Showing posts with label grammar rules. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grammar rules. Show all posts

The WEB: Your Writing at Risk

How The Web Can Kill Your Writing Career

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning The Frugal Editor

I recently read a grammar and editing column in my local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press. In  June Casagrande’s “A Word Please,” she groused about the problems so many writers having with hyphens. She noted the sad (or not so sad) influence of the Web on our grammar, punctuation, and style choices and there are enough of them to give the average author who pulled down As in English a big headache!

June mentioned the disappearing hyphen as one of the things we authors must contend with. but that is just the beginning. The Net also encourages us to push all kinds of words together. Let’s call that the "domain name influence" or, perhaps the domainnameinfluence or maybe #hashtaginfluence. Do we write “book” or “bookcover?” “Bookfair” or “book fair?” “Backmatter” or “back matter?” “Hard copy” or “hardcopy?”

You’ll never know because generally the trusted Chicago Style Guide doesn’t weigh in on these trends and dictionaries haven’t caught up with the quickly changing domainnameinfluence or the #hashtaginfluence either. And the spell checker in Word? Well, it doesn’t put a red squiggle under either “Hard copy” or “hardcopy.” That leaves the writer—whether she’s writing fiction or a resume in a style-choice pickle.

In The Frugal Editor, I suggest the zero-tolerance approach to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers (and therefore make it more likely they'll get published).

Still, I admit I love to stick words together. It isn’t really a new thing. I mean, word-bonding is a time-honored tradition in English. The word therefore is an example. We’ve been using words like that for eons. Word-gluing goes back to the English language’s Germanic roots. German is a creative language. The Deutsch do things like push the words for finger and hat together to make the word for thimble (fingerhut).

Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, except when I am trying to get something like a pitch or a query or a book proposal past a gatekeeper, I make combined-word style choices for myself and let the so-called rules be damned.

We authors can have it our way—we just need to be careful where we choose to exercise our independence!

Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress a literary agent or prospective boss, please don't put hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one way. If you think your contact believes it's nonfiction, not non-fiction, there is no point flaunting your style choice.

You won’t get a red squiggle with either version from your Word spell checker (or spellchecker), but that doesn’t mean your run-of-the-mill agent or future employer won’t be more judgmental.

I could go on and on about the way the web has mislead us. It practically coaxes us to overuse ampersands and most don’t have the faintest idea we’re being misled. We see question marks and exclamation points and caps and titles overused.

What if we emulate those affectations because they start to become so familiar we think they’re being used correctly?

Agents and publishers will hate it, that’s what. And that can be disastrous for our careers.

Then there is improperly punctuated dialogue. We see it on the web and even in books. There are many other grammar idiosyncrasies that your English teacher never told you but that are sure to annoy the feature editor at The New York Times or the powerful agent you want to impress.

The list is endless. Lucky that writers have June Casagrande's grammar books like Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies (Penguin), and my multi award-winning book, The Frugal Editor,  to help them through the grammar and syntax swamps, isn’t it.

Note: June's column may be read in the Glendale News-Press's website and she is the author of two of Carolyn’s favorite grammar books, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, and The Best Punctuation Book. Period.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter, and the second. Her The Frugal Editor, now in its second edition, won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her most recent book in series is , How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.

Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

Writers just starting out might wonder: Can I call myself a writer, say, if I’m not published? If all I write are my thoughts, wishes and dreams in a journal? If letters, texts, and emails are all I write?

Well, I have the answer. I heard it once from an editor (so it’s got to be true). You can call yourself a writer if you enjoy looking up words in the dictionary. There you have it. It's that simple. So, are you a writer?

Not only do I like, no relish, looking up words in the dictionary, I also enjoy finding just the right word to use to express an action, emotion or to jazz up dialogue, in my thesaurus. Also, I’m sure every serious writer has Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style at their elbow. It’s a big help, though not with every rule. I’ll get to that in a minute.

And what would I do without my Chicago Manual of Style? My “Chi Man” looks like a bird on a cold winter morning who has fluffed up its feathers to stay warm. That’s because I’ve had to look up so many rules, the same ones, mind you, so many times that I finally labelled my most troublesome rules on Post-it page markers for easy access. There are twenty-two of them. I just counted them. Guess what the biggest one is: Punctuation.

It’s okay, though. I once learned from yet another editor that writers can’t possibly remember every grammar rule and have to look up many. So, although some might think it’s tedious if they’re told “go look that up,” genuine writers like you and me know they’re not writers and we are.

Take Lay
Lay is one of the trickiest irregular verbs. The word is categorized simply as "Lay" in Elements of Style, and is explained in this way:
A transitive verb. Except in slang (“Let it lay), do not misuse it for the intransitive verb lie. The hen, or the play, lays an egg; the llama lies down. The playwright went home and lay down.

Lie; lay; lain; lying (I made a note in my book here: Past tense of lie is lay)
Lay; laid; laid; laying

As much as this explanation is helpful, I still ponder the correct usage and have four different explanations for Lie and Lay in a Grammar file I keep on my computer. I finally found the most helpful explanation for Lie and Lay at Professor Malcolm Gibson’s website, “The Wonderful World of Words.” This site is fun for anyone who loves words.

The principal parts (most-common verb forms) of lie are:

lie (present,) lay (past) and lain (past participle).
     The principal parts of lay are:
lay (present), laid (past) and laid (past participle).
     As an aid in choosing the correct verb forms, remember that lie means to recline, whereas lay means to place something, to put something on something.

Correct Usage:
Present tense: I lie down on my bed to rest my weary bones.
Past tense: Yesterday, I lay there thinking about what I had to do during the day.
Past participle: But I remembered that I had lain there all morning one day last week.
Present tense: As I walk past, I lay the tools on the workbench.
Past tense: As I walked past, I laid the tools on the workbench. And: I laid an egg in class when I tried to tell that joke.
Past participle: . . . I had laid the tools on the workbench.

The professor has discovered an easy way to remember the rule so that it is used correctly every time. He has named it after one of his students who invented her own way to remember the rule. He calls it The Michiko Sato Rule.
Write these six words and then try them out:
                                Lie         Lay         Lain
                                Lay        Laid        Laid

Sometimes when I'm stuck on correct usage of a word, after I've researched and chosen what I think is correct, I go to Google, type in my sentence and see what comes up. Oftentimes I see the same passage in other works and feel assured that I'm using the word correctly.

Don't get me started on swim, swam, swum. Swum just doesn't sound right to me. Normally, I avoid it by tiptoeing around it. There are other ways to describe your characters while they're swimming than using the word swum, right?

Do you have a method for keeping track of word usage that you'd like to share? Please leave a comment and tell us about it. After all, anyone who reads this post must care about words and therefore is qualified to call himself or herself a writer.

Clipart courtesy of:
Photo: by Linda Wilson

We writers need to put
all our ducks in a row.
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at

Improve Your Writing

They say there is nothing new under the sun. 

When it comes to writing, I say, yes, there is!

Writers are emotionally invested in their writing. Personal experiences help create what we write. We can be protective of our writing to the point of forgetting how we can improve - or that we should improve.

We're never too old to learn or re-learn some things we thought we knew. 

Here are some helpful points to keep us fresh:
  • Be humble. Do we think "been there done that?" I hope not! There is always room for learning and growing. See your life as a never-ending journey of anticipation for improvement. Take a refresher course in grammar rules. Take a course to help you write tighter. Stay humble. Learn from anything and anyone you can.
  • Be curious. Don't get stuck in a rut. Are you a seeker? Scouring the sea shore for shells never gets old. But do we take time to scour fresh ideas to improve ourselves?  Schedule some time each week to learn something new. Peruse the internet for new articles on writing or marketing skills. It might just open up a new door for you.

Every day, every week, every month is a fresh start. There's always room for improvement!


After raising and homeschooling her 8 children, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. You can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts -

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