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Guest Post: Writing Rules That Matter–And Those That Don’t by Teri M. Brown

by Teri M. Brown

Always. Never. It’s a rule.

Have you noticed that the self-proclaimed grammar police are always quick to point out mistakes in social media posts, emails, and even book manuscripts? I must admit that there are grammar mistakes I find cringeworthy. However, determining the right way to write is not as easy as it seems.

Know Your Audience

Sometimes, I think back to those long-ago days sitting in an English class, learning about punctuation, word usage, and parts of speech. I can hear Mrs. Swift stating unequivocal rules about commas, contractions, and writing a paper. I sometimes wonder how she would feel about my novel with its quirky sentence structures and unusual word choices – which brings me to the most important rule I’ll share today.

Know your audience. When I wrote papers for Mrs. Swift, I followed her rules because she was my audience. If I wanted to do well in her class, then I needed to write something she would want to read. For her, it was formal, grammatically correct, and formulated.

The same holds true for business writers, authors, and even texts. Effective communication begins with knowing your end reader. This will help you determine if you need to be formal or informal, can use technical terms, should add persuasive speech, and more.

For example, it’s perfectly acceptable to use LOL in a text but not when writing a formal letter to a business executive. It’s also fine to start an email to a group of friends with “Hey, guys,” but I wouldn’t recommend doing so when writing an email to a potential publisher.

Where You Live Matters

“Punctuation ALWAYS goes inside the quotes,” stated Mrs. Swift over and over again. She took off a full point whenever someone in class put a period or comma outside the quotation marks. I’ve learned, however, that ‘always’ doesn’t apply outside of the United States.

It’s true! In the UK, the punctuation goes outside the quotes. So, if you are writing for a UK audience, you should keep that in mind. (Remember the first rule – Know Your Audience.)

Writing dates correctly also depends on location. In the United States, one writes January 1, 2022 – the comma goes after the day. Those in the UK write the day before the month and eliminate the comma altogether like this – 1 January 2022.

When a Rule Isn’t a Rule

Mrs. Swift also didn’t let on that some rules change over time or are controversial. Let’s talk for a moment about the Oxford comma. This is the comma placed before the ‘and’ in a list. If I said, “I’m going to the store to buy pens, pencils, paper, and an eraser,” the Oxford comma is the one after ‘paper’ and before ‘and.’

However, some people and organizations, like the Associated Press, no longer require the use of the Oxford comma. The missing Oxford comma has even led to court cases resulting in dairy having to pay their drivers $10 million in overtime pay. To this day, the debate goes on.

Another controversy is whether a sentence can start with a conjunction or not. Mrs. Swift would be resolutely in the ‘no’ camp. However, today’s rules state that you can. And that is the real truth.

Tricks For Deciding

Of course, there are rules that we follow because they have become standard. Yet, some are difficult to remember. To this day, I rearrange a sentence to avoid using lie or lay. Here are a few tricks for helping you decide what to use.

Less/Fewer

Use less when something cannot be counted. Use fewer when something can be counted.

Example:

I wrote less often. (You can’t count often.)
I read fewer words. (You can count words.)

 Who/Whom

Answer the question you are asking with he or him. If you would say ‘him’ with an M, then you would use ‘whom’ with an M.

                Example:

To who/whom will you send a free book? Since you would send it to him, the sentence should have ‘whom.’

Who/whom will read the book? Since he will read it, the sentence should have ‘who.’

I/Me

Should you say, “Bruce and me read a good book” OR “Bruce and I read a good book.” To decide, take out the ‘Bruce and’ and read the sentence again. Obviously, you wouldn’t say “Me read a good book,” so in this case, it should be ‘I.’

What about “She gave the book to Bruce and I” or “She gave the book to Bruce and me?” Once again, take out the ‘Bruce and’ and read the sentence. In this case, use ‘me.’

Lay/Lie

Lie means to be in a recumbent position. Lie has an ‘I’ in it. If you were to lie down flat, your body would have the shape of an ‘I.”

Lay means to place something. Lay has an ‘a’ in it, just like place.

A Few Tidbits for Better Writing

Finally, here are a few things to consider that may make your writing better.

  1. Try to use active voice (subject + verb + object) rather than passive voice (object + verb + subject). ‘Historical fiction is loved by readers’ is not nearly as captivating as ‘Readers love historical fiction.’
  2. Boring sentences start with ‘there is’ and ‘there are.’ Consider starting with a subject instead.
  3. A cliché is an overused expression. Instead of using an overused phrase, create something fresh and exciting.
  4. You have 15 seconds or less to capture the attention of your reader. Make sure your headline, first sentence, and sub-headlines are strong and enticing.

Finally, I always recommend reading what you’ve written out loud. This will help you find the mistake you miss when reading it to yourself. You wouldn’t believe how many repeated words, missing letters, and odd punctuation I have found when doing this.

The bottom line is this: language matters, but language is not static. As the writer, it is up to you to determine which rules matter to your audience.

About the Author

Born in Athens, Greece as an Air Force brat, Teri M Brown graduated from UNC Greensboro. She began her writing career helping small businesses with content creation and published five nonfiction self-help books dealing with real estate and finance, receiving “First Runner Up” in the Eric Hoffman Book Awards for 301 Simple Things You Can Do To Sell Your Home Now, finalist in the USA Best Books Awards for How To Open and Operate a Financially Successful Redesign, Redecorate, and Real Estate Staging Business and for 301 Simple Things You Can Do To Sell Your Home Now, and Honorable Mention in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award for Private Mortgage Investing. In 2017, after winning the First Annual Anita Bloom Ornoff Award for Inspirational Short Story, she began writing fiction in earnest and recently published Sunflowers Beneath the Snow. Teri is a wife, mother, grandmother, and author who loves word games, reading, bumming on the beach, taking photos, singing in the shower, hunting for bargains, ballroom dancing, playing bridge, and mentoring others. Teri’s debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, is a historical fiction set in Ukraine. Learn more at http://www.terimbrown.com.

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Guest Post: 15 Reasons You Need to Keep Writing by Teri M. Brown

What’s In It for Your Reader? 15 Reasons You Need to Keep Writing

As an author, I am not fond of marketing. I’d much rather be settled in, a cup of cocoa on my left, a notebook on my right, and my fingers tapping away at the keyboard in front of me. However, without marketing, all that writing would just languish on a shelf gathering dust. So, market I must.

My first foray into this arena was almost my last. The guru in charge of the session asked this question – “Why should someone buy your book?” The question was supposed to help me gain an understanding of what was in it for my reader. However, I drew a complete blank. Why should they? I couldn’t come up with anything other than I had written a good story that they would enjoy, but somehow, entertainment just didn’t seem like reason enough to ask someone to spend their hard-earned money.

Thankfully, I didn’t decide to about-face toward a career with easily recognizable benefits. Instead, I determined to discover the value of reading in order to answer that marketer’s question. Here are the fifteen that have helped me understand that being an author is as noble a profession as any other

1. Entertainment

“No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.” – Mary Wortley Montagu

I’ll start with entertainment because it was the only item on my original list. Without a doubt, books are engaging and entertaining. We’ve all experienced a book we couldn’t put down. And we all hope that our next experience with a book is the same.

2. Learning New Things

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

Whether you read fiction or nonfiction, you can learn things while reading a book. For instance, you might pick up a new word or hear about a new place. You might grasp a new concept or pick up a tidbit of history you missed in school. If you want to learn something, read a book!

3. Better Communication

“I believe there is power in words, power in asserting our existence, our experience, our lives, through words.” – Jesmyn Ward

Communication is an important life skill because it allows us to pass on needed information, form relationships, and generally, get things done. And guess what? Readers are better at both written and oral communication. Because they read, they use a stronger vocabulary and intuitively know the right style for writing.

4. Live Longer

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – C.S. Lewis

This one blew me away. There was a retirement home study that found readers lived two years longer than nonreaders. Wow! If that isn’t a great benefit, then what is?

5. Improves Sleep

“Take a good book to bed with you. Books do not snore.” – Thea Dorn

Studies concerning reading are endless. One found that when you pair reading with a nighttime routine, you fall asleep faster. The only caveat is that you must read printed material rather than on a screen. That pesky blue light can wreak havoc with your body’s natural cycles.

6. Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” – John Locke

When we read, we tend to think ahead and see if we can solve the mystery, determine the outcome, or notice the one detail that puts the entire story on its end. This is known as analytical thinking and is another one of those skills that employers want their employees to have. If you critique a book with others, not only are you using analytical skills, but you are pairing them with communication skills. It’s a win-win!

7. Improves imagination

“Reading is an active, imaginative act; it takes work.” – Khaled Hosseini

When reading fiction, your imagination goes to work visualizing the scenes, hearing the characters’ voices, and feeling the emotions. And why is imagination important? The benefits of imagination are as endless as the benefits of reading! Those with strong imaginations have fewer memory problems, increase problem-solving skills, and more.

8. Better Mental Health

“Reading—the best state yet to keep absolute loneliness at bay.” – William Styron

Feeling depressed? Studies show that reading a book will help. The field of bibliotherapy uses books to help people feel better. Try it for yourself.

9. Reduce Stress

“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.” – Nora Ephron

Remember what I said about studies? It seems that one found that reading for 30 minutes can have an impact on your health. How? It lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Another study found that six minutes of reading reduces stress by over 60%.

Feeling stressed? Pick up a book.

So, the next time you’re feeling stressed, remember the benefits of reading for pleasure and let the tension melt away.

10. Building Brain Connections

“To train your body, lift increasingly heavier weights. To train your mind, read increasingly tougher books.” – Johnny Uzan

Reading helps you build brain connections, much the same way that exercising builds muscles. The more a person reads, the stronger these neural networks become.

Do you know the phrase “use it or lose it”? Yep – it’s true for reading!

11. Concentration and Focus

“To read a novel requires a certain kind of concentration, focus, devotion to the reading. If you read a novel in more than two weeks, you don’t read the novel really.” – Philip Roth

There is an entire body of literature on something called deep work. Deep work occurs when you can do something for a long time without distraction. And guess what? Reading books helps a person develop this ability! Your readers need to learn to focus, so why not focus on your book?

12. Memory

“I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.” – Arthur Conan Doyle,

Reading books helps to improve your memory. As you read, you have to keep all the details in mind. There’s the plot, the characters, the relationships, the environment, and more. As you store this information, your brain creates and strengthens synapses used for memory storage. The more you read, the better you will be at remembering things.

Can’t find your phone again? Read a book!

13. Motivation

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman

When you read about a character who overcomes a challenge, it can be motivating. Book characters can help us be positive, work hard, and never give up.

14. Empathize

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Books let us look through the eyes of someone unlike ourselves. As we see the world as they see it, we gain an understanding of different points of view. In our world today, isn’t that an amazing benefit?

15. Inclusivity

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.” – Jean Rhys

Along with empathy, books help us be more inclusive. They help readers become more open-minded and tolerant. It’s hard to look at someone negatively if you’ve been able to relate to their story. We don’t discriminate against those we understand.

This little exercise has made my job of marketing my books so much easier. Books have value to readers. And, as an author, I have value as well.

About the Author:

Born in Athens, Greece as an Air Force brat, Teri M Brown came into this world with an imagination full of stories to tell. She now calls the North Carolina coast home, and the peaceful nature of the sea has been a great source of inspiration for her creativity.

Not letting 2020 get the best of her, Teri chose to go on an adventure that changed her outlook on life. She and her husband, Bruce, rode a tandem bicycle across the United States from Astoria, Oregon to Washington DC, successfully raising money for Toys for Tots. She learned she is stronger than she realized and capable of anything she sets her mind to.

Teri is a wife, mother, grandmother, and author who loves word games, reading, bumming on the beach, taking photos, singing in the shower, hunting for bargains, ballroom dancing, playing bridge, and mentoring others.

Teri recently published her debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, a historical fiction set in Ukraine that follows three generations of women. You can read the first chapter for free by joining her email list at https://deft-pioneer-4478.ck.page/c6edd375dd

Follow Teri on her website www.terimbrown.com

Or via the following social media:

Facebook.com/TeriMBrownAuthor

Twitter.com/TeriMBrown1

Instagram.com/TeriMBrown

LinkedIn.com/in/TeriMBrown

Goodreads.com/terimbrown

Pinterest.com/terimbrownauthor

Amazon Author: https://www.amazon.com/author/terimbrown

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Guest Post: Yes, You are a Great Writer! by Teri M. Brown

As a writer, I know that words matter. Anyone can see that when simply looking at the phrases “big bear” and “humongous bear.” The first is one you run from. And the second? Let’s just hope you are running with someone a lot slower than yourself! However, I had never really considered how words affect our personal performance.

I am a cycling enthusiast – on an amateur level. My husband and I spent the summer of 2020 crossing the United States from the coast of Oregon to Washington DC on a tandem bicycle – a whopping 3102 miles. He’s the cycling guru. I went along for the adventure. Of course, having had that experience, people now send me great articles about cycling. A recent one was a study about cycling performance and the words we use (To me, to you: How we say things matters for endurance performance).

The gist of the study is simple. How we talk to ourselves as we try to achieve something matters. And the best way to achieve something is to talk to ourselves in the second person. In the study, cyclists were asked to repeat mantras while training. Those that said something like “You are a great cyclist” actually went faster than those who said the same thing but in first person – “I am a great cyclist.” The theory is that by saying “you” instead of “I,” we become our own cheerleader from the sidelines of our mind.

Now, let’s bring this back around to writing. I know that, as an author with a debut novel, I sometimes feel like a fake. Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome? It’s that feeling that I am a fraud – that if someone could really get inside my head, they’d learn that I’m not really an author after all. Or they’d find out that this novel was just a fluke and nothing like it will ever happen again. It’s a crazy thought, but I’ve learned that I’m not the only author who feels this way.

So, I’ve decided to use the power of words to change up how I feel. Each morning, I look in the mirror and repeat: “You are an author. You write great stories that people want to read. You know how to connect with your audience.” I figure if it works for elite cyclists, it should work for me – and for you.

Give it a try. How does it feel being your own best fan? Feel free to drop me a note and tell me what you think.

About the Author:

Born in Athens, Greece as an Air Force brat, Teri M Brown came into this world with an imagination full of stories to tell. She now calls the North Carolina coast home, and the peaceful nature of the sea has been a great source of inspiration for her creativity.

Not letting 2020 get the best of her, Teri chose to go on an adventure that changed her outlook on life. She and her husband, Bruce, rode a tandem bicycle across the United States from Astoria, Oregon to Washington DC, successfully raising money for Toys for Tots. She learned she is stronger than she realized and capable of anything she sets her mind to.

Teri is a wife, mother, grandmother, and author who loves word games, reading, bumming on the beach, taking photos, singing in the shower, hunting for bargains, ballroom dancing, playing bridge, and mentoring others.

Teri recently published her debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, a historical fiction set in Ukraine that follows three generations of women. You can read the first chapter for free by joining her email list at https://deft-pioneer-4478.ck.page/c6edd375dd

Follow Teri on her website www.terimbrown.com

Or via the following social media:

Facebook.com/TeriMBrownAuthor

Twitter.com/TeriMBrown1

Instagram.com/TeriMBrown

LinkedIn.com/in/TeriMBrown

Goodreads.com/terimbrown

Pinterest.com/terimbrownauthor

Amazon Author: https://www.amazon.com/author/terimbrown

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Author Interview: Teri M. Brown

I always like hearing about other writers, their processes, and their lives outside of writing. I figure you do, too! Teri M. Brown, author of Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, shared a bit of her time and her adventures with me recently.

Does writing energize or exhaust you? 

Yes! Seriously, it does both. I find the writing very exciting and when I am through for the day, I often talk over everything with my husband. However, after a long session at the computer, I sleep hard for the first several hours.

What is your writing Kryptonite? Real life. I work best when I can escape from the house and my office. Put me on the beach, or at a writer’s retreat, or even at my mom’s house when she’s gone away for a week, and I’ll get more accomplished than I can at home. Why? When I’m gone, things like dishes, laundry, meal prep, and taking the dog out don’t get in my way. I can focus entirely on writing. At the Weymouth Writers-in-Residence, I am able to write 50,000 to 70,000 words in one week!

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? 

Don’t be afraid. Just get the story out of your head. The more you write, the easier it will be.

What books do you currently have in the works?

I currently have four novels in various stages of completeness, an inspirational non-fiction based on my trip across the US on a tandem bicycle, and three children’s books waiting for an audience.

How did you get started writing? 

I began writing my first novel in 2017. I had a story line in my head but had been afraid to put it on paper. I went to a one-week writers-in-residence during NaNoWriMo and completed 50,000 words. That particular manuscript hasn’t gone anywhere. I will have to do a lot of rewriting if it ever does because I couldn’t give my main character any flaws. I loved her too much! I was also about to separate from an emotionally abusive husband, and I think I needed my character to be strong and capable and unbreakable.  My second manuscript has some of the same problems, though I was getting the hang of it.  Both of those manuscripts are contemporary, character-driven fiction. My third manuscript, An Enemy Like Me, is historical fiction that I would like to release after Sunflowers Beneath the Snow.  It is loosely based on my grandfather who is of German descent and fought in WWII in the US Army in Germany. My fifth manuscript is Sunflowers Beneath the Snow. I decided to release it now because it is timely – the Russians are amassing on the Ukrainian border once again, which is a pivotal point in the plot of the book when it happened 2014.  I have another partially finished manuscript that has a fantasy lean to it, but my father died while I was writing it. Every time I try to go back to it, I just can’t seem to find the words. And I have a dystopian fiction idea and a humor spoof about menopause in my head.

What advice can you give to writers & aspiring writers?

 Write. Write. Write. The only way to get better at your craft is to do it. Don’t wait until you have gotten a degree, taken enough classes, read enough books. Just start writing. Your first stuff will likely be crap, but that’s okay. Everyone starts there. Very few people write the Great American Novel the first time they pick up a pen.

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Born in Athens, Greece as an Air Force brat, Teri M Brown came into this world with an imagination full of stories to tell. She now calls the North Carolina coast home, and the peaceful nature of the sea has been a great source of inspiration for her creativity.
 
Not letting 2020 get the best of her, Teri chose to go on an adventure that changed her outlook on life. She and her husband, Bruce, rode a tandem bicycle across the United States from Astoria, Oregon to Washington DC, successfully raising money for Toys for Tots. She learned she is stronger than she realized and capable of anything she sets her mind to.
 
Teri is a wife, mother, grandmother, and author who loves word games, reading, bumming on the beach, taking photos, singing in the shower, hunting for bargains, ballroom dancing, playing bridge, and mentoring others.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keepingand The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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