Why Blog About Something You Want To Learn?

I had a friend in medical school who told me when she was learning a new medical procedure she was taught:

  1. Learn one
  2. Teach one
  3. Do one

I think this process can be applied to learning grammar and punctuation. When I’m unsure about a rule, the first thing I do is check my grammar books and read about it. This is the Learn One phase.

Next, I blog about it. If I can explain the rule, then I probably understand it. This is the Teach One phase. If you’re doing this, be careful to use your own words. Don’t cheat and look at the grammar book for help. You need to be able to explain the rule without any aids. Sometimes I don’t blog about the rule, but I do try to write the rule in my own words. Even if it’s on a scrap piece of paper, it helps me remember the rule.

Lastly, I write using the rule. This is the Do One phase. You can edit and proofread to ensure you’re using the rule properly too. I consider editing part of the Do One phase.

I figure if this is how medical students learn, it must work for other areas of knowledge too.

Do you have any tips for learning?

Thanks for reading . . .


As If Subordinating Conjunctions Can Be Confusing

Did you know if you want to spend a lifetime learning something, punctuation and grammar can give you the opportunity.

This week while proofreading my  novel, I noticed I wasn’t using ‘as if’ consistently. Sometimes I put a comma before the words and sometimes I didn’t.

I noticed this while I was reading on my Kindle. Last week I blogged about How To Avoid Errors In E-books, and here is one more instance where the new addition to my process helped me. As if!

I looked up ‘as if’ and found out it’s a subordinating conjunction. I knew this but had forgotten. Now I know the rules for comma use with ‘if’, another subordinating conjunction, so all I had to do was apply the rule to sentence containing ‘as if.’

The rule, you ask?

A subordinating conjunction joins two clauses of unequal importance. If the clause containing the subordination conjunction comes before the main clause then follow the clause with a comma. If it doesn’t, don’t.

  • As if he could stop the bleeding with his eyes, he stared at the knife impaling his calf. (subordinating conjunction before main clause)
  • He stared at the knife impaling his calf as if he could stop the bleeding with his eyes. (subordinating conjunction after main clause)

Attention to detail is a must when writing a novel, but how can you do that if you don’t know the rules? This brings me back to the lifetime of studying idea.

Keep on the look out for areas in your writing where you’re not consistent and you might find areas where you don’t know the rules. Grammar: How to Learn What You Don’t Know gives another idea on learning grammar.

How do you figure out what you don’t know?

Thanks for reading . . .

Do you want to improve your grammar?

Here’s one method on how to become more confident with your grammar skills.

Scientific America Mind (October 2013) has an article called What Works, What Doesn’t that discusses techniques that work or don’t work for learning. The second item in the article discusses the importance of self testing. The article makes the point that before reading a chapter the student should take a test to see how much they know on the subject. The theory is we learn by our mistakes.

Each year I read a different book on grammar in an effort to keep my skills strong. As a writer, I consider grammar knowledge an important tool for creating a novel.

Thinking I should test the theory put forward by Scientific America Mind, I set out on the search for a grammar book laid out with an introductory test, study information and an end of chapter test.

I found Sharp Grammar: Build Better Grammar Skills by Kaplan  follows this process.

I’m now working my way though the book, surprising myself by what I know and don’t know. If I only learn one new thing, I think it’s worth the effort. I also believe that continual practice will keep me at the top of my game in the sport of grammar. Can you ever practice too much?

What do you do to keep improving  your grammar and punctuation skills?

Grammar: How to Learn What You Don’t Know

This is what I did.

In 2008 I attended the Humber School For Writers correspondent course. Joan Barfoot was my mentor.

The course is designed so a professional writer works with the student on a manuscript.

I thought I knew all about punctuation and grammar until Joan pointed out I didn’t know how to use a comma.

In my mind, I was using the pesky little mark correctly. But how would I know unless someone else pointed it out to me?

My point. You need someone your trust, who knows grammar and punctuation, to give you an honest review of your talent.

Then . . .


Perfection doesn’t come for free.

Do you have any tips for figuring out what you don’t know?

Thanks for reading . . .

Proofreading: Choosing a Better Word

During the final proofreading of a novel, a writer can be tempted to change a word, deciding another word is better. I try not to cave to the temptation at this stage, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

One thing I’ve learned while proofreading is that I need to be very careful during the final reading. It’s easy to introduce a typo, but worse, what if the new word doesn’t fit with the surrounding text?

How to I test this?

First, I replace the word. Then I read the entire scene to determine if it sounds right in the whole context. I often find that I’ve chosen a word already written in a paragraph before or after the one I’ve just altered.

The word change might sound better or it might not, but without testing the scene I wouldn’t know.  To make the process faster, I could search for the word, to find out if it’s anywhere near, but I still think it’s worth reading the scene to make sure the change makes the story better.

Are there things you look out for in the final proofing?

Thanks for reading . . .

British Dictionary and American Style Guide Used by a Canadian

The Chicago Manual of Style says, “The more we learn, the less we seem to know.” Anyone else feel this way about spelling, punctuation and grammar?

So here is a question.

I follow the Oxford English Dictionary for spelling but the Chicago Manual of Style for grammar and punctuation.

The first is British and the second American.

Should I be following the Oxford Guide to Style if I use the Oxford English Dictionary? Or is it okay to follow one British and one American as long as I am consistently British in my spelling and consistently American in my punctuation and grammar? Now let me add that I am Canadian, and I get really confused. The borders seem to be disappearing on me.

And this gets me back to the first line, “The more we learn, the less we seem to know.”


Thanks for reading . . .

Comma Splice: Acceptable or Not?

Like anything else in life, grammar rules adapt and change.

Some say it’s okay to spilt an infinitive, start a sentence with ‘but,’ and end a sentence with a preposition.

My question: Are comma splices becoming acceptable?

I’m finding more of them in novels than I used to, and I’m not sure if this is due to the way publishing a novel has changed or due to a change in acceptable style.

I’d love to hear your opinion.

Written by a person (me 🙂  )who edits out every comma splice she sees.

Thanks for reading . . . and hopefully commenting.

How Do You Proofread?

#writetip Proofreading takes intense concentration. Do you have method you’d like to share?

I’m talking about the final proof, after all your readers have given you feedback, you’re not going to make any story changes, and are about to send your manuscript to your agent or publisher.

It takes me about an hour to proof 5 double spaced pages. That may seem slow, but I think worth the effort.

First, I look at each character in a line, then the sentence, then the paragraph, then the page, and finally the scene.

This is where I check every punctuation mark, check for their/there swaps, and grammar errors. For example, I force my eye to look for a period at the end of every sentence.

The only editing I do at this phase it to ask whether I need every word.

If I start to skim, I take a break, let my mind relax and get back to it.

What is your process?

Can you see every mark on the page?

It’s harder than I thought. #writetip. I like to use tools of the trade to help me perfect my work. I happen to use pages, but any good word processing program will help you check all marks on your page.

When you are checking details during a final proofread, turn on the “show invisibles” function of your software. I view the document at 200% or larger, set the colour of “invisibles” to a dark red (assuming your text is black), and then look at each character.

At this phase I’m looking for:

– one space only after each period.

– no spaces after an opening quote or before an end quote.

– no spaces after a paragraph or page break.

– no double spacing between words.

– etc.

This might seem like I’ve gone too far but I think it makes a manuscript a professional product. It takes time and makes your eyes tired, but in the end, it’s worth it.

What sense do you use to punctuate?

Some people hear a comma, some see it, and others follow the rules. #writetip What’s right for you?

For me, it’s a combination of all three. When I write my first draft, I like to hear the punctuation. Somehow it makes writing flow easier. I don’t worry about whether it’s right or wrong at this stage. I think this lets my natural style come out.

When I review the first draft, I pay attention to how punctuation looks. Does the page look too cluttered? Is my eye distracted by the noise? If it is, I check to see if I’ve overused any punctuation marks.

During my final proofread, before sending the novel to anyone, I check whether my punctuation follows the grammatical and syntactical units of my style guide. If it doesn’t, then I decide if I want to break a rule or follow it. I want my voice to come out, not that of the rules. I also don’t want to make glaring errors.

Like most things in life, punctuating a novel is a balance.