Writing Q&A: Do I need to study English to be a writer?

question answer

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Q: I’m interested in writing a book. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’ve been blogging for a while, but I’ve never tried writing a book. Should I go back to college and take some English classes? I’ve also considered getting an MFA. Would that help?

A: You certainly need to study, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay university prices to do so.*

If English is your native language, and you’ve been a writer all or most of your life, college English courses will not give you a huge boost toward achieving publication. I know a lot of writers, but I don’t know any who got their book published because they had a master of fine arts degree. The common element of successful writers is that they write a lot and seek constructive feedback from other writers. Continue reading

When it’s okay to spell okay ‘OK’

Writers and editors may be the only people who get into arguments about spelling. In fact, I think it could easily be said that if you’re inclined to argue about how things ought to be spelled, you’re an editor, at heart if not by title.

OK button

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I’ve been inclined to spell OK with two letters for as long as I can remember. Maybe I read an article about its origins early on. There’s no telling. But that spelling became deeply ingrained when I worked in the newsroom, because it’s the one endorsed by the Associated Press Stylebook.

So I was surprised when not one, but two critique partners, on two different occasions, told me OK was “wrong” and that the only acceptable spelling is okay. Further shock ensued when they both cited The Chicago Manual of Style as the origin of this edict. Continue reading

English is hard. I’m here to help.

English is a beautiful but complex language. Because it borrows words from pretty much every other language on the planet, it has a massive vocabulary. Syntax can be intricate. Word formation is often illogical; for example, flammable and inflammable both mean “easy to burn.”

Reference Books for study

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Rules for punctuation are almost inscrutable. The Chicago Manual of Style’s section on commas is 14 pages long. For a seminar handout, I condensed the bare minimum most writers need to know about commas, and it’s still almost a whole page. This kind of thing makes writers crazy and keeps copyeditors in business. Continue reading