Take On The Grammar Habit With These Simple Steps

Take On The Grammar Habit With These Simple Steps

grammar habit

If grammar is your nemesis as a writer, then let me introduce you to Ellen Sue Feld, the creator/instructor of online grammar refresher courses at grammar-lion.com and the author of Comma Sense: Your Guide to Grammar Victory. Below, Ellen offers valuable advice on building a good grammar habit.

Because I teach grammar, people assume I believe good grammar is the key to good writing. But I don’t believe that, not for one second. Here’s what I do believe: Your creative process is the most important part of your writing. Checking for good grammar comes later. Good grammar doesn’t make good writing, but good writing demands good grammar.

So how do we make good grammar a natural part of our writing process? By developing good grammar habits!

Recently, I listened to a podcast about the new science of habit building. (The good news is that we don’t have to harness anything magical or elusive, like willpower.) We can build good grammar habits using the same strategies that work for building any new habit.

Here’s the current thinking:

  • Desire the habit.
  • Start small.
  • Attach the new habit to an existing habit.
  • Make it fun.
  • Do it with consistency.
  • Create accountability and/or support.

Whew! That may sound like a lot. But don’t worry. While developing good grammar habits, you don’t need to employ all the strategies above. Sometimes just a few will do the trick.

I’m going to add a couple of my own that have proved true in my experience as an instructor and writer:

  • Expand what you know (i.e., remain open to learning).
  • Listen selectively to what others have to say; be discerning in your research.
  • Commit to reviewing your work before sharing or submitting it.

Let’s make this real with some common grammar problems you’ll want to consider:

  • run-on sentences
  • lack of subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement
  • homophones
  • random commas and lack of commas
  • ambiguous pronouns
  • wordiness
  • shifts in person and tense
  • dangling and misplaced modifiers
  • punctuation with quotation marks
  • punctuation with conjunctive adverbs
  • capitalization

We all come to grammar at our own starting place. Cross off what you don’t need to work on, and add more topics as you think of them.

Building Good Grammar Habits

Now let’s use habit building to turn around these grammar problems in our writing. For our example, we’ll use homophones as our target good grammar habit.

  • Desire the habit. If the desire isn’t there, you’re unlikely to develop a good new habit. So what might motivate you as a writer? Consider this: Your writing is a reflection of who you are, and you want the best possible reflection. In other words, you don’t want anything to detract from the overall picture of the wonderful writer you are. Good grammar will enhance your writer’s image.

Resolve: I want my writing to be polished and professional. And I want to have confidence in my writing whenever I share it with someone else.

  • Start small. You don’t have to know everything. Begin with one, two, or three points of grammar to master. You can always challenge yourself later with additional topics.

Resolve: I want to be sure I’m using the right homophone. I’m aware I sometimes mix up their, there, and they’re even though I know the differences. I’ll pay more attention to this.

  • Attach the new habit to an existing habit. You’re already set because you’ve attached the habit of using good grammar to your existing habit of writing and editing. One of the great things about grammar is that you get to practice your skills every time you write. Practice is naturally built in to the process!

Resolve: When I’ve finished writing, I’ll review my work and look for their/there/they’re to make sure I’ve used them correctly. I’m also going to start a list of homophones I mix up. I’ll check my writing against that list.

  • Make it fun. Reward yourself. Use what’s positive for you. Here are a few ideas for adding pleasure to your grammar-check process: Eat a jellybean when you catch an error. Play your own special grammar-check music in the background. Compile a list of the errors you catch so that your pride in recognition will grow as your list grows.

Resolve: I love numbers and puzzles as much as I love words, so I’ll enjoy solving a sudoku after I do a grammar check. 

  • Do it with consistency. This may feel hard. We’re often pressed for time. But try your best to factor in time for a grammar check. It’s a vital part of your writing process.

Resolve: I’ll look for homophone errors in all my writing, including emails and texts.

  • Create accountability. If you thrive on community support, go ahead and tell someone about your new plan to build good grammar habits. Keep them updated on your progress. And if you like to work solo, that’s fine, too. You can be accountable to yourself.

Resolve: This is a pact I’m making with myself.

  • Be open to ongoing learning. You’re learning every time you look up something online, go to a dictionary, take a course, or ask another writer a question. Every little bit you learn and put to use contributes to big changes in your writing.

Resolve: A writer friend just mentioned whet/wet to me in the expression “whet your appetite.” I always thought it was “wet your appetite”! Though I’m aware of a few other homophones I misuse, I’m going to have some fun perusing lists.

  •  Be discerning. There’s a lot of information out there. You know not all of it is legit. Some well-meaning people can inadvertently spread misinformation. Vet your sources. For example, if a grammar information site is connected to a university, it’s more likely than a random site to be trustworthy.

Resolve: I just found a comprehensive online grammar resource. It’s a writing lab that’s part of a public university, and it’s available to everyone. It’s easy to use, and I can trust what I learn there.

  • Review your work before submitting. When you’ve finished writing, take a break. Walk away. Distance will help you spot errors when you come back. Then read through your work in an unhurried way. Because we get accustomed to our own words, it’s easy to overlook errors. Reading aloud can help. Another useful technique is reading your work from the bottom up, paragraph by paragraph. If you can, read from a print version instead of on the screen.

Resolve: I’m going to factor in a few minutes of grammar review time for every thousand words. This will allow me be methodical and relaxed.

You may be wondering how long it takes to build a new habit. It depends on how complex the habit is and how often and how much you get to practice. The more consistent you are—as in doing a grammar check and making corrections every time you write—the quicker you’ll develop the habit. But this isn’t a race. Good grammar habits are for the long term, for as long as you are a writer.

Come join us at Grammar Lion of Facebook (@grammarlion). We’re a diverse, international, nonjudgmental group of learners who aim to let no grammar question go unanswered. Everyone is welcome!

(Thank you to Hidden Brain for producing and sharing the podcast “Creatures of Habit.” You can find it here: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/creatures-of-habit/ )

 

More About Ellen’s Grammar Book

 

national grammar day

Comma Sense: Your Guide to Grammar VictoryLearn the rules of adverbs, punctuation, abbreviations, prepositions, and much more. Ellen covers topics such as em dashes, parentheticals and parallelism, diction and logic, run-on sentences and sentence fragments, and more. Become a master of capitalization and punctuation, subjects and predicates, and contractions and possessives. After every chapter, take a quiz to practice your new grammatical skills in this great grammar workbook. At the end of the book, a comprehensive test allows you to utilize all you have learned. At 512 pages, there is lots of content in this book! Readers who enjoyed The Elements of StyleActually, the Comma Goes HereThe Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation; or The Perfect English Grammar Workbook will love Comma Sense: A Guide to Grammar Victory

“In her new book, Comma Sense, Ellen Sue Feld demystifies grammar with clarity, conciseness, and empathy.”
—Anu Garg, author and founder of Wordsmith.org

“If you really want to go deep into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of grammar, then Comma Sense is for you. Ellen covers the basics like a pro and delivers practical examples to help you learn. You’ll never mess up ‘lie’ and ‘lay’ again!”
—Lisa Lepki, CMO at ProWritingAid

Buy it on:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble 

Bookshop 

Mango 

International via Book Depository

Learn more about Ellen here.

About The Grammar Refresher Course

Ellen also offers a self-paced online course, I recommend the course for those who struggle with issues such as:

  • Parts of speech
  • Contractions and possessives
  • Subjects and predicates
  • Sentence fragments
  • Run-on sentences
  • Agreement
  • Shifts in person, tense, and structure
  • Capitalization and punctuation

 Enroll here!

Improve Your Skills With These Free Grammar Resources

Improve Your Skills With These Free Grammar Resources

 

 

Grammar Resources

I’ve found some wonderful free grammar resources to share from my friend Ellen at Grammar Lion, which you’ll find listed below. As a freelance developmental editor and line editor, I work with a lot of writers. Many of them have problems with grammar and punctuation and I explain that they will definitely need to hire a copyeditor and proofreader for their final draft.

Some of my clients have grammar struggles due to learning disabilities, or maybe English isn’t their first language. For others, grammar doesn’t come as naturally to them as the creative part of writing a book. They might have errors in every line of the manuscript, or they may just need to brush up on certain rules such as when to use a comma and how to punctuate dialogue. For many of them, high school English class was a long time ago.

While I do light copyediting on my clients’ manuscripts, my focus is on developmental and line editing. There’s no sense fixing all the commas and run-on sentences when the manuscript needs structural rewrites as all those little changes will become obsolete. I will never specialize in copyediting or proofreading as in all honesty, I don’t like it. I find it tedious, and while I have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style on my bookshelf, that is one monster of a book. It’s huge with small print, and I don’t enjoy hunting through it, trying to find the answer to small stylistic questions. I’d much rather brainstorm with the author on how to flesh out a character, or tinker with a sentence to make it more active and engaging.

When I work with a client who struggles with grammar and punctuation, my job as the developmental editor isn’t to fix the mistakes. Instead, my role is to point out the problems to make sure the writer is aware of it. I’ll give a few examples of how to make a sentence grammatically correct and point the client toward resources to help with their weaknesses.

First, I recommend purchasing ProWritingAid, a grammar checker and style editor. You can watch my YouTube demo of ProWritingAid here and get my special discount code and bonus offer.

Second, I recommend that these writers visit my friend Ellen Feld at Grammar Lion, the creator/instructor of online grammar refresher courses that have served over 44,000 students. She’s worn a variety of editorial hats, including newspaper reporter and copy chief, personal essayist, website reviewer, writing coach, and developmental editor. Ellen has a master’s degree in writing from the Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the children’s storybook Paragon and Jubilee.

You can find out more about her free grammar resources and paid grammar course below. While copyeditors and proofreaders may always be necessary for some authors, the more you can improve your grammar skills on your own, the better off you’ll be. Some copyeditors charge by the hour, so if you turn in a cleaner manuscript, it will lower your cost. Even if they charge a flat fee, that might be for one round of copyediting. I’ve seen manuscripts so riddled with errors that it would take multiple rounds of copyediting and proofreading to get it ready for publication. If you submit a more polished draft, you can reduce your expenses. Ellen’s courses are a great investment for writers who need to do a deep dive into grammar and punctuation or refresh their skills.

Free Grammar Resources


Grammar lion

Grammar Lion: Comma Mini-Course (Free) – Master the comma and write more effectively starting today with this free mini-course. Don’t let this little punctuation mark slow you down. Stop random comma use and say goodbye to wasting time on comma decisions. In approximately thirty minutes, you’ll know when to say yes to a comma. You’ll also learn when to say no.

Grammar Lion Pretest (Free) – Grammar can be fun when you know the rules! Try the pretest to gauge your grammar know-how. Challenge yourself with thirty-three grammar questions.

Grammar Lion: A Grammar Refresher(Paid) This comprehensive online course will help you navigate the linguistic twists and turns of American English grammar. Take your time and enjoy twelve weeks of learning. I have gone through the course myself, and love how Ellen includes quizzes to assess your skills and determine whether you need to continue reviewing a topic. She gives lots of examples and makes the intimidating world of grammar much easier to navigate.

If you need to review your grammar skills, start with the free comma mini-course and the pretest. You’ll be on your way to mastering grammar and punctuation in no time.

Please note that affiliate links are included in this post, so I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase, however, I’m only an affiliate for products that I recommend.

 

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