Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's Up, Grammar??

Before I give you my thoughts on grammar, I have some more news to share. 

Over the past three weeks, I’ve pretty much disappeared from the online scene (and from life itself, really).  Shortly after I posted my big news about my pregnancy, I got some bad news.  It turns out baby Crowley #2 won’t be joining us after all.  As you can expect, my husband and I are experiencing a range of different emotions.  Sadly these things happen, though, and there is no explanation for it.  We’ve come to terms with it—mostly—and still believe that everything happens for a reason. 

I’m not going to lie; it’s been tough.  I’m a really strong person, (to a fault, actually), but nothing prepares you for something like this, even if in the back of your mind you know it’s a possibility.  We’re still grieving, but all we can do now is look forward and hope that if we’re lucky enough to have another pregnancy, it doesn’t happen again.

As for something less depressing, my newest protagonist has turned into a real attention-hogging diva.  She demands I write about her and her alone, all the time, which has left Lexi to feel a bit neglected.  They had a catfight about it yesterday—there was name-calling, hair pulling, it got ugly.  Lexi won, surprisingly. 

Wouldn’t you just love to be inside my head while all this goes on?? 

My new protagonist and I have been fighting over her name, and since we can’t come to an agreement, I may hold a vote to decide it.  I may even make a contest out of it.  With the vote, I hope to quiet her down.  I’ll keep you posted.

Now back to why we’re here—grammar.

Grammar to me is like a little gnat, worming through my brain.  As I write, I try to stay conscious of it, but it’s not easy.  I don’t consider grammar my friend.  The problem is I’m an “organic” writer, meaning if the words and creativity are flowing, I’m not stopping the train until it runs out of steam, which in turn means I’m not paying attention to anything but the story I’m creating.  I go back and edit later. 

Besides, if I’m writing the next best seller, why should grammar be an issue?  An editor can take care of that for me.

Wrong.  Not everyone’s writing is going to be perfect (I'm sure my blog posts are riddled with errors haha), but a fantastic story can be ruined by poor writing, therefore be rejected by an agent or editor.  It’s your job as the writer to present a clean and well-structured story.  Grammatical errors can be a turn-off (minor ones may be okay to some, but why chance it?), and can easily be avoided and/or corrected by doing your homework.

This doesn’t mean you should harp on yourself or shove bamboo shoots under your nails until you get it right from the starting gate.  Grammar is intense; so many rules and strange words, it’s overwhelming.  And let’s face it, grammar wasn’t our only subject in school, so if you didn’t have the A-Z guide to grammar tattooed to your brain by graduation, there’s nothing wrong with that (if you did, consider me jealous).  If you don’t know it now, you can learn it by tomorrow and apply it from then on.   

Fortunately, my grammar isn’t terrible.  Like most, I have my weak points, but I spend a good amount of time researching my own grammar faux pas, and you should too.  The more you learn about the errors you’re making, the better writer you’ll become—as long as you apply what you’ve learned about your errors to your writing and stay aware of your weak points.  At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather teach yourself to write sentences correctly?  I know I would.

Here are some suggestions for those of you who struggle with grammar and want to improve, but are at a loss as to how to:

  • When in doubt, google it.  If you’re in the middle of a sentence and can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be “Allude” or “Elude”, “I” or “Me”, or whether or not there’s supposed to be an apostrophe, the answers truly are just a click away.  Simply pull up your preferred search engine, type in your query and the correct answer will pop up in dozens of forms with detailed explanations.  There are also some great sites and blogs that offer helpful advice and are worth checking out.  Here are some I’ve discovered:

·    Pick up a guide.  The classic “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White is an essential tool for writers, and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already. (Stephen King recommends it in his book, “On Writing”, which is another good read for writers.) 

I also recently purchased “Sparknotes Ultimate Style: A Concise Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Style: The Rules of Writing” at Barnes and Noble online for, get this, less than $1.  It’s just about 130 pages and is organized alphabetically.  There’s not much to it, but it addresses the most common grammar issues, like misused words and expressions, rules of punctuation, etc.  It’s a great (and quick) reference guide to keep with you, especially if you don’t have access to the internet every time you’re writing. 

There are tons of books out there on grammar (and editing, and writing, and dialogue, and…well, the list goes on and on) so make sure to do your due diligence.  Read reviews, ask fellow writers/editors for recommendations, etc., and make sure not to overwhelm yourself by purchasing too many reference books on one topic.  I stick to 2 or 3 at the most.  If you don’t want to commit to purchasing them, see if you can borrow them (that’s what makes the library so great).  *wink*

  • Take a class.  Okay, this one is a bit extreme, but if you really feel like you need the help, check to see if your local colleges or adult education centers offer classes.  There are also some online.  For some writers, you may feel silly, like “I should know these things”, but there is no shame in brushing up and bettering yourself in the way of education, especially if you plan to make writing your career. 

  • Ask someone for help.  If you’re in a critique group, have a crit partner, or know someone who’s pretty good with grammar (and you’re comfortable sharing your work with them), ask if they’d be willing to look at your work and point out your grammar weaknesses specifically—with a BIG RED PEN.  This is a good idea if you’ve done your homework and still feel a bit leery as to whether or not you’ve gotten it right (like me).  It never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes re-examine what you’ve already poured over countless times.   

Don’t know anyone?  There are a lot of great freelance editors out there who may be able to help you.  Depending on your budget, not only can an editor help you with your grammar issues, but again, a fresh pair of eyes reviewing your story can never hurt.  Again, do your due diligence—ask fellow writers for recommendations, request a sample of the editor’s work, collect references, etc.  Make sure you and the editor are clear on exactly what you need from their services before starting.         

I also want to add if you’re one of the fortunate with good grammar (and/or spelling, for that matter) please don’t make a point of correcting someone else in a less than constructive and helpful way.  No one likes being criticized for a mistake they may not be aware they made, it’s discouraging.  We’re all trying to better ourselves and support others like us, right?  So if it has to be done, let’s do it the encouraging way.  Be polite about it; say something to that person privately if you really feel it needs to be corrected.  (I know when I’ve been corrected, it’s mega embarrassing, but the nicer you are about it, the less idiotic I feel.)  You may be surprised at how grateful and appreciative that person may be for you catching their error.  If they’re not, well then at least you tried to help and were kind about it.  No harm, no foul.

If you have any grammar questions I can help with, or advice you feel would help other writers you’d like me to post, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment.  I’d love to do a full blog post dedicated to specific grammar FAQs tailored to my readers. 

I’m off to do some reading.  Peace out, folks. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Well, That Was Unexpected...

In my last post, I talked about it being July already.  Now, it’s August.  Seriously, can time slow down, just a little bit? 

My vacation was great, relaxing and fun.  I only snuck online a couple of times, until my husband hid my laptop and phone from me, only giving it to me for good behavior.  What can I say, workaholics don’t take a break.  For those of you who had placed bets, I was online first thing Tuesday.  At least I made it through a long weekend before cheating on my vacation. 

My husband and I brought our son to a beautiful beach town north of where we live that Monday (hint: it’s where they filmed part of the movie “The Proposal”), and even though I sat in the shade the whole time we were on the actual beach, I still managed to turn as red as a lobster (that was three weeks ago, and my skin is still recovering)!  With that aside, it was so much fun watching my son play in the water and enjoy the sun and sand.  The next day we stayed at home and had a little pool party/BBQ, just the three of us.  Then we took a day trip to Rhode Island, spent some time with some special relatives who hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting my little guy yet.  That was a really special day.  Thanks again to my Aunt and Uncle for hosting us, it was such a treat.  The rest of the week was spent swimming, shopping and just spending time together.  It was exactly what we needed.

Then I learned something quite interesting on Saturday…  Something totally unexpected and really, really surprising… 

I’m pregnant again!

Now, before you go worrying that this blog is going to turn into a mommy-to-be gush fest with all the deets of my pregnancy and subsequent delivery over the next eight months, you can relax.  Besides dropping a line here and there to keep the folks who are interested up-to-date, this blog is going to continue to be about my journey to becoming a published author.  It won’t change until that happens—then it will become about being a published author, should I be so fortunate.  If enough people show interest, maybe I’ll start a separate blog documenting it—maybe.   

Anyway, I was totally shocked, as was my husband.  If I thought the pressure to success was intense before, I was way off.  Knowing that I have another little one on the way is super exciting (especially after what I went through to have my son), but I’m also freaking out.  Writing is a career I’ve chosen to pursue, but until I get a deal, I’m working for free, and a deal isn’t a guarantee.  Can’t feed two kids and pay a mortgage on that salary.  On top of it all is finding the time to work; my time before was limited with taking care of one child, now I will have two under the age of two as of March 2012.    

I’m pretty sure I just heard an “Oh boy”.

I’m remaining optimistic and I believe that everything happens for a reason.  Maybe this is just another nudge I need to push me to query as I’d planned to this month.  I always find time to work, though; I’ll have to be more creative with my days and nights. 

If you missed my announcement on Twitter, I’m going to be writing at night now.  Due to a situation out my control, I’ve lost my daytime sitters for a short time.  It works out though, because my son’s schedule is changing again and this will give me time to adjust and figure out what works best for everyone involved by the time they start sitting for me again.  As long as I get some time to write, I’m happy.

Which brings me to something else I did on vacation—those times I snuck online and got my computer back for good behavior?  I used that time to start another YA series.  It was one of the half-dozen ideas I’d been developing, but it just struck me Tuesday and I had to write what had come to me.  I have the beginning and the ending done.  I can’t wait to work on it some more.

All in all, I’d say I had a pretty successful—and eventful—vacation.  I’ll be posting next week (if all goes as planned) my thoughts on grammar.  Until then, I burn the oil. 

Wish me luck.