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In a previous post, I offered 5 tips for improving writing skills.  Two of those tips included:

3. Practice makes perfect. Just like anything else that you want to improve, you must practice writing. Establishing a daily writing routine is a great way to ensure that you will continually improve, especially if you enlist the help of a professional or friend who can critique your work and point out areas where you may need extra practice. In this respect…

4. Join a group or take a class. Online courses are more readily available than ever, so you may not even have to leave your house to learn to write better. You can also always check out the course schedule at your local community college.

In this respect, the invaluable and illustrious Poets & Writers Magazine is currently offering readers a weekly creative writing prompt (poetry on Mondays and fiction on Thursdays) on their already fantastic site, stating “The most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline. Talent and luck always help, but having a consistent writing practice is often the difference between aspiring writers and published writers.”

This new feature is just one of the many outstanding tools available on their site. While you’re there, check out the “Writers Recommend” and the “Tools for Writers” features as well. The “Tools for Writers” section is especially impressive, providing writing-related job listings as well as lists of literary agents and magazines, grants and awards, MFA programs, and conferences and residencies.

Although this feature cannot provide feedback on your writing, it will help you establish a weekly routine that can (and hopefully will) eventually become a daily routine.

Most important, do not let yourself get discouraged. Always continue writing, and reading, and reading about writing, and you will always continue improving.

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In an earlier post, I noted that one should never use the word “that” when referring to a human referent, and one of my readers was quick to point out that this is not entirely correct. So, I wanted to add a brief post to clarify.

The whole question of “who” versus “that” as a relative pronoun with a human referent is quite a gray area. My reader pointed out that before the 15th century, “that” was the only option. He is not wrong; I do, in fact, recall that Geoffrey Chaucer, for example, (14th century English poet, author, philosopher, etc.) did indeed use “that” instead of “who” in his writing. However, as time progressed and the use of “who” crept into our language, it gradually became more acceptably “correct” to use “who” rather than “that.” Therefore, I suppose it is more conventional wisdom to use “who” with a human referent rather than a hard and fast rule (my use of the word never was probably too strong!). However, I do maintain that it stills seems more correct (and more humanizing) today to use “who.” Judging by a brief google search on “grammar who versus that,” I found there a lot of smart folks who agree with me.

Thanks for leaving comments!

Although this post is a bit of a stretch from the topics I usually cover in that it is not directly related to writing, grammar, or journalism exactly, it is related to blogging and another facet of creativity–visual art–so I thought, why not? 

In a thoughtful, well-articulated piece called “Pop Couture” published not-so-recently on The New York Times Magazine blog, Virginia Heffernan delves into the world of street-style photoblogs that “display snapshots of chic pedestrians in cities around the world.” I found Heffernan’s assessment of the photoblog particularly interesting as one of the many folks obsessed with these beautiful and revealing looks at everyday fashion.
Heffernan hints at why they are so compelling in what she calls “the search for a quiet connection with beauty in a metropolis of strangers.” Scrolling down the stunning pages of The Sartorialist, a personal favorite, I take part in a much loved pastime—people watching—but in a perfectly distilled form. Rather than sitting in a café, eyes darting, waiting for the next stranger who peaks my interest with her unique blend of pattern and texture and then straining to drink in all the details before she disappears, I sit at my computer, armed with coffee, and linger for as long as I like on every individual who glides down the page. Each person as stunning as the next, and best of all, I can return any time to reference the cut of a man’s plaid jacket in Paris or a woman’s high-riding boyfriend pants in Florence.
Although the thrill of the hunt, so to speak, of spotting stylishly dressed passersby from the café window, is not present in this incarnation of people watching, the watcher is exposed to a wider variety of individuals and styles, especially with blogs available from all over the world. In an instant, we can suss out how folks are adapting high fashion to their fabulous street-style inspirations, expanding our ideas about fashion and our worldviews simultaneously.
In addition, despite that the photoblog is often bereft of language, allowing the pictures to speak for themselves instead, I often find that reading the comments, especially on such well-established blogs like The Sartorialist, can reveal smart, witty, and incredibly observant and insightful fortune-cookie-sized expositions of the photo at hand.

Make certain your referents are clear. Remember that your reader is not as close to the research or the writing you’ve been doing. When you write “this theory,” “that point” or refer to an “it,” is it clear to which theory, point, or “it” you’re referring? When you use “he,” “she,” or “the critics,” consider whether your reader will have to pause to try to figure out the answer to the question: who are these people?

The infamous “this.” As in: I will elaborate on “this” later. As writers, we often throw the word “this” around when we’re not entirely sure what aspect of our argument we want to draw our readers’ attention to, especially when making a complex argument with multiple elements. Occasionally, vague language can be a symptom of confused thinking. Stop and ask yourself, what does “this” refer to? What words could I replace “this” with that would clarify your intention to the reader? If you can’t answer easily, go back to what you’ve already written and clarify your ideas in that section. Remember, it is impossible for your readers to understand what you mean when you don’t understand yourself.

Never write “that” when referring to a person: As in: “The man that discovered numerous uses for…” or “The author that she referred to first wrote on the subject of bee pollination.” The man and the author referred to are people, not objects, and it’s rather insulting to call them “that,” not to mention completely grammatically wrong. Use who or whom, such as: “The man who discovered numerous uses for…” and “The author to whom she was referring….” Unsure of whether to use who or whom? Read on to the next section.

“Who” is what doing what to “whom?” Ask yourself the previous question when you’re uncertain which word to use. The one that does the action (the subject) is the “who.” The one that receives the action (the object) is the “whom.”

A tip for learning the rules. Although all this grammar stuff may seem challenging and like there’s way too much to learn, learning the rules once and for all will help you write freely and intelligently. To help with this task, try starting a text file in which you list the rules you need help with and refer to it when you write. I have done this numerous times as an editor. The best part is that you can add new information to your file any time you come across it. You can look rules up in numerous style manuals or on various sources available on the Internet. Just be sure your sources are legitimate and actually know what they’re talking about. One way to figure out whether your source is legitimate is to see who published it. Usually anything published by a university or college can be considered pretty reliable. You can also always consult with your friendly neighborhood editor.

I recently came across an incredibly fun and useful resource for answers to any number of questions regarding language, grammar, etymology, writing, and more. This invaluable resource is provided by none other than the prestigious Oxford University Press and is called, quite appropriately, AskOxford.com.

From this one multipurpose site, the language lover can access the Better Writing section which includes tips for grammar such as commonly confused words, spelling, and CVs and job applications as well as the Ask the Experts section in which one can find help with everything from etymology and proper usage to answers to fun questions like “What is the longest English word?”:

aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic (52 letters), perhaps?

This monstrous “word” is only one example of a rather enlightening, detailed look into the many possible answers to this question.

I stumbled on the site during a google search for the etymology of the phrase “the bee’s knees,” to which they certainly do have the answer.

The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room annex of the Bodleian Library, Oxford

As a professional freelance editor, proofreader, and writer, I believe there is nothing more important than expressing your thoughts clearly. If you’re in need of an editor or writer, you can contact me at expert.editing.service@gmail.com and I’ll happily provide you with the expert editing or writing help you deserve. From MA theses, PhD dissertations, and undergraduate compositions to essays for admittance (college and grad level) and creative or business projects, I have the experience to take it from good to stellar and from not so good to fabulous.

During my career, I have had the opportunity to work for a number of incredible institutions, both freelance and as a full-time staff member. Among them are So To Speak, a small literary journal advocating feminist art and writing; Heldref Publications, a nonprofit publisher of scholarly journals and magazines in Washington, DC; and Sage Publications, one of the largest publishers of scholarly journals. I have a BA in Liberal Arts (Literature) from Penn State University and an MA in Literature from George Mason University. In addition, I’ve studied at Cambridge University, England, as part of my degree from GMU.

Through these opportunities, I’ve had extensive independant research and academic writing and editing experience in MLA, APA, and Chicago styles. I have considerable interest and academic work in cultural studies, women’s studies, postcolonial literature, and editing. Outside of my personal interests, I have edited many types of articles, theses, and dissertations (e.g., scientific, humanities, and law) as well as books, Web content, guides, newsletters, catalog copy, advertisements, and more. My writing experience includes guides, Web content (including blog posts, reviews, and travel writing), academic research papers, catalog copy, and more.

If you’re interested in my services and/or would like more infomation about my background, please feel free to email me, Melanie, at expert.editing.service@gmail.com

I offer extremely competitive rates and lightening-fast turnaround (depending on your needs, of course). I also have experience working with particularly sensitive documents, so you can rest assured that your documents will remain completely confidential.

Jorie Graham

Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jorie Graham was born in 1950 in New York City. The daughter of a journalist and a sculptor, she was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She attended New York University as an undergraduate, studying filmmaking and later received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Since then, Graham has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She also served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

Graham has written many books of poetry, including The Overlord, The Errancy, The End of Beauty, and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, for which she won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize.

Graham’s work is beautiful, unique, and engages readers on multiple levels. She has never been one to examine just a small aspect of life or a finite emotional moment, rather, Graham brings to her reader the entirety of the human experience. Her work ranges from the intellectual and philosophical to the domestic, from the global and political to the apocalyptic. In her vision, the poet is not simply one who transcribes experience but one who also constructs it. Her poems address with urgency the most important issues of the day.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, she has received many awards and honors, chief among them a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

All of this information and much more is available on her Web site. An interesting interview Graham gave recently on Open Book is also well worth watching. As always, Poets.org and The Poetry Foundation are also fantastic resources for more information on Graham and her contributions to the world of poetry.

I have personally always loved The Dream of the Unified Field because it represents such a large cross-section of her work and growth as a poet. In “Orpheus and Eurydice,” one of the many poems included in this book, Graham writes a complicated interpretation of the myth.

Orpheus and Eurydice

by Jorie Graham

Up ahead, I know, he felt it stirring in himself already, the glance,
the darting thing in the pile of rocks,

already in him, there, shiny in the rubble, hissing Did you want to remain
completely unharmed?—

the point-of-view darting in him, shiny head in the ash-heap,

hissing Once upon a time, and then Turn now darling give me that look,

that perfect shot, give me that place where I’m erased….

The thing, he must have wondered, could it be put to rest, there, in the glance,
could it lie back down into the dustiness, giving its outline up?

When we turn to them—limbs, fields, expanses of dust called meadow and
avenue—
will they be freed then to slip back in?

Because you see he could not be married to it anymore, this field with minutes in
it
called woman, its presence in him the thing called

future—could not be married to it anymore, expanse tugging his mind out into it,
tugging the wanting-to-finish out.

What he dreamed of was this road (as he walked on it), this dustiness,
but without their steps on it, their prints, without
song—

What she dreamed, as she watched him turning with the bend in the road (can you
understand this?)—what she dreamed

was of disappearing into the seen

not of disappearing, lord, into the real—

And yes she could feel it in him already, up ahead, that wanting-to-turn-and-
cast-the-outline-over-her

by his glance,

sealing the edges down,

saying I know you from somewhere darling, don’t I,
saying You’re the kind of woman who etcetera—

(Now the cypress are swaying) (Now the lake in the distance)
(Now the view-from-above, the aerial attack of do you
remember?)—

now the glance reaching her shoreline wanting only to be recalled,
now the glance reaching her shoreline wanting only to be taken in,

(somewhere the castle above the river)

(somewhere you holding this piece of paper)

(what will you do next?) (—feel it beginning?)

now she’s raising her eyes, as if pulled from above,

now she’s looking back into it, into the poison the beginning,

giving herself to it, looking back into the eyes,

feeling the dry soft grass beneath her feet for the first time now the mind

looking into that which sets the ___________ in motion and seeing in there

a doorway open nothing on either side
(a slight wind now around them, three notes from up the hill)

through which morning creeps and the first true notes—

For they were deep in the earth and what is possible swiftly took hold.

Jorie Graham, “Orpheus and Eurydice” from The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994. Copyright © 1995 by Jorie Graham.