If You Think…

I love language and languages. I especially love when I learn something new about it. Like the saying “getting his just deserts.” One “S”. Because it not about that sweet thing you eat after a meal and getting one that fits what you’ve done, although that makes sense and it’s what most people think, but because deserts is a noun form from the verb deserve, so it means getting what one deserves. (Oversimplified, but, hey, you get what I mean.)

Just desserts (One of my favorite Hungarian cakes)

Stuff like that probably makes me a pedant, but I wear that badge proudly. I like knowing things. It’s because I like learning things. I make mistakes. I know for a fact that at least one of my early books makes the mistake between loathe and loath. The copy editor didn’t catch it, so it’s in print that way forever. I know the difference now (loathe is the verb meaning to hate, and loath is the adjective meaning reluctant).

So back to the title of this post. You know the saying, “If you think …, then you have another…” and there I pause. We learn language by making errors. Little children will say things like, “I goed,” or “He drinked.” They have internalized adding -ed to make the past tense, but haven’t learned that irregular verbs have different forms. We internalize language and don’t think about grammar when we speak. We just speak.

So when someone makes an error on purpose, it’s hard not to try to correct it in our minds. The saying actually is, “If you think you’re right, you have another think coming.” Think about it (there’s that word again). It’s grammatically incorrect on purpose. It sounds strange to our ears to use a verb, think, as a noun, but doesn’t think make a whole lot more sense than thing? What does “You have another thing coming” even mean? Oh, we’ve tried to make sense of it, like the dessert vs desert thing (there’s that word again). Before I knew the true form, I always thought the saying meant you should get a punishment of some sort. But, really, how harsh is that for thinking something (Oooo, think and thing in the same sentence)? Thing is so vague, so meaningless. Yet look how often we use it, even in this post. Think makes more sense, when you analyze it. (I almost wrote “when you think about it,” but that would be excessive, don’t you think?)

But language is nothing if not fluid, and most people will tell you that the saying is “If you think you’re right, then you have another thing coming.” That’s our internalized grammar editor trying to correct an error made on purpose. We know English, and you can’t use the verb think as a noun. So using thing has become acceptable. You will hear thing used on TV or see it in books, but now you know better.

Perhaps it will drive you as nuts as it does me. >twisting my evil villain mustache< Bwhahahaha. Wait until I point out the difference between fewer and less.


Books I am reading now:

The Unseducible Earl by Sheri Humphreys

Sonnet Coupled by Roxanne D Howard



Screw the Muse; It’s the Internal Editor I Worry About

In which I talk about the struggle between getting it right and just getting it done. The story is there; it’s the writing of it that’s hard (Well, that’s a no brainer).

Not only am I the world’s worst typist (You have learned about my penchant for hyperbole, right?), I tend to be anal about grammar, punctuation, etc. So turning off that internal editor just to get words on the page is one of the most exhausting elements of novel process that I go through. I want to correct as the symbols, letters and words, hit the page. It’s excruciating to let the mistakes lie and move onto the next thing for me. But without that haranguing voice echoing through my brain, I can write with more feeling, with more freedom. That bitch’s voice telling us the writing is no good, error-laden, and pointless, freezes the product. Only when you ignore the urge to go back and edit every sentence will you get past that first sentence, that first paragraph, that first chapter.

My current WIP, chicken scratches and all.
My current WIP, chicken scratches and all.

Not all of us work in the same manner. Some of us are final draft writers. Every word we put on the paper is perfect. But we’ve already done a lot of the prep work ahead of time. We’ve outlined, plotted, planned, and meditated to make that draft possible. Some of us are first draft writers. We don’t care what we put on the paper; we can always go back and revise later.  I fall somewhere in between and drift from one extreme to the other and visit the entire scale along the way. In any case, that internal editor can keep us from producing anything. If the bitch is telling us that we’re not good enough, we can freeze up and never produce a sentence. And that’s what we’re aiming for: producing sentence after sentence until we have a book.

I wrestle with my internal editor daily. Only after I lock her in a cage can I get to work and produce my stories. She struggles to pick the lock every time, but if I just get lost in the story, I can keep her there. I’m happy to let her out when it’s revision time. Then I can use her input, but until then, she needs to disappear. I still can’t let myself just write anything on the page–I stop to find the right term, the proper historical reference, etc.–but I’m getting better.  When I hand write, I can just circle a word I don’t like, put a check mark over it and leave it. I’m not so good when I type directly onto the computer.

And there’s always that little voice that tells me I’m not good enough. If I could learn how to shut her up, I’d be a much happier writer. I’ve heard she never goes away. The bitch.


Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens by JK Rowling


In light of my last post, I thought I should post this as my new anthem:



Books I’m reading now:

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Serpent in Venice by Christopher Moore

To Err is Human; to Correct Divine?

In which I  confess to the guilt I feel about correcting grammar and other errors in manuscripts I’ve been asked to look at. How much input is too much? Or am I doing the author a favor? Grammar is important, folks.

So I’m in the midst of judging a contest for unpublished authors. I love judging, editing and helping writers learn their craft, but I’ve hit a dilemma: what to do with terrible entries. I can spend hours on a single entry. For the most part, their ideas are fine and they have a grasp on their story. However, the execution is, for the most part, weak. Major grammar errors, word choice errors, punctuation errors, structure errors, inconsistencies, characters out of character, contradictions, etc. Because of who I am (former English teacher, self-proclaimed grammar aficionado—but not spelling; never spelling), I can’t help but line edit as I judge.


Having entered many contests in the past, I do have experience with being ripped apart. I never took it badly. Yes, sometimes I dismissed what the judges said because it was ridiculous (“Cartegena? What’s that?”—yes, this was a comment on one of my entries a long time ago and it made everything the judge said suspect; in that same contest, I received a very low score from this judge and a near perfect score from the other; it happens more often than you think.), but mostly when the judges wrote something, I mulled it over and absorbed it. More than once a judge has caught something that made me say, “Oh my God, she’s right. How could I have done that?” In one particular instance a judge pointed out that one of my characters needed a bath. She was so right, so in went a quick bath scene. In most every circumstance, I’ve learned from entering contests and always appreciated the effort given to my entry.


Which leads me to my dilemma. I don’t want to be discouraging, but in these entries from rank beginners, the writing itself is getting in the way of the story. The entries are difficult to get through because of the grammar and punctuation errors.

My friends and I call this massive dictionary “The Herniator.”

They are nowhere close to submission to an editor or agent, or even being ready for a contest. These are basic writing concepts that they don’t understand. It makes me think that they don’t have anyone with ability to read their manuscripts. Many people enter contests for the feedback because they have no one else. Maybe no one has told them you don’t punctuate actions tags the same as speech tags. Maybe no one has told them that speech tags should be limited mostly to “said” and “asked”, that you can’t gasp or laugh or urge or smile a sentence. Maybe no one has pointed out the humorous mistakes that dangling participles make, or that run-ons are annoying, or that too many fragments reduce their impact.


Worse. Maybe they do have readers they trust and think they know what they are doing, but they don’t.


Worst. Maybe when they see all the markings I’ve left, they’ll be devastated.


I always find something that they do well and leave notes to the effect that I admire that they’re writing, that they have great ideas, but they need to work on the fundamentals first. But that still leaves the actual manuscript with all the “red marks.”  Is that part of growing a thick skin?


I mean well, but I can’t help myself from correcting. What do you think?

(And, really, we’re talking about major errors here, not the occasional missing or misplaced comma.)



Books I’m reading now:

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Goofs, Gaffs, and Guffaws

Just about the only thing I consider myself an expert in is language. By language, I mean grammar, words, and such. I speak a few languages, and have studied the “old” and “middle” versions of two of those languages. When my writer friends need help with a construct or want to make sure they are writing something correctly, they come to me. I love it not because I am “the expert,” but because I love looking up arcane grammar points, learning subtle grammar, and just expanding my knowledge base. Yes, I do language research just for fun.


Now before you go correcting anything and everything I write here, I also know the difference between casual and formal language, and I don’t proofread everything I post here. I am not a typist. I still have to stare at the keyboard to find the right letters (I’m sure it’s just a crutch by now, but I still stare at the keyboard) and not at the page to make sure I’m putting it on paper right, which is why autocorrect annoys me so much. It gets me every time. I don’t want to have to analyze everything I write or write in perfect sentences because then I will just shut down, but errors do not mean I don’t know grammar (Spelling is a whole other can of beans; I have never claimed to know spelling, but I can tell you why some words are spelled the way they are). We all make errors, and honest errors exist. Deal with it.


So without further ado, here is a list of my top ten word pet peeves:


  1. Fewer vs. less (and along those same lines amount vs. number)—If something has a specific number use fewer; if it’s abstract in number use less. If you can conceivably count it, use fewer. For example: 15 or fewer (items in this lane). Less money, fewer dollars. Fewer people, less humanity.
  2. Between you and I—(shudder) It’s “me!” Cases are important! There’s a country song out there now that says this. Every time I hear it I scream, “Me,” at the proper juncture. Object of a preposition—learn it. And speaking of cases…
  3. The use of “than”—Not then vs. than, just than. If I say, “She is taller than me,” most people will understand that I am shorter than the female in question. But that’s not correct grammar. It should read, “She is taller than I.” You wouldn’t say, “She is taller than me am.” Case matters. The meaning changes between “She likes him better than me,” and “She likes him better than I.” In one I would be invited second. In the other, she can invite him first and I don’t care.
  4. Try to do (or insert whatever verb you want)—I see this all time as “try and do.” In fact I once had a copyeditor change “try to” to “try and.” No. “I will try to sleep” means I am making an attempt at resting and probably failing. “I will try and sleep” means I am attempting something unspecified and then I am falling unconscious for the night. Two separate actions.
  5. Who vs. whom—Call me old fashioned, but I love the distinction. (And we’re back to cases again.) There is a bumper I spy often extolling the joys of rescue animals. While I applaud the sentiment, the slogan “Who saved who?” drives me crazy. Who saved whom? Not that hard. You wouldn’t answer the question with He saved I or I saved he. Where you would use a “him” or a “her” in the sentence, use a “whom” in the question.
  6. Have vs. of—I will disown you if you write “I should of studied English harder.” One is a verb, the other a preposition.
  7. Nonexistent words—I’m lumping these together because there are far too many of them, but my biggest irritations arise from expresso, supposably, and excape.
  8. Wrong phrases—Again, lumping here: For all intensive purposes; just desserts; nip it in the butt (These are the wrong ones. There are many, many more)
  9. Apostrophes for plurals—Do not use an apostrophe to form a plural except in rare cases (Trust me, they are rare). Apostrophes are used to show possession or a missin’ letter (See what I did there?). Not even with numbers.
  10. And while I don’t get too hung up on the whole its-it’s, they’re-their-there, to-too-two (Remarkable really. I usually just shake my head when I see it, but it’s far too easy to type those in incorrectly and not see it on a re-read), loose vs. lose and choose vs. chose annoys me. Watch for wrong words in general. There’s a huge difference between a loose bowel and to lose a bowl.


All rules can be bent, shaped, twisted, or broken to achieve a certain writing effect (not affect), but you do have to understand why you are breaking that rule to achieve the effect you wish. Words are important. What are some of your pet peeves in language?




Books I’m reading now:

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin (re-read)

Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare


Errors in Books

I’m writing this as a self-professed Grammar Nazi.


I defy you to find a book without an error in it. I defy you, no matter how much you understand English (and yes, although I am all for learning and speaking and using other languages, this is about English), to write 400 pages and make no mistakes. I defy you to read, re-read, edit, revise, have others look at it, re-read again, and still not find errors in your manuscript. For example, in my last book, WISHFUL THINKING, I was at the galley-proof stage (the point where they send you your book the way it will appear on the page, usually a pdf file), and I still found 147 errors. I know. I counted. But there are degrees of errors, and I put it to you that most are forgivable.

A missing comma here or there shouldn’t cause you to write an angry letter. In fact, I know some  publishing houses that omit commas on purpose. It’s the house “Style.”  Just yesterday I read that one house forbids their authors from using semi-colons. Their reasoning? That genre fiction is supposed to pull the reader in; semi-colons stop the reader and interrupt the flow (See how I did that there?). I have to admit that rule made me cringe. You can’t ban semi-colons. That’s like the time I was kicked out of textbook training when I was teaching because I wouldn’t agree to disagree about what a verb is. But we are trying to make the writing accessible. Grammar and punctuation rules can fly out the window then.

I know I make errors when I write.  Sometimes because I think too fast for my fingers to type ( I never had typing in school. Somehow I skipped that required class). I skip words, or put in part of a word (like par for part) that is a word and my brain, knowing what to expect, fills in the blank. Have you seen those Internet memes that tout your amazing abilities to decipher words written with jumbled inner spelling or numbers replacing letters or backwards? It’s supposedly a sign of your intelligence. No, it isn’t. It’s your brain trying to make sense of what it sees and working the way it should.

Sometimes I spell things wrong. I have never been a speller. Spelling is not grammar. I could go on about the seven different pronunciations of “ough”, the silent “b”, or why “ghoti” spells “fish”, but I’ve done that before. How the “t” in often was said, then silent, and now it’s back. Or not. Both are standard. What kind of language allows you to do that anyway? English, that’s what. I’ve always considered spelling a torture. When I write a novel I do look up every word I may have possible spelled wrong, but I may overlook some because I’m utterly convinced I have it right. And that’s not even worrying about “pore” vs “pour”,  or “hear, hear” vs. “here, here” (By the way, those are the ones that throw me right out of a story–the homonyms used in place of the correct word).

Sometimes things are left out by the printer. In my second novel, my galleys contained a chapter that wasn’t even from my book. Another time a chapter was repeated. I taught DANDELION WINE to my eighth graders. The books we used were missing a couple of paragraphs at the end of one of the chapters. That wasn’t done by the author.

The errors I cannot forgive are content errors. When a character is a certain age, but that doesn’t work out mathematically (Don’t ask me why I catch math errors; I just do). When the character is a widow in one chapter and divorced a few chapters down. When the story is set in a certain year and then people or events are mentioned that couldn’t have taken place in that year (unless it’s alternate reality; then that’s fine). I’ve seen these mistakes in books I’ve read.

And some of the mistakes are the readers’. I once used the word “posh” in a novel set in 1845. I knew the word wasn’t in existence then (yeah, I look that sort of thing up), but it was close enough to the time period that I fudged it. Someone had to use it first, right?) Well, a reader called me on it and gave me the “origin” of the word. It was that cute Internet story about  the English traveling to India on a ship, Port Out, Starboard Home, so they’d know which side of the ship to have their cabins to avoid the sun. Only problem is that story’s not true. I had a friend correct me on “if you think X, then you have another think coming.” She wanted me to write “thing”. Nope, sorry, that’s wrong. (See what I did here with the commas–for effect) And just recently another friend pointed out I’d written “just deserts” wrong. Nope again. It is “just deserts”, not “just desserts”. And would you say, for example: “she is hungrier than me”? That would be incorrect.

And you see how I’m putting the quotes inside the punctuation? That’s the British way, and frankly makes a helluva lot more sense than the American way, so I’m starting the trend. (In certain instances, like these.)

I just read an article about the physicist Paul Dirac. He had some quirks, but when he read WAR AND PEACE his only comment about he novel was that Tolstoy had made the sun rise twice in one day. (Mental Floss, Jan-Feb 2010).  So you see, authors, editors, copy editors, translators (I read the German version of Harry Potter and they translated cat’s whiskers as a mustache), they’re all human. You may get a thrill at finding an error, but get over it. That’s kind of petty. (I know, because I have to admit I get a thrill and feel superior when I find errors. I’m not proud of myself.).

Read the book and enjoy it. That’s why we write. I won’t even go into how ungrammatical speech is here.

–Gabi, who really doesn’t proofread blog articles.

Books I’m reading now:

Vampire in Atlantis by Alyssa Day