Dear Prospective Minor in Writing Applicants,

I was hesitant to apply to the Minor in Writing because, well, I didn’t really know what it was. It was introduced to me with an email forwarded from an older friend without any real explanation. As I searched the Sweetland Center’s website I understood the structure of the program, but I still had unanswered questions. How much freedom do I have to write what I want? Am I just going to be studying grammar and punctuation all day? What will the classes be like?

I wished I could have seen students’ work, their progression, their struggles. I wished that there was a glimpse into the program other than the descriptions of courses and historical syllabi.

Over the course my time in the Minor in Writing Gateway, I’ve developed an understanding for all of these questions. And so, I wanted to share my experiences to show you, the prospective applicants, my struggles and progression, my missteps and successes.

An accumulation of my experimentation can be found here, in my Gateway ePortfolio.

You’ll see a discovery of my writing process, how I learned to think again. You’ll see the progression of my voice and how I learned to highlight it throughout various genres. You’ll see how I developed a strong sense of different audiences, and how they might react to assorted techniques.

And hopefully, you’ll see how I plan on continuing to experiment and question my ideas from now, until my final Capstone course, and beyond.

Happy reading, prospective students. Send in that application; you won’t regret it.

Best,

Ashley

On: Grammar

“Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned”.

Joan Didion, in my opinion, resonated incredibly clearly with my thoughts and feelings as a writer. Ms. Didion captured the very essence of what I believe I personally associate with grammar, in that I never really did take a grammar specific course growing up. Sure I can “hear” proper grammar..but can I put that down on paper too? And I could not have asked for more in terms of preparing myself for college writing from my previous schooling, and I attribute every last bit of success I’ve had in building my skills and talents as a writer to the outstanding teachers who’ve been there with me throughout the course of my life. I would not be anywhere in my writing ability without their guidance and their constant support to persevere. But grammar seems to be the place where my education in writing and writing technique has taken so many twists and turns, I never really have been given concrete instruction on grammar, ever. And I speculate this was the case for me because many of my teachers growing up focused more on what I was saying as a writer, and less on if I was saying it in some technically correct way. Truth be told, I appreciate this outlook profoundly.

And like Ms. Didion pointed out so clearly: “All I know about grammar is its infinite power”, and that’s exactly how I feel today in my relationship with grammar.

But I believe that Mr. Orwell offered up plenty of insight on how I see political opinion being shaped and intertwined in writing today.

We are all inherently bias in a sense, unable to perfectly escape the thoughts and the opinions we hold from the things that we write. This is true in almost everything I write, and all of the interactions I have had with my fellow writers. Whether it be writing letters to local constituents from Capitol Hill this past summer for my internship, or simply trying to state facts regarding American history in my recent Political Science coursework, I thoroughly see and absolutely agree that it is virtually impossible for us to completely remove our own voices from the pieces that we construct.

My pet peeve, the Oxford comma

As a writer, I have all the typical grammar pet peeves: your vs. you’re, then vs. than, their vs. they’re vs. there. But there’s one that really gets my blood boiling: the Oxford comma.

Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma comes after the second-to-last item in a list: “I had eggs, toast and juice” vs. “I had eggs, toast, and juice.” (Merely typing the Oxford comma in that last comparison bothers me.) The AP stylebook, the Bible of journalism copy editing, says not to use the Oxford comma. I learned from that a couple years ago and have been steadfastly against it ever since (though in large part out of stubbornness, some might say). Slowly, the alliance of Oxford comma opponents is dwindling as people go into the dark side. I am one of the lone holdouts.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s totally unnecessary. The “and” takes care of all the separation you need. The comma is a redundant little mark plopped down in the middle of the sentence.

Sure, people will point out instances where leaving out the comma creates ambiguity. But in all of those instances, simply rewording the sentence could do the trick. The most outlandish example I’ve seen is a news alert that reads “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage…” Perhaps this was a result of an unfortunate break in the text—it was just a mobile alert, after all. But you could also say “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, same-sex marriage and Obama-Castro handshake.”

It’s really only in news style that I sniff out Oxford commas and decry them. I’m a traditionalist—I’ll admit that much.

They’re, Their, There

They’re

There

Their

?????

There seems to be a confusion between which of these applys when. Their is used to describe the possesion of something.

Ex. Their ball, their car, their mom.

There is used in realtion to direction.

Ex. Over there, There she is, I want to go there.

They’re is the contraction for they are.It is used to describe a group and their actions.

Ex. They’re looking for you, They’re running to North Campus. They’re going to the mall.

I know when we are in a rush making a mistake on these words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings is inevitable. However we must look as them as though they are completely different words. Would you call a dog and a cat the same word. They are both animals right? No! We must understand the usage of these words and when they are appropriate. if not then we are slowly attacking the grammar Gods! They get upset with us everytime someone commits the cardinal sin of misusing they’re, their and there. We must raise awareness about these mishaps and hopefully this will slow down the crime rate in America! Thank you for your time and please dont forget to Say what you mean!

A List of Grievances

Along with the moniker “Comma-Kazi” (which an 8th grade English teacher once donned on me), I am what one might consider a “Grammar Nazi.” While scrolling or swiping through social media sites on my phone, I can’t help put pick up on spelling errors and incorrect uses of words. I’m the guy that literally will not like/favorite a post/tweet/whatever if there is some grammatical error, because it causes me to have less respect for that post/tweet/whatever. Maybe that’s a little anal, but it’s just how I am.

As far as these grammatical errors go, I have a list of grievances that has accumulated over my time in college. Some of these things include:

  • “Your” and “You’re”: This is one of the most common mistakes I have noticed and it is utterly maddening. It is especially cringe-worthy when a person uses the right one, and someone comments or replies that they were supposed to use the other – that commenter has just made a complete fool of themselves.
  • “Than” and “Then”: One is for comparison, one is for time sequence – confusing them is a disastrous affair in my mind.
  • “Would Have/Should Have/Could Have” vs. “Would Of/Should Of/Could Of”: The latter set is just plain wrong and it is both disturbing and perturbing to see them used.
  • “Ironic”: Some people use this word in places it doesn’t really apply, in effect making their statement ironic, but not in the way they intended.
  • “Their/There/They’re”: It is (semi-)understandable when the first two are confused, but when the third one is thrown in there and used incorrectly, I become a tad peeved.
  • “To/Too/Two”: The difference between “to” and “too” is so elementary that I am dumbfounded when people manage to mix them up. Also distasteful, but much less common, is the rare mixup of “two” for one of the other two. It’s unbelievable that that happens.

Though there are assuredly more, I should probably cut the rant here. In making that list, I found myself becoming annoyed just thinking about the errors I’ve seen online. These things bother me greatly, as I believe I’ve made clear, but I make a conscious effort not to be that guy correcting everybody all the time. Once in a while I can’t even contain myself, but usually I keep it in check.

Affect & Effect

I get it. These words are similar and for that reason they could be easy to confuse. Let’s be honest though, generally speaking, one is a noun and the other is a verb. Affect and effect simply shouldn’t be confused as often as they are.  Fortunately, this grammar mistake tends to be somewhat rare because it really irks me every time I see it. Unfortunately, my efforts to correct individuals who mix up these words have been futile. I am hoping to change that with the help of the visual aids below. Please do me a favor and show this to someone who needs this and I will be eternally grateful.

You Had Me At Your Proper Use Of You’re*

The number one thing I hate about grammar is when some people (many fondly call them Grammar Nazis) feel a need to correct it in casual conversation. Trust me: I know the difference between their, there, and they’re. I write for multiple publications and got a perfect score on the grammar sections of both the SAT and the ACT (haha yes that’s me being a bit cocky, sorry). So please do not correct me when, in a haste to text you something under a desk quickly while doing ten other things, I used the wrong “there”. It’s because I don’t really care, not because I don’t know.

It takes a certain type of snob to interrupt a conversation to point out that you misspelled a word or said who instead of whom. Unless you are trying to write a professional email or a paper or something else that matters, I promise, no one wants to hear you point out these mistakes. It is condescending, unnecessary, and just plain annoying. Those who want advice will ask for it.

On the other hand, to genuinely not have these rules mastered do indeed look foolish, especially in a community of educated people. Because if you take the 5 extra seconds to think about the rule when you are trying to write properly, it’s really not that hard. As something I once saw on Tumblr says, “Grammar: The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit”.

Anti-Grammar

Growing up, I was a grammar fanatic. My father taught me to appreciate grammar from a young age. He would sit down with me and review each and every paper I wrote until college, marking up what was right and wrong and explain easy ways to improve my writing through grammar. My writing was structured, simple, and easy to follow. I assumed that if I wrote with proper grammar, I would be a good writer.

But when I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road,  I learned that I was wrong. Kerouac is widely known for his “spontaneous prose,” says Wikipedia, and general disregard for literary conventions — he’s the antithesis of a textbook writer, yet his writing is famous for it’s innate beauty and rhythm. Kerouac’s free-writing style serves as a new domain for which I yearn to tread. Rhythm specifically, is something that I’ve tried to pick up on.

Just randomly (or not?), I found this excerpt on Kerouac’s writing style:

Connected with his idea of breath was the elimination of the period, preferring to use a long, connecting dash instead. As such, the phrases occurring between dashes might resemble improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words might take on a certain kind of rhythm, though none of it pre-meditated.”

Though proper grammar is great and all, I wish other writers would appreciate this grammar-iconoclasm as I do.

 

Ignorance…

When it comes to grammar, the better question is, what doesn’t irk me? I am very easily irritated when someone makes obvious grammatical errors. If a stranger makes a grammatical error in one of our first encounters, I cannot help but knock them down a notch in my head.

My friend once told me that he feels he should not be penalized for what he does not know but was never taught. There are many instances in which I would agree with this statement. If you haven’t heard of a certain architect, artist, or author, that is entirely forgivable. But as college students, we do have an obligation to seek out certain types of knowledge. For example, it is our responsibility to know how to speak English. If you grew up in America, and attend the University of Michigan, and you were somehow never taught how to speak English, I would suggest you take the initiative to teach yourself. Know the difference between there, their, and they’re. Never forget, anyways is not a word!

Finally, once you learn the rules… feel free to break them!!! Breaking the rules can help add flavor and style to your writing. Just make sure you know the rules before you break them, so that breaking them is intentional and sophisticated, not ignorant and misplaced.

And their is my rant.

(jk)

there*

*You’re

Some people just don’t get it. They don’t understand why the simple placement of an apostrophe or the correct usage of their/there/they’re could be so important. But to me, these grammar mistakes are quite possibly some of the most annoying instances I ever encounter. It might be because I’m a perfectionist, or just that I love to write and don’t like when it isn’t done properly. I think it also has something to do with the fact that not only were we taught these grammar rules since we were in grade school, but also technology and things like autocorrect often make it impossible to make a grammar mistake. Yet, people still use your instead of you’re, who instead of whom, and its instead of it’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’m not entirely innocent. There have definitely been times where I used the wrong form of a word, but most likely I immediately tried to correct it or acknowledge my mistake. Even in something as casual as a conversation via text message I tend to utilize the ever-so-popular “asterisk correction.” This is when someone types the wrong word (most often in a text or Facebook message) and goes on to correct it by typing the right word with a “*” in front of it. I definitely appreciate this phenomenon, even to the point that I purchased a decorative computer case sticker that reads: *you’re.

I guess you could say I’m a tad obsessed with correct grammar usage.