What’s so “proper” about grammar anyway?

It might seem strange for me to worry about being a grammar Nazi. As a writer, I spend much of my time working with words on paper. It is important to me that they flow as smooth as possible.

I realized, after I decided to write, that my grammar skills were lacking. It wasn’t that they weren’t pretty good, but they weren’t of the level that I expected. There were too many mistakes. Truth to tell, there are still way too many mistakes. The point is that my grammar was passable, and I wanted to be capable of writing something that wouldn’t stand out as amateurish.

Even to this day, when  I have trouble writing, one of the things that I like do to make myself happy is to study grammar. While I still haven’t achieved the level of expertise I would like on comma placement, semicolon use, who vs whom, and a slew of other grammar niceties, I still try to improve my grammar so it will more easily appeal to people who might read it.

But what is it that makes my grammar “correct”?

Melissa A. Fabello has an article at Everyday Feminism titled “Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement.” From the article:

Prescriptive grammar – which is what “grammar snobs” champion – says that there’s such a thing as one true, honest, pure form of a language and that only that version is correct or acceptable.

Descriptive grammar, on the other hand, argues that however a language is being used to communicate effectively is correct – because that is the basic purpose of language.

For me as a writer, this begs the question of who is my intended audience? And that is a fine question to ask yourself as a writer. But if I use my knowledge of language — no matter how incomplete it might be — to feel superior to someone else, I do us both a disservice. If that were to happen, I would have exchanged the intent of the message into a critique of the language.

I have been working diligently to put in the effort to understand someone’s argument and, if I disagree with it, give a clear reason for my disagreement instead of just complaining about their grammar.

I think this makes me a better person. What do you think? Is there any grammar that is so atrocious that you give up trying to understand the point? Does it seem possible to infer something about someone from the way they use grammar? Have you ever felt belittled or dismissed because you made a grammar mistake?

The zen of a clacky keyboard and the software I use to achieve it

My mother was a professional typist during the formative years of my youth. By day she worked as a typist, and at night, she had her own typewriter for freelance typing. That was back in a time when typewriters were considered business machines, and they had the cost to go along with the reputation.

I grew up listening to the clickety clack that went along with putting words on paper using a IBM Selectric typewriter.

IBM Selectric typewriter via Wikipedia

Even though the typewriter was becoming outdated, when I was old enough, I was allowed to practice my typing skills on that typewriter.

To this day, I still love to hear the sound of a typewriter clacking away as I press the keys. The sound puts me in a kind of zen writing mood. But of course, very few computer keyboards actually have a typing sound associated with them. At best, most keyboards have a mechanical sound that the company does everything in its power to minimize.

Enter ClicKey from Gibson Research Corporation. Steve Gibson, the owner of Gibson Research Corporation might not be well known outside of the computer security field. His claim to fame is a different program SpinRite — hard disk maintenance, repair, and recovery software. While you might not have heard of him, he is a legend in the computer hardware and software community.

The people that buy SpinRite supply Mr. Gibson with all the income he needs to make a living. What makes him so great from a writer’s perspective — aside from software that will keep you from losing your writing — is that when something annoys him about a computer, he has a tendency to fix it and share that fix with the rest of the world for free. That is what he did with ClicKey.

You can read about why he created ClicKey at his site: ClicKey. You can also download the tiny piece of software that will allow you to use one of twenty-six different sound effects for you keyboard.

I have tried other pieces of software to give my keyboard that clacking sound that I so admire. Of all that I have tried, this is the best one that I have found. The fact that it is freeware that was created by one of the leaders in the computer industry is just a bonus.

If you’re looking for a reason to not write, you’ll find one.

This post is specifically about writing; it’s more about getting things done. For me, writing is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, things that I do. I want to write. I make plans to write. I’m even motivated to write. Regardless of how prepared I find myself, I still have trouble sitting down and putting words on paper — or into a word processor as the case may be.

I suspect that there are literally thousands of writing guides and techniques, if not millions. I suspect that I have read or tried more than I should have. Most of them have been a waste of time. The truth of the matter is that there is no technique that will force you to sit in front of a keyboard and type.

Some of the writing advice is actually in conflict. One person will say to use a timer, and another person will say to avoid the timer and use word count in its place.

I use both. Sometimes I use a timer; sometimes I only pay attention to the word count. The kind of trouble that I am having writing will determine which tool I use to try to get over that particular problem.

If I am having trouble focusing, I will use a timer. I choose the timer because, when I can’t focus, it seems like I have been sitting in front of the keyboard for hours even if it has only been a few minutes. I use the timer to keep my mind grounded. The hope is that my mind will stop focusing on the time and fall into the process of writing. If that happens then I can forget all about the timer. I will, at some point, look over and realized that an hour or more has passed. If, on the other hand, my mind refuses to engage in the process of writing then I can force myself to try for a specific length of time before I allow myself to do the dishes, sweep the floor, or any of the other things that I might do to avoid writing.

What makes the time work so well for me is that I will feel good for trying, and that is they key for me. The more that I try, the more that I succeed. Over time, there are fewer and fewer days when my mind refuses to engage in the writing. And if my mind does refuse to engage, it is probably because there is something bothering me about the story — but that is a topic for a different time.

I also use word count.

Word count is an important tool for me as well. When I get to typing, if I’m not careful, I can generate way more words that I intend. If I want the story to flow a specific way, it is important to keep track of how the story is moving. That is where word count comes in for me. I can tell by looking at the count whether the story is moving faster or slower than I think it should be. I can also use it to measure my day-to-day writing. Much like how I use the timer, if I have am succeeding then I will see the word count growing every day.

It isn’t that either technique is bad. The problem is that, if you don’t take writing seriously, then any technique can fail.

If you don’t really want to write then all you have to do is sit there until the timer runs out and you can pat yourself on the back for trying. If, on the other hand, you use the word count method, you can always just produce crap that you know doesn’t fit in and will be scrapped later.

I have even read of people who would promise themselves to write at least one page per day. It didn’t help their writing when they would write something like this:

Twenty more lines until I am done.
Nineteen more lines until I am done.
Eighteen more lines until I am done.
Seventeen more lines until I am done.

Therein lies the problem with any writing technique that you will ever find. Nothing can replace the determination to actually put words on paper. All any technique can do is help you accomplish what you really want to do. If you really want to do anything other than write, your mind will find a way.

So what writing techniques do you use to help you write? Is there  a different technique to help you start versus a technique to get you through a tough spot?

I am going to start writing all over again.

It looks like I am going to be starting on The Last Interred version 4. While I thought I could reach the end with version 3, I have just changed too much to finish that version. Actually, I could finish it, but the story wouldn’t be good enough. I already realized that there would be more rewriting that it would take to just start with version 4. That is what brings me to the realization that I should just start over.

There is a little bit of worry about starting the story over again. While it should be better, the act of starting over again just prolongs the time until I can type “The End” on the story. There is a danger of taking too long with a story — at least for me. The longer I take to complete a story, the more likely it is that I will give up on that story before I ever reach an ending. It is a danger that I must be aware of at all times.

Perhaps I should start working on a time limit. I didn’t want to push myself with a deadline since I am not a professional writer; still, it might do me good to look at writing like it was a graduate course with a time when the writing has to be turned in regardless of how good or bad it is.

I will have to give the deadline idea some thought before I impliment it. I need to make sure that it will actually help me instead of just giving me something else to worry about. For instance, if I did go with a deadline, I would have to make it long enough that I wouldn’t feel so much pressure that I would want to abandon the story all together. On othe other hand, I would have to make the deadline short enough that it actually had value. If it was too long, then it would provide no real motivation.

I would be interested in hearing how anyone else handles creative deadlines. Are they good or bad for you? Do you use them at all? Are they self imposed? Do they help your creative process or slow it down?

Starting Mystics Outline # 2

I restarted the story that I have been writing tentatively called “Mystics”. It isn’t that I completely started over again; instead, I have taken what I liked from the first outline and started what I call outline # 2.

I have been trying to do this story a little bit different from previous (failed) attempts at writing. Several times in the past I have outlined a story only to end up with a gigantic, logical outline and absolutely no interest in the story. This time, I am trying to write more by the seat of my pants. There is one problem — at least for me — when I write by the seat of my pants. I have a tendency to have so many changes to what I have already written that I end up wanting to write it all over again.

I have decided to try to use that “write it over again” feeling to my advantage. I have been writing on “Mystics” but keeping notes on what I wanted to change. When there get to be too many things that I want to change, I take out what I like and start writing the story from the beginning again.

I have also been experimenting with using a database to keep track of the writing. So far it has worked very well. The database, however, is a topic for another day.

Doing world building tonight

It’s time to do some world building tonight. While I have already started working on the first outline (draft) of my current story “Mystics”, there are still quite a few parts that have never graduated from the rough idea stage. One of those parts is a scene that takes place inside the head of one of the mystic characters. The world inside the mind of the mystic character needs to be significantly different from the waking world, but not so far out there that it would throw anyone out of the story.

I am currently thinking that there is a connection between the natural world and the mystic world — and that connection takes place in the mind of the mystics. Normally the connection isn’t much more that background noise, easily ignored; but when Rachael is trapped inside her own mind, the mystic world continues to spill into her mind with her and uses it as a refuge.

Okay, I have some creative juices flowing. It’s time to work on the world.