Let's Make "Discipline" Our Favorite Word in 2012

Saturday, December 31, 2011
Guest post by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.

The year is drawing to a close, most of the cookies I baked last week are gone, and I’m thinking about…discipline. To be more specific, I’m thinking about (and bemoaning) the lack of it.

Maybe it’s the unpleasant truth that I ate most of the cookies myself. Or it’s all the talk I’ve heard in the last few days about the Gift that Went Wrong—too big, too small, or simply “What was she/he thinking?”

On the other hand, maybe it’s all the TV reports about the upcoming Republican primary in Virginia, where no fewer than five hopeful candidates (Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, Huntsman, and Santorum) didn’t get around to qualifying to be named on the ballot.

And then are writers (today’s real topic). Why does the word “discipline” inevitably get me thinking about some of the writers I know?

Because I wish they’d get some. Discipline, I mean. As in:
  • deciding to figure out once and for all the difference between a comma and a period
  • vowing never to interrupt a perfectly good sentence with an unnecessary colon
  • making a once-and-for-all, I’m-sticking-with-my-decision about ambiguous issues like the Oxford comma, possessives of names ending with “s” (Louis’ or Louis’s?), and words with alternative spellings (gray or grey? catalogue or catalog? doughnut or donut?)
  • relentlessly double-checking for correctness (Katherine or Katharine Hepburn? U.S. Calvary or U.S. Cavalry?)
  • learning how to place apostrophes correctly in tricky plural nouns (men’s, people’s)
  • swearing off the questionable practice of forming plurals by adding an apostrophe after the final “s”: three Christmases and two bosses, not three Christmas’ and two boss’
  • using a comma correctly with the coordinate conjunctions and/but (if you don’t have two sentences or a series of three or more, omit the comma)
  • abandoning the notion that a semicolon is a kind of glorified comma
  • practicing writing sentences with three parallel parts (a skill that has just about disappeared, even from professional writing)
I suspect that most people, like me, resist thinking about discipline amid the festivities of December (which is why all those cookies disappeared so quickly). But the beginning of a new year is a traditional time for resolutions, so a hefty dose of discipline seems quite in order in January.

Let me suggest, therefore, that we resolve to take a more regulated and systematic approach to the writing tasks that lie ahead of us. Here are three suggestions:
  • use the spellchecker, even for emails and Facebook postings
  • ask a friend or family member to proofread final drafts of important documents before we email, post, or publish them
  • read (or reread) at least one good book about writing this year
Or…choose one of your weak points and make a resolution to tackle it this year. Here’s mine: Write down ideas for writing projects instead of relying on my memory to keep track of them.

Discipline isn’t glamorous. Nobody is going to be impressed if you and I announce that we’re going to work harder on our writing in 2012. The results, though, may surprise everyone—including us. And that’s reason enough to make that extra effort in the days, weeks, and months to come. Happy 2012!

Jean Reynolds, Ph.D., is the author of seven books, as well as an internationally recognized Shaw scholar and an avid ballroom dancer. Visit her blog at www.WritewithJean.com.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Jean--I agree wholeheartedly with all of them except the semi-colon one. I am guilty of overusing them, and cannot abandon that notion...at least not yet.

I hope this next year is a productive one for you, and a year full of discipline. (Now, pass me that plate of fudge.)

Cresta McGowan said...

Commas where commas should not be is my pet peeve. I am an English teacher and I truly believe my students have what I call a "comma shaker". They just drop them in, anywhere, all the time, constantly, drives me nuts. Inappropriate use intended :-). Happy New Year!

I hope to read a new writing book this year. It is sitting next to me as I type. Glad one of my notions of reinventing myself as a writer in 2012 is one of your suggestions. Best wishes.

Lynette Benton said...

Please add a Share button to your great site!

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