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Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Everyone’s A Writer!

These days everyone is a writer.

It’s true. Blogging has made it so. Well . . . OK. Blogging confirmed it.

But there was truth to that statement long, long before the word “blog” had been creatively coined by some techy who—as it turns out—was also a writer.

Anyone who picked up a crayon, meticulously drew their names on paper (or a wall) became a writer in that moment. When they chose all caps to write it, they were making a style choice (more on that later). And when they unknowingly reversed the letters in their name, they were writing creatively.

Isn’t that fun! Knowing you are a writer, whatever work you do to contribute to your family’s welfare? When people repeat the cliché “I always wanted to be a writer,” it usually doesn’t occur to them that they always were!

I began to think of myself as a writer in high school when I joined my school’s journalism staff. That was one kind of writing which I continued for a while in college and as a profession. Right after that I worked as a publicist. I had to learn a new kind of writing for that; I had to write press releases (which we now call media releases), biographies, things like that. Then I began to work for a magazine and had to learn another writing skill. Magazines move much more slowly than newspapers, get more involved with rewrites which I considered a little like slave labor.

Later in life I owned retail stores and I was a writer then, too. I wrote copy for our store’s ads—both newspaper and TV.

When I moved on to writing books, I relearned my craft with each genre I wrote in. Novels. Short stories. Poetry. Even categories within classifications. Writers need to know different skills for writing romances than for writing, say, science fiction.

And through it all, I found it necessary to master—you guessed it—the fine art of resume writing. And anyone who doesn’t think that is a skill all its own and is out there trying to find a job had better go back into learning mode!

And that brings me back to that “style choice” thing I mentioned. Most of us were taught writing rules. Paragraphs must be formed one way. Essays had a pattern that must be followed exactly if we didn’t want to flunk our English classes. Spelling was an exact science. And the rules of grammar. Well! We wouldn’t even think of breaking those even though we often were completely in the dark as to how to apply those rules, usually because our teachers often didn’t know themselves. If you don’t believe me, think about how the verbs “to lie” and “to lay” confuse many folks.

And now we’re back to blogging. Everyone is doing it. So wouldn’t it be a good idea to brush up on some of those “rules.?” And wouldn’t it be nice to know we can break some of them? Break them not only because there is no such thing as official blog cops who will fine or incarcerate you if you get it wrong, but because you really can break rules and sometimes should.

If an example is in order here, consider breaking the dreaded fragment rule when you want to make a staccato-like point. In fact, to be even more effective, write three short fragments in a row! Now, didn’t that feel good?

Another rule I love to break is the one that says I must follow the dictionary exactly and never write two words as one when it tells us that they should be separated. No, no, no. Occasionally pushing two words together can be a poetic choice. In fact, when I’m writing poetry is when I usually decide to do that.

So, the point here is that blogging may be the motivation to go back and review our grammar and spelling rules. But it may also be a liberating force. Finally we get to think of ourselves as writers. Writers who can make style choices. Writers who can make up words. Writers who are free to be creative .

Fun, huh?

Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

A Tip for Writers: :

Writers of all stripes will enjoy the quick tips and the questions-and-answer format of my blog, The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor.. It includes tips on wordiness and lots on style choices. And you can subscribe so you don’t miss a single valuable tip on how to break grammar rules. It is inspired by The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success, available in both paperback and for Kindle.

A Tip for Readers' Tip:

I love June Casagrande’s book Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. It is irreverent and reminds us how much fun grammar (and language in general) could have been if only teachers had the freedom to teach those topics as living, breathing entities—which they are.

2011 Past Columns


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