Punctuation today: notes from the 2006 bestseller “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”

Modern linguistics is based largely on a descriptivist view of language, describing common usage. Many grammarians follow a more prescriptivist view: if we don’t prescribe, language will falter.

I read a host of pop linguistics books this year, challenging my prescriptivist publishing origins with a small library of descriptivist perspective. I also consumed podcasts, articles and other interviews with experts on the matter. (Most recently this conversation.)

Along this exploration, I was familiar with several of the most-cited grammar classics (King’s English and Elements of Style among them). But I hadn’t read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, published by Lynne Truss in 2006. So I changed that late last year.

I wanted to share a few notes below.

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7 tips on writing from a collection of essays from the Oxford American

Here are seven high-level tips on writing from the Spring 2018 issue of the Oxford American, a quarterly literary magazine a friend gifted me a subscription to for a year. It was the august publication’s 100th issue.

With a subscription you can read the pieces in depth, which I recommend. Clearly there is vastly more but as a teaser below I share one lasting takeaway from each, which I consumed months after the issue landed in my mailbox.

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01:10: Hip Hop Icon T.I.

Who better to explore one of popular writing’s most contested modern debates than an icon who has worked on both sides of that debate? That’s why today’s episode of The Writing Process Podcast, the final of this first season, is with T.I.

Conventional wisdom tells that the process of developing rap lyrics was polarized by the genre’s most prolific star: Jay-Z maintained he would develop lyrics in his mind, influencing Biggie’s habit of not writing lyrics either. That transformed a generation of rap stars into memory-led lyricists.

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01:08: Singer-Songwriter John Elliott

Inside tiny edits, there are big secrets.

One of my favorite contemporary musicians is singer-songwriter John Elliott. For the eighth episode of this first season of The Writing Process Podcast, I spoke to the Minnesota-native and San Francisco-based independent artist.

In this episode, I unpack two of powerful writing ideas he exemplifies: leaving space for the reader to co-create and editing to get “more true.”

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01:07: Poet Danez Smith

For as subjective as poetry can be, there is little ambiguity is being named a finalist for a National Book Award in poetry.

That’s what Danez Smith earned with the 2017 poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead. Hear from Danez in today’s episode of my Writing Process Podcast.

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01:06: Memoirist Lori Tharps

The editing experience is always challenging. But it’s perhaps most difficult when you are telling your own story.

That is the focus of what I discussed with memoirist and journalist Lori Tharps, who is most recently a collaborator on Proud, the autobiography of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics. Tharps, herself, has written memoir in several forms, including her 2008 book Kinky Gazpacho.

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01:05: YA Author Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh comes from “book people, going back generations.”

The author of the 2017 Young Adult Fiction novel “Who’s That Girl” from HarperCollins, she says there is a saying around her family. Never give a Thornburgh a book — or you’ll be forced to sit there politely while they read it in front of you.

She’s just 28 but as an editor at beloved novelty publisher Quirk Books and in the midst of a two-book deal with a major industry powerhouse, she has some insight.

The author of two books, an editor on several others and working on her next novel, she reminds us that the joy of a book is that, as author, “you’re making a promise to the reader” and want to deliver.

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01:04 Comedian Todd Glass

How does a joke writer take a punchline from a voice memo to a major Netflix comedy special? Let’s ask celebrated standup comedian Todd Glass.

In the fourth episode of the first season of the weekly Writing Process Podcast, I discuss that among many other methodologies from a man who doesn’t quite consider himself a writer. Todd’s perspective is unique: he grew up with several learning disabilities, so his relationship to writing is far different than others.

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01:03 Rapper Chill Moody

As hip hop became a global, cultural force, the definition of rapper has stretched.

But its origins, as a cornerstone of live events, remain very much alive in people like Chill MoodyA native of West Philadelphia, Chill is an effortless emcee on stage and fiercely proud of his lyrics. Though he grew up in the economically distressed (though by no means monolithic) Overbrook neighborhood, Chill excelled academically and came from a supportive family — his real name is Eric Moody but since he was always at ease, he earned a lifelong nickname. As a much-beloved underground artist, he uses music as a storytelling platform, for his experience and those like him.

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Do not save writing for later, more will come: ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life,‘ a 1989 collection of essays from novelist Annie Dillard, is one of the foundational contributions to the canon of teaching modern fiction writing.

A few months ago, I finally tore through the tidy, celebrated, delightful little book, commonly known as the friendly, fiction alternative to the 1920 grammarian guide from Strunk and White. (Interestingly a New York Times book review took a dim view of her collection, but it’s cherished today.)

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