"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ampersands and Colloquialisms

The Falling Leaf Moon is on the wan and still we haven't had our first frost. This is unusual for the Thumb of Michigan and for me yet one more symptom of unsettling climate change. Should I be happy with these extended frost-free days or concerned? I know one thing: weeds are growing faster than they did in the heart of summer, at a time when they should be dead and buried.

I hate weeds. I hate cliches and redundancies. I try to make sure I never use these nasties in my writing but once in a while one shows up, like a weed in the greenhouse. Speaking of, I'm planning to make full use of my greenhouse this winter and to date I've planted spinach, komatsuna, and mizuna. I cleaned out the weeds from around the edges for a weed-free environment. Now I need to clean the weeds out of my manuscripts, past and present.

Edittorrent has posted a list of writing pitfalls to avoid. Of course Edittorrent is quick to point out that one can break a rule if done to good effect. But can we be the judge of our own good effects? I know a weed when I see one but would I know an ampersand and recognize a colloquialism? Will my one-word sentence be of good effect or make you groan? Oh what an obsessive pastime this writing business is.

Now, how many writing rules have I broken in this post? Don't we all like to break rules? Like smoking in the bathroom and walking on rooftops and eluding the police? Like throwing in an occasional one-word sentence?

13 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

The only rule for writing is that, if you want your reader to understand what you're saying, you need to use grammar and syntax that lends itself to comprehension.

Write how you want to and see if people like it.

I worry about the stress that these kind of rules and guidelines and conventional wisdom bits cause creative writers who have mastered high school English.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm learning to recognize more and more writing weeds. Is there an illustrated handbook? :D

Yvonne Osborne said...

Nevets,
I like your rule. Yes, stress is not good. At the end of any list of rules there is always a disclaimer, always an exception.

Tricia,
Maybe I should write one and call it writing weeds.:)
Thanks!

Jemi Fraser said...

I've learned a TON in past couple of years since I've been 'really' writing. I'm much more aware of the rules when I'm reading too - and it's fun to watch how different authors break them. Some to great effect. Others, not so much... :)

Yvonne Osborne said...

Jemi,
I'm with you on that. At the end of the day, this obsessive endeavor is tons of fun!

Helen Ginger said...

The hardest part may be getting your meaning and the nuances of the words across. You write it, then read it aloud and it's perfect. Someone else reads it and what they see on the page is not what came through when you read it aloud. They've emphasized the wrong words or paused in the wrong places. Somehow you have to write so the meaning is clear.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Helen,
Thanks! Yes, the way a comma can change the meaning of a sentence? I remember my grandma telling me to put a comma where you would naturally stop to take a breath if reading aloud.

Brian Miller said...

i probably break more than i keep...interesting though...will look at the article a bit more...

Yvonne Osborne said...

Brian,
Thanks. I'm in good company, I see.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

It is so hard to see the weeds sometimes! some definitely masquerade as flowers! but, thankfully, it's becoming easier to find them, at least. But the truth is, even that's subjective, right? There are some weeds that are so pretty, I'd happily plant them.

P.S. what is komatsuna?

Yvonne Osborne said...

Carolina,
I consider Queen Anne's Lace to be a wildflower though technically it is a weed. Komatsuna is a gourmet green with beautiful glossy leaves and a delicate mustard flavor. Thank you so much for stopping by!

Enchanted Oak said...

Thanks for the tip on Editorrent. I've been an editor all my career, and those two editors nailed it in that list. On the topic of abiding by rules, my opinion is that a writer needs to show by the preponderance of his/her work that he/she knows the rules upside down and backward, and then go break the rules to his/her heart's content. Some rules just aren't broken by good writers because there's no creative reason to break them. Punctuation is one of those rules. Subject/verb agreement is another one. Avoiding passive voice is another one. If the writer has the basics down pat, paragraphs well, uses strong verbs, punctuates correctly, spells correctly and all that basic stuff, then she has earned a certain latitude to write in her style. That's my experience, anyway. I serve as my own editor, and I love to correct my own material. No one ever writes a perfect first draft. In fact, it's important just to write the first draft, period. All the rest is often window dressing.
You write well, Yvonne. You know how to use a colon in this post. Anyone who knows how to use a colon correctly should not be unduly concerned about the quality of writing. Just keep writing!

Yvonne Osborne said...

EC,
Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I especially found this an interesting observation-that good writers don't break rules unless there is a creative reason to do so.

Thank you. You really made my night.