Basic Tools to Better Writing: Avoid the Slob Mentality

February 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

Use Grammarly’s grammar checker online because being a grammar slob is like speaking to a complete stranger with spinach stuck between your teeth. You are completely oblivious, but it’s the only thing the stranger notices.

Basic Tools to Better Writing

I’m a natural slob. I prefer wearing t-shirts and jeans. I have a gray hooded sweatshirt that I wear like a Linus security blanket all winter. It’s comfortable, but really, I should try harder. I realize this. Recognition is the first step, right? This slob mentality used to permeate my home, too. I would leave piles of dishes unwashed. I would avoid looking at the bathroom because if I really looked at the state of the tub, I knew I would need to grab a scrub brush. I’m learning to care more, but I have to fight these natural slob urges. I go on cleaning purges. I try new laundry systems. I put on a nice sweater and a scarf once in a while.

I try to remember my sloppy tendencies when I read sloppy writing. Yes, writing has sloppy qualities, too. No one is perfect. But just as I have learned that not looking at the bathroom doesn’t get it any cleaner, not addressing sloppy writing doesn’t make it any better.

Writing is both a talent and a skill. Some people have an eye for fashion, always choosing the perfect outfit. Others, like me, know how to dress themselves, doing little more than putting shirts and pants over the right parts. In the same way, some people have a knack for the well-turned phrase or the ability to transport a reader to vivid worlds of words, and others do not. But if you can think and speak, you can also write. Writing just takes more practice, and good writing takes effort.

So, what are the basic tools to good writing? Here’s a good place to start: Avoid the Slob Mentality

1. Voice

You need a writing voice, and the only way to tap into that voice is to write with it more often. My writing voice is my favorite voice. It’s sharper and more witty than my talking voice. Listening to your writing voice is like finding the beat to a distant melody. You have to concentrate to feel the pulse set in. If you don’t feel comfortable with your writing voice, it shows. Start by reading whatever you write out loud, like with your actual voice, before you send it. Trust me. It helps.

2. Observation

Detail is the key. Don’t write with generalizations or clichés. That’s sloppy. Keep an eye out for day-to-day life. You’ll see story all around you. Just follow life around a bit, then describe it. When you make a great observation, it is both laser-beam specific to your unique situation and universally true.

3. Structure

When you are writing, you need to lead people by the hand. Assume they know nothing. Assuming is sloppy work. Explain terms. Use transitions. Take out unnecessary words. Eventually, once you know your audience, you can venture from the path. Overall, you want to be interesting, not confusing.

4. Mechanics

When you’re an actual slob, your friends may not mention the globs of hair and toothpaste in your sink, but believe me, they notice it. Being a grammar slob with your writing has the same effect. The mess distracts from the message. If you cannot spell correctly or write with few mechanical errors, your reader will get lost in the mess.

What are some other basic tools to better writing? How do you avoid the Grammar Slob Mentality?

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Kelly Wiggains

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Kelly Wiggains, a high school English teacher turned homeschooling mom, likes to surround herself with good literature, beautiful things, and big ideas, and she wants her home to reflect those things, too. Here at KellyWiggains.com she talks about everything From Literature to Living.
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2 responses to Basic Tools to Better Writing: Avoid the Slob Mentality

  1. It’s been a popular theme of late that language is fluid and prone to evolution and reinvention. Personally, I feel that this is probably true and right, but I also feel that grammar is fundamental to how we communicate, and that we should therefore be loath to change it. For instance, there was that article a while back about the word “because” becoming a preposition (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/english-has-a-new-preposition-because-internet/281601/). To me, this is an acceptable evolution of English. In fact, it’s almost surprising that it didn’t happen sooner, given the function of “because.” But what, in your opinion, is the difference between a “new breed” of grammar and simply an improper use of grammar? Or, said another way, does something fail as an evolution of language when it fails to convey meaning?

    • I am in favor of language evolution in the name of clarity – coining new terms, for instance. And I feel similarly about grammar. I love the new use of “because” developed from the internet. And I understand both sides of the Oxford comma debate (both rooted in the principles of clarity). I don’t like language/grammar rules evolving based only on the “well everyone is already doing this” mentality. An example would be the term “literally” being misused and abused so often that dictionaries are adding “a term of exaggeration” as a definition, which makes no sense to me.

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