If superfluous commas, misplaced apostrophes (looking at you, it’s/its, they’re/their!), and sentence-ending prepositions make you flinch in horror, you’re in the right place. We take grammar seriously at The Daily Post; my fellow editors and I can often be found quibbling and nitpicking over tenses, modes, and — you guessed it — punctuation. Good writing, though, isn’t merely about adhering to rules. It’s also about knowing how and when to break them. Today, let’s talk about grammar — and the kinds of liberties you might consider taking with it. Read more
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For nearly two years, I’ve written posts about grammar and usage, so clearly it’s a topic that I think is important. Equally important, I think, is knowing when it’s appropriate to insist on proper grammar and how to go about it.
You hear of cases now and then in which people go into public and make a big show of correcting grammatical problems on signage. Take for example this instance that resulted in probation for two men who fixed the grammar on a sign at Grand Canyon National Park. The men in fact went on a nationwide crusade to fix public typos, as documented in an NPR story and a book. Read more
You might have noticed that we’re grammar nerds here at the Daily Post. While we’re healthily obsessed with the topic, we don’t post about it exclusively, but there are some bloggers who do. If you’d like to try your hand at posting about grammar or linguistics, here are some ideas inspired by WordPress.com grammar bloggers:
My post of last week on the proper use of “me,” “myself,” and “I” was my most popular to date if the comments are any indication. If you stuck around for the comments, you will have seen a little bit of debate on how much it really matters to use the language as the grammar fuddy duddies (of which I am one to some degree or another) would have us use it. Commenter nrhatch provided a link to a fun YouTube video narrated by comedian Stephen Fry that I’ll relink below:
There are no doubt many schools of thought on how important it really is to get the language “right.” I’ll consider two.
The pragmatist will say that as long as the writing in question conveys the desired message, the finer points of grammar don’t matter a whole lot. That is, if I write “Johnny and me are going to the unicorn store,” nobody’s going to mistake my meaning, and “Johnny and I are going to the unicorn store” adds no real clarity. So the pragmatist may say that insisting on the me/I distinction in such a sentence amounts to insisting on a rule for the rule’s sake (you might call this pedantry) and not because the rule is actually terribly valuable. From the perspective of a pragmatic and forgiving grammarian, being called down for the me/I distinction in a case like the one I cite here might seem a lot like being given a traffic ticket for rolling gently through a well-lit and deserted intersection in the dead of night in spite of the stop sign. Sure, you’ve broken the law, but it burns you up to get the ticket and you might mutter a few choice words under your breath about the police officer as you drive away.
Then, of course, there are the sticklers (or SNOOTs). The sticklers insist upon proper usage sometimes even to the point of awkwardness. Sometimes, a sentence just reads better if you split the darned infinitive or end it with a preposition, but the sticklers will have none of it. The sticklers carry grammar first-aid kits for fixing ungrammatical signs they find in public. They point out misuse of “whom” in Facebook posts to their offending friends and family.The sticklers do things like write blog posts about how to use objective and subjective pronouns properly, and they most assuredly read books like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (even if they disagree with Mr. Strunk’s agenda).
I fall somewhere between the two camps, or paradoxically somehow in both of them. Although I happily use informal language in my speech and in many of the things I write, I generally know the rules pretty well (I even know why some of them, like the split infinitive rule, are stupid). I don’t insist upon the rules, but I geek out with other grammar nerds when we’re thrown together. I think having a standardized grammar serves some defensible purposes, and my posts here to date have reflected an interest in exposing the rules to those who’re interested, but I also know that our usage rules evolved from our usage. Speech patterns emerged before anybody ever wrote the first grammar book.
Since there had been some debate in the other post, I thought I’d dedicate a post to the question of how much standard grammar and usage matter. Do you fall more on the pragmatic side or the stickler side? If you’re more of a pragmatist, how far are you willing to go? For example, would you accept a sentence like “River jumped clothes no into while wearing he Saturday last the”? It pretty clearly conveys information but is far from standard usage. If you’re more of a stickler, are there any of the standard rules you’re willing to relax a bit? If so, what criteria do you use to decide which rules to relax?
Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti: think what you might of the music they each performed, there is one thing that unites these (late) great singers. The moment they opened their mouths, you knew it was them. Their voice had that specific, unmistakable timbre that — above all else — said “it’s me.”
It might be trickier for writers to achieve such a level of immediate recognizability, but not impossible. The astringent wit of Dorothy Parker, the mad exuberance of a Vladimir Nabokov line, or even the winning simplicity of recent Nobel laureate Alice Munro all bear an invisible trademark — they each have a voice all their own.
While we can’t guarantee any fancy literary awards for all of you just yet, bloggers can, and should, have a distinct voice, too. And we’re here to help you develop it, whether you’re visiting from Zero to Hero or are a blogging old-timer. Read more
Last week, five published NaNoWriMo authors shared their insight about getting started with your own 50,000-word novel. One week (and 5,000 cups of coffee) into NaNo, we invited our panel of veteran storytellers to share some concrete advice about finding an audience for your project.
No matter where your word count stands currently, or even if you’re just cheering from the sidelines, join us for another round of tips, cheers, and inspiration.
Are you ready to commit to a week, a month, or even a year of posting? Multi-day blog challenges are a great way to push yourself as a writer or artist, grow in unexpected ways, connect with other bloggers — maybe even to produce a publishable book.
Our survival guide gives you the tools you need to see a longer challenge through to the end, from inspiration for the days your muse has left the building to resources on making the most of WordPress.com:
At BlogHer, the theme for the March 2014 edition of NaBloPoMo is Self. Head there to grab a badge and check out their prompts.
Like genius, blog challenges are 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration — but without that 1%, it’s hard to get off the ground. We’ll help you shape and sustain your energy for the long haul:
- When Life Gets in the Way: Tips on finding the time to blog.
- You (Almost) Never Have Nothing to Write About: 4.5 steps to busting bloggers’ block.
- The Ghosts in Your Dashboard: Stuck? Find creative ways to use drafts you’ve abandoned.
- It’s About Time: On Editorial Calendars: Tips to set up and manage your blog’s content plan.
- Plagiarize Yourself: Revisit comments you’ve made to spark new post material.
- Philosophy of Composition: A discussion of Edgar Allan Poe to fuel your own methods.
- Try a New Point of View: Get inspired by three takes on the same topic.
- Blogs for 365 days, 52 Weeks, and More: Bloggers with year-round or ongoing projects.
- Want to Write a Novel? A kickoff for NaNoWriMo 2013, with tips from past participants.
- Apps We Love: The tools and tricks that make writing easier.
Need some specific post ideas? We’ve got you covered there, too.
- Check out past writing prompts: An archive of hundreds and hundreds of prompts.
- Check out past writing challenges: A collection of challenges to hone your craft.
- Check out past photo challenges: Our popular photography prompts, served up each Friday.
- Find a weekly event to join: Bloggers running weekly events centered on photos, fiction and prompts of all kinds.
- NaBloPoMo prompts: Daily prompts from the NaBloPoMo team, for November and beyond.
- Make writing prompts personal: Learn how to bend writing prompts to your bloggers’ will.
Blog challenges are an opportunity to stretch yourself as a writer or artist; trying something new shifts your perspective, and a new angle on your work is critical and inspiring. These posts help you tighten and focus your writing and give you the push you need to try something boundary-busting:
- Perfect Pitch: A primer on developing your voice as a blogger.
- The Art of Snark: Tips on creative disagreement, from parody to satire.
- The Art of the Open Letter: Successful examples of the open letter format.
- Point of View: Looking at three ways to tackle the same subject.
- Blogging about Family and Friends: Getting personal without abolishing privacy.
- Make Them Laugh: Five funny bloggers on the art of humor writing.
- The 5-Paragraph Essay: Using a familiar format for longer posts.
- Longform Layout Tips: How to keep readers hooked ’til the end.
- Going Serial: Regularity and repetition in your editorial schedule.
- Serial Writing for Fiction: Tips to keep fiction writers writing.
- Quick Tip on Editing: Eliminate unnecessary words!
- Down with Adverbs: The adverb: writing friend or foe?
- Three Steps for Perfect Proofing: Essentials for error-free writing.
- Metaphor and Simile: A refresher on two common literary devices.
- Hyperbole is the best thing ever: Exaggerating for effect.
- Escaping the Grammar Police: Breaking grammar rules for style and impact.
Ensure your blog layout shows off your content to its best advantage with these options, baked right in to WordPress.com:
- Post Formats: A primer on the various formats to display your posts.
- Features for Writing: Tools in your dashboard, from requesting feedback to copying a post.
- Features for Longform: Pagination, page jumps, and the more tag, oh my!
- Blogging on the Go: Creating content with mobile apps.
- Inserting Images, Four Ways: Easy ways to create visual impact.
The folks at BlogHer, who are behind NaBloPoMo, know a thing or two about sustaining daily blogging! Here, their top tips for a blog challenge experience you can be proud of:
- 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of NaBloPoMo: The nuts and bolts of engaging with the NaBloPoMo community.
- Survive NaBloPoMo: Post ideas galore from a NaBloPoMo regular.
- What Bloggers Can Learn from Marathon Runners: Using schedules, community support, and built-in breaks.
- 3 Ways to Keep Writing When You Don’t Have Time: Keep going when life saps your muse.
- 6 Tips for Writing Well Even After Kids: Honing your craft when you’ve got little people with big demands.
- Why You Should Cross-Post to BlogHer: Getting more eyes on your bloggy efforts.
Of course, WordPress.com and BlogHer are not the only places to find helpful resources! Here the sites we visit — on WordPress.com and beyond — when we need a blogging boost:
- Boy with a Hat: Writing and life inspiration from the talented Vincent Mars.
- Cristian Mihai: Inspiration and practical writing advice from a popular blogger.
- Kristen Lamb: The blog of a bestselling author with a big readership.
- Alec Nevala-Lee: An excellent writer on art, culture, and the writing life.
- Brevity Magazine An essential resource for nonfiction, essay, and memoir writers.
- Live to Write, Write to Live: Professional writers talk about the craft and business of writing.
- The Art of Writing: The blog of novelist Tobias Mastgrave.
- Lorelle on WordPress: Tips on writing and blogging on WordPress and WordPress.com.
- The NaNoWriMo Blog: The official hub of National Novel Writing Month.
- Nieman Storyboard: A resource for storytellers, period.
- Poynter.org: All about storytelling, news gathering, and tools for writing.
- Write to Done: Articles and practical tips on writing.
- Men with Pens: A blog on copy writing, freelancing, and the business side of writing.
- Time to Write: Ideas and tips for writers from Jurgen Wolff.
“Blog event survival guide” image by Florian Richter / CC by 2.0
“Get inspired” image by Caleb Roenigk / CC by 2.0
“Be a better writer” image by semihundido / CC by 2.0
“WordPress.com” image by Christopher Ross / CC by 2.0
“Resources” image by Germán Póo-Caamaño / CC by 2.0
The Daily Post is on hiatus this week, so we’ll be highlighting great posts from the archives that you might have missed the first time around (never fear — there’ll still be a new Photo Challenge on Friday!).
Today, grammar guru Daryl explains how “literally” literally came to mean its opposite — and why that’s okay:
English usage snobs all over the internet shudder when they hear the word “literally” used to mean its opposite. For example, somebody who claims to have been “literally scared to death” actually means that he was figuratively scared to death. If he had been literally scared to death, he wouldn’t be around to tell us about his fate. Search Google for the simple word “literally” and you’ll find no shortage of sites correcting the misuse. Some fun treatments include that of The Oatmeal (beware, it’s a little off-color) and xkcd.