Saturday, December 20, 2008

How To Write: Part One

One of mom's favorite sayings was: "Make yourself useful as well as beautiful." In an effort to be a bit more useful, since the beautiful part is pretty much a lost cause, I am starting a series on "How To Write." Most of my tips will relate to copywriting, because that's what I do. But of course most of the posts will be silly and rambling, so even if you don't give a hoot about writing, you may want to read them anyway.

My impeccable writing skills actually began back in 7th grade, with a phenomenal English teacher named Mrs. Clegg.

I have very fond memories of Mrs. Clegg. She was totally devoted to her work. She cared deeply about the difference between a colon and a semi-colon. She ripped apart our essays, lamented our run-on sentences, and grieved over every dangling participle. Everybody else hated her. But she became my role model.

Now that I am gainfully employed as a marketing copywriter, however, Mrs. Clegg's rules are out the window. Some of them, at least. One of the most important tasks for a copywriter (or a blogger, for that matter) is to determine which rules are made to be broken, and which are set in stone.

No-no's that may be OK:

Sentence fragments.
I use sentence fragments all the time. Why? Because that's how people talk. When you write, especially if you are writing ad copy, you really should write the way you talk. (If you are a boring talker, you have my permission to write like me. But only if you follow my rules.) Short, concise sentence fragments can help keep your copy moving.

Simplified punctuation. Mrs. Clegg may know the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, but trust me. Nobody else does. Stick to periods, commas and exclamation points.

No-no's that are just plain bad:

Run-on sentences.
There is just no excuse for a run-on sentence. I sometimes use long sentences in an attempt to be humorous, but if you look hard enough you will find proper sentence structure in there somewhere.

Spelling and/or grammatical errors. This is one of my pet peeves. Nobody seems to know when to use "it's" versus "its" or "there" versus "their." Wasn't ANYBODY paying attention to Mrs. Clegg except me???

Long paragraphs. Unless your name is Nathaniel Hawthorne, your paragraphs should never be more than 4 or 5 sentences long. And if your name IS Nathaniel Hawthorne, you might want to consider making your paragraphs shorter. There is a reason why nobody ever reads your books voluntarily.

In keeping with the rest of the blogging universe, I think I will invite comments and questions throughout the "How To Write" series. If you have no comments or questions, please feel free to leave a note on a totally random topic. Or just tell me how wonderful I am. That will work, too.


Topics for discussion:
Do you have memories of a favorite teacher?
Do you have questions about the world of writing?
Just how wonderful am I?


Silver said...

Hi :)

Ah yes, those English teachers we all had before! Can't say i love them all.. but yea, do owe them big time for being able to write some decent posts today!

Faen said...

I can't say that I never ignore grammar and the like, but it's okay to be lazy every once in awhile right? ;) By the way i absolutely love your blog and sense of humor. It's definately made my evening. I even woke my daughter up laughing at one point. hehe.

Lesley Morrison said...

Thanks Faen! I wasn't really sure if my ramblings would appeal to anybody other than me and my sisters, so I really appreciate the encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I write what I think, I used pinctuation, I make mistakes, I rarely proof read, my keyboard can't spell right! I am an English teacher...


Fran Hill said...

Ah, I dream that one day someone will write a blog post about 'my old dragon of an English teacher, Mrs Hill, who made me chant mantras about apostrophes'. I am sure that if the Head walks by the classroom she must wonder why we are practising Buddhist meditation.

Lesley said...

Oh Fran, I have a feeling someone will! I'm sure your students have lots of stories to tell.


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