Grammar

A Writer’s Best Friend

If I asked you what you considered to be a writer’s best friend, what would you say?

Please don’t say “Wikipedia.”

My clients would probably reply, “Bob Hostetler.” But that can’t be everyone’s answer.

You might consider “a fine fountain pen” or “a blank page in a brand new journal” to be your best friend as a writer. Maybe the thesaurus is your best friend (ally, associate, buddy, companion, comrade, “mate,” pal).

For some, it’s the Control-Z or Command-Z keyboard command to “undo” whatever it was you just did. For others, a writer’s best friend is a strong cup of coffee or the soundtrack from The Last of the Mohicans.

But my nominee for “writer’s best friend” is Find-and-Replace.

I realize that not everyone uses it to death the way I do, but Find-and-Replace has been very good to me—so good that I should buy it flowers. If only I knew where to send them.

Why do I say that?

Because Find-and-Replace has mitigated some of my worst faults and weaknesses as a writer, and helped me hunt them down like the cowards like they are and squash them like bugs. So, yeah, since I have a penchant for bad similes and mixed metaphors, I can use Find-and-Replace, anytime I finish a page, chapter, article, or blog post, to “find” the word “like” and eliminate or improve each occurrence.

Can Find-and-Replace work for you as it does for me? I bet it can. Here are just a few suggestions for how to use it:

  • Double-space after a period. Back in the day, when we wrote with typewriters (if you’re under forty, you might need to Google “typewriter” to see what I’m talking about), it was customary to double space after a period. But that’s no longer necessary in the computer age, though some of us still do it out of habit. So “Find” every double-space and “Replace” with a single space. It takes about a second-and-a-half, even in a long document.
  • “That.” Most writers—even the best among us—overuse the word “that.” If that is a weakness of yours (see what I did there?), simply use Find-and-Replace to locate every “that” in your manuscript and delete those that are superfluous.
  • “Was.” Most writers can reduce the number of passive verbs like “is” and “was” in their writing, replacing them with more active verbs. “Is,” of course, is so short and common in other words as to make Find-and-Replace unhelpful, but searching for “was” and replacing it and its related words can enliven your writing.
  • “Very.” The word “very” is very common in first drafts. Find-and-Replace can help to save you from it, reminding you to replace “very angry” with “incensed,” for example. And that would be very good.
  • Exclamation points! Scott Fitzgerald famously said that an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. They have a use, of course, but should be sparingly employed. So Find-and-Replace exclamation points with periods! You’ll feel better!
  • Your personal weaknesses. Among the self-editing exercises I urge upon writers when I speak at writers’ conferences is to learn your personal weaknesses and edit accordingly. One of my weaknesses: I love—absolutely love—semi-colons. So, when I finish an article or chapter, I Find-and-Replace semi-colons. It hurts; it must be done, nonetheless.

 These are just a few suggestions, but I hope they help. Do you have a favorite Find-and-Replace habit that strengthens your writing?

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Grammar and the Singular “They”

Yesterday I opened a can of worms. There were many worms in the can; some male and some female. I discovered that a few of the worms were married to each other. One couple was having a marital disagreement. They were arguing about grammar, of all things. The fight was about the proper use of gender pronouns. Here is the sentence under dispute:

“When a spouse greets a partner with derision because of an opinion, what should be ___ reaction?”

Fill in the blank. Should you use his, his or her, or their? This is a grammatical conundrum. Your choice will determine whether you will be categorized as “sexist,” “tiresome,” or “ungrammatical.”

Our vernacular has changed over the past years due to our sensitivity over the generic “he.” For some it is a matter of being politically correct. For others it is merely a way of being inclusive of both genders in their writing. In addition it can be simply a matter of using the common language of everyday speech.

So what is correct?

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Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often. —Don’t be afraid of me. Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as …

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Wordsmiths of the World, Unite!

Did you know you’re a wordsmith? If you’re a writer, you are. A wordsmith is defined by Webster’s as a “craftsman or artist whose medium is words.” That, my friends, is you. Which is why I’m coming to you today and asking you to have mercy on your readers. (Yes, …

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