Michael Haskins

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grammar is changing

Writers, both published and unpublished, continue to learn their craft everyday.

Sometimes we, as writers, overlook the few good books available that explain the rules of how and what we do. I don’t mean the glut of books that tells you how to write the best selling novel. Nope. I am talking about the books that explain the rules and even how to break them and how the rules are changing, being challenged.

I have talked a few times at the college library and other events about writing. I have always brought three books with me. Jack Hart’s “A Writer’s Coach,” Roy Peter Clark’s “Writing Tools,” and Steve King’s “On Writing.”

The first two books explain writing – journalist and novelist – by examining style and rules and the why-and-wherefore of the rules. Both books have been of great value to me as both a journalist and mystery writer.

King’s book, of course, tells the reader the procedures for writing that work for him. Most of them work for me. I suggest, in my talk, that these books will help anyone interested in fiction or journalism.

Clark is a scholar and vice president at the Poytner Institute, one of the most prestigious schools for journalist in the world. He writers a column for the Poytner newsletter called “Writing Tools” and his book by the same name is made up of those columns. I read the column, save them actually, so I can read them again.

God, it is said, loves drunks, fools, and Irishmen and I am batting a thousand. Late last week I emailed Clark and asked if he was going to publish the current columns in book form. He replied that his new book, The Glamour of Grammar, would be out in a week and was reviewed in the coming Sunday New York Time Review of Books. I ordered Clark’s new book before I read the review. My copy of the Time’s book review section usually comes before Sunday, via mail. I got it Friday and the review was outstanding. As I expected.

The book came Monday and I have begun reading it. I was not the best English student in high school – OK, I was lucky to get by with a C- – but if they taught English using Clark’s book as a text I might’ve been an A+ English student!

Get the title of some of his chapters: Enjoy, rather than fear, words that sound alike; Learn seven ways to invent words; Use the period to determine emphasis and space; Use the semicolon as a ‘swinging gate.’ The list goes on.

Just as the publishing world is changing, so is the world of grammar. Some fight the changes and some, like Clark, cherish the challenges the change brings.

I recommend “The Glamour of Grammar” to anyone that wants to write and understand the why and how to use grammar for today. I will be adding it to my traveling book collection, if I am eve asked to speak again.

It is also good to finally realize that while Mr. Carlin may have done his best to flunk me in his high school English class, Mr. Clark might have given me a B, maybe even a B+, if he had been teaching.

Google Poytner Institute and you too can get its almost daily report that runs Roy Peter Clark’s column, "Writing Tools." Catch up with the future.

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