From Blog to Book: Turn Your Knowledge into Profit

I recently unsubscribed from a book publisher’s blog because I wasn’t getting much from it. So I took a chance and subscribed to Joel Friedlander’s blog, The Book Designer, and haven’t regretted it. Joel is an experienced book designer, writer, and publisher, and I highly recommend you check out his blog.

In his most recent blog, Joel offers his new book, Book Construction Blueprint, for FREE. That’s right – all 225 pages – for FREE. But that’s not the point I want to make. Something in his blog got me thinking about all the writing I’ve done over the years: alt med newsletters, articles, and a nutrition book, plus two other non-fictions sitting in my computer at the moment. He wrote that his latest book is really of compilation of all the free blogs he’s written for so many years. He wrote that this is actually his second book based on his blogging that he calls ‘booking my blog’ (I like this phrase). Joel writes on his recent blog:

This is a good example of “repurposing” material that was originally free when it appeared on the blog into a financial asset that will produce income for years to come.

If you’re a blogger with specialized knowledge, and you write in logical categories, you should be able to do the same.

It got me thinking: what if I took all that information I’ve shared over the last twenty years and put it all into a book? It could be a collection of some of my best work; most of the information has remained the same, albeit a few updates. I have to spend more time working out the details but I feel renewed from this recent post.

If you have specialized knowledge, why are you not doing this? I have a friend (come to think of it, I will send him this blog immediately) who writes weekly blog articles with intelligence and a wry humor. This would be perfect for him, since he once tried to recruit me to put together a book of his blogs (it didn’t pan out at the time).  Why aren’t more people doing this? Sharing the wealth of their accumulated knowledge and specialty training? Get started now by going through your blog posts to see which ones would make it into your book. Start an outline, see where it takes you.

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Book Sales Fraud or Smart Marketing?

Today is a day off for me so I decided to catch up on some online work and update my books’ Facebook, Lulu, and Amazon pages. I came across something on Amazon that I have encountered there before; I wasn’t happy about it then and I’m not happy about it now. Have you (authors) found someone, a third party seller, trying to sell your work for an unreasonable (and I mean ungodly) price? I published my first book, a creative nonfiction, back around 2007. A few years later, I retired the book (it was a personal memoir and I’d moved on by then) but Amazon never completely removes the page (their policy). There are probably two dozen or so copies of the book (yeah, I was a monster publisher back then, ha ha) in circulation, most of them signed by me at a book award ceremony back in 2006 (yes, I actually won an award for that little book). Not that my “autograph” begs that kind of money, mind you, but I do have to question the veracity of the seller when my simple paperback is available for ONLY $629.81!!!!!!

Red Rhino Fraud Book Price 09.11.17

Unbelievable.

When I encountered this issue with my nutrition book (a third party seller was offering it for a huge, unrealistic amount, again on Amazon), I contacted a publicist and book marketing expert I’ve been following for some time now. She was nonplussed about the situation and told me I already got my money so don’t worry about it. Am I worrying too much about this? Or is this fraudulent activity? At the very least, it’s misleading since the seller lists the book as ‘new’ and there are no new copies available. What would motivate someone to price a book at that level? Have any of you experienced this? What did you do? Were you successful or not? I’d love some advice here…maybe it’s just me but I’m perturbed about some greedy idiot trying to overcharge for one of my works…and offering it as ‘new’ when it’s not. Not that anyone’s buying it at that price, I’m sure…but I did contact the seller via Amazon so we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, it’d be nice to hear from some of you about your experiences and how you handled them. In this Digital Age, I think, some illegal activities will be beyond our control…including when it affects one of us personally. Like I don’t have enough stress in my life…

Sheesh.

Update 09.18.17: the fraudulent offer has been removed! It’s sad to have to monitor our work so closely in this Digital Age; lots of scammers out there and people who ruthlessly take advantage of hard working writers. A flick on the forehead to them.

Copyright Tidbits

I’m a bit surprised at the lack of likes on my most recent post (A Lesson in Futility). I guess not everyone gets my sense of humor (though most of you usually do). It was meant to be a humorous look at the writing process for writers who struggle with choosing the right words (I can’t be the only one). So back to the serious writing advice, this time on copyright issues. There are some great tips provided by Joel Friedlander on The Book Designer website. Initially, I included the article here but was immediately contacted by an administrator of the site, giving me the impression I shared the article without their permission (even though I properly credited Joel and his website, and included the link to the actual article). 

Mea culpa

I still have much to learn about copyright issues, whether intentional or not. Instead, I’ve updated this post to include only the link where you can find the complete article. It’s a good read and it never hurts to be reminded of these important points. The Digital Age has certainly made copyright issues a bit more of challenge, I think, and many of us (including me) will make unintentional mistakes from time to time when sharing good information.

My apologies to Joel Friedlander and his admin and thanks for pointing out my copyright snafu!

 

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/01/6-copyright-page-disclaimers-and-giving-credit/

 

A Lesson in Futility…

Or – A Writing Exercise to Stretch the Mind and Challenge One’s Vocabulary Language Terminolgy Lexis

Scene:

I’m seated on a black wrought iron chair in my favorite Italian market/café/deli (the only good one in town, really, and as it wins Best Of in the Italian category each year) at a table for two so small there’s barely room for me. It’s cold and stiff and hurts my ass butt behind because of the shape of the iron, with a overall design I can’t begin to describe because I don’t have the requisite architectural training lexis in my repertoire vocabulary range. The waiter places my chicken parmesan lunch plate in front of me as I salivate over the forthcoming feast of fat breaded chicken breasts, pasta with fresh plum tomato sauce, and a rather poor excuse of a salad (iceberg lettuce, a few pale tomatoes, and onion slices slathered in a very too vinegar-y Italian vinaigrette) served so often in Italian restaurants (don’t they know about arugula, spinach, and red leaf lettuce?).

Writing pad is to my right (because I’m right-handed, duh) and it awaits my handwritten commentary (yes, I still know how to right write, because of thanks to all those Catholic grammar school penmanship classes) on the meal before me as an exercise in descriptive writing (just a food lover with a need for a little mental workout). I’ve eaten here before, so I know I’ll get another two meals out of this serving lunch, it’s that big (not bad for $11). It’s crowded (as usual) and I managed to find a small table for two (with barely enough room for me) in the corner by the door (so my writing can be interrupted disrupted by every new customer who walks in for the same reason I’m here – the best meal of the day).

I slice into the done-just-right battered chicken slathered lovingly coated in their famous, daily-made plum tomato marinara sauce and slowly place the steaming chunk in my mouth. I am immediately transported to another time and place: the Northeast (aka home). Nothing better than living in a strange place and discovering a little slice of heaven to make it feel more like home. Chewing is a delight of the senses in layers of flavors: moist and slightly lightly crispy crisp boneless breast meat, sweet plum tomatoes, a little basil, oregano, olive oil, fresh parmesan cheese…they export many of their ingredients directly from Italy. The pasta, spaghetti (always), is al dente, of course, and also married with their famous tomato marinara sauce. I eschew the salad for the first several bites as I’m in some sort of Sicilian or Roman (the family’s actually from Verano, up north) heaven and can’t pull myself away from the chicken or the pasta. Finally, the salad begins to make its way into my mouth and it’s an unsurprising predictable humdrum plate of flavorless lettuce too heavily drizzled with an overly tangy creamy Italian dressing and flavorless bland tomatoes (unlike the ones in the sauce), but the bread crumbs are crunchy and flavored with a nice blend of herbs like rosemary and thyme.

It’s my day off, so I celebrate this lunch with a nice glass of Sangiovese (Tuscan) wine from their lengthy extensive list of wines from Italy (where else?). The spices and berries berry notes warm my mouth and my tummy permeate my palate, infusing the meal with a layer of flavors savory-ness indescribable too wonderful for words. I moan in culinary ecstasy – to myself, of course, as I’m not trying to re-create the famous scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally (and wouldn’t work since I didn’t have a Billy Crystal sidekick joining me for lunch) where Meg Ryan’s character has an “orgasm” over a turkey sandwich. As the famous line goes, I’ll have what she’s having!

So here it is…an exercise in figuring out which words/phrases fit and which don’t. I find as I age I struggle more with this (actually I think it’s because I don’t write as often as I should and my mind is getting soggy), so I need to get off my proverbial ass and write.

Cin Cin! Salute! Chin chin!

Talk to Text: A Writing Lesson

My mind whirls at a pace my fingers simply can’t keep up with, so getting my thoughts down on pen and paper or on the computer can be difficult at times. Then an idea came to me: what if I tried talk to text? Speaking is one of my better skills, so why not? Nowadays most computers and cell phones offer some version of this (Dragon, Voice Recorder apps, etc.), making it easier to get our thoughts, ideas, and writing topics more organized. Or so I believed.

As I recorded this thought string, I found myself at a loss for words, except for the ums and ahs, of course. (It doesn’t help that I was walking down a busy street, running an errand, while I did this. Not recommended.) Ironically, I don’t normally use ums, ahs, or other filler words during a recording or live radio broadcast because they’re annoying and make me sound less intelligent. I’m not at a loss for words – most of the time – but trying this talk to text, for some reason, has me stumbling and mumbling.

It’s also good practice for enunciation and how you come across in an interview, which can make or break book sales. (Note to self: do I really sound that nasal? Ugh.)

It’s a good experiment to record your book or article ideas; then you can go back and listen to the quality of your words and better understand your thought process. We speak and write differently and using the talk to text will help flush out the filler words as well as provide a template for the writing process that is unique to each of us. Even if you’re writing from a narrative point of view, it’s important to watch for and listen to word flow in the story.

Go ahead, give it a try. Hope you have better luck than I did!

 

 

Every Life Has a Story…

One of the ongoing contentious issues where I live is how to deal with the considerable number of homeless citizens. Our city has estimated that there are several thousand folks, at any given time, in this difficult and frightening situation. I frequently pass snacks from my car window to a homeless vet or other individual and have even purposely sought out hungry homeless (that’s redundant) people  in my area to pass along a leftover sandwich or drink. I often consider trying to talk to one of them, to find out what happened.

Police, politicians, and the community express a wide variety of opinions on how to handle this devastating situation (they’re not, actually, they just spend time arguing about resolutions that never materialize). The constant harassment by police, who then dispose of the camping equipment, blankets, and other personal items, is a sore spot for the community and especially the homeless. While many of these less fortunate people have addiction and/or mental health issues, it’s not the same story for each person. It was because of this controversy that this occurred to me: Every life has a story and every story has a life.

As writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, for journalism or some other purpose, it is our duty to share the stories that bind us together as a race (humanity), a community (your area), and as predecessors to a new generation of writers/storytellers. We are responsible for being honest in our characterizations,  even with the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.

Go forth and listen to what people have to say. Get their stories. Then tell those stories in a way that moves people (emotionally, to take action, etc.). Don’t be afraid to tell the tough stories about misunderstood people (real or imagined). Use these stories to color your fiction work, whether they be shades of gray or bright pastels,  and paint each life/story as important because it is.

A friend once told me each person that crosses your path knows something you don’t.

What have you learned today that can be a part of a story?

 

Walter Mitty and Me

It’s Memorial Weekend and am actually off today…so a bit of relaxing and writing is in order. I watched a movie while eating lunch, instead of sitting in my kitchen staring out the window. I watched the remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. Cute movie. And a reminder of something I’ve written about before – a life on the road – or at least some adventures peppered with some bad decisions.

What caught my eye was at the end of the movie where Walter is re-writing his resume, since he’s lost his job at LIFE magazine. Instead of the usual humdrum skills checklist and god-awful BORING summary (Professional with a strong work ethic and multiple years of interaction with people in various work settings…yes, this is mine…), he listed his adventures (jet boarding down some road in Iceland, jumped from helicopter into the sea, etc.). It got me to thinking..if we are to get out of that conformist corporate box of a day-to-day J-O-B and move into our lives, how would a resume like that go over? 

As a writer, I often dream (like Walter Mitty) of writing and traveling and earning enough to live on. Competition is stiff in most fields these days, so thinking out-of-the-box is essential to succeed, especially as a writer. I’ve got that looping tape in my head of my mother telling me to “just get a job.” It’s been there for over forty years and I’ve yet to figure out how to erase it. The movie reminded me that when we’re busy living our lives we don’t have time for daydreaming, because we’re actually living our dreams. So I’m going to re-think how I present myself to the world, because I have had some great adventures (including some based on bad decisions) and I need to give myself more credit for them.

As a writer, I know I’ll never be a New York Times bestselling novelist. I’m okay with knowing that I’m a mediocre writer – what’s so wrong with average anyway? I may have a smaller audience but they’re an audience nonetheless. The fact that there are folks (like you) out there, listening and hopefully gleaning something from my work, is what’s important to me now. I no longer strive to reach or grab the brass ring. I have dreamed for years of becoming a writer, only to finally admit that I AM a writer – with or without the audience or brass ring.

Lesson: Dream your dreams. Take a chance every now and then to live one out, just to see where it takes you. Then you can write all about it.

Book Promotion Tips

 

I didn’t make a notation at the bottom of this list, so I don’t remember where I got the information. Sorry. I’ve also added advice (Note) and links based on personal experience.

So you have written a book and had it published. Congratulations. Now you face the challenge of what to do next. Many authors think that marketing is a job for the publisher so they sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in. You might have a very long wait. The market for books is extremely crowded and most books do not sell well. However, there are a number of actions the author can take to move from writing to marketing:

  1. Send review copies to all the journals and magazines that review books in your genre. This is something that most publishers do for you but if you’re self-published (like me), this is all on you. Don’t forget the many online sites that review books. (Note: might want to ask them first, see if they accept review copies, as there might be a fee involved or a very long wait list.)
  2. Get friends, colleagues, clients or anyone who likes your book to place reviews on Amazon and other online book stores. Amazon is highly influential and the reviews matter, so encourage anyone who says they enjoyed your book to place a review. 
  3. Offer yourself for interviews on radio stations. Most radio stations/podcasts are looking for interesting interviews and the author of a newly published book has a good chance of getting on air. (Note: I’ve done some good interviews via Radio Guest List. They have a HUGE database of  a variety  of podcast shows – in other words, something for everyone, and are always looking for guests. The audience size varies, so check the websites of the podcasts where you want to be a guest for guest criteria.)
  4. Create a web page for the book. Ideally you should have a separate website with an address that features the book title. Now you can exchange links and drive traffic to the site with comments, blogs, quotes and extracts. Be sure to show people how they can buy the book. Encourage user feedback, comments and reviews.
  5. Offer sample chapters as free downloads. Take a couple of your best chapters and turn them into pdf files. Let people download them for free. Think of this as the equivalent of letting people browse through your book at a bookstore. (Note: With self-publishing sites like Lulu, this is offered with each published item.)
  6. Use material from the book in your blog. Start a blog and quote from the book. Lift sections and acknowledge the book as the source. Build a community of interest around the topics in the book.
  7. Review other books in this field. Become a reviewer on Amazon. Use your own name accompanied by ‘author of the book……’. Review other books and when people read your reviews some will click through to your book. 
  8. Start an email newsletter. Encourage people to subscribe on the website and then send out an occasional newsletter with interesting new material in this book’s field. But you cannot just plug your book – you have to add value with new information and comment.
  9. Give away copies to the right people. Use the book as your calling card. Give copies to potential and existing clients. Encourage them to read it and pass it on. 
  10. Offer books as prizes. Local radio shows, magazines or societies will often be interested in running competitions and will give you valuable publicity if you give them a few books to give away as prizes. (Note: I did this on Goodreads – they offer the opportunity to do ‘giveaways’ and it’s good publicity.)

Some authors do book signings in local bookstores but unless you are well-known (or have a good relationship with the store owner), this activity is unlikely to produce worthwhile results. Finally, you could consider using the book as a platform for launching your speaking career. You will need a different set of skills to succeed here but the book can make an excellent starting point and every talk will help sell more books. (Note: I teach my nutrition book as a seminar/workshop in local community colleges and adult learning programs.)

 

Bad Choices = Good Stories

This week’s blog was inspired by a t-shirt worn by a man who strolled by me the other day. It read: Bad Choices Make Good Stories. I laughed to myself as I fondly remembered some instances where that was most certainly true in my life. Like the time I “hijacked” a limo with a friend…that one always gets a good laugh and a “I can’t believe you weren’t arrested!” response. We were young (and very drunk) and, many of you would agree, almost obligated to make bad decisions at that age (the ripe ol’ age of 23). Or the time the police paddy wagon showed up at our overly-raucous beach house party, headlights beaming on the idiot standing in the driveway with a bottle of Stoli’s in her hand (yep, that was me; and no, I wasn’t arrested that time, either, cuz I ran like a jackrabbit).

Artists paint/draw from painful experiences, as do poets and writers in general. We draw upon those bad choices and negative experiences that life throws our way. In other words, as writers/artists, when we’re given lemons, we make lemonade. The badder the choice, it seems, the saucier the story (probably why I made so many; keeps the stories interesting). Those bad choices add color to our lives, not to mention bragging rights with the grandkids and anyone else who’ll listen.

My point is this: don’t be afraid to make bad choices. They make life more interesting, create the tall tales of adventure and hi-jinks, and carry us into old age with a certain wisdom and appreciation – which can only be gained by making those bad choices – preferably in our youth. (Although I admit I still like a little naughty in my life. At my age, it keeps the blood circulating!)

Inspiration Explosion!

I have to admit I’ve been a bit down-in-the-dumps as of late, which is why I haven’t been consistent with my blog. Gotta love menopause and the emotional roller-coaster ride it takes women my age on…like I hadn’t had enough wild, roller-coaster style adventures in my youth…only this one takes me to dark places instead of exciting ones (that and I’ve got to bite the bullet and get wifi in my new home, so I don’t have to pack up and go elsewhere to work).

It finally hit me one day last week, while I struggled to just get out of my pajamas on a day off, that as one trained and licensed in Chinese medicine I should know how to resolve this problem. Instead of running through a list of signs and symptoms in my head (the traditional intake and diagnosis approach), I simply fixed a cup of herbal tea containing four gentle but powerful herbs (hence the name of the tea – Four Pillars) that pretty much resolves emotional roller-coaster situations.

Why? Because these herbs move Qi/energy in the digestive system (stomach/spleen/pancreas region), where food and thoughts (in Chinese medicine, this is the emotional aspect of our digestion) become stuck, leaving one feeling tired and listless, with poor focus and little motivation (in spite of the desire to act) to do much of anything. I fixed a cup of that tea for three nights in a row, after dinner, as a carminative to help digest my meals and get things moving down there. Wow. Since last week, I’ve been bursting with energy, inspiration, and motivation to write, including creating some new additions to my nutrition book, which I will (notice I didn’t write plan to, a less confident choice of words) re-publish as an expanded, second edition some time later this year. Wahoo! Inspiration Explosion!

And that inspiration has led me to think more about making my own herb teas and tinctures (I am a medical herbalist, after all, and feel I should try to use at least some of my medical skills in creating an independent lifestyle). I also unpacked a few more small containers left unopened since I moved into my new place in February, and now my jewelry/accessories are nicely displayed and organized. Amazing what one can accomplish with just a little “boost” – which has carried me into this week!

So if you find yourself feeling “stuck” in your life or your writing and need a little help “moving” in a forward direction, make a cup of this tea and you’ll be amazed…

Four Pillars Tea

2 teaspoons fresh dried peppermint

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon dried orange peel

(you can find this in spice sections at the market)

1 teaspoon fresh dried ginger

(or about 3 fresh slices ginger root, bruised)

Put all herbs in an empty tea bag, add boiling water, and steep for five to seven minutes. No sugar or sweetener needed (and shouldn’t be added as it is congesting), the tea will be sweet enough on its own.

Sit back, sip, wait for the fog to clear, and the inspiration explosion to arrive!

herb tea

(generic herbal tea)

Learn From Your Book Reviews

Hi all, I’ve been out of touch the past couple weeks – no excuse, really, just no desire to sit and write another blog on writing. I mean, how many topics can there actually be? Yet here I am, with another blog…

So I’m going to cheat a little and let Sandra Beckwith, owner of Build Book Buzz, share some neat tidbits on how we can all learn from negative or not-all-that-nice reviews of our work. I’ve been lucky so far; all my reviews are 5-star – then again, I only have THREE of them for my fiction novel. I’ve asked people to say something nice when they finish reading the book, but they do seem to forget or get distracted elsewhere. 

I’ve never written a negative review; if I can’t say something constructive, why bother? Then again, perhaps some positive critiquing is necessary from time to time, as we often can’t see the weak spots in our work as easily as the reader. So don’t take it personally. Use it to your advantage, as an opportunity learn where you may have missed something – with characters, dialog, or scenes/chapters – and go back to the original work with fresh eyes.

Why Authors Shouldn’t Obsess Over One-Star Reviews

Authors, prepare yourself for the inevitable one-star review. In the publishing industry, one-star reviews are practically a rite of passage.

And no one is immune. Whether you’ve got 10 best-sellers to your credit or it’s your first book, you can expect at least a single one-star review.

There are the one-star Amazon reviews that make you roll your eyes.

“If possible, I’d give this pile of garbage zero stars.”

“Not really of much use for me. Seems like just a lot of useless information to fill up a book.”

“The best part of this book is the cover photo.”

https://buildbookbuzz.com/one-star-reviews/

Feng Shui Your Writing

I don’t how many of you are familiar with the principles of Feng Shui (fung-shway), but I have found it to be an eye-opening experience in how positive energy flow can affect every aspect of your life – including your writing. One of my favorite feng shui sites is www.fengshuiforreallife.com, by Carol Olmstead. I have followed her newsletter for years and have gained much insight into the practical everyday use of energy flow. As a writer, it’s important to set the tone of one’s working space; how well you organize and arrange your home office (or wherever you write) is vital to the writing process and outcome. By making a few adjustments (some more so than others, depending on your needs), you may get to experience the shifts in energy flow that can occur relatively quickly (I’m talking within a week).

Here are some suggestions from one of Carol’s articles on how to arrange your desk/office for greater success:

If you work from home, the first Feng Shui consideration is which room or area of your home to use. If at all possible, avoid locating your office in the kitchen, where it could symbolically interfere your health, or in the bedroom, which could interfere with your love and relationships. 

Here are five quick fixes you can make in your workspace to give your office a Feng Shui makeover. 
Problem #1: Your desk is in the wrong location.
Quick Fix: The most auspicious location for a desk is positioned diagonally across from the door. The worst place is with your back to the door. When you sit with your back to the entrance of a room you can’t see what’s going on behind you, making you vulnerable to being “caught off guard” by your competitors, clients, or colleagues.

Things literally and figuratively go on “behind your back.” If you can’t relocate your desk, hang a mirror in front of you or place a reflective object on your desk so you can see behind you.

Problem #2: Your desk is the wrong size.
Quick Fix: A desk that is too small for the work to be done makes you feel that your ambitions and aspirations are restricted. On the other hand, a desk that is too large makes you feel that you are not up to the challenge of the work. Choose the appropriate size work surface for the job you have to do. And make sure you have enough room to spread out, create, and expand in your career.

Problem #3: There are sharp corners pointed at you.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, the edges of walls pointing at you are called “poison arrows.” These sharp edges send harsh energy toward you, making you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or insecure. The best way to cure or fix this problem is to place something between you and the sharp edge to block its negative energy. Good things to use include furniture, a healthy plant, soft fabric draped over the edge of the wall, or molding. 

Problem #4: You are surrounded by overhead fluorescent lights.
Quick Fix: Fluorescent lights represent the Metal Element that can be too hard and cutting when it comes at you from overhead. Plus this kind of lighting can cause headaches, eyestrain, and a whole lot of stress. Whenever you can, turn off overhead fluorescent lights and take advantage of natural daylight, or use desk and floor lamps. If you can’t turn off overhead fluorescents, try to have them replaced with full spectrum light bulbs. These simulate daylight and make you feel more comfortable.

Problem #5: Your office is cluttered.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, clutter represents postponed decisions and the inability to move forward. When you have so many files and piles of papers that can’t even see your desktop, it’s hard to concentrate on your work. Clear as much as you can off your desk, then use colorful folders and wicker baskets to contain the rest of your paperwork. Here is one way to jump start your office clutter clearing — Set a timer for 10 minutes, take a large plastic bag, and thrown 27 thing into the bag – things you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t need in your office. You’ll be amazed as how much more space you have opened up in your office to allow new opportunities for success to reach you.

Resource: http://fengshuiforreallife.com/Detailed/222.html

 

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar