Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moms and Dads: Make Your Kids Writers This Summer!

Do you need some practical tips to motivate your children to practice writing this summer? Read “10 Tips for Summer Writing” by Debbie Glade on, a clearinghouse for all sorts of articles on writing and reading improvement. You’re sure to find at least one of those tips useful in getting your kids to use their summer hours productively as serious learners, which they are never to young to be.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

11 Rules a Worthwhile Read provides a discussion forum on writing as well as a list of 11 rules of writing. Such lists of top 5, 10, 20, or whatever number tips seem repetitious after a while, but repetition is just what developing readers need to get into a groove and gain confidence to write every day. Check it out:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Connecting Pen to Paper

Here is another vote for handwriting, this one from Lakshmi Pratury, an international marketer, who encourages the art of letter writing by sharing handwritten notes from her deceased father. You may find some inspiration to write someone you care about after hearing her four-minute talk:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Answers to Questions from the English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) Community

Since I often field questions about writing and grammar from nonnative English speakers, and many nonnative English speakers read this blog, I decided to devote this post to two of those questions.

Akifa asks: “Which is correct: Do you know how to speak English? or Do you speak English?”

Answer: Both expressions are correct. A grammarian would diagram both sentences to prove their structural integrity. A linguist would argue that you will not find an answer to your question in a rule book but in idiomatically acceptable expressions, which we arrive at arbitrarily over time. A rhetorician would prefer the concise four-word version over the lengthier seven-word version. But this choice is purely a preference, not a commandment.


Maryann asks: I meet many people who use an extensive English vocabulary; however, their sentence structure is very flawed. Some of these people have made an earnest attempt to improve their grammar but have not received adequate guidance on basic structure. How successful is the attempt to make them learn correct usage—especially in spoken English.

Answer: My three decades of experience in the corporate and academic worlds tell me that the success of nonnative speakers' in English syntax depends on the three factors listed below, in order of importance:
  1. The person’s natural aptitude in language. I have seen some people enter the USA as adults without any English and learn good English syntax in short time, regardless of their age and national origin; on the other hand, I see others struggle for far longer with less result. These are not isolated anecdotes. I meet both types in every ESL class I teach.
  2. The person’s dedication to the task. Learning sound English sentence structure takes focused time in multiple modes and disciplines: speaking, listening, reading, and writing; face-to-face and phone contact; use of instructional, popular, and technical materials; study of not only English colloquialisms but of common syntactic errors made by native English speakers (e.g., run-ons, fragments, and pronoun usage) as well as nonnative speakers from their region (e.g., prepositions and non-syllabic past tense for Latinos, and articles and idioms for Chinese, Indians, Russians, and Poles, among others).
  3. The quality of instruction. The teacher's materials, experience, instructional methods, and assessment make a difference too.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Yes, Perspiration Counts, But So Does Inspiration!

In an interview of novelist Irving A. Greenfield, I remember him responding to my question about the key to writing success with a wry smile and a blunt, “There are no shortcuts.” His comment clarified for me the adage about perspiration outweighing inspiration.

Believe me, I know it. With few financial rewards over the years, I continue to write into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning for one reason—I have to. Don’t ask me why; I have no answer.

Yet my book How to Write Fast Under Pressure focuses quite a bit on the attitude necessary for a writer to get through a workday with mounting report, proposal, e-mail demands. With attitude comes inspiration. Writer Fred White does a fine job in making this point in an online article “7 Reasons Inspiration Matters to Writers” for Writer’s Digest. He deftly discusses the delicate but interdependent balance between needing (discipline) and wanting (inspiration) to write.