Editor’s note: the following article was first published in 2011.
I used to hate grammar. It seemed to me that every rule was just another ball and chain that limited the freedom I yearned to have with the English language.
It was only after college, and after I became an English tutor, that it suddenly occurred me that English grammar was not the ball and chain I mistook it to be. I discovered that, in fact, following the rules of grammar actually freed me instead of enslaved me—it made my writing voice limitless, as opposed to limited.
It was no surprise that, as I began to understand the true benefits of following English grammar rules, I also began to understand the true benefits of following a whole separate set of rules: the rules of life.
In life, just like in grammar, we encounter rules that seem to limit us at first. But, if we look closer, we find that these rules, too, are not meant to limit us but are meant to free us.
So far I have pinpointed 10 grammar rules of life that are important for writers to follow.
Here they are:
1. Live Actively, Not Passively
The best defense against life’s pressing challenges is a good offense.
You know that saying: “Life is not a spectator sport”? It’s true. If you just sit on the sidelines your entire life, hoping that life won’t throw you a challenge or two, or hoping that you’ll win the lottery by chance some day—you are very, very mistaken. If you live your life only on the defensive, you will find yourself at the mercy of life’s vicious shrapnel.
Instead of being a spectator, then, become an offensive player.
Live actively, not passively.
For example, you should actively try to advance your writing career in some way, every day.
Homework: Try searching for a writing or blogging contest online today, and once you found it, start working on your submission this week.
2. Avoid Redundancies
Our unhealthy patterns and habits tell us a lot about ourselves. We need to look deeply into these patterns in order to find out what has caused them.
If you find yourself repeating the same unhealthy patterns over and over again then it’s time to examine these patterns very closely. You might want to seek assistance from a therapist or a counselor to help you find out what is at the root of the problem.
These negative patterns are getting in the way of your writing, so you can’t move on unless you are rid of these patterns.
3. Maintain a Parallel Structure
Seek opportunities, friends, and interests that run parallel to your passions, loves and interests—not someone else’s.
Bottom line: don’t listen to what others say you should do. They don’t know what you want out of life. Only you know what you want out of life. If you start to follow a friend or family member’s recommended life path, chances are you will start to follow a dream that isn’t yours. Following that mistaken life path will lead you to a dead end where you will feel out of place in a strange world.
The truth is that when you are not running parallel with your dreams and passions, you lack the energy, joy, and fulfillment you need to make it through the challenges that life will certainly throw your way.
Figure out what you love to do and stick with it, despite what others say.
4. Pair Each Person, Place or Thing with an Action
Pair every worry, or other negative emotion, with an action.
There’s no escaping worry, sadness, or anger. We need to accept that these emotions will always be around. Still, it is important not to let those emotions take over your life and thwart your writing.
The best way I have found to deal with the problem is to act on every emotion you feel. If you are sad, allow yourself to cry. If you are angry, punch a pillow. If you have a worry, take a small action to address this worry.
The same goes for people or places that bother you. Take a small action to address your concerns about them. Write a personal letter, scratch out a drawing, write a poem, tell a therapist, go for a long jog, or better yet, confront the situation head on.
5. Avoid Fragments
Address each part of your being at all times.
Stephen Covey addressed this grammar rule of life in his now famous self-help book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He used the example of the goose that lays the golden eggs.
He said that if one were to just take care of the golden eggs that the goose laid, and forgot to take care of the goose itself, then they would only have a limited supply of golden eggs. Why? Because, due to negligence, the goose would eventually die and cease to lay the golden eggs!
However, if one were to take care of the goose first, then you would never have to worry about running out of golden eggs, because, as long as the goose lived, he’d keep laying the golden eggs.
You, the writer, are the goose. Your novels/articles/essays are your golden eggs. The only way to guarantee that you keep cranking out those bad boys is to take care of your happiness and your health first.
6. Understand the Need to Use a Comma and a Period Every Now and Then
Take a break! You’re not a robot.
Don’t forget to stop, rest, and take a pause. Don’t just work—play. Don’t just write about adventure—go on an adventure. Give yourself a comma every now and then.
Also, whenever you get the strong feeling that something should end, end it. Trust your gut. Don’t cling to something whose time is over. As painful as it might be, let the period come, and get ready for the next big thing.
7. Maintain a Level of Clarity
Try to be clear about what it is you want, what it is you feel, and what it is you need.
Practice becoming aware of your initial reaction toward the things you encounter and the events that occur in your life. Pay close attention to that moment right before you feel the need to hold back, lie, or veil the truth. Use a personal journal as a place to be brutally honest with yourself. Discover who you are when you don’t feel the need to please or impress others.
Following this grammar rule will help you maintain a level of confidence.
8. Get To The Point
Life’s short. You only got one shot at it, so get to what you want, and get to it today.
Don’t wait. Do something small and doable every day that will help you achieve your overall writing goals.
Don’t hesitate. If an action or decision feels absolutely right and true, then go for it. Never prolong something that feels right. Know that it will only make things worse if you decide to put off what you know can be done today.
When you get straight to the point, you make every moment in life valuable. So, instead of filling up your life with empty fluff, fill it up with meaning and vibrancy.
9. Mix It Up
If your writing routine starts to feel too “routine” take it as a warning sign: it’s time to mix things up.
Be bold. Try something new and daring. (Or maybe just try writing in a different coffee shop.)
It’s your job, and your job only, to make life new and exciting every day.
Don’t depend on outside people, or forces, to make your life worth living. It’s all up to you.
10. Break the Rules
Now that you know the rules, feel free to break them.
As you can see, just like the grammar rules of English, the grammar rules of life are there to free you and not to constrain you.
But, even so, there will be times when you will need to break the grammar rules of life in order to thrive, or even to survive.
So, should these rules cease to work for you, you have my permission to throw them to the gutter and write up a whole new set of your own.