing a book is incredibly difficult, time-consuming, and of questionable value. But actually, if you just follow my program, it can be doable (if not easy), quick, and a really good use of your time. I’ll save the value part for another blog post; what I want to focus on here is what makes book-writing difficult and time-consuming for most people.

  1. Jumping in without a complete plan. If you want to build a house, you don’t begin driving a truck to the Home Depot and filling it with 2×4’s, dry-wall panels, and other materials. Obviously you don’t know how much to buy, of what materials. Instead, you hire an architect, and work out detailed plans. Only when these are complete, down to each door, window, strip of molding, and electrical outlet, do you find a builder who will shop for materials and turn them into a house for you. Produce your title, your subtitle, and your table of contents down to the sub-chapter level. Now you can begin to write.
    English: Overview of Home Depot store
  2. Researching as you go. Thanks to Wikipedia, Google, and other resources, research can quickly become a fascinating journey without an end. DO NOT research while writing. When you come across a “blank spot,” something you need to find out, just mark it with “%%%” or some other sign your word processor can easily find. Then, when your book is complete, go back and look up only what you need to replace the “%%%.” If you follow this guideline, you will save many, many hours.
  3. Writing for the broadest possible audience. If you try to write for everybody, you wind up writing for nobody. Instead, picture your ideal reader, the person for whom your book will be a welcome and blessed gift, exactly what they needed and wanted. Write a detailed description of this person–gender, age, family situation, work, physical qualities. Give them a name. Cut out a magazine picture that looks like them and post it where you can see it. This is your audience. Speak to this person as you write.

Have you discovered any mis-steps that slow your book-writing or get you off track? Share them in the comments!


Although this is a problem faced far more often by fiction writers than by us toilers in the vineyard of non-fiction, it is an emotional issue for all. Brian Doyle has a piece in the Kenyon Review, “No,” about rejection. It is delicious. A tiny excerpt:

One of the very best: a rejection note sent by the writer Stefan Merken to an editor who had rejected one of his short stories. “Please forgive me for not accepting your rejection letter,” wrote Merken. “At this time I cannot accept a rejection of my short story. I accept more than 99 percent of the rejections I receive. Many I don’t agree with, but I realize that accepting a piece of fiction for publication is a very subjective judgment call. My acceptance of your rejection letter is also a subjective process and therefore I am returning your letter to you. I did read your letter. I read every letter I receive. Your letter was well-written, but due to time constraints from my own writing schedule, I am unable to make editorial comments. I do make mistakes. Don’t you, as an editor, be disheartened by this role reversal. The road of publishing is long and tedious. You need successful publications and I need for successful publications to print my stories. I will expect to see my story in your next publication. Good luck in the future.”

Misusing language

One of the quickest way to lose intelligent readers is to misuse English in your book. This is a site that is full of common examples. The entries are clear and concise; they won’t make you feel like an idiot if you’ve been guilty of any… 🙂 Here’s an example:


One unusual modern use of the apostrophe is in plural acronyms, like “ICBM’s” “NGO’s” and “CD’s”. Since this pattern violates the rule that apostrophes are not used before an S indicating a plural, many people object to it. It is also perfectly legitimate to write “CDs,” etc. See also “50’s.” But the use of apostrophes with initialisms like “learn your ABC’s and “mind your P’s and Q’s” is now so universal as to be acceptable in almost any context.

Note that “acronym” was used originally only to label pronounceable abbreviations like “NATO,” but is now generally applied to all sorts of initialisms. Be aware that some people consider this extended definition of “acronym” to be an error.

I wish it had more, like homing in/honing in. But it’s a great start.

Oh, and Professor Brians also has a site devoted to usages commonly thought to be wrong that are not. A fun and informative read!

Autocrit: Almost-free editing site

A Google ad suggested I go look at Autocrit, an on-line editing wizard. I was blown away by its power! In seconds, it identified a bunch of subtle problems with the block of text I dropped into the free version.

Running into the limitations of the free version, I signed up for the $47/year account so that I could put in multiple blocks of text–blog posts, articles, pieces of fiction, whatever. (Knowing that I have a 60-day money-back period gave me confidence too.)

Autocrit is transparent; it explains what is wrong with the writing, covering things like:

  • Overused words
  • Slow pacing
  • Appropriate dialog tags
  • Clichés & redundancies

You can try it for free.

I liked it so much I signed on as an affiliate. The links in this post are affiliate links; I’ll get 25% if you decide to buy a subscription.

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