Job Shadowing

A guidance counselor at the local grade school contacted a woman I know and asked her to speak to one of the students about being a writer. This woman’s expertise is in journalism, which is one thing the boy is interested in, but the counselor also wanted an author to talk to him, so my acquaintance passed the request along to me. (The subject line of the emails that were copied to me is “job shadowing,” hence the title of this blog.)

I’ve been ignoring the whole situation because I’m truly hesitant about encouraging anyone to be a writer. I’m of the same mind as Dorothy Parker; “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

People who want to write will write despite any encouragement or lack thereof, so I certainly wouldn’t blight the kid’s interest in writing by not talking to him, but apparently he isn’t interested in the craft of writing so much as writing as a job, and I can’t tell him anything about the job aspect. (Except to tell him that to make money as a writer, he needs to find another job, such as plumber or electrician.)

I can tell people how to write better, I can tell them how to develop a story, I can tell them any number of things about the craft of writing, but I have no idea how to make a living at being a writer. Besides, I tend to think any writing advice I have would go over the head of even the smartest kid, since so much of what I know is obviously over the heads of the most well-known and wealthiest writers today because so few of them practice what I would preach. Being a good writer and being a successful author have little correlation to one another. Rather than expertise, it is luck and phenomenal marketing skills that determines a successful writer.

Making the situation worse, nowadays success seems to be about sliding in on the coattails of another writer. It used to be that there was a turnover in bestselling authors as they died or retired, but the trend now is to continue the name ad infinitum. And ad nauseum.

I did give a speech to students not that long ago about the importance of writing, but that’s different from talking one-on-one.

Writers, if you were presented with this dilemma, what would you do?


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Good Grammar is like Good Etiquette

I often hear new writers and self-published writers say that it’s okay not to follow the rules. That they can write however they want. That it’s more important to be creative than to be pay attention to grammar. That they need to break new ground.

Um. No.

Certain rules are necessary because they help clarify our writing and convey to the reader exactly what it is we want them to understand. I admit that in many cases readers don’t care. They just want something to titillate them. (How else can one explain the success of the appallingly awful 50 Shades of Gray?)

gift2Still, good grammar is like good etiquette. It’s a matter of respect. You might not think it necessary to thank someone for a gift, but that someone sure think it’s necessary. Besides, it’s the right thing to do, especially if you want them to continue sending you gifts. (Good grammar is also like good etiquette in that both are considered old fashioned and unecessary.)

I’ve given up trying to read self-published books because it’s too hard to weed the good books from the bad ones. So many self-published books seem to have been thrown in the Amazon river without any editing. If those authors don’t have the courtesy or respect to make sure the book is readable, then I certainly see no reason to give them the gift of my time and money. (Yeah, I know — it’s a different world out there. Many writers post a draft on Amazon and use reviews to find out what needs editing.)

A common problem involves wrongly used participial phrases that end in ing. According to The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, a participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

The example Strunk and White give is: Walking down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children. Who is walking? He is, of course, since he is the subject of the sentence, and the ing phrase always refers to the subject. If the woman is walking, you have to rephrase the sentence: He saw a woman, accompanied by two children, walking down the road. You, I’m sure, would never have to worry about who is walking because you’d never use such an ambiguous sentence in the first place!

The other examples of wrong phrases Strunk and White give are humorous and show why it’s important to follow the rule (the parenthetical comments are mine):

Being in dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house cheap. (If I was in dilapidated condition, how did I have the strength to buy the house?)

Wondering irresolutely what to do next, the clock struck twelve. (Hmm. The clock wondered what to do next? Smart clock!)

As a mother of five, with another on the way, the ironing board was always up. (Wow! That’s a lot of ironing boards!)

In case you don’t know how to rephrase the above sentences, here are my quick efforts:

Because of the dilapidated condition of the house, I was able to buy the place cheap.
As I wondered what to do next, the clock struck twelve.
A mother of five, with another on the way, I was never able to put the ironing board away.

Another ing problem comes from simultaneous actions, when an author has a character do something that’s physically impossible. For example: Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street. He cannot be pulling out of the driveway at the same time he’s driving down the street. He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street.

I know you know all this, but such sentence structures do slip into our writing. It’s up to us to wring the “ings” out of our work, and show respect for our readers.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.