How to write good

Wednesday 8 April 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — April Fool’s Day (Oh, wait)

Fans of the Anchor often ask me, “Father, how do you ever manage to meet those looming deadlines and come up with 850 pithy words every week? Isn’t it nerve-wracking?” You know me, dear readers. I find writing to be great fun. For me, it’s not hard work at all. Besides, at my age, I avoid doing anything too strenuous. Doctor’s orders, you know. 

It’s not all that difficult to write, as long as you keep in mind some basic rules of punctuation, spelling, and grammar. My fourth grade teacher taught me that one must first know the rules of writing and only then can one break them. To prove my point, just read e e cummings. I’ve taken this advice to heart. I try to keep my thumb of the pulse of modern language usage, along with many other subjects. 

As I write this, it’s raining buckets of cats and dogs. On this dark and stormy night, the weather affords quality time to sit down and address the subject of writing.

All grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules have exceptions (with a few exceptions.) The fact is that rules do change. For example, the New york times stylebook insists that the word for the celebration of the Catholic Eucharist should always appear in lower case – “mass.” I don’t think so. It’s Holy Mass not “holy mass” as far as I am concerned.

The same holds true when it comes to a headline or book title. I was taught to capitalize the first letter in each word. Oh, no — not anymore. Only the first letter of the first word is capitalized. Well, forget it. I’ll stick to the old way.

And their’s the question of whether or not a comma should go inside or outside the closing parenthesis. “Inside,” insist today’s punctuation nerds. However (according to my fourth grade teacher), it belongs outside. Don’t mess with my commas. Anyway it’s best to avoid commas, that are unnecessary. Then (of course) parenthetical remarks (however helpful) are also (usually) unnecessary. Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas. 

You, too, can write, if you keep the basic rules in mind. What rules, you ask? Well, thank you for asking. Where would I be were it not for your rhetorical questions? Allow me to give you some hot tips on writing. I’ll try my best to be more or less specific. 

As they say, avoid clichés like the plague. In my opinion, clichés are as bad as comparisons. And don’t start a sentence with a proposition. No sentence fragments, either. Also, always avoid all annoying alliteration. Likewise, avoid abbrevs., etc.

I’ve learned that contractions are often unnecessary and shouldn’t be used in excess – so don’t. Don’t use no double negatives either. How about one-word sentences? Eliminate! We all know it’s wrong to ever split an infinitive. Always use the active voice since the passive voice is to be avoided. Which reminds me — all generalizations are wrong. Never, ever, be redundant over and over again. Don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous. 

Be very careful to only use the apostrophe in it’s proper place. As far as the use of analogies goes, it’s like water off a duck’s back to my editors. As you know, I’m fond of using the dash — a helpful punctuation mark — but it can be overused — even though I — personally — favor it. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never when it isn’t. For heaven sake, don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!

Shakespeare once said, “Puns are the lowest form of humor.” In other words, puns are for children, not groan-ups. And don’t be always quoting somebody else. Write what you yourself think — not Shakespeare.

I try to avoid using foreign phrases ad infinitam just to show off my knowledge of other languages. Moving forward, I also try to avoid buzz-words except in a worse-case scenario when there is a window of opportunity. I also strive to avoid buzz words that have long gone out of style. They’re just not groovy anymore. Not to exaggerate, but surely everyone knows how to correctly use hyperbole. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times. I try to employ the vernacular to get my point across but in my formal writing in the Anchor, I don’t use contractions. Contractions arent necessary.

There are several proofreaders in the Anchor office, whose job it is to catch errors of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I also have several other proofreaders of my own. Proofreading is important. Proofing must be done carefully in case you any words out. One doesn’t want to repeat repeat words, either. These days, most of our computers have that new-fangled spell check thing, but the spell chequer is not always write. 

Thank you for proofing this column, Dave Jolivet.

Oh no. The word counter indicates I’m about to reach the 850 word limit for this column, but a good writer must always finish what he has

(Editor’s note: Reading this column and not correcting a word was like listening to fingernails running down a black board. Father Tim owes me won, I mean one.)

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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