The Oxford Comma Debate

The definition of the Oxford comma (also known as a serial comma—or even a Harvard comma apparently):

It’s the comma that follows the penultimate item in a list of three or more things. It is also a thing that many writers and grammarians love to debate, though I’m not sure why.

So, let’s take a look at the Oxford comma debate. While I fall with those who believe that using this highly debated comma – because it actually makes things easier to understand. (Remember – we want readers to understand what we write.)

So, as far as I can tell, the main argument against using the Oxford comma is that it’s somehow easier to not insert a comma at the end of a list of three or more items.

Let’s look at this example: 

We invited my parents, Herb and Liza.

To me, this makes sense if I invited two people named Herb and Liza, who both happen to be my parents. I included their names in the sentence for easy reference.

But if I actually invited four people, then this could be confusing, because I should’ve done one of the following:

Example #1 (with serial comma): We invited my parents, Herb, and Liza.

Example #2 (sans serial comma): We invited Herb, Liza and my parents.

Both sentences make some sense AND both are grammatically correct.

The confusion comes in when the reader realizes they do not know who Herb and Liza could be. And once your mind begins down that path – it becomes apparent that by not consistently using the Oxford comma, confusion arises for the reader by omitting a comma.

As a writer of flash fiction, I love streamlined language as much as the next person, but this sets up a problem for your reader.

And as a writer who wants to avoid being misunderstand, I’m going to use every tool in my Writer’s Tool Box – including the Oxford Comma.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics – The Comma with Dependent Clauses

(Notice how in the graphic I’ve included with this post, one person is dragging the other – or is it one person trying to stay with the other – this is the dependent relationship I want to illustrate here.)

Well, here we are – back with another day filled with fun facts about the comma. (Okay, maybe it’s only me who thinks they’re fun facts.)

So, in my last post, we discussed the use of a comma when you’re joining an Independent Clause with another one, OR when you’re joining a Dependent Clause with the Independent Clause, also known as a compound sentence. We discussed how a Dependent Clause is one that doesn’t express a complete thought; it cannot stand alone, and it needs more information to make a statement.

In addition to the compound sentence scenario, you will also have introductory dependent clauses. I see this error in a lot of peoples’ writing. The introductory phrase does what it says – it introduces the sentence.

For example:

If you accept this scholarship, we will pay for all college expenses and fees.

~and~

Whether you agree with her or not, she is right.

In both of these sentences, you have the opening phrase followed by a comma. As illustrated in these two examples, you can see that a subordinating conjunction (if, because, or when) introduces the dependent clause, and the second part of the sentence is an independent clause.

Conversely, you have instances where a main, independent clause opens the sentence, and a dependent clause follows it. (Very similar to the compound sentence rules)

We will agree to the proposal if you accept our conditions.

~and~

Paul sighed when he heard the news.

There are several more discussions in the Chicago Manual of Style** about the use of commas with different kinds of predicates, appositives, etc. I’m not going to cover those – for a few reasons, I fear I would confuse you because just reading about them makes my head spin. And, obviously, I do not feel like I’m understand them well enough to give you any kind of explanation.

So, next time, we will take a look at the Great Oxford Comma Debate.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

**the Chicago Manual of Style is the most widely used style guide in writing. It is well worth the investment to include one in your library of reference books, OR subscribe to the online service.

Grammar Basics – The Comma in a Compound Sentence

Welcome back to my crash course in basic Grammar. Today’s blog is centered around the comma in a compound sentence.

First, let’s define what a compound sentence is.

According the Chicago Manual of Style, (the end-all authority,) a compound sentence joins clauses by using a coordinating conjunction. (Coordinating conjunctions include words such as and, but, or, so, and yet.)

The rule is:

IF you have two independent clauses joined with the coordinating conjunction, there IS a comma.

The easiest way I know how to explain an independent clause is that it can stand alone – it expresses a complete thought. (It is really a stand-alone sentence, but it is joined with another complete thought in one sentence.)

For instance: The Uber didn’t get there, so we took a taxi.

‘The Uber didn’t get there,’ is a complete sentence, and so is, ‘We took a taxi.’ They are joined by the coordinating conjunction, so.

Because the two joined clauses are both independent, you use a comma before the conjunction. Think of it as though neither of these clauses needs the other. Therefore, the comma separates them.

Conversely, IF you have an independent clause joined with a dependent clause, there is NOT a comma.

A dependent clause does NOT express a complete thought on its own. It needs the other part of the sentence – the independent clause to make it a complete sentence.

Because the two joined clauses NEED one another to express the thought, there is NOT a comma. (I think of it as a form of codependency.)

For instance: We will sign the proposal if you accept all of our demands.

‘We will sign the proposal,’ is an independent clause – it expresses a complete thought.

‘You accept all of our demands, is NOT a complete thought, therefore it DEPENDS on the first part of the sentence. They are joined by the coordinating junction, OR, and no comma is appropriate in this instance.

I use this rule on a daily basis. You do too. Some of us learned this a long time ago in high school English, while some of us still struggle with it. In my editing process, I read each sentence one at a time. I evaluate any sentences where there is a coordinating conjunctionand, but, or, so, and yet, and I look at both of the clauses.

Are they both independent? (Could they both stand alone?)

IF yes, then there IS a comma before the ‘and,’ ‘but,’ etc.

Is one of the clauses dependent? (Does it need the other part of the sentence to make sense?)

IF yes, then there IS NOT a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

Tomorrow, we will talk about a few other kinds of compound sentences – but I wanted to illustrate this one first. I think it is in this instance where folks have the most errors.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics

As we begin to talk about Grammar and all the ‘rules,’ I want to take a moment to make sure you understand that I KNOW this is not the most exciting thing about writing.

After all, the tough part is coming up with the idea. After that, you need to develop the characters and their arcs, along with the plot of your story.

Well, yes, all that is true.

However, most of us write, craving an audience for our work.

Ultimately, you want to know that what you wrote is appealing, right?

Grammar is the key to helping you have your work read. Oh, sure, you can post your writing anywhere you want – the Internet has made that incredibly easy. BUT – poor Grammar, lack of attention to spelling, and sloppiness give you AND more importantly, YOUR WRITING, a BAD REPUTATION.

Here’s the real kicker – IF you plan on submitting your work to an agent, a publication, a contest, or you simply want to self-publish, you can’t go wrong by putting your BEST foot forward. Proper Grammar and word usage go a long way in proving yourself as a writer.

Over the past ten years, I’ve joined several writing communities. There are some I’ve remained a part of, and somewhere I left after a few months. No, I’m not a complete snob or anything, but it is challenging to be a part of a group that isn’t serious about their writing. (At least for me.)

In one of the groups I belonged to for over three years, I would read and review at least fifty stories from other people. I would take the time to make constructive criticism regarding the plot, characters, and then I would do a modified line by line edit where I pointed out errors in grammar or spelling.

Several people told me they didn’t worry about ‘that stuff.’ After all, isn’t that what editors are for?

There are two answers to that question:

  • Editors are not going to correct your sentence syntax or paragraph structure – UNLESS you pay them as a Ghost Writer – EXTREMELY Expensive.
  • Editors will go through your MS with a fine-tooth comb and fix all of your grammatical and spelling errors – IF you pay them to do a Line by Line Edit – VERY Expensive.

I concluded that if I didn’t want to spend the little bit of money I make from the sales of my books on editing and other professional services, I needed to learn as much as possible about the mechanics of writing.

So, my friends, I’m going to talk about the dreaded comma and share one way I found to deal with the comma in a compound sentence.

We will also talk about other commas – like the controversial Oxford Comma.

We are going to take a look at using the ellipsis and the semi-colon.

We’re also going to talk about hyphens and capitalization.

I will share my list of the most misspelled words, along with difficult words AND homonyms that are one of my personal pet peeves.

Now, I know what I know, but I also know what I don’t know. So, I will give you the names of some great reference books to have on your shelves for when you are doing the most crucial step in writing:

THE EDIT

Until tomorrow,

~Mustang Patty~

Kicking off the New Series with a GIVE AWAY!!

I want all of you to be excited about my next series of blogs. Now the reason I’m worried that you might NOT be excited, is because we will be discussing something we all roll our eyes over.

Yes, I’m talking about Grammar.

So, to make the series go down easier, I’m starting with a Give Away. The series will run for three weeks. I will give a copy of ‘The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need.’

It will be easy to enter the contest**, and I promise to make this as interesting and as fun as possible.

Fun?

I think you might be wondering how grammar and fun go together. Well, I have spent the last two to three years finding ‘fun’ ways to remember my rules for commas, homonyms, and tricky introductory phrases.

I’m going to share those with you – AND…

I think I might even brave discussions on predicate, past perfect, etc.

(To be honest, I had zero idea of what those things were until a year ago.)

So, come along for the ride.

**If you want to put your name in the drawing,

a)   please email me at: patty@mustangpatty 1029.com

b)  Send me your least favorite grammatical rule,

      -OR-

      your least favorite type of writing.

      (We will then cover those things in upcoming blogs.)

c)   Like my Facebook page and post on my timeline.

Until next time – Wednesday – we will be starting the discussion on everyone’s’ favorite: THE COMMA.

~Mustang Patty~

Rules, Suggestions, and Tips

I have a confession. I’m a hoarder. No, my house isn’t full of piles of junk or anything like that. I hoard articles on writing.

No lie – I have a collection of over a thousand of them saves on my computer. I back them up to Dropbox because Lord knows, I don’t want to lose them.

They are full of advice. They’re written by writers who successfully send their words out into the world. Some of them entitle their ‘Rules for Writing,’ while still others call these ‘tips.’

Numerous articles on character and plot development, along with advice about building your ‘writer’s life.’

Why do I save all of these, you ask?

I save them because when I’m looking for inspiration for a blog, I scan through all of those words and pick my favorite tidbits.

Building my curriculum for my upcoming creative writing classes also sends me into the ‘stacks’ of my computer library. (I cannot wait until the virus allows me to start teaching again!)

So, I will give you the tips and rules I find reiterated by almost every writer.

To be a writer, you have to write.

Write every day.

Read as much as you can.

Over three years ago, I took that advice to heart. Other than when I was so sick, I couldn’t sit up long enough to type, I’ve written every day for over one-thousand days.

I can’t even imagine how many words that is. I do know I’ve completed three novels, eighty-two short stories, and over three-hundred pieces of flash fiction – at least that’s how many I’ve saved. I’m sure I sent dozens more to my recycling bin and emptied.

What does your collection look like? Do you ever go back and review pieces you wrote ‘way back when?’

So, here’s my tip for the day.

Write. Develop your style and tell your tales.

KEEP WRITING,

~Mustang Patty~

Back in the Saddle….Again

Well, hello again!! I am SO happy to be back on schedule. My blog helps to keep me focused, and I hope I’m giving some ideas to you fellow writers out there.

My last few blogs discussed our ‘writing muscles,’ and how we can rebuild them or just build them—period.

I know I’ve stressed the importance of writing Every day, along with READING. These two activities are the foundations of your writing.

Today, I want to start the discussion of studying ‘writing tools.’ I’m not sure how much time some of you spend reading non-fiction books about writing. (I know that a lot of folks do – it’s a billion-dollar industry!)

Over the years, I’ve studied the craft of writing, but in these most recent four years, I’ve taken each book I read and used the information for blogging, as well as building a notebook for myself.

My notebook is a GREAT RESOURCE when I’m stuck. So, you can only imagine how I’ve been referring to it over the past few weeks.

The bookcase in the hutch of my writing desk is full of books on writing. I have my books on grammar, character development, novel, and short story best practices. I love to refer to these books. Every time I read; I find another gem to apply to my writing.

So, I will be adding a new facet to my blog. My ‘Mustang Patty’ website has a page entitled ‘Resources,’ and I will be taking one book a week from my reference shelves and breaking it down to help you decide if it might be something that would help you with your writing.

I will also give away one book per month.

Next Wednesday, I will blog my review of The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. After I publish the blog, the analysis and link to Amazon will be available from my website.

If you have any suggestions – a book to review OR a book you would like to have a chance to get through a giveaway, just leave a note in the comments.

KEEP WRITING,

~Mustang Patty~

Some Easy Ways to Unleash your Creativity

As we enter the sixth month of social distancing, or self-isolation, or simply working from home, many of us haven’t been able to find the inclination, or inspiration, to create.

I know that once my health began to go down, and I was focused on getting better, my creativity took a back seat.

And, flash forward six weeks, I sit at my desk and I can’t get started. NOTHING – Jill Adair doesn’t have any dastardly deeds, my dogs are funny, NOTHING.

Did my muse go on vacation?

Well, she may very well have taken off for Vegas, but the real problem is that I forgot how to get started. I can’t remember the necessary steps to find my happy place.

As a writer, my first thought is that I have some type of Writer’s Block. That’s only part of it. What I really have is ‘A Creative Block.’

The good news – once you identify where your creativity comes from, you can be as creative as you want – and your muse doesn’t even have to be around.

Let’s explore the concept of this ‘Creative Block.’ It can be caused by any number of problems:

  • Personal Problems
    • Whether it’s your health, your relationship, a car that needs repairs – these things can rob you of your creativity – IF YOU LET THEM
  • Work habits (that really don’t work)
    • You’re working in a way that isn’t compatible with your creative process. This causes any creative work to be a CHORE. So, you work too early, too late, too long, or not long enough. (You are the ONLY one who can find your Nirvana of Creativity)
  • Emotional barriers
    • Sometimes, we distract ourselves with thoughts that our creations will reveal too much about ourselves – your best work reveals who you are.
  • Mental Block
    • This is usually what is referred to as the true Writer’s Block – and it is just YOU trapping yourself and your words inside your own head.
  • Overwhelm
    • There are times in our lives when we simply have TOO much on our plate. Too many commitments, information, great ideas, etc. INSTEAD of FEELING SUPER-PRODUCTIVE, you merely feel incapacitated.
  • Poverty
    • This isn’t just referring to money – but a lack of time, knowledge, networks, equipment, and resources.
    • Identifying your writing tribe or space helps with this problem TREMENDOUSLY
  • Communication Breakdown
    • This especially pertains to working in teams. More than likely, you are working with at least one difficult person. Thoughts of spending time with them and completing the project send you into cold sweats.

Here’s the Good News. It isn’t just artists and writers who feel this way. Look at Entrepreneurs, Teachers, Fine Artists, Fashion Designers, and Actors ALL struggle with their process – and the COVID-19 has been extremely difficult for ALL of us.

What were your ORIGINAL goals for 2020?

Is it to finish the novel you’re working on? Is it to finally leave your desk job to become a full-time freelance writer? Or is it simply to get a bit more writing done each week?

To all of these, we say, “Amazing. All power to you.”

AND THEN THE WORLD CHANGED

But what if we could give you a little superpower to help you achieve all of these goals? What if we could help you boost your creativity?

It’s not as hard as it looks. Creativity is a learnable skill that you can use as a powerful tool to achieve your goals.

The ability to not accept the status quo, but search for new solutions is the heart of creativity. And, luckily, it can be trained.

To understand how we can create a formula to get our creative juices flowing, we need to understand what ‘creativity’ is. One definition says that creativity is the ability to come up with new and useful ideas. It’s not really a characteristic you’re born with; it’s a trait that can be nurtured through practice and persistence.

Does the definition say anything about a muse? Is it defined as an innate talent that a chosen few possess?

No. Creativity is the creation of new and useful ideas. Creativity is trainable.

Think of it like a muscle. And just like a muscle, it needs to be trained frequently.

So, if you think you’ve lost your creativity, you need to identify the things that bring you pleasure and stimulate the part of the brain that’s interested in new and exciting ideas.

  • Go out and take a walk – bring a notebook and take notes on the things that jump out at you
  • Keep a Journal -Just write. No story, no grammar or spelling – just write what you think and feel – something will eventually become a story
  • Draw, sketch, color – use a different creative medium that usual. (For me, my adult coloring books and boxes of colored pencils are a great way to get my creativity back.)
  • Entertain yourself – play a video game, watch a movie. Turn your brain away from your problem, your creative ideas will come back to you.
  • Break your routine
  • Unplug – no TV, Cellphone, surround yourself in nature
  • Eat wisely – who can think if your stomach is empty?

I hope this little blog post may give you at least one thing to regain your creative spirit.

KEEP WRITING!!

 

~Mustang Patty~

Female hands writing on notebook

 

 

My Muscles Hurt

When was the last time you started working out after several weeks or maybe even months since the last time you ran or lifted weights?

It hurt like hell, right?

Well, I can tell you that my writing muscles must have atrophied while I was down for the count. Up until five or six weeks ago, I was writing between 1500 to 2000 words of my novel, a flash fiction piece for the Writer’s Write Daily Challenge, and I wrote one or two blogs per week.

My doctor told me I could start working a few hours a day back on July 6th. After just one hour of sitting at my computer, I was shaky, nauseous, and I wanted to lie down more than anything in the world.

Next, I challenged myself to writing a few short stories – Flash/Flash – about 2 or 300 words. It was HORRIBLE.

But, as you might notice — I re-taught myself HTML, and now my BLOGS and Web Pages can look much better.

The lesson to be learned here: Unless you want to learn how to create, type, think vertically in the manner you are used to — do everything you can to keep yourself using the creative side of your brain.

Once you let it go — you need to work hard and rebuild the muscles to return to your previous level of creativity.

I will be back on Monday with a new Blog about the Creative Process, and how you can find what works best for you, the stories you want to write, and create a positive writers’ experience.

 

~Mustang Patty~

More Useful Writing Practices

The next few blogs will be dealing with coming up with a plan to write consistently. I’m reinforcing my journey to get back to writing every day with blog posts that will not only help me but those of my readers who are struggling as well.

Each writer needs their own practice. Another writer’s daily practice of freewriting for an hour at dawn might not be your ideal writing practice. But as long as you’re willing to try new methods, you’ll find what works for you. Here are some suggestions for writing practices that might boost your skills and productivity:

  • Utilize daily prompts – you can find prompts anywhere and everywhere. They are simply one word or a phrase to stimulate your creative flow. I will be starting to post a daily prompt on my Facebook page.
  • Warm-ups: Many writers find that everything comes out awkward at the beginning of a writing session. A ten- to twenty-minute warm-up can get words flowing.
  • Look it up: When you come across a question, such as a question about grammar or the meaning of a word, look it up, especially if it will only take a few minutes.
  • Network with the writing community: Other writers will keep you motivated. You’ll learn from them. And they can offer support and advice.
  • Freewriting is an excellent way to warm up at the start of a writing session. It’s also a good daily writing practice during times when you’re not working on a particular project. And it’s a fantastic way to generate raw material that you can use in various projects.
  • Set goals and create a five-year plan, and then revisit your goals and plan annually.
  • Collect inspirational and motivational quotes about writing and post them around your writing desk or jot them down in a notebook. Review a quote or two before every writing session, or when you don’t feel like doing the work.  (I post an inspirational quote on Facebook daily.)
  • Study poetry (or literary devices and techniques): These tools are the tricks of the trade, and they will take your writing to another level, from methods for structuring language to using devices like metaphors, this is an excellent way to enrich your work.
  • Finish a project before starting a new one: If you prefer (or need) to work on multiple projects simultaneously (I do), then always keep one project on the front burner until it’s complete. That’s your primary (or priority) project. See it through to completion.
  • Step away from drafts for a while before revising to clear your head so you can return to them with fresh eyes.

What Are Your Writing Practices?

What do you consider your most essential writing practices? Are there any necessary or beneficial writing practices you would add to these lists? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment and keep writing.

Hope you all have a GREAT WEEKEND – I will be back on Monday with a fresh perspective on your daily writing habit.

~Mustang Patty~

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