Writing is something that I constantly practice and yet lately I have gotten overly complacent about my mastery of the craft.
The problem is, I believe, that I've gotten too lazy towards using "conversational English" and grammar in my writing rather than trying my best to be careful of my grammar.
I had an amazing grammar teacher in high school. I went to Northside High School in Roanoke, Virginia, and there we had a teacher named "Mr. Brill". (I do not believe I ever knew his first name. If I did, I have forgotten it by now.) He taught what is known as "transformational grammar", a form of grammar that is derived from mathematical equations.
That's all well and good when writing for a more formal audience and during a good many years it kept me in good hands writing papers at the University of Virginia. Unfortunately for my grammar as I started writing more fiction I became more interested in how people actually talk rather than perfect grammar.
That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing except that the style of writing I was pursuing eventually permeated through all of my writing. This isn't helped by the rather more informal styles of writing involved with blogging and video game reviewing.
When I first started attempting to write professionally for role-playing game companies I discovered the joys of an editor. The first few times my work was edited both for content and for grammar I was heartbroken. I'd never understood the need for editing before (especially for content) despite the fact that it was an integral part of my high school senior year writing classes.
I honestly thought that what I wrote the first time was as close to perfect as it was going to get!
The two people who helped break me of that habit the most were Shane Hensley, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and Don Dennis, of Iron Crown Enterprises.
I submitted a scenario to Shane for his game Deadlands. He returned it to me with numerous annotations as to what needed to be changed for it work. He had covered it in red ink in a way that shocked me. When I recovered from the shock, however, I realized that he was completely right across the board. Sure, some of the changes were merely stylistic - I used double spaces after periods, for instance, and didn't put the scenario together as per the standards that PEG followed - but others made me realize that I needed to fundamentally rework how I wrote for that genre.
It was a lot like an intellectual slap to the back of the head, and it's something that I can't help but thank Shane for taking the time to do. There was no need for him to do that but it was a friendly gesture that, in the long run, has helped a lot. I do still use two spaces after periods, however. There are some habits that I just can't break. Besides, isn't that what global search and replace is around to fix?
Don Dennis (you may know him as walsfeo
) provided help in the "how to rethink content" category of editing. I was used to writing for myself and if anyone else liked it, well, bully for them. When dan_oz
and I were working on various ideas for Silent Death he would point out what worked and what didn't thus forcing us to get better. That has consistently helped me down the road as I attempt to edit my own writing as it made me unafraid to go back and say "You know what? This part here needs to be taken out entirely as it simply doesn't work."
Lately I've been writing mostly for GamersInfo
and on my blog (the scofflaws_den
and here). I've done NaNoWriMo
a few times, too, and that's shown the absolute necessity of the art of being able to go back and re-evaluating what you've written in the past lest it bite you on the ass later.
My editors on GamersInfo, led by Kelly "ladyophelea
" Heckman, have been invaluable in working the raw product I send them into a polished, finished product. Of course, that can also lend itself to laziness, as I almost never take the time to compare the published version with my version and see what I could have done better. It usually takes Kelly berating me via IM to change my ways in any sort of a consistent way. Dashing off reams of writing in short times when dealing with events such as E3 are also not necessarily the most conducive of environments towards retaining good grammar. (That's not Kelly's fault, obviously, but rather the nature of the beast.)
I often find myself criticizing other people's writing but today, when looking over what I'd written for the Den, I realized that my own writing was not as strong as it could be. For one, I'm over-reliant on commas in a very huge way. I use them a lot and often in inappropriate ways. I've known for a while that I use hyphens or dashes too much in my writing as well and I think that evolved over my overuse of the ellipse when I first got to college. So now I'm trying to edit and reread my own work to cut down on things like that.
How else I'm going to do that is that I'm going to work on writing more. I've done a lot less reviewing recently for GamersInfo, mostly thanks to the fact that I haven't had a lot of time for video games in the past few months coupled with the damage I did to my wrist and hand over the winter.
I'm thinking of serializing a story. I got the idea from the blog No Fear of the Future
but I'd also considered doing it during NaNoWriMo. I wouldn't be on a NaNoWriMo-esque schedule, trying to squeeze in 50,000 words in 30 days, but would rather try to do approximately 1,000 some words on a weekly basis.
I'd also like to get opinions from people on my writing. I've taken out a lot of commas from this post in order for it to be more grammatical, for instance, but at the same time it reads to me like I've taken out too many. On the other hand, I have a very ADHD approach to reading and I find that commas break things apart enough to give me natural breaks. Am I allowing my own reading behaviors to influence my writing or am I overcompensating the other direction in regards to the commas?
I am eager for any comments.