On Writing – Part IV

On Writing


“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir, he engages in an activity.”


– William Stafford


Part IV


I was fairly competent at spelling, but not perfect.


I never entered a competition to test myself against others.


I cannot recall ever being assigned a writing exercise as punishment.


In elementary school I was always willing to stay behind and wash the chalk board.


I enjoyed games like hangman, I always enjoyed using the word “zephyr” on a new group of kids, a word which I had learned from Dungeons & Dragons.


I stopped paying attention in class when it came time to learn how to diagram sentences.


I do not remember doing anything of the sort in elementary or middle school, but it was a part of the 9th grade curriculum, and I was content to never turn in any of that homework, and fail those lessons alltogether.


My grammar is fine, though on occasion I write a long sentence, and I might quibble with an editor over the placement of a comma; I occasionally misuse the semicolon.


I remember once in the 4th grade getting stuck, experiencing a mental block on how to spell the word “use.” I spelled it, “youse” and the teacher called me to her desk about that.


I was embarrassed.


I knew that I was spelling the word wrong even as I was printing it, but for some reason I could not think my way around it.


As an undergraduate I often chaffed when a teacher in a philosophy class or a theology class would take points off a paper for grammar and spelling.

This did not have a huge impact on me but it did have some.


I was especially perturbed when they would do this in areas of grammar where the rules are “gray,” un-fixed, and where the writer has some choice.


I dropped out of high school when I was fifteen years old.


I did not take another writing class or English class, or a class of any kind  until I was nineteen.


I started back up at the Minneapolis Community College.


I was enrolled in a remedial writing course.


We were asked to write a couple of paragraphs every day. The first paragraphs that I turned in came back to me covered in red ink. All of the professor’s comments were related to punctuation.


I was embarrassed.


The teacher was very kind, and he explained in very simple terms how to use a comma, period, and a semicolon.


No one else has ever explained it so clearly.


Even I cannot recreate his simple mode of instruction, but following his guidance, every assignment I turned in thereafter was perfect.


  1. A period is used to end a complete clause
  2. A comma may be used in a place of a period at any time, because a comma can be used in two ways; either to join a complete clause to an incomplete clause, or to join two complete clauses.
  3. A semicolon can may be used to join a two complete clauses, in which the subjects or main ideas of each clause are closely related. It may also be used to break up parts of a list.




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