Not that I want to start on a negative but it has been far easier to glean what might be described as areas for improvement than things my first attempt at a blog does well. ‘Focus’ – that’s a pretty big area for improvement I would say. Keeping on track, sticking to one topic, being more coherent, consistent, concise. Given that everything I have said so far ultimately refers to the same thing and could have been said in far fewer words, you will acknowledge that I am still struggling to engage with this feedback. If you knew me in the real world you might recognise some similarities between the way I write and the way I speak. However, if you think I’m a pretty ‘Switched-On-Cookie’ in the real world, welcome instead to the rambling way I think. As if that wasn’t bad enough I don’t write these blog posts or indeed, anything, in order, but just mash them together at the end much as I do with my thoughts. If you think this approach seems exhausting and anxiety-inducing, you’d be correct. It’s also a lot of fun.
For anyone who has been taking any notice (and you are absolutely forgiven for not doing so) I had given myself a whole month to write my second blog post and once again, here I sit, in the dark, desperately trying to hit 1000 words before bedtime. To be fair, I’m only sitting in the dark due to the time of the year. By August, no doubt it will still be the witching hour, but I’ll be wearing sunglasses wondering if it’s either too late or too early for a Gin & Tonic. “I’m a night owl!” I often cry out with one fist raised up to the soul-crushing reality that is a 9-5 working world that won’t let me stay up till 2 am without punishing me for it by scheduling in a 9 am meeting with Karen from Finance/HR/IT (delete as appropriate). I may well be there in body Karen, but my soul lives for 11 pm onwards, where, just as disorganised as the stars, I shine.
I had great plans for this blog post. Structure for one. A proofread for another. Instead, I have made a poor show on Twitter; failed to send my logo brief to the designer (one day you might enjoy looking at these blog posts as well as reading them) and dragged myself through books I wasn’t enjoying just to say I’ve finished them.
One of the key reasons for the aforementioned, but as of yet, non-existent proofread, was my terrible grasp of English Grammar. I don’t have the excellent excuse that a lot of the internet seems to have that I don’t speak English as a first language. Not only is English my maiden tongue, but it’s also my one and only way of getting my message across. Oh, and it’s my freakin’ degree. So ultimately, I should be a lot better at using it than I am currently portraying in this damn blog.
My proofreader, just as a shout out to a good friend of mine, proofreads the essays of students who are learning English as a foreign language, so clearly utilising such a friend for their grammar skills would be something of an advantage, no? And, when I am more committed to my writing, they are certainly a great asset.
For example, last year I entered the NYC Midnight short story challenge. Assuming you aren’t familiar with the rules of every short story competition out there, this one gives you three things:
1) A Genre
2) A Subject
3) A Character Assignment
The competition, as a whole, consists of three rounds. In round one, you have one week to write no more than two and a half thousand words based on those three things.
There is a second round which gives you a new genre, subject and character but reduces your time to three days and a final round which gives you pretty much free reign on the content but only twenty-four hours and fifteen-hundred words in which to produce a masterpiece. You need to pass each stage in order to make it through to the next. Whilst I did make it through to the second round (humble brag) that was not what I found most valuable from the experience. Entering a well-organised short story competition is particularly valuable to a budding author as the organisers provide professional feedback without inducing that debilitating anxiety I for one struggle with when it comes to … criticism. Ultimately, it is difficult to take feedback personally when you have paid for it; you were only given a week to produce something, and the subject was massively confined by three criteria.
The feedback for my round one submission? Great Story – Shit Grammar.
You might be confused why I value my proof-reader given that they clearly didn’t do their job in the one example I am giving you of their work (and again, I really do need to work on my structure as this seems like more of a searing inditement than a friendly shout out) HOWEVER the NYC Midnight competition is based in the USA and all of their commentators are therefore working in American-English Grammar as opposed to British-English Grammar. This is not just some cheap, loop-hole sounding excuse – there are legitimate differences between the two grammar systems.
Understanding that this was the problem, for the second round submission, I first ran it past my excellent proofreader and then sent it to an American proofreader (which was no mean feat considering the second round is reduced to only three days) and this time my grammar was perfect! The main problem, of course, was that the story was shit and so round three was not to be.
Luckily for me, I was bemoaning my grammar problem to my sister when a mutual friend stepped in and offered me something of a solution. I say stepped in. What actually happened was I was speaking to my sister about how I had been scouring Youtube for some grammar assistance but had so far found nothing as it was all aimed at Foreign Language students as opposed to people who are ‘just-a-bit-shit-at-writing’. A few weeks later our mutual friend, sent me a message out of the blue, saying he had been thinking about my problem and would like to start something of a pen-pal scheme where we send each other literature with all the grammar removed and then we have to put the grammar back in. This would be coupled with a call afterwards to discuss what we’d come across, assumptions we’d made and reasons why Virginia Woolf thought a sentence of over 100 words was acceptable at the time. To be honest, I had moved on with my life at this point and so I was glad to know that someone else was not only thinking about my problems but providing solutions to them too!
Now I know that such exercises aren’t readily available online (because I have looked) and so I thought, you know what, be the change you wanna see! I can’t be the only one out there looking for hands-on exercises to improve my grammar so why not fill the niche? Therefore, as if by magic, this blog of mine is starting to gain a little structure as I will post our monthly Grammar exercise at the end of each post. If you think you would find it useful then have at it; if that sounds like fun to you, why not spend your lunch break working through it? If that sounds like the worst thing in the world to you – well, that’s why I’ll be putting them at the end.
The below extract is from page 90ff of Virginia Woolf’s “Monday or Tuesday” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29220/29220-h/29220-h.htm
162 Errors including paragraph removal:
here he seemed to have caught sight of a womans dress in the distance which in the shade looked a purple black he took off his hat placed his hand upon his heart and hurried towards her muttering and gesticulating feverishly but william caught him by the sleeve and touched a flower with the tip of his walking stick in order to divert the old mans attention after looking at it for a moment in some confusion the old man bent his ear to it and seemed to answer a voice speaking from it for he began talking about the forests of uruguay which he had visited hundreds of years ago in company with the most beautiful young woman in europe he could be heard murmuring about forests of uruguay blanketed with the wax petals of tropical roses nightingales sea beaches mermaids and women drowned at sea as he suffered himself to be moved on by william upon whose face the look of stoical patience grew slowly deeper and deeper following his steps so closely as to be slightly[pg 91] puzzled by his gestures came two elderly women of the lower middle class one stout and ponderous the other rosy cheeked and nimble like most people of their station they were frankly fascinated by any signs of eccentricity betokening a disordered brain especially in the well to do but they were too far off to be certain whether the gestures were merely eccentric or genuinely mad after they had scrutinised the old mans back in silence for a moment and given each other a queer sly look they went on energetically piecing together their very complicated dialogue nell bert lot cess phil pa he says i says she says i says i says i says my bert sis bill grandad the old man sugar sugar flour kippers greens sugar sugar sugar the ponderous woman looked through the pattern of falling words at the flowers standing cool firm and upright in the earth with a [pg 92]curious expression she saw them as a sleeper waking from a heavy sleep sees a brass candlestick reflecting the light in an unfamiliar way and closes his eyes and opens them and seeing the brass candlestick again finally starts broad awake and stares at the candlestick with all his powers so the heavy woman came to a standstill opposite the oval shaped flower bed and ceased even to pretend to listen to what the other woman was saying she stood there letting the words fall over her swaying the top part of her body slowly backwards and forwards looking at the flowers then she suggested that they should find a seat and have their tea the snail had now considered every possible method of reaching his goal without going round the dead leaf or climbing over it let alone the effort needed for climbing a leaf he was doubtful whether the thin texture which vibrated with such an alarming crackle when touched even by the tip of his horns would bear[pg 93] his weight and this determined him finally to creep beneath it for there was a point where the leaf curved high enough from the ground to admit him he had just inserted his head in the opening and was taking stock of the high brown roof and was getting used to the cool brown light when two other people came past outside on the turf this time they were both young a young man and a young woman they were both in the prime of youth or even in that season which precedes the prime of youth the season before the smooth pink folds of the flower have burst their gummy case when the wings of the butterfly though fully grown are motionless in the sun lucky it isnt friday he observed why do you believe in luck