ISBN- 10: 0-7641-1368-2

Essentials of Writing

There was a time when I really wanted to know the mechanics of a sentence. I was a beginning writer* and I thought that if I were able to get down the basics of grammar then I’d be a better writer. During this time, I bought a bunch of grammar workbooks, one of them being The Essentials of Writing. In this fifth edition, Hopper, Gale, & Griffith came up with a multitude of writing exercises that they deemed the essentials of writing.

I have to admit, I haven’t finished the book. The exercises felt like they should have gone with a grammar lesson book. Doing the exercises arbitrarily was of little help to me. Being able to identify the antecedent of a pronoun seems to have so little to do with writing anymore. I will admit that I did learn something about possessives and apostrophes, but underlining and pulling out the noun of a sentence does little for me at this point when it comes to crafting sentences.

I do care about creating sentences. I care about writing all the way down to that level, but something has changed in me. I still want my writing to be clean and clear. I don’t want to have erroneous commas or misspelled words, but I also don’t want to be thinking about adverbs and adjectives.

I want to be lost in the writing and the story.

I think I learned this week that some books don’t need to be finished, or that they can be finished in their own time. I feel like I’ve always inherently known that books can be finished whenever they need to be—maybe that means a decade later, but I have always felt that once I started a book I needed to finish it. This is the first one that I just don’t feel I have to finish. It’s like a sudoku, word search, or a crossword puzzle book, in that it’s okay if I only do half the book.

I’m not sure what professional writers do to vary their sentence work. I’m not sure if they pick up a grammar book here or there, or if it comes to them naturally from reading. I do know that the work lies here, each word building a path for the next, but I’m not in the frame of mind that I have to know what the words are doing on a grammar level.

I’ll leave that for the editors and keep myself lost in the story.

*I’m still a beginning writer, but this was before I went to school to be a writer.



Filed under Art, Books, Fiction, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

9 responses to “ISBN- 10: 0-7641-1368-2

  1. I agree. I have a friend who wants to be an editor, and he finds a lot of enjoyment in learning and applying grammatical rules. For those of us who don’t however, I think it’s best to practice our writing by doing, and then when we’re finished, invest in a good editor to help smooth out all the mistakes. ^^

  2. I think the best exercise for any writer is writing and not necessarily from a book someone has written on the subject. Although, I would recommend one written by Avi:

  3. Books on grammar can be a big help, but I find it boring. I will sometimes look something up when I’m revising, just to be sure I did it right, but I don’t worry to much about it while I’m writing the first draft. The time to worry is when you have something you want an editor to look at.

  4. Maybe someday I’ll work harder on the mechanics of grammar. For now, I’m trying to eliminate unnecessary words and keep my writing uncluttered. Adverbs are the only words I try not to use, which is silly, because they are certainly a part of speech, but I’ve read editors and writers who say they automatically throw out any words ending in -ly, so I’m afraid to use them very much. But I haven’t given up on exclamation points!

    • I’ve heard that adverbs get a bad wrap, mostly because there should be a more concrete/original way of saying what needs to be said. They can come in handy when they are being used stylistically ie: as a characters speech pattern, but I’m with you- I avoid them at all costs. I keep exclamation points handy for correspondence, as I’m afraid to use them in writing since someone once said they are like laughing at your own joke. 🙂 Which I often do with emoticons anyway.

  5. rethoryke

    The tools that really grew my sentence-building abilities came from Francis Christensen and his wife, Bonnie. They looked at how evocative sentences were constructed in great literature and essays, and distilled what they saw into what they called a “generative” or “cumulative” rhetoric of the sentence.

    Here’s the book:

    There’s another book, but that’s out of print [because people don’t realize what good it could do in the world, I guess]. Beware of derivative works that drain the life out of the method and leave you with just rote exercises in “sentence-combining”; while potentially helpful, they can also just leave you thinking in little fragments.

    But to connect this to the comments about reading more to write better, I’ve found that I sometimes choose a reading diet just to shake up my sentence choices — jumping from Hemingway to Faulkner, for example. When do I want to let a sentence ripple out into dark corners? When do I want to pull the reader up short and make _them_ work to decide which corners need to be filled in?

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