Click on the organge to discover a brave new world filled with language, grammar and stuff.

Whenever I get bored I post a Gumtree ad. I’m sure I blogged about this last year. So that’s what I did sometime last week after too much of the vino. I got a few responses but none of them seemed promising. And then I realised that these guys won’t ever get lucky. Not with me and not with anyone else: the quality of their writing is so awful. Check fer yerself. I laughed very long and very hard at all these mails but the last dude’s email is a gem. Um, I dunno, how’s R3439u37y734834 a second?

Responses to my ad:

is that seriouse add???
r u areal person,,,,
i hope i can chat with u ,,,,but nothing serious

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Hi, i’m Herve, i’m 49. I work on the ship in Cap Town. If you want to joint me to go to the bar or restaurant, we cant talk and will see what append. Bye bye

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HEY DROP ME A LINE

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I am one of the guys , who like ur profile and will want be call urs

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pink or brown?

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i’m difficult and full of sh@t – i know who i want – if you’re not white and dont shave , i’d like to chat and see where this goes

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Hi,
Great, send a pic and the price.
Thankx

<———————————————

Speech and Drama was one of my high school subjects. I looked forward to the June 1999 exam: we had to create our own play. So my friends and I started writing, which means we spent many late nights at Bellville library.

I was intrigued at how they wrote. They wrote as quickly as possible, didn’t bother to correct sentence structures and wrote dialogue that filled many pages.

I questioned my intelligence and felt pressure to be a slam poet. I mean, come on, dialogue just poured out of their pens. So eventually I told them I’d write one scene myself. I didn’t want to write it with them around me; I wanted to write it at home.

Which is what I did. I had more time to write and more time to rewrite. What’s more important than rewriting? The boys didn’t understand my need to rewrite. They thought that writing something once is enough; anything else would be overwriting.

The first draft takes time but it clears my mind. I try to write without thinking. It’s more difficult now that I consider myself a properse writer but I still try to write without editing. So all the cliches come pouring out, the bad sentence constructions flourish and I figure out what I want to say. My tenses get tied and twisted, too. And sometimes they remain that way.

Yes, sometimes I will publish the first draft. Life happens, you know? But I try to let a post sit in the Drafts section for a bit. It’ll stew while I concentrate on other things. Coffee, SATC, Tweet, and reading Middlesex. The other things that make me happy.

So I went home that night and I wrote a scene that made my friends clutch at their hearts the following day. They’re a tad OTT, I know. That scene took me at least 2 hours to write, I’m sure. Not just 20 minutes. I wanted it to be perfect. It wasn’t — of course it wasn’t — perfect but it was better than what the two of them wrote.

But how should you rewrite your work?

Let it stew for a bit

I give you permission to do something else for at least 30 minutes. Take a walk, play with the cat or go stare at Table Mountain. Our company overlooks Church Street in Woodstock so I like to stand on the balcony. Unfortunately this has the potential to cause car crashes.

Do what you have to do but do it responsibly.

Learn or relearn some grammar

Know the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect Simple so that you can write clearer posts, articles and reports. There are grammar quizzes online and there are many grammar books at your local second hand bookstore. One or two hours [of studying] a week should be enough for you to know the basics.

Know when words look wrong

My spelling sucks. Fine then, my spelling sucks sometimes. But I know when a word looks wrong. And I know how to use the Merriam-Mebster Firefox add-on. It’s awesome. So please download it right now.

It also helps to read. A lot. Online reading counts, yes, but not Yahoo! Live. Read something that will force you to use a dictionary. This is one of the few ways you will learn new words.

Get tighter, leaner and meaner

Forget about those high school essay assignments. Yes, those 1000-word essays on The difference between the X and Y Chromosomes taught you verbosity. Keep sentences short and use few prepositional phrases: your sentences will be easier to read.  Try not to start too  many sentences with participial phrases, either; these phrases make it easy to use dangling participles and all the action is at the end of the sentence. This isn’t always a good idea.

Be consistent

A few grammar and punctuation ‘rules’ can cause a fight between sub-editors: how to form plurals of single letters; how to form the possessive of words ending in ‘s'; and whether a space should separate an em dash from the next word. Get a style guide to solve these problems. Other issues that you should decide on are which English to use — US or UK — and whether you will use formal or informal English.

Let someone else read your work

Just suck it up. The person who reads your work will see things you didn’t see on the third or even fourth reading. Our brains are trained to ignore errors in our own work; we see what we expect and ignore everything else.

I’d like to go back in time and kick my 14- to 18-year-old self. She used to daydream and doodle in English classes. I blame her for the feeling I get in my stomach when I read certain sentences.

There wouldn’t be much wrong with the sentence, even: the grammar would be OK; the spelling would be OK; and I wouldn’t be able to fault it for clarity. But I something was wrong. It stayed like this until, oh, last Tuesday when I did one of my google searches and I read about prepositional phrases. And then I realised something: *that’s* what I don’t like. I don’t like introductory prepositional phrases.

These phrases start with a preposition and has a noun phrase or pronoun after that: In Putsonderwater good food means eating at your mom’s. Sentences could have more than one prepositional phrase  –> In Putsonderwater is one; at your mom’s is the second. Now see, there’s nothing wrong with using ‘em occasionally. The same could be said for almost anything else in life: sex, drugs, rock n roll. Fine, then. Perhaps not sex.

Why my dislike for these phrases, then? Well, there are at least two reasons. Introductory prepositional phrases can survive without commas but too many people still use commas. So one more comma is born into this cruel world.

I think these phrases are awkward so I rewrite them. Which sounds better: Since 2008 Joy-Mari has been writing about language, grammar and stuff. OR Joy-Mari has been writing about language, grammar and stuff since 2008.

Yes, I know it all depends on what you want to emphasise. So, yes, you could emphasise that I have been writing Word Whisperer since 2008. But you could find a different way of telling that story, no?

The third reason is that we have forgotten how to use our brains. We tend to write whatever trips out. No, wait. Writing a first draft is good. But failing to edit is unforgivable. So perhaps I’m biased but I prefer the second sentence. The first sentence tempts one to slip a comma between 2008 and Joy-Mari. Learn to resist that temptation; do without introductory prepositional phrases.

Edit: I suppose moderation is always better. Don’t eschew these prepositional phrases; use them sparingly.

By now everyone on the planet knows that I’m reading Cloud Atlas. And that I’m struggling. It’s not a struggle reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel. But it’s a struggle: I need to look up the meaning of every third of fourth word. I have to reread the sentence or paragraph and only then can I laugh, belatedly, at the narrator’s joke or snide comment.

I don’t mind using a dictionary; however, I think David Mitchell went overboard with the words he chose.  I appreciate jargon — when it’s needed — and the occasional Française phrase. But why so often? And why does he insist on using flamboyant words instead of their more well-known synonyms of German descent?

I could never write like that. My writing is bland in comparison but I’d rather be understood. I don’t want to force my readers to a dictionary with every sentence. Or every word. Use le mot juste but do not make me grope for my dictionaries only to spend half an hour deciphering what you meant.

But sometimes I wonder whose readers are worse off: those who use everyday words and the occasional sprinkling of highbrow words, or those who use many such words? Yes, perhaps my readers never encounter a new word when they read my articles. And sometimes I feel guilty. Should I be using more unknown words (I was reluctant to use that adjective, I promise), even though they do not form part of my vocabulary? And how many are enough?

One of the clever boys I dated told me someone, somewhere will always think my writing is too ‘intelligent'; I should just relax and do what I enjoy most — write. And not worry about the supposed intellectual quotient. Besides, Hemingway also didn’t care much for big words. So I’m in excellent company. And I am well on my way to becoming an eristic lapidary.

But why do I struggle through this book? Well, because of sentences such as these: “The youngest dendroglyph is, I suppose, ten years old, but the elders, grown distended as the trees matured, were incised by heathens whose very ghosts are long defunct.”

Update: I had no idea Copyblogger‘s writing about more or less the same thing. Promise.

Two thousand and great wasn’t my best year for reading books; I suffered from reader’s block. Or reading-thick-novels-block, then. But I’m glad to say that the few books I read were quality ones. I have become fussy in my reading habits. But not highbrow. Just fussy.

I also didn’t plan to write a post like this; I was going to dream about which books I’d like to read in 2009. And it helps that I started reading a book — Outliers — just yesterday. In Wordsworth, nogals.

The book that pulled me through 2008

I got He’s just not that into you as a belated birthday gift in 2006. It helped me more than ever last year. I used to sneer at self-help books but this one is just so darn good. It got me through … let’s see, now…it got me through 4 relationships and made me realise I want and need better. Hey, it’s Two thousand and mine so things can only get better, right?

The book that I read twice in 2008

I read The color purple for the first time in 2007 and I blogged about it in October last year. My favourite line is “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” — Shug. I read it while on holiday last year and my friend couldn’t understand why I was laughing so much; she couldn’t remember any happiness from the movie. And that’s strange, too: critics accused the movie of being a “Spielbergized” version of the book. I loved both the book and the movie. But the book has a special spot in my heart.

The book that taught me the most in 2008

I think it has to be Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson. I carried it everywhere with me, reading whenever I could. Certain words became stuck in my mind; I learnt the difference between discrete and discreet; I now snicker when someone uses enormity and not enormousness. But I make sure the snicker isn’t audible; the meaning of enormity is changing, after all. Bryson is funny and writes well so I’d read this book every day — pity that my flat mate got hold of it…

The book that I didn’t finish reading in 2008

I gave it so many chances. Seriously. It started in November 2006 when I bought it. I gave it another shot in 2007, I think. And then I gave it another try last month. I even managed to read until page 250 or so. But it’s just not meant to be. Perhaps I’m just not that into Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel. I think it’s time to pass the book along to someone who will appreciate it.

The book that I bought new in 2008

I attended a Michael Stevenson exhibition opening in November 2008 where, after drinking waaaay too much champagne, I bought an art book. Fear of a Black Planet wasn’t expensive but I almost never buy new books; I frequent Cafda in Sea Point. See, I missed Anton Kannemeyer’s exhibition in October so I bought the book to absolve my coloured guilt ;)

The book I didn’t think I’d read *and* finish in 2008

It’s not because it’s a tome, I promise; I just didn’t think I would ever read it. I used to read SciFi and Fantasy books waaaay back when I was in primary school. And then you move on. If you’re a girl. And especially if your mentor gives you Dostoyevsky and Nietszche to read. So I haven’t read much SciFi since I was 13. Anansi Boys was a surprise to me. I found it in my bookshelf and thought ‘Why not’. Instead of buying more books I read something that I already owned. The writing’s not terribly great but I didn’t mind too much: the story kept me going. And I finished it. W00t. It’s a good in-between read.

Oh, just stop already. Yes, there are horrific sites out there and there are people who abuse apostrophes and all. Sometimes, though, you just have to grit your teeth and read the content. </end long-winded rant>

I’ve been reading many Sphinn articles lately. It’s a niche site for internet marketing news. A great article isn’t that article with perfect use of which and that. Nor is a perfect article the one that has the best subject-verb agreement. A great article is one with good grammar and  ideas that inform its readers.

I started smoking cigars earlier this year. So I tried to find a blog that discusses cigars. I found many but they all lacked good writing skills. Not just in the grammar department, but also for general internet writing. I’m sure I could learn much from those blogs but I was too filled with disgust at them not knowing the difference between it’s and its. So I stopped reading those cigar blogs.

And now I wonder: am I missing out on amazing content? I know I’ll miss out on good articles on Sphinn if I sneer at bad writing. Those people aren’t that concerned with grammar; they’re want to spread ideas. And unfortunately for us grammar democrats (I’m a grammar democrat, Gustav!), they do it in a rush.

So what I’ll do from now on is to give the blog or writer a chance. I’ll try to look past the unorthodox spellings and focus on the message instead. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, though. But it’s an ongoing effort so I had to remind myself of it once again.

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