Past Mistakes!

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We all make silly mistakes in writing, especially during a draft or when focussing on style rather than editing. Those pesky spellings like they’re, there and their or using past simple when you should use past perfect can really bring your writing down a peg or two. 

Learning Spanish as a foreign language force me to relearn my own language and made me much more aware of spelling and grammar mistakes. This is when I’m grateful to be an English teacher. There are occasions where my grammar brain and creative brains are at war, but I’m quite good at separating them. I’ve always had trouble with spelling and reading because of some weird thing in my brain that I have decided is wired for Spanish, not English. I think phonetically and used to spell a lot of things wrong. I still do, but rarely.

But something that I see all the time that seems to be a major issue is lie, lay and laid. It’s not even the spelling people are getting confused with, it’s the meaning of the word. And people have “corrected” me when I’ve used the correct word. 

Definition according to Oxford Dictionary.

For example, my story is in 1st person present, so when I write…

The empty space beside me is cold where Nathanial lay.

I’m using lay as the past of lie since Nathanial was lying there but now he isn’t. Well… I got “corrected” and told to use laid. Really, folks?

If I switched this to past, it would be…

The empty space beside me was cold where Nathanial had lain.

It’s a completely different word, even in a different tense. How is it that so many people just don’t get this? Writers, too. It has been mostly Americans who I see with this issue on the critiquing site I’m on and blogs.

This brings me to another issue I find. When people used the past perfect, or rather, they don’t, when their story is in past tense. The past perfect tense helps define whether you’re in the moment of the story or jumping to some point before. The past of the past, AKA double past. 

I realise throwing in had done, had been, had taken and so on can get a little taxing on the eyes especially with a flashback or backstory that goes on for a few paragraphs. If you start a flashback or backstory without making it clear you’re jumping back in time, you risk confusing readers. The same applies when coming back to the moment. End the double past paragraph with a couple of past perfect verbs and that will finish it off nicely before you slip back into past simple. 

Use words and tenses properly, folks, and help the reader’s imagine your story correctly.

Writing Advice VS How-to-Write Advice!

There’s so much writing advice available on the internet that it can be overwhelming if you’re starting from nothing. I’m not talking about people who studied literature or creative writing and are starting their writing careers. I mean people who have an idea and want to make a go if it whether for personal writing or to possibly be published. But with no previous experience, where do you even start?

I admit I was a pantser when I started. I just sat in front of my PC and typed away until it looked like a story. Then I bought a couple of writing books and started to see where I was going wrong. Then I joined a writing group and found even more ways that I had gone wrong. Now, I’m still probably going wrong somewhere. That’s okay. Even the best authors are always learning. But I feel that I have enough experience with the process of turning an idea into a story to suggest a few things to help others get started.

I was discussing writing advice on a forum recently after a non-writer asked how to get started. I offered some links to YouTube videos and suggested they follow successful authors who give online advice. Then someone said one of the YouTubers was a bad example because that author didn’t tell people how to write and that it was more about marketing. The YouTuber is a best-seller, self-published, and hilarious, but no, she doesn’t tell people how to write. Nobody should “tell” people how to write. 

Writing advice isn’t always about how to write. It’s how to plan a story from a single idea. How to incorporate multiple ideas into one story. How to build an entire world from your imagination. How to find your style. 

With no idea where to start, I think that’s the best place to start. Others are free to disagree with me, and I won’t argue on that. But the best writing advice is the kind that guides you, not dictates what you should and shouldn’t write. I would call some of my writing ranting “advice”. Because that’s what I intend, to advise people so they can choose the best path for them when starting the writing process. 

It’s always the key to learning. You have to try a few methods before one sticks. Some can dive in and learn to swim by splashing about until they float. Others watch carefully and copy (not the best example for writing advice, but you get my point). Others listen to the instructions and imagine them doing it before they get in the water. Or you could start in the kiddies pool with your feet tiptoeing the bottom with short stories and flash fiction.

Whether starting from scratch or looking to expand your knowledge, don’t let anyone tell you how to write.