Category Archives: Writing

“I upped my pledge—up yours” and other unfortunate word choices

Humour is one of the side-benefits of grammatical errors.

I am studying to write an editing exam next weekend, so my brain swirls with misplaced modifiers and parallel sentence structures. When I work on the practice exercises that come with the preparation material, a small part of me yearns to leave the material as is, because sometimes it is hilarious.

Like these samples of faulty subordination from church bulletins:

Don’t let worry kill you off—let the Church help.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Sometimes there is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentences, but the reader draws unfortunate conclusions due to the ideas presented in each:

Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.
The sermon this morning: “‘Jesus Walks on the Water.” The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 p.m.. Please use the back door.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

Yesterday was Stewardship Sunday at my church. It is a day when the members of the congregation reflect on how they can share their talents to make the world a better place. We didn’t use this slogan though:

The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: “I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours.”

People like me who write and edit for a living often wake up in a cold sweat in the night when they realize a written piece has a grammatical error or an unfortunate unintended meaning.

If you find any mistakes in my posts, I hope you get a good laugh at least.

Life as jigsaw puzzle

My name is Arlene, and I am an addict. Once I get started, I can’t stop. Sometimes I even do it alone. I cancel social engagements so that I can stay home and do it. When I do go out, I can’t wait to get home to get my fix.

My name is Arlene, and I am a jigsaw puzzle addict.

At Christmas, and only at Christmas, I indulge myself. If I allowed it at other times of the year, the laundry would pile up, dust would accumulate, and my family would eat peanut butter sandwiches for dinner every night.

This year a colourful Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band puzzle fed my habit. Lots of colour. Fun. As soon as schedules cleared over the holidays, I ripped the plastic off the box and dumped out the pieces. From then until I finished a day and a half later, my family always knew where to find me. Occasionally, they wandered into the living room to stare at their mother/wife transformed into a boggle-eyed puzzle monster.

I love everything about puzzles. They are a lot like life.

When the pieces tumble out in a jumbled mess, I find it difficult to believe they will ever fit together; I hardly know where to start. But I can’t be paralyzed into inaction by fear of the unknown. I must begin. Picking out the easily identifiable edge pieces, I put in place what’s most important and give the piece some structure. Then I look for colour, matching common colours with common colours. Often, early in the process, I pick up a piece and marvel at its unique shape and colour, but at that point, I can’t imagine where it will fit. I don’t yet have enough information or experience. Later, as the puzzle unfolds, suddenly that piece becomes exactly what I need, and I slide it into place saying, “So that’s what that piece was for.”

The more colour a puzzle has, the more interesting it is to complete. Sometimes, the same colour appears in two different places, and I try to fit pieces where they don’t belong. An “Ah, ha!” moment of discovery comes with figuring out that those pieces really belong somewhere else. And I love the “just right,” knowing feeling of fitting a piece exactly where it belongs.

Puzzles require perseverance. It would be easy to give up and leave the piece unfinished, but the real satisfaction comes from sticking with it, waiting for the illumination, and slotting that final piece into position to complete a beautiful work of art.

I also use this imagery as part of my writing process.

Before I begin, I imagine my story already in existence on another plane somewhere—in the story dimension. I tell myself that all I have to do is persevere and put the pieces together. I start by creating the structure—an outline. Then I add the colour. Sometimes I put pieces in one place only to discover they belong somewhere else. After lots of trial and error and frustration and joy, I slot the last piece into place, then I sit back and marvel at my beautiful work of art.

It might be helpful to imagine the new year of 2011 as a puzzle that needs to be completed.

We’ve just dumped the pieces out of the box. They are in a jumbled mess, and we hardly know where to begin. It’s hard to imagine they’ll ever fit together. But we can’t be paralyzed into inaction by fear of the unknown. We must begin. We start by choosing what is most important and putting the structure into place. Then we can add the colour. We sometimes but wrong pieces in the wrong places, and that’s okay. Illumination comes with patience and perseverance, and soon the right colours for the right places will become clear.

On December 31, 2011, we will slide a final puzzle piece into place and sit back and admire our beautiful 2011 works of art.

Writing as a spiritual pursuit

Writing advice from Richard Wagamese: when you start to think, stop.

As so often happens in life, Wagamese asks us to accept the counterintuitive.  One would assume that the best advice would be, “When you start to think, start.” Certainly, many writers start out that way, but, curiously, when they do, the process is a struggle and the writing comes out forced, drab and lifeless. The writer develops a headache while she strains and sweats over a keyboard, and then she walks away discouraged when she reads strung-together words that don’t live and breathe into story.

For writing to be true, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, it breathes to life from that “something more” part of us, not from formulaic structures and proper grammar. Continue reading