Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beginner's Class: The Paper Clip

Ursula says, damn the Paperclip! But he may have a point.

Sorry, I missed my blog day this week – partly because I didn’t really have a good take on the topic. Learning the craft of writing, after all, is a tall order. There are so many aspects to it, I wasn’t sure where to begin.

Then yesterday I was at my ‘other’ job composing the minutes of a town meeting for my boss and someone had set the help file to active on my computer. So in the middle of a spell check this guy pops up:

He starts ranting about passive voice. I yelled at him and shut him down because the style we use in writing town minutes is all passive [yeah, I know, it kills Ursula] but that’s how we do it. “A vote was taken.” Etc.

A little while later PC [paperclip] came back complaining about sentence fragments. Yes, a list in a table is a sentence fragment. Sorry. I shut him down again.

Later, he came back to tell me I had an extra space between words...and that’s when it hit me. He had a point.

Not about the spaces – or the fragments or the passive voice...but, yes, about the spaces, the fragments and the passive voice. I thought to myself, as annoying as this little guy is, he might be of help to a new writer.

I’ve been a professional editor for several years now and I’ve found that new writers make a lot of the same mistakes. Most of my editing revolves around fixing grammar, spelling and punctuation problems before I can tackle actual story edits, and it occurred to me that a first line of defense for an author, before a CP, before professional editing, even before learning the craft of story telling, might be to run a grammar check on a manuscript and see what the computer comes up with.

This isn’t, of course, a substitute for writing know how and the deeper skills you can learn in workshops or from other writers, but it’s a way to clean up a manuscript and see areas where there are problems. The Paperclip, or simply the grammar check function on your word processor, does have some merit. While the computer doesn’t have writing talent and knows nothing of poetic license, a crash course in sentence mechanics can help a lot.

It may seem simplistic, but my advice to new writers is start with the Clip, you may find, when he’s not being an annoying little pain in the butt, he might have some good advice.

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2 comments:

Savanna Kougar said...

I don't think paperclip and I would get along until I was in the final stages of editing. I have enough of an internal editor already.
However, you have have good point about the basics of grammar.

Angela Verdenius said...

I always use my spelling and grammar check. Coming from Down Under, it always throws me to change to the US spelling instead of my own! LOL