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Friday, January 27, 2012

If you want to be a writer, you have to know how to write.

My writing is not perfect, I'm well aware of this, but I do practice and refine my writing skills and vocabulary every day (yes, everyday, with very few exceptions).  I write, I read, I learn, I practice.  I strive to improve my skills and myself.

It peeves me when someone asks what I do, I tell them I'm a writer, then they reply with "Oh, I'm a writer, too!" when I know that they:
    1) have never actually written anything outside a classroom assignment.
    2) have never written a single FaceBook status without serious misuse and abuse of the English language.  (Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are your friends, people!)
    3) haven't read anything other than the occassional Cosmo magazine article in the last five years.

...or any combination of those three.  Being a writer (or actor, musician, singer, dancer, poet, painter, or any other type of artist, for that matter) is not just something you can suddenly just say you are and then you are one.  (I dance, but I'm certainly not a dancer.)  It takes discipline, skill, practice, passion, dedication, and a drive to constantly learn and understand more about your field.   You need to develop your craft, expand your skills, and bring out a piece of your soul to be an artist, and (above all) you need to enjoy what you do.  Knowing how to start and extinguish a campfire does not make a person a firefighter; memorizing lines does not make a person an actor; knowing how to change a light bulb does not make a person an electrician; just knowing the basics of writing does not make a person a writer.

 Number 3 is included for a good reason: I have yet to come across a decent writer who is not also an avid reader.  Writers are readers.  Most readers are writers (whether for pleasure, business, career, or other, I've noticed that those who read the most also write, even if it's not every day).  Reading improves writing; I know it has definitely improved mine, and continues to do so.  When I read a book, I always keep a dictionary nearby (usually the dictionary app on my phone; it's Oxford) to find any words I do not know so I can add them to my vocabulary.  I take note of how the author has formed the sentences, why they may have chosen to piece it together the way they did.  Seeing what works in other stories (and, just as importantly, what does NOT work) helps me to know what may or may not work in my own stories.

Here's a quick list of some tips to remember:
*What's the day after today?  It's tomorrow.  Notice there is no "a" in the word, and there is a "w" at the end.
*"Till" and 'til are not shortened forms of until.  A till is (as defined by Oxford) "a drawer, box, or the like, as in a shop or bank, used for keeping money or valuables."  It can also mean "to cultivate the soil."
*You're = you are; your = belonging to you
*Not everything ending with an "s" requires an apostrophe.  As a general rule (although the English language does like to break rules occasionally) if something is plural, is does not get an apostrophe unless it is an abbreviation or a symbol.  For example, plural 3 = 3's; plural sister = sisters; if it were sister's, it would belong to your sister.
*Then = happened sequentially or at that time, as in: "I opened the door, then walked inside" or "gas prices were so much lower back then."  Than = comparative, as in "Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings."
*Lose = to come to be without, as in "you're going to lose your marbles" or "I want to lose some weight."  Loose = opposite of tight, as in "I think this writer has a few loose screws."
*Close = opposite of open, as in "close the door, you're letting in the cold air."  Clothes = the items you wear, as in "I went clothes shopping and got this great poncho!"

But, to go in a completely different direction, being a writer is not just about knowing proper rules of grammar and spelling.  (Oh, there's another one- grammar does not have an "e."  Grammer is a misspelling; Mispelling with only one "s" is also a misspelling.)  The most important part of being a writer (or any of the aforementioned trades) is passion and dedication.  Loving what you do and putting your heart and soul into it is key.  Don't measure success by the money you make; measure your success by how fulfilled you feel; how happy you are.  Tell a good story, make lovable and loathsome characters come to life, and make us want to not put your work down, even when it's over.

Art is a reflection of life.  We are artists because we long for a deeper understanding of the world around us and the people in it.  We want to move others, make them think, and spread ideas that will lead to a better and more profound way of life.  If you have a dream, go for it!  But stop calling it a dream, and start calling it a goal, then work your ass off until you have reached that goal; and once you've reached that goal, set another.  Aim high, think big, and don't settle.  Believe in the impossible, because "impossible" does not exist unless you make it exist.

"If you can dream it, you can do it." -Walt Disney

So here's a little test for those of you who are paying attention: I've intentionally made a few mistakes (a misspelling, an improperly used word, for example) in this post.  Can you find them?

EDIT: I want to thank Peter Donnelly for pointing out a mistake: TILL is correct as a substitution for "until."  Using 'til is incorrect, though.  Check out Peter's blog, or this page on World Wide Words for some interesting info on the use of till and its origins. (Apparently, the word "till" is actually older than "until.")

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