Mol (mollyringle) wrote,

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Writing about writing about writing

I don't ordinarily like to write about the writing process, mostly because it doesn't seem nearly as interesting as other things I could write about (e.g., shrubbery). However, two good links on the subject presented themselves today:
First, from pegkerr (who seems to find lots of good links), an article about George Orwell's life and attitude toward writing. I love the caustic and concise quality of the direct quotations from him, but was most struck by this description:
He concedes that it’s almost impossible to earn [one's] income solely by writing books, and that a second occupation, useful for putting the author in touch with the real world, should be non-literary.

I've been saying that for years! Orwell and I are great minds who think alike, obviously. How are we "authors" supposed to write about ordinary people with real-world jobs if we've never met any such people or held any such jobs? Furthermore, I don't mean to pick on anyone in particular when I say this, but I've always thought it unimaginative of writers to have their main characters be writers. That's taking "Write what you know" a little too far, if you ask me. I've done it, yes, but I was young. Besides, she was a psycho character, so it could be considered a statement about the insanity of us writers. I see it as more honorable to write about people who do things other than write about people, if you see what I mean. (Exception: John Irving does a damn fine job with his writer characters, and indeed all his characters. But his characters do branch out into some other weird professions to make up for it.)

The second link: Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Should). These are stylistic things, most of which are making me quite paranoid about my own writing now, and all of which are good advice. Notice that they include the excessive-adverb no-no, which I called J.K. Rowling on, a few months back. And on item #10, which reminds you to use commas (properly) to break up long sentences, I want to add: "And please, please, PLEASE learn the difference between commas and semicolons."

The comma splice is one of my hugest stylistic pet peeves. Since punctuation does not exist in true linguistics (which studies spoken language), this peeve does not violate my non-prescriptive linguistic stance. It isn't out of pointless tyranny that I want people to learn the semicolon. It's because their sentences are hard to read without them. Commas are lovely, but they can't do everything. Example:

I liked that movie, I still think about it.

"I liked that movie; I still think about it." Two sentences. Two separate thoughts. No conjunction. Semicolon!
If you've got a conjunction, a comma is okay: "I liked that movie, and I still think about it." But notice the reading of the sentence is slightly different there.

This is not an arbitrary, ridiculous grammar rule like the one forbidding split infinitives. (Which is dumb because, in short, English is not Latin.) No; this has to do with the flow of the sentence (or sentences) and whether you're expressing them as two separate arguments to one point, or all part of the same point. Your intonation - to bring it back to spoken linguistics - would usually make a distinction between where you'd put a comma and where you'd put a semicolon. So show it! That's the point of punctuation: to clarify intonation.

If you're still confused, run a Google on "comma splice" and you'll come up with plenty of reading material.

Don't get paranoid about punctuation errors in your comments now, by the way. I don't really care in an informal setting like that. But in composed writing - which maybe ought to include LJ posts, and definitely should include emails - be aware that by substituting a comma for a semicolon, you're brutally crushing nuances that deserved to live.

Just my two cents, of course.

(Hoping the hearts of raethe, alltimeqb, and ten_fifteen are warmed by the fleeting return of LemonLye, Grammar Nazi.) :D
Tags: irritation, linguistics, linkage, writing

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