Writing Advice
the publisher of
The Hologlobe Press,
Victor Edward Swanson

Version Two
(July 23, 2005)

copyright c. 2004

    If you are reading this page while connected to the Internet, it is very likely you reached the page by going through the main page of The Hologlobe Press, a business run by me.  It seems very likely to me you read at least much of the main page of The Hologlobe Press, and you found it was a page made up of words and sentences and no colorful graphics and photographs and had no streaming audio or streaming video.  The main page of The Hologlobe Press should have given you the impression you have truly reached a place run by a writer, and you should have realized, in essence, something is being said on the page and through the page.  If you then visited the secondary pages or subordinate pages of The Hologlobe Press that focused on the history of the broadcasting services of AAA Michigan, tourist attractions in Michigan (particularly the Internet publications entitled Michigan Travel Tips), television history and trivia (particularly the Internet-only editions of T.H.A.T.), and WAYN-AM, you should have seen more evidence that The Hologlobe Press is operated by a writer.  By now, you should have no worry about whether or not any advice that I should give you about writing is useful information.

    I began attending Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, in the fall of 1971.  At the time, I had weak writing skills and strong mathematics skills.  Soon I was urged by a member of the university to get tutoring in English, especially in writing, on campus.  I did.  What tutoring I received helped me pass the "English Proficiency Test," which every student at the university was required to pass before being graduated.  In 1976, I began to do work as an employee for a company that required me to read and write each day, and it was my first professional writing experience, though my skills were certainly poor compared with the skills that I have today, and, in fact, if, today, I were to receive a request to be hired from the me of the 1970s, I would not hire that me today, since I see that me as a person who does not have good enough skills to work with me today.  It was in the 1980s that I really improved on my writing skills.  At the place that I worked--that place at which I had been hired in 1976--I stumbled upon two books about writing.  One of the books was A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which was written by H.W. Fowler and revised and edited by Sir Ernest Gowers, and the other book was Modern American Usage: A Guide, written by Wilson Follett and edited and completed by Jacques Barzun (in collaboration with Carlos Baker, Frederick W. Dupee, Dudley Fitts, James. D. Hart, Phillis McGinley, and Lionel Trilling).  I discovered A Dictionary of Modern English Usage is a book that focuses on English as it might better be used in England or Great Britain and Modern American Usage: A Guide focuses on how English might better be used in the United States of America or should be used in the United States of America.  I got a copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide, and I began to read it and study it.  In addition, I began to treat English as mathematics; that is, I began to apply rules of logic to English as I could to mathematics.  Almost everything that I was handed to read by someone at work I intensely edited and reworked, applying rules that I had learned or was learning about English through Modern American Usage: A Guide, and, during the period, I applied the rules to my writing and speaking.  I went over and over sections of the book, and, from time to time, I also looked at A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.  By the way, in the 1980s, I did reports on WJR-AM 760, Detroit, Michigan, and, often during the three big summer holidays of each year of the period, I did reports on J.P. McCarthy's morning show on the station and had to be on hold--on the telephone--for ten minutes or fifteen minutes or more time, waiting to get on the air, and during the waiting periods, I often had my copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide in front of me on the desk so that I could read a few lines and use the time well.  By the start of the 1990s, my writing skills had improved much, but I knew I was not done working to improve my skills, and today I am still working to improve my skills.

    The first advice about writing that I must give a person who wishes to improve the writing ability of the self is to get a copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide, the version related to Wilson Follett and Jacques Barzun (and the others).  I then urge the person to read it, study it, reread it, et cetera, and I even urge the person to read it aloud to hear the tone and rhythm of the sentences.  I must report that the exact book that I am recommending in this paragraph is out of print.  It looks as if a person who wants this version of the book will have to look hard for it.  A copy of the book might be found in a library or in a bookstore, especially a bookstore featuring old books or used books.  A few years ago, I found two used hardcover versions of the book at the main store of John K. King Books in downtown Detroit, Michigan, and I gave a copy to each of my nephews.  (By the way, John K. King Books sells used books.)  My copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide, which is a paperback edition, has a copyright date of 1979, and the first edition of the work has a copyright date of 1966, if you should see it.

    In 1998, Hill & Wang published another version of Modern American Usage: A Guide.  This version has Erik Wensberg listed as the person who "revised" the book.  Although I have not used this version, I know it is yet credited mostly to Wilson Follett, so I can say that you may use a copy of it instead of the version of the book related to Wilson Follett and Jacques Barzun (and the others).

    In 1998, the Oxford University Press published A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, which was written by Bryan A. Garner, and, in 1998, the Oxford University Press released the second version of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, but this version, also written by Bryan A. Garner, was entitled Garner's Modern American Usage.  Since the two books were published after I had really taken up improving my writing, I have had little experience using them.  Yet I do recommend them as books that a person can search for, buy, and then study in the overall process to improve the self.

    Of course, if a person is unable to find a copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide or either of the two books by Mr. Garner, the person should pick up a copy of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.  Certainly, if you own a copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide or one of the two books by Mr. Garner, you also may wish to own copy of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.  And you might wish to have a copy of all the books that have been listed within this document so far.

    The English language can change over time, and that is one reason guides about usage are issued in new versions from time to time; over the years, though, for people who follow standards set down by good writers before them, the standards remain fairly constant or change only a little.  I will not present issues about whether or not one of the books that I have recommended is better than another is or whether or not a revised version of a particular book is better than a previous version is, since my purpose is to show you books that exist in the U.S. that try to teach a person to think about how the person uses English and how the person should use English.  The books focus mostly on the often-used words of English and do not attempt to cover all the words that exist, leaving the job to true dictionaries, and I recommend all the books, because the books try to keep the main definitions of words associated with the words and because the books focus on more than the definitions of words.

    On page 291 of my copy of Modern American Usage: A Guide (under the heading "sentence, the") it is written: "...No one should ever be called on to read a sentence twice because of the way it is constructed.  We may like to read a sentence twice because of the way it is constructed.  We may like to read a sentence twice or twenty times because its contents are profound, subtle, suggestive, and challenging....  But the writer who keeps making us retrace because of the way his sentences are put together is foisting on his reader his own proper work.  To do so is laziness; and whatever it may be deemed elsewhere, laziness in a writer is the gravest sin...."  These sentences make up one rule that a person who wishes to be a good writer should always keep in mind.

    To accomplish the goal expressed in the rule given you through the sentences of the quoted material above, you have to do work.  You must learn to spell properly, and you must understand the basics of grammar, but you must learn more than how to spell correctly and be accomplished in the basic rules of grammar.  Certainly, you must learn to hear in the mind the timing and the rhythm of each sentence and the timing and the rhythm of a piece of work from sentence to sentence, beginning with the first sentence and ending with the last sentence.  Logic is most important in a piece of writing, since what is presented should make sense, specifically common sense, which can cover, for instance, science and reason and the proper positioning of words and the proper modifying of words.  You must learn to evaluate a piece of writing for how ideas connect and intertwine to become a whole thought.

    Now, I have more "tools" to recommend to you.  You should have a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary.  Even if you have a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, you might find it helpful to have smaller dictionaries around, if only so that you do not have to thumb through a big dictionary all the time.  Books about grammar are important, and one book that I know is available is The New Webster's Grammar Guide: The Essential Handbook for School, Home, or Office! (by Madeline Semmelmeyer, M.A., and Donald O. Bolander, M.A., Litt. D.); by the way, since the 1970s, I have had a book about grammar entitled Hodges' Harbrace College Handbook (by John C. Hodges and Mary E. Whitten), the seventh edition, and since the early 1980s, I have had a copy of a book about grammar entitled The Writer's Hotline Handbook: A Guide to Good Usage and Effective Writing (by Michael Montgomery and John Stratton).  You should have a thesaurus, maybe a newer version of the thesaurus that I have used for years, Rogert's International Thesaurus (the 1979 printing of the fourth edition).  And books with synonyms for words and antonyms for words exist, and a book with synonyms and antonyms is also a book that you should have.

    For the purpose of this column available only through the Internet, I say that two main types of writing exist.  One type of writing is fiction writing; this type of writing deals with made-up events, things, and people, but it can feature real events, things, and people.  The other type of writing is nonfiction; this type of writing is about real things, real facts, and real events.

    Here are the basics of writing something worthwhile.  Any piece of completed good writing started out as a topic to be written about, so a writer must begin with a topic or subject or idea.  To write, a writer must have knowledge about the chosen topic or subject or idea so that the writer can write something, and that means the writer must often do research on the topic or subject or idea, and it is not only writers of nonfiction who must do research but also writers of fiction, who, for example, might have to do research about places of the world.  A good writer will start to write only after the writer has enough information with which to work.  Usually, a good writer will do no editing of a piece of writing till the basic structure of the piece has been written out, from an opening thought to an end thought, and while in the process of getting to the point that the basic structure has been created, the writer might have to do more research.  Finally, a good writer will get to the point when the first round of editing can be done, and during the first round of editing, the writer looks for bad thought, bad sentences, bad rhythm, et cetera.  Since a good writer has already learned such topics as the "topic sentences" and the "structure of paragraphs," the writer will not have to consciously look for topic sentences and break down the structure of paragraphs, because the writer will instinctively recognize whether or not topic sentences are missing and whether or not the structures of paragraphs are correct.

    "Copy" is a term that newspaper writers and broadcasters use to refer to a piece of writing.  Often, I have told people, "You have to work your copy."  To work a piece of copy is to go over it and over it, and while a person is going over and over a piece of copy, the person is looking to see if it makes sense and has the proper tone and rhythm, and the person has to see to it that each sentence is one proper unit and that each paragraph makes up a single unit, a good paragraph.  If you do not work your copy, then you are truly a super-gifted writer, which is very unlikely, or you are not a good writer.  You must get in the habit of working copy, going over it again and again.  Most assuredly, if you are a novice writer and if you only look at each sentence once or twice, you are probably putting together material that is flawed and probably highly flawed.

    While working a piece of copy, a writer must question everything that will ultimately be presented to a reader.  In relation to every sentence or thought in a work, a writer should ask the self: What is the purpose of this or why am I using this?  To that question, the writer must have a good answer, and the answer should be defensible, or, before others, the writer must be able to well defend why the sentence or thought was used.  Also, a writer should question why such-and-such a word was used, maybe instead of a similar word.

    "Writer's block"--this term applies to the state during which a writer has trouble writing something or anything, as if the writer cannot think of something to say.  For nonfiction writers, the biggest reason for writer's block is lack of information.  If you are putting together a piece of nonfiction and you "stall," you have probably come to the point at which you lack enough information to continue writing and you are probably trying to force yourself to say something.  The cure for a nonfiction writer who has writer's block is to get more information.  When a writer of fiction has writer's block, the cause is rarely a lack of information about real events, things, and people, but it can be, such as when the writer is using a real location as the setting of a scene and lacks information about streets or whatever at the location.  Usually, a writer of fiction who has writer's block has no recourse except to simply push on, and, to push on, the writer must think and think and think, and the writer must write something--anything--even if what is written is bad, since the process of writing and editing should eventually lead to something good.  Of course, fatigue can be the cause of writer's block for a nonfiction writer or a fiction writer, and writer's block caused by fatigue has to be cured through rest.

    I think it is harder to write good nonfiction than to write good fiction, since the nonfiction writer has to write material that should always make sense in relation to the real world, and a writer of fiction, such as romance novels, can go on and on about whatever--being flowery and descriptive and highly concerned about mood--and not worry much about whether or not something useful is really being said.  I have seen nonfiction material, though filled with numerous words and correct sentences, that makes no sense and has no point to it.  It is a type of problem that a writer can find hard to cure if the self is not willing to really analyze what the writer writes or does not have someone willing to point out the problem.

    Here, I warn an individual who wishes to be a writer: Do not believe you are a good writer because you can write a lot of words.

    Now, consider a collection of ideas about English teachers in relation to high schools and colleges and universities and, maybe, junior high schools.  When in high school, college, or university, people who are studying to someday become English teachers can learn to be good memorizers--not thinkers--so that they can get good grades.  A teacher can have several dozen students in a class, and that does not allow the teacher to really focus on any particular student.  Teachers can have families, and when a teacher has a family to take care of, the teacher does not have much time beyond regular school hours to give students special attention, and even during regular school hours, a teacher may not have enough time necessary to help a particular student.  Teachers who have yet to obtain tenure, such as those employed at colleges and universities, can always be concerned about reaching tenure (which, for instance, might be reached after ten years of service), and if they wish to obtain tenure, they probably have to be non-controversial, and that means they will probably have to avoid being too critical of the themes contained in the written works of students, which might be filled with illogical thoughts.  Teachers like some students, for whatever reasons, and teachers dislike some students, for whatever reasons.  Teachers can be employed at schools that are poorly run, such as because the school board is poorly staffed, and that can make the teachers dislike being at the schools, which results in them having little enthusiasm to work.  In some schools, teachers exist who were passed through schools by teachers who dared not fail them or give them bad grades (though bad grades were deserved and good grades were not worked for).

    I must report information about an incident involving the 1999-2000 yearbook (or the 2000 yearbook) for Dearborn High School, Dearborn, Michigan; Dearborn is a big suburb of Detroit, Michigan.  Patricia Haxter wrote a story entitled "Mother furious about DHS yearbook errors," which appeared in the edition of  the Dearborn Press and Guide for August 24, 2000 (pages 3-A and 7-A).  The story was about a woman (a parent) who had big complaints about how many errors the yearbook contained, examples of which were shown through one small article with a headline taken from the yearbook, "Varsity Golf.  Boys Swing into Sucesses" [the underlining used by the newspaper to show a problem with the headline].  The article did not list who supervised the making and writing of the yearbook, but the someone must have been a teacher.

    By the way, a time can come when a student reaches a level of skill that is nearly equal with that of the teacher, especially if the teacher is a poor teacher, and that is when the student must leave the teacher behind and not fear going beyond the skills of the teacher.

    To be better writers, a lot of people try to follow the writing examples of broadcasters or newspaper writers, unaware the standards may not be good standards.  Broadcasters often must work quickly and lack time to "work" their copy much, but broadcasters, such as newscasters, do not present material that must last over time.  Broadcasters often use non-sentences, thinking phrases and non-sentences make presentations better and snappier.  When I was at Wayne State University in the 1970s, I was told by instructors that newspaper writers design their copy for people who have reached no more than seventh-grade status in school, and it seems very likely to me that the standard has remained that, if not gone down a bit, and since the early 1970s, I have seen a big change take place in the broadcasting industry--it has become the rule that most new broadcasters are people who get training in "broadcast schools" instead of colleges or universities, where they could have gotten a wider range of education or more knowledge about writing than they got in the broadcast schools (which focus more on using equipment than on writing).  I must say that, most often, it is not good to follow the examples of writing set down by broadcasters, and it is very likely that, if you aspire to do the quality of writing presented in newspapers, you will reach no higher than seventh-grade quality.

    Now, I must tell you a little about that place at which I started to work in 1976, if only to show a person who is seeking a first writing job that the person can end up at a company where the people at the company will not help the person get better at writing.  By the mid-1990s, the copies of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and Modern American Usage: A Guide had long disappeared from the department, and, in fact, the department had very few books at all anymore, and, at the time, I had in my cubical a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary (the only copy in the department) and one copy of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, and the department had a few other copies of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.  One day in the late 1990s, the supervisor of the department, which was really considered a "unit," threw out all the copies of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary in a big dumpster (except the copy that I had), and the supervisor's reasoning for throwing away the books seemed to be the department had computers with dictionaries in software form and did not need dictionaries in book form.  Some time later, two of the computers in the department were removed, so the department then had fewer computers, and the department did not even have half the number of computers as it had people on duty at a given moment.  No new dictionaries were added to the department from that time till the time that I was done there, and the new staffers were given no good standards to follow and had no good books to see or stumble across.  Such was the place that I once worked--a place where writing and broadcasting were supposed to be the daily work.

    Generally speaking, an individual who wishes to get better at writing cannot depend on supervisors or associates at work to help the individual get better, and an individual who wishes to get better cannot depend on teachers to help the individual get better, and a writer who wishes to get better cannot depend that people who are paid to do writing professionally are really setting good examples for the individual to follow, so the individual must develop the skill to work alone at getting better.

    Good writing takes work, and if you put effort into writing, such as by trying to apply rules set  down in good books about writing, you should get better.  A time should come when you can truly defend the work that you make and win in a debate about the choices made within your work, and that means you can explain clearly why you do what you do and why you did what you did.  Of course, when that "time" comes, you are not done.

    Incidentally, one indicator that you are gaining skills is you are able to pass along or teach others what you have learned or are learning, and, in fact, I have found that a person learns an idea about writing better by trying to teach someone else the idea.

    The idea about books disappearing in the workplace and the idea about throwing dictionaries away are two reasons that I have put this document in the collection of documents at the Web site of The Hologlobe Press.  I happened to stumble on A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and Modern American Usage: A Guide at a place where at least someone must have thought about better writing at one time and I learned about A Dictionary of Modern American Usage and Garner's Modern American Usage through research, and since it seemed to me no one was going to tell you about the four books, I knew I had to pass along information about the existence of the books, which are not "kiddy" books.  Through this document, I have given you information about books that you can use to better your writing and thinking.

    The goal of learning to use English well is not to become an "elitist" or to reach a state of "uppityness" with the language.  Although you use English well, you can be a machinist, paint automobiles, go hunting for deer, wash windows, knit while listening to Raw Like Sushi (what I call a "hip-pop" CD), sit on a park bench and read comic books, eat spareribs, dance to disco music, make pizza for a living, et cetera.  Your being able to write well gives you a type of weapon to use to protect yourself; when a person can write well, that person can break down the writing of others and show whether or not the writing of others is flapdoodle, foolishness, illogical, et cetera.  Also, when you can write well, you can pass along ideas and make the ideas easy for readers to understand and can set down the basic standards of writing in the minds of sons and daughters while they are little, which will help them when they are older.  And the language of business in the U.S. is formal English.

    Over the years since the mid-1990s, I have received cover letters and resumes from people who wished to be employed as editors or proofreaders at The Hologlobe Press.  The people tried to impress me with information about what they had done and about what schooling they had had.  By the way, one man had tried to convince me how good he was through his telling me how he had gained a lot of writing "points" in a point system used by one of his teachers.  As a rule, the presentations that I received were flash and had no real substance, and they could be described as having no better than junior-high quality writing or high-school quality writing.  Mostly, it was the cover letters that gave away the true skills of the senders; for example, senders sent cover letters with incomplete sentences or with sentences in which subjects were separated from verbs by commas.  If I would have been looking for someone to hire each time a letter with a resume arrived, I would not have hired the person who had sent the resume and the cover letter.

    Remember: Try to attain a skill that allows you to produce writing that will stand up under the study of a writer like me, or try to get to the point at which you will be able to defend well your work before a person with my skills.  To stand your ground before me, you will have to avoid the clichés, the big words designed to impress, the clumsy sentences, the non-sentences, et cetera.  However, do not send anything to me, since I will not look at it, being too busy working on my writing each day.  (I do not accept material for review or criticism--for free anyway.)

    You are on your own, which is the way you have to expect it to be.  At least, you have been given standards to meet.  Now write, read, edit, rewrite, think, reread, and work that copy!


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