Friday, March 23, 2012

Becoming a Superb Writer

The path towards becoming a superb writer is a worthy pursuit. The Superb Writers' Blogathon, hosted by Grammarly grammar checker lets bloggers share their favorite tips for effective composition.


I was asked if I wanted to participate in a Blogathon hosted by Grammarly. For full-disclosure purposes, you should know that in exchange for participation I was awarded an Amazon gift card.

One of the questions posed to participants in this Blogathon is to answer the question, "What makes a superb writer?" There is a reasonable expectation that I will be able to answer this question.

First, I have to confess that I am slightly amused with myself to be participating in this Blogathon, as I do not consider myself a superb writer. In fact, I tend to think of myself as a very poor writer who happens to have very strong opinions. My opinions and beliefs might make me interesting to read or listen to, but my writing skills frequently opens the floor for me to be embarrassed by things as little as a misplaced comma to an issue as large as a miscommunication. Words, and how we choose to use them, do have an effect on the reader or listener. I believe this to be true and so I do like to know when I'm making mistakes in the way I write.

I think it very important that anyone who decides to publish any of their own words online (be it on a blog, Twitter or Facebook) should take great care in crafting what they say to represent their best thoughts in the most accurate manner possible. As I've said, and will re-affirm, words do have a great effect. Written words carry great power as they can influence and effect change on even the most unsuspecting person. When writing things online for the world to see, I think one should pay great attention to detail. (If you know me at all, you know that I'm not big on details. I'm more of what you might call a big idea type of gal.) This is exactly why I'm rather intrigued with the idea of Grammarly. For those of us who might not be as detailed oriented, this is a handy little tool which can help to write more effectively and beautifully. Grammarly offers you the ability to check your text for errors before you hit that "publish" button. Not only will you be notified of errors which you can have the opportunity to correct, but there is the added benefit and side-effect of being left alone by The Grammar Police. (The Grammar Police are those friendly people who seldom comment on your blog except when they want to correct your grammar, all while completely ignoring the idea which you were striving to communicate.)

Anything which helps me learn to be a better writer is appreciated by myself as I'm harsher with myself than anyone else. (If we're all being honest here, I'm sure a few of you would appreciate my improving in this area as well!)

When asked to provide a tip or two of what makes a superb writer, I only came up with one piece of advice.

1. Care. Care about what it is you are saying and the manner in which you say it. Think about how other people will read your words and be effected by them.

Yes, I know that blogs are supposed to be people's online diaries. We "aren't supposed to judge" people based on the way they "express themselves." But people do judge and should judge a person based on how they express themselves. I will be judged for that last statement, no matter how accepting the reader is. Why? Because I had an opinion and I expressed it. I act on it and I believe in my opinion. I wrote it down, making it instantly available for critique and dissection. You will walk away with an opinion and view of me based on that published sentence. So it stands to reason that I should care about that sentence and think about how I am crafting it. I want it to communicate everything that I think. I hope that it will. Realistically though, we fail in our words and so I will fail to communicate thoroughly and accurately. I only have the written word to communicate with. So I should treat my ability to write and publish what I write online with the utmost respect and consideration for the finer details.

I may misplaces my commas. I may struggle with semicolons. Occasionally I play around with parenthesis. But in all of that, I do care and am working to become a more superb writer. With a little patience and time to devote to improving, I too might one day be classified as a superb writer. Or, perhaps, just a little less un-superb.

Now let's try a little experiment. I took the text that I wrote above and stuck it into Grammarly. I scored a 52 out of a 100 and was told that my writing was weak and could stand some revision.

Original result:

1 spelling error
24 issues with grammar
6 issues with punctuation
20 issues with style and word choice
= 52 Critical Writing issues spotted.

I then went back and revised everything I had originally written and stuck my revised text into the Grammarly system.

Revised result:
= 47 Critical Writing issues spotted.

Somewhat pathetically I scored a 53. Only slight improvement. It doesn't like the way I express myself and it thinks I'm misspelling Grammarly which is entirely not my fault. Heh.

This little experiment definitely gives me more to work on and think about! In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away at improving my writing.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

Hey, I'm a proud member of the Grammar Police!

I also cannot understand why anyone would bother writing if they don't care about what they write. Obviously, some do. (Not you, of course...)

All of us would do well to work to improve our writing. I certainly do, and it is obvious that you do as well.

Great post.

Stephanie Kay said...

Am I a bad friend for laughing that your corrected version on improved slightly? :) I think the problem is that most of us bloggers write the way we speak, and that is most definitely NOT grammatically correct!

Annette Whipple said...

I just checked out the site. Like it. Don't like the idea of taking the time to check...but think I will, at least once in a while.

I think its fine for friends to discreetly point out is much more discreet than a comment though!

I cringe at many Facebook comments...spelling and grammar. Most bloggers are not awful least not the ones I read. I bet grammarly will hate my use of ... all the time!

BerlinerinPoet said...

Oh Grammar absolute pet peeve of the blog world! I so know what you mean about missing the big idea due to a comma. Dreadful!

I enjoyed reading this, and I actually think you are a good writer, but maybe it's because I agree with you a lot.

I'm excited to know what my result would be. Wait, what am I saying...actually I dread it. hahaha

BerlinerinPoet said...

Apparently my style and word choices are ALWAYS good. I just have an issue with punctuation and making up words. Not AS bad as I originally though it would be.

Caroline said...

Personally, I'm a heap more interested in yur big idears and opinions, than weather you kin spel gud.

Carrie said...

@Diary of an A - Well, that can be rather obnoxious at times, don'tcha know?!

@Stephanie - No. Not a bad friend. I smiled at myself (and also got really frustrated.) But if I couldn't smirk a little at my own person then I wouldn't have posted my results! I do believe we write as we speak. I'm not sure how I should feel about that.

@BPoet - haha!

@Caroline - LOL!

And even as I was re-reading my post I caught another typo. Despite the fact that I've personally read this post no less than 10 times, I still find mistakes!

B said...

I think "care" is a great answer to that question. It encompasses a great deal of what makes the writing process.

bekahcubed said...

Fascinating. I tried "Grammarly" out on one of my upcoming Seder posts and ended up with 24 writing issues and a score of 44%--rather a disappointment to this formerly "A" student.

Since I'm unwilling to submit my credit card information for a free trial, I have to use trial and error to fix what I've done "wrong". What I found left me less than impressed with the program.

6 spelling errors, none of which were actual errors, including:
-2 instances of using Haggadot as the plural of Haggadah
-1 instance of a single quote (') used for a quote inside of a quote, but which was interpreted as an apostrophe by the program

8 grammar issues, 2 of which were actual errors. The others included:
-2 intentional uses of the passive voice
-2 intentional use of a conditional sentence as a question (i.e. "If Jesus statement did not mean this, what did it mean?")
-2 ambiguous instances of opening a sentence with "But" or "So"

2 punctuation issues, both of which were correct, I suppose (I'm a bit reluctant about one, an interjection that I couldn't find a way to punctuate properly. I had to remove the interjection in order to make the program pronounce my sentence "error-free")

8 writing style issues, none of which I felt were actually issues:
-1 parenthetical clarification
-5 correct but informal uses of contractions
-1 use of the word "So" at the beginning of a sentence
-1 use of "very" (I only used this once, so it was not an overuse issue--and the use of it adds something to the statement "the very next day".)

I can see how "Grammarly" would be useful for a truly bad writer, but I feel it could stunt the development of a writer from good to great.

Now, how's that for ignoring what you've said to comment on grammar? :-)

Barbara H. said...

I think I used to be more of a Grammar Policeman until I started finding mistakes I abhorred in my own writing. I knew the difference, but either they were typos or I was thinking about what I was saying more than the grammar. I think it is important for the very reason that it can throw off a reader, but on the other hand readers need to be a little more gracious as well.

And I frequently find mistakes in my writing both online and in print no matter how often I've reread it beforehand.

I think any computerized program like this is going to have its limitations. I've had programs (even Microsoft Word) try to "correct" things that don't make sense at all. But they do help point out things we may have missed.

I was thinking a bit about the larger question of what makes a superb writer. It would take more thought than I've given it in just these few moments, and I think care is a major qualification, care both for the content and the reader. But I think a truly superb writer goes a step further. I've heard teachers and preachers and read multiple authors who truly cared about their subject and wanted to communicate that to their audiences, but it just fell flat somehow. The only word I can come up with for that further step is "focus," though I am not sure it's the exact word I want. I've found that in writing the newspaper column with a word limit, it has really made me hone my writing down, and it's come out better. I tend to be too wordy (as you can tell....), and I know when I'm reading or listening to someone who is wordy, sometimes it's hard to distil the main point. With the column, first I write everything I want to say, let it sit a few days/weeks, and then chop and reword every time I look at it. (I would probably keep doing that forever except I have to turn it in on a given date). Distilling a paragraph down to a sentence can sometimes really make it zing. With the blog I am more off-the-cuff in my writing unless it's a really important and sensitive topic, then I go through the same process.

I imagine there is much more involved as well. I have several books on writing I want to read "someday."

Bluerose said...

I could definitely use work on my grammar! I typed in the first paragraph of my last post, and did a little better than I anticipated. :P (48)
I think this site would probably only succeed in driving me insane, though.

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