JS Tip 104: From the Writing Workshops: Helping Other People at All Times

Darrell’s Question

Darrell Harmon (with Crucial Conversations) asked if we had any advice for people who misconjugate verbs. Darrell said, “I cringe at ‘He had came here from Idaho when he was fifteen, and he hasn’t went back since.’”

Our Response

As a former president said, “I feel (We feel) your pain.”

In the long term, your best advice is to encourage them to read. Yup. Read. Encourage them to see the written word on the page.

The author doesn’t matter: J. K. Rowling. John Grisham. Mary Higgins Clark. Michael Connelly. Whoever. What matters is that they read well-written, carefully edited, and professionally published language.

The written material presents a model. The more they read, the more they’ll be exposed to how the language works, and the more they’ll recognize how their language should work.

Too many people don’t read. We live in a “post-literate” age. And that hurts us.

In the short term, you’ll need to coach them. (And you’re going to have to decide if you want to make that effort. Expend that time.)

Begin with questions: “Are you comfortable with your writing?” “How do people react to your writing?” “Are you aware there may be a better way to phrase this?”

If they’re interested, follow through:

1.  Be a friend. Your job is to help. You’re a resource, not a nag.

2.  Be constructive. Instead of “Don’t do this . . .” say “Try this . . . .”

3.  Limit yourself to no more than three suggestions at a time. More than that, and your friend’s brain will shut down.

4.  Don’t use a red pen (or pencil). Too much baggage. Too many bad memories of the eighth grade.

5.  Make sure you’ve got it right. Use references. The Reference Book. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. The Chicago Manual of Style. Blumenthal’s English 3200. Have a source when your friend says, “Says who?”     

Next week: Working with people with a bad attitude. Working with Eeyore.