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)
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
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.