I’ve pointed out in this blog thus far how students struggle with many very basic concepts of writing—from semicolon use to how to punctuate dialogue. What’s the real problem here? Maybe by looking into the root cause of all these glitches, we can arrive at a solution.
I’m pretty sure the problem lies in lack of education, which we can attribute in part to the students themselves, but surely as well to their teachers. I went to a pretty good high school in a middle-class community, and I can attest to the fact that I didn’t learn punctuation or specific nuances of writing in our common language.
The one good thing we were taught was the method of diagramming sentences. This also explains parts of speech to the learner. I can imagine when I say to a student that a word is used as an adverb in such and such a spot and not an adjective, a blank look will cross the person’s face. But how else to clarify?
At any rate then, somewhere in my 20s I began to work as an editor, and I did some writing. Too bad I, as well, really had missed a few building blocks of the trade. Not that I had a big problem because no one at my first job or second or third mentioned a thing about my writing weaknesses, and when I got to the fourth, the little errors pointed out were on the whole oddball. Only when I was hired someplace with a sharp copy editor and proofreading by fellow writers did I realize several additional problems… And only when I taught a class in punctuation did I understand I was missing out on a number of rules.
So my education had been incomplete all the way up—from grammar school through obtaining a bachelor’s degree and starting graduate school. And I was a good student who earned excellent grades.
I therefore think much of the problem my writing students have comes from an educational gap, not alone to be credited to their personal lackadaisical attitudes while in school. Then, recently, when I marked up a first submission from one student at Writer’s Digest University, she told me in surprise that no one had critiqued her punctuation during graduate school, where she had studied writing and had received a Master of Fine Arts degree. I’ve seen worse punctuation, for sure, but her punctuation was certainly not all that perfect.
What’s the Solution?
The solution to ignorance that comes by way of a lack of proper education is most definitely education. Luckily, we don’t have to return to K through 12 or even the university. We can educate ourselves, and will do so if we’re serious about writing as a career or even serious about writing a business memo with confidence.
How to study? Although some schoolwork might be beneficial, the problem often is that students enter classes in the mechanics of writing feeling at sea and so they remain throughout the course, grasping for some little hints along the way. That’s why I really think a well-motivated pupil can do a lot better book in hand. Yes, I recommend my own The Naked Writer in Kindle format (or my chapbook, Punctuation, which you can find at Smashwords). In both these works, the various points of punctuation, at least, are explained systematically and can be taken into the novice’s knowledge base step by step. The writing apprentice can read a segment once, then twice. When writing, the newbie might try to recall the rule that applies to this particular question—and the rule can be read over again—then again. And so on and so on.
The learning needn’t be rushed, glossed over, or jumbled. A bit of patience can be applied, and slowly, but surely, the writer learns and gains much self-reliance.
Other than that, the hopeful novelist can pay for a line edit. Let me know in comments with your email address if you’re interested in an edit. (I won’t post your edress for the entire world to see.)
Take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. Download The Naked Writer at Amazon, or to see writing style judiciously applied, read in print or in ebook format Question Woman and Howling Sky. Adults will enjoy my YA fantasy, The Heroine’s Journey, as will young adults. My middle grade fantasy, Strings, is also fun for all. Everything’s on Amazon along with some other ebooks there and on Smashwords.