I am a rule follower. I also like to know what the rules are, so I can break them. Stealthily, of course. But rules are what keeps society from going to hell in a handbasket, right? Traffic rules keep cars from running into each other or over pedestrians *Rome coff* . Please wash your hands before cooking my dinner, Mr. Guano Salesman. No hitting below the belt. No cutting in line.
Which is why I was particularly torqued off when I came across a blog post–in my WordPress reader no less–disdaining “Grammar purity” as a Ponzi scheme.* The essence of the argument is that “we” (English speaking-society) came up with the rules…. (ergo “we” can break them?) Dictionaries are arbiters of such rules, but looking in dictionaries shows that there is flexibility (ergo they aren’t really rules). Manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook are “style guidelines, not grammar rules.”
These “rules” have shown impressive staying power. From cocktail parties to kitchen tables, these seemingly fascinating bits of grammar trivia have been repeated over and over, in some cases for centuries.
Too bad they’re not true.
Standard Written English is not just a Style Guide
My mom would often quote: How do I know what I mean until I see what I say? when we talked about writing around the dinner table. Which we did sometimes, oddball family that we were. That expression immediately came to mind when the lovely Mr. Fandango suggested a blog One-Word Challenge using the word “mean.” I take heart that I did not think about someone performing acts of cruelty, although I cringe slightly that I also didn’t consider anything statistical which, after all, is right up on my blog masthead.
But that’s writing, isn’t it? We don’t really control it.
It turns out E. M. Forster is the source of the original saying, and that he was misquoted. He said “think,” not “mean,” which is a curious distinction.
How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
–E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
Last week, as I was trudging through the quicksand of changing my website theme, constantly sinking into the swamp of contradictory code and grasping at branches of CSS held out by travelers before me, I wondered if something positive could be pulled out of the mess. Aha! I could share what I learned with the blogosphere. Thus, in the spirit of passing on some recently, painfully-earned wisdom, I will share the most dominant lessons.
Have you ever forgotten to save your writing after a long stretch of creativity, only to have your computer crash and lose hours of your genius? In the old pre-computer days, this was known as “the teacher lost my paper.” Two weeks of my best creativity disappeared because I was too cheap to make a copy of my seminal work on the religious imagery in e.e. cummings’ poetry. It still bothers me, decades later! Back up your work. Here’s what that means when you are creating or making changes to a blog site.
1. Write down the changes you make–preferably as you go
Most writers know how and why to keep track of changes as they go, either by using a Track Changes feature or the primitive “print it out and make edits by hand” method. Version control becomes an issue when you don’t keep track. Also, what if you change something and you decide you don’t like it? You might want that original brilliant phrase back which only sounded mundane after a night reading Seamus Haney. The same logic applies to changes to technology. Continue reading “5 Primo Coding Secrets for English Majors”
I didn’t plan to spend so much time writing in my second act.
I didn’t plan to become a weekly blogger or to write a book about the Olympics. I also didn’t plan to spend thirty years working as a cost accountant and process designer for a single company. That wasn’t what I dreamed of as a child. I am still in shock that we’ve lived in this house for two decades and that I have apparently raised a physicist and a music teacher.
I thought I’d be going out to museums more often and watch less television. I thought I’d eat more pizza although, now that I’m older, I wish I’d eaten less pizza. Plans–life plans–are like that. They’re really more like wishes.
In the Company of Writers
I spent a lot more time in my youth thinking about writing than actually writing, although I did harbor a notion that I would become a famous writer, someday. I blame Freddy van der Gelder, this kid in my fourth grade class. We were supposed to write a sentence that included the word “beautiful,” then pass our papers to a neighbor. I wrote “The beautiful lake was shimmering in the moonlight.” His hand shot up, he was so excited to read it out loud. That was my First Like. Continue reading “100 Blog Posts and Counting”
The more people writing, the better! Really, writing should be encouraged. We can never have too many writers, artists, dancers, or musicians. But NaNoWriMo as a Thing To Do has always been kind of lost to me, and as people are posting their word counts on social media, I just can’t help but explain why.
You Can’t Count your Way towards Better Art
NaNoWriMo is about writing 50,000 words by the end of the month of November, which means writing approximately 1667 words every day. But 50,000 words doesn’t necessarily equal a novel. Some stories can be told effectively and be commercially successfully in a lot fewer words. Many stories take a lot more.
Honestly, 50,000 for a “novel” might be a little on the short side. Good for children’s books, or if you’re Vonnegut or Hemingway. J.K. Rowling’s books started shorter (Sorcerer’s Stone was 77,000) and then, as they got interesting, became decent-sized. Four NaNoWriMo’s worth.
A great painting is not made better by having more paint strokes. A symphony isn’t better by having 50,000 notes as opposed to 35,522 or 272,395. But NaNoWriMo by nature is built around counting. It was started as a community project to help a handful of San Francisco writers practice their craft in miserable weather. It clearly struck a nerve, since so many people want to participate. But the participation effort is about writing a certain number. The helpers include several ways to count your words or build word count apps. That’s what apps do. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Less Counting, More Dancing”