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Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby glorybee » Fri Jul 04, 2014 7:03 am

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m on vacation—currently in Florida with the two sweetest little girls in the world—home for a few days for laundry, shopping, and packing, then off for eight days of church camp.

I’ll have my computer with me at camp, but I don’t anticipate writing a full-length lesson for this week or next week. But I’ll certainly check in here once or twice a day, to see if any of you have questions for me.

Here are a few things you might consider:

1. The Writing Challenge starts up soon. What would you like to know about that? I entered for several years, won over 100 ECs and placed in a few Best of the Best contests. I’ve also been a judge for many years. If you have questions about the judging criteria, I’d suggest that you check here first. I’ve also done several past lessons on several aspects of the Writing Challenge. Still, if you can’t find your question answered in a previous post (or if you just don’t want to wade through old lessons), feel free to ask.

2. Do you have questions that you’d like an editor to answer? You might wonder about the editing process, or the editor/writer collaboration, for example. I’ve been editing for about five years, and I may be able to answer that type of questions.

3. Questions about writing mechanics? Bring ‘em on.

4. Any other writing-related topics?

5. Anything you want to ask me about myself, my family, my faith, my background, my qualifications to do these lessons, my cat—I’d be happy to answer.

Unfortunately, I know very little about the publishing world, either self-publishing or the process of finding an agent/getting published traditionally. For those questions, you might want to ask here.

If you’re still stuck for things to do while you’re waiting for the Writing Challenge to start up again (on July 10):

Look through the lessons here and do the “homework” for some of them. I get notifications every time someone posts there, and I’ll be happy to look at what you’ve done.

Find a Writing Challenge entry that didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, and submit it to the Critique Circle. I’ll be checking there every so often, and I know that there are other editors who stop by several times a week. We’d love to give you a free critique.

If you’re new here, or if you haven’t entered the Writing Challenge yet, read through some past winning Writing Challenge entries, to see what does well here. Try your hand at writing one or two, to previous prompts. Submit them to the Critique Circle, and get some valuable feedback.
Be patient with me over the next few weeks, please—I’m playing with my granddaughters, or I’m enjoying the fellowship at church camp. But I’ll be stopping by, I promise!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Milly Born » Sat Jul 05, 2014 9:25 am

Dear Jan,

Thanks for being available for ANY question! I'm relatively new to FaithWriters and have learned already so much in just a few months. I'm grateful for my buddies, the forums writers, and every single reaction I get on my challenge entries.

Now my question. It's about a comma. :? I don't know whether it's something about my writing style (English is my second language), but I write often sentences like,

"I had pondered adoption previously but fearing that it would be too difficult, set it aside."

"We sneak out of bed and not wanting to awake my husband, I beckon her into the bathroom."

I know that, in general, the comma should go before the words "but" and "and". However, in these cases they are followed by a clause, normally preceded by a comma. So my intuition says that the comma should go after "but" and "and". (Two comma's--one before, one after--would be too much, I think.)

"I had pondered adoption previously but, fearing that it would be too difficult, set it aside."

"We sneak out of bed and, not wanting to awake my husband, I beckon her into the bathroom."

Or should I simply rephrase the sentences?

Thanks for helping me out.

Blessings from Umbria, Italy,
Milly
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Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Shann » Sat Jul 05, 2014 10:59 am

Since Jan is busy, I'll jump in and give my opinion, and then you can get Jan's advice too. Hopefully, she won't mind, and hopefully, I won't confuse you more. :D

I think because English is your second language , it makes it even harder to understand the rules. Add to that, the fact that sometimes UK writers have different rules, and it can get super confusing.

Jan did a post on commas (introductory phrases) a couple of weeks ago so you may want to scroll down and check that out too.

I do editing and often need to double check my comma rules. I often use this site: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm
I like it because it covers more than just commas and offers a mini quiz at the end of each section.

I think what you're doing is putting commas where you might have a pause in speech. In this sentence:
"I had pondered adoption previously but fearing that it would be too difficult, set it aside."
You put a comma before a conjunction like but, and, so, when joining two independent clauses. That basically means both parts before and after the conjunction have to be complete sentences that could stand on their own. EX: I want to go to the mall, but Emily wants to go to the movies.
Both phrases before and after the but stand completely on their own.
I want to go to the mall. Emily wants to go to the movies.

Sometimes the word but is used to mean except, and in that case you wouldn't put a comma before it. I'm not sure if the except rule would work there or not. I keep going back and forth. I think in the end I would do it like this: I had pondered adoption previously, but fearing that it would be too difficult, I set it aside.

I'll be curious to see if Jan agrees with me. I did add a word (I) in it to make it a complete clause. Comma rules can be super confusing, so sometimes two editors may not agree on it.

The other sentence
"We sneak out of bed and, not wanting to awake my husband, I beckon her into the bathroom."


You have the two complete sentences separated by the word but. We sneak out of bed.
Not wanting to awake my husband, I beckon her into the bathroom.

You also have an introductory phrase (not wanting to awake my husband) which requires a comma after the word husband. The experts say sometimes it is alright to omit the comma if the phrase is short or the commas would confuse the person. I think I would say to do it this way:
"We sneak out of bed, and not wanting to awake my husband, I beckon her into the bathroom."

I might also suggest breaking them into two separate sentences if the first way looked too funny to your eyes.

I hope I helped a bit until Jan can answer more fully. Check out her previous lesson on commas because that will help you with the second example. Also check out the website I gave. It is my absolute favorite one to use.
Shann

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 05, 2014 1:13 pm

It's difficult for ne to respond fully on my phone, so I'll keep it short and sweet: don't use a comma after the short conjunctions ( and, but, so, yet).
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby lish1936 » Sat Jul 05, 2014 1:34 pm

Millie wrote:I had pondered adoption previously but fearing that it would be too difficult, I set it aside.

We sneak out of bed and not wanting to awake my husband, I beckon her into the bathroom.


Millie,
If you don't mind me testing what I've learned on you until Jan checks me :D, then this is how I might write them.

I had pondered adoption previously, but fearing it would be too difficult, I set it aside. ( I left out the "that.")

On the second sentence, I agree with Shann.
However, another possibility could be:

Not wanting to awake my husband, we sneak out of bed; I beckon her to the bathroom.

Thanks, Jan, for all corrections. :D

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Shann » Sat Jul 05, 2014 1:56 pm

I totally agree with Lillian about leaving out the word that. I tend to overuse it and it's on my list of ways to improve my writing and editing.

As for her second example, to me it sounds like 3 people are in bed (husband, main character, and person she is beckoning) . If that's the case, then I think it's a good sentence. When I first read it, however, I assumed the other person was not in bed with MC and husband.

Lillian makes a great point though. Sometimes, depending on the pacing and flow, you can get rid of the conjunction (in this case the word and) and use a semicolon instead or use two complete sentences. The semicolon will prevent you having several lines that are short and choppy or using the word and too much.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 05, 2014 1:58 pm

Lilian, your sentences are fine.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Milly Born » Sat Jul 05, 2014 5:12 pm

Thank you all for your great advice! It will be the finishing touch to my article for Arabah Joy, Just Trust.

Also thanks to my buddy Virginia Bliss, who made me aware of my comma problem.

And yes, we were three in bed. :D
Milly Born
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Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
--Psalm 105:1

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Jul 05, 2014 5:59 pm

Milly Born wrote:Also thanks to my buddy Virginia Bliss, who made me aware of my comma problem.


Milly, you can view my comma problems at the comma thread:

http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=67&t=38370&p=530777#p530777


Cinnamon Bear :)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby RachelM » Sun Jul 06, 2014 2:15 am

I have some questions about em dashes. I didn't even know what an em dash was until I joined FW last year, and now I love them. But I'm not sure if I really understand how to use them. My understanding is that they are used like parentheses but that they have the opposite effect—they emphasize the words instead of an aside note (like with parentheses.) Is that correct?

Is it incorrect to use an em dash to set apart an independent clause?

I went to my blog and copied some sentences that had em dashes in them. Am I using them correctly?

Thanks, Jan!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For years, our bedtime routine has included an hour of our entire family snuggling on a couch—now two couches—while I read aloud.

May we look for—and find—the little pearls of joy that God places into our lives each day.

While I was contemplating the damage that my four-year-old son had done to his sister's math test—and the lack of supervision that enabled the mutilation—our lovely teacher commented on William’s excellent scissor skills.

I expose my face to the mosquitoes, wait until I feel the stinging of their proboscis, and slap myself—hard.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Shann » Sun Jul 06, 2014 4:29 pm

Here is a resource I use Rachel that might help answer your questions and then Jan can make it even clearer when she can. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/dash.htm
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby glorybee » Sun Jul 06, 2014 4:51 pm

Rachel, your understanding of em dashes is exactly right, as is your use of them in the sentences you provided.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby tomoral » Sun Jul 06, 2014 6:23 pm

I was told by another poet who has been writing poetry for years (not a FW member) that no one should tell you how to punctuate your poetry. Is this just his ego talking or is it true?
God Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storms.
Children are our tomorrow
Keep them daily from the sorrow
Of the beasts in life

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby Shann » Sun Jul 06, 2014 6:43 pm

Punctuation in poetry can definitely be a style choice. The only time I change punctuation in a poem is if it's not clear to the reader and punctuation will help. Also f they were using punctuation then stopped I might suggest they do so for consistency sake. I've only edited two or three poetry MS though, and the authors were quite open to my suggestions regarding punctuation.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK ME ANYTHING

Postby glorybee » Sun Jul 06, 2014 6:57 pm

Generally, structured poetry (with rhyme and meter) should be punctuated very much like prose, with a bit more of the writer's discretion. It is NOT necessary to have punctuation at the end of each line, and in fact that is a common error.

Free verse may be punctuated or not according to the poet's needs, and punctuation may add as much to the meaning of a free verse poem as word choice.
Jan Ackerson

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