A few years ago WCYR President-extraordinaire Hyacinthe Miller forwarded me a copy of Daily Writing Tips, a blog dedicated to promoting the ability to write clear, correct English. Every day the DWT team posts an article about a writing-related topic, ranging from word-choice and vocabulary to grammar and punctuation. Although I have a degree in English and an MA in English Literature I am regularly surprised by how many of the finer points of writing and editing I still do not fully grasp.
One of the things I most enjoy about Daily Writing Tips is the wide assortment of topics that are offered. Recent examples include posts on silent “l’s” (such as those in palm, calm and salmon); words that made their way into English from the Indian subcontinent; and how to show dialect when you are writing dialogue. The quality of the research and writing in this blog is excellent and references are always provided. The bios and qualifications of the contributors are clearly posted on the website and I feel that I can count on these articles to be accurate and reflective of “best practices.” Regular reading of this blog has also helped me appreciate the fluidity of the English language and the many areas of controversy or disagreement among editors. I know that it sounds like very dry and demanding reading, but actually the writers manage to make their articles engaging and sometimes even entertaining.
Recently DWT added on a new feature that I am very happy about. I have been planning to write my copy-editing exam for the Editor’s Association of Canada, but I have had a terrible time blocking out the time in my schedule to study for it. Time management has always been a struggle for me since I became a freelancer, and my memory doesn’t seem to be getting any better as I age. I have a very hard time recalling rules and grammatical terms that I don’t use regularly. Enter Daily Writing Tips’ “Pro-Membership.” For a small fee (6.70 per month if you buy a one-year subscription) you can receive daily exercises, exercise archives, and bulletins on writing courses and writing jobs. I am really enjoying this small and manageable daily study session, which includes a test that you can submit to gauge how you are doing. Each exercise has a theme (e.g. frequently confused words, punctuation errors, parallelism) and takes less than five minutes to complete. Once you submit your answers you receive immediate feedback and explanation about what you did right and/or wrong.
I know I sound like Lisa Simpson but I love this teaching method. I find it far easier to digest small, frequent exercises than to sit down with a text for an hour. Also, I find that grammar book exercises are very artificial compared to real editing. In a grammar book you are only dealing with one rule at a time whereas when you edit real work there are infractions coming in from every direction. I’d compare it to riding a spinning bike in a studio versus riding a mountain bike on a rocky, winding trail. Daily Writing Practice Exercises are varied every day, so I am always encountering questions that leave me wondering, like whether prochoice should have a hyphen in it. Often I can identify when something doesn’t “look right” but as an editor I don’t think “gut feeling” is good enough. Daily Writing Tips always explains the rationale behind the correction.
I have discovered a few glitches in this program that still need to be worked out. Often, it requires me to shut down and reopen my browser, which is annoying if I am multi-tasking. The odd time I’ve been taken aback by an error or typo in the exercises (but this appears to be happening less and less frequently). Some of the exercises require that you edit or rewrite a sentence to clarify it, and if you happen to choose an option that the program did not expect it will give you a big red “incorrect” even if you are technically right. I won’t hold this against them though, as again, I am coming across this less often and I imagine they are working on it.
Playing this game daily (because it feels like a game to me) has helped me gain valuable insight into where my strengths and weaknesses as an editor lie, and where I need to focus my efforts to improve. The process is time-efficient, creative, fun, inexpensive and effective. Whether you decide on the paid subscription or the free daily blog articles, Daily Writing Tips is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in improving her writing.
Until next time,
Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, March 23, 2014. We hope you can join us.
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Photo credits: David Pierce (who shares my appreciation for “edited” trees).