Control the Language!

At writer conferences, fledgling writers are always looking for the magic bean, the “secret” that published writers have and they don’t know yet. And while they know in their heart that no such thing exists, they still search for it.

The proof is in the question I am asked more than any other question: what do I need to do to break in? Many of them are convinced that they have a super-original concept or story idea that if they can just get an editor to read it, they could sell it. While they may have that one in a million idea (all of us writers like to tell ourselves that!), the chances are more likely they don’t. That’s not to suggest it isn’t a good or salable idea.

I’ve read stories after the writers have communicated to me they want to spend their life writing and selling…only to discover they don’t know the difference between there/their/they’re or it’s/its, they can’t get their subjects and their verbs to agree, or they simply can’t compose a sentence (I almost wrote “they can’t get there subjects and verbs to agreed,” but was afraid I’d get some snarky comment about how even I couldn’t do it!)

Every writer makes typos and simple errors. Editors know that and understand it. But there’s a big difference between typos and lack of ability to control the language.

If you’re one of those who struggle with grammar, never fear! The beauty is that it can be learned. As many have heard me say here before, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. As a writer, you’ve got to write every day, but you’ also need to read every day. And read good stuff, too. I’ve said before that I believe we pick up a lot by osmosis, so be sure you’re absorbing good stuff.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Control the Language!

  1. I’ve always said that, too: you get better at writing when you read a lot.

    The only trouble is, I’ve been editing my own book for so long, I can’t read anyone else’s book without questioning their choice of “that” over “which” and comma usage. LOL.

  2. I agree. At this stage in my life, my reading consists mainly of my stuff and “how to” books on writing. But in the past I read “the good stuff.”

  3. How true, Roland. It makes the writing hard to read, too. I know when I run across those , my brain halts, silently asking “HUH?”. I know I’m guilty as the next person of being in a hurry and not proofing my texts and e-mails before I send them, but when I read books, articles, essays, and other things with these errors, I wonder if we are losing our command of the language.

  4. I wonder how our language will change with all the technological gizmos at everyone’s fingertips! It’s obvious that oral communication is…suffering. Just look around you while you are dining in a restaurant. No one is talking. If they are, there is little eye contact. Mommas hold babies and do facebook at the same time, so babies aren’t hearing their mother tongue from their mothers, just from voices on screens. Once upon a time, when someone would call, ask what I was doing and hear the response, “I’m reading,” the next question would be, “What are you reading?” Somewhere in the discussion of authors and titles I would hear, “You have to read..such and such!” Then I would get an enticing tidbit or two to compel me to get that book next. Nowadays the response to ‘reading’ is nothing more than ‘oh’ unless I am talking to another retired teacher. We all seem to be trying to make up for lost reading time! Some research shows brains are changing, so communication and language will, too. I think some of the changes will be sad ones.

    • One thing I’ve seen hypothesized is that texting and other forms of shorthand may cause us to drop most of our our vowels from writing. Hebrew is usually written without most of its vowels, so it’s definitely possible to read without vowels.

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