5 Often Overlooked Writing Errors

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Before I begin, I just want to say this post is not meant to demean anyone. People make mistakes and that’s okay. Even the best writers throughout history weren’t perfect. My intention for this post is to be more of a teaching tool than anything else.

What right have you to be lecturing us?” you might ask. The truth is, I don’t. As much as I’d love to be a professional editor, I’m not. Not yet. I did, however, ace all my grammar classes, and my writing is typically free of errors. If one does manage to squeeze through, I always go back to edit it.

I’m a perfectionist like that.

So, without further ado, in no particular order, here are five of my biggest pet peeves. They are all accompanied by a short grammar lesson, which you are free to ignore, mock, or use at your discretion.

Omission of the Oxford comma

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the last comma in a list.

For example: I like to read, write, and take long nature walks.

In the above sentence, the Oxford comma comes after the word “write.” In my opinion, it makes the sentence look tidy, and does what commas are meant to do, which is show a natural pause in speech. The same sentence without the Oxford comma sounds like it’s spoken too fast.

The use of the Oxford comma is stylistic. There are some style guides, like AP, that don’t demand its implementation. Whether you use it or not is generally up to you. I do suggest for college essays that you err on the side of caution and slip the extra comma in there. I had a professor who would dock points for leaving it out.

Creating confusion is another risk for omitting the Oxford comma.

This image from a magazine cover is the perfect example.

This image was photoshopped to omit the commas, but it still remains one of the best examples of how crazy sentences can sound without the proper punctuation. Of course, Rachael Ray doesn’t cook her family or her dogs, but the way this sentence is written implies she does.

When haiku or tanka don’t have the correct number of syllables

A three-line poem does not a haiku make. Ditto for tanka.

Haiku and tanka are traditional forms of Japanese poetry. They are meant to be meditative, with a focus on the natural world. There is some discourse over how these two forms of poetry are taught in the west and whether it’s true to the Japanese vision or not, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll leave that for another day.

Let’s break haiku and tanka down and discuss the differences between them.

A haiku consists of three lines that follow a specific syllabic pattern of 5/7/5. I’ll use one of my haiku for reference, utilizing a forward slash to denote syllables.

5: dew drops on cob/webs
7: the sun shines its gol/den light
5: on strands of white pearls

A tanka is an elongated haiku with two lines of seven syllables added for a total of 31. Some poets find its easiest to write a haiku then add two lines as a couplet.

Again, I will use my own writing for reference.

5: cast/les in the street
7: foun/da/tions of fall splen/dor
5: my child/ren climb up,
7: reach/ing for sky, laugh/ter bright
7: as the blaz/ing or/ange leaves

There are some other guidelines to take into consideration when writing either of these poetry forms:

  • Avoid rhyming.
  • Vary the rhythm from line to line.
  • Use enjambment to create a longer poem consisting of multiple haiku or tanka.

I want to clarify, I’m not talking about every poem with three or five lines. I’m talking about the people who specifically tag something as “haiku” or “tanka” when it’s not.

Farther vs. further

These two words are used almost interchangeably but they mean two different things.

Farther is used for physical distances.

  • The blue car is farther away than the red car.
  • The family got lost and went farther north than they had planned to.
  • He walked farther down the hallway.

Further, on the other hand, is meant for figurative distances.

  • I wanted to discuss it further, but we ran out of time.
  • Giving up is the furthest thing from my mind.
  • I returned to the library to conduct further research.

Too many filler words

Filler words are unnecessary words or phrases that mark a pause or hesitation in speech. They often creep into our writing during the drafting phase when we’re not focused on writing for clarity.

Some common filler words include “that,” “just,” “very,” “even,” and “really.” Unnecessary adverbs are another example. Even common phrases like “In my opinion,” “For what it’s worth,” and “Per the aforementioned” are all fluff.

Once you finish writing something, perform a search and see how many times filler words appear. The number can be staggering.

This is something I’ve been working on myself. It’s an ongoing battle. In high school, my World Literature teacher told me that if the word “that” can be dropped from a sentence and it would still make sense, that I should omit it. Since then, I’ve avoided “that” like the plague.

Now if I could just learn to stop using the word just…

Venomous vs. poisonous

Another set of words used interchangeably, though they shouldn’t be.

I don’t have a big spiel for this last pet peeve of mine. The differences are pretty clear-cut: If a spider bites you and you get sick, it’s venomous. If you bite a spider and get sick, you were poisoned.

Thank you for attending this short grammar lesson. I hope you learned something today — truly. I love helping other writers to achieve their best. I wasn’t kidding when I said editing is my dream job.

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It’s Important to Embrace Your Old Writing

The first thing I can remember writing was a short story. I was nine years old and in the fourth grade. I’d been a voracious reader for years already, so maybe it was natural I’d fall in love with writing too.

One day, my teacher gave us a creative writing assignment. It’s the first of its kind I was ever given. It was around Easter time, so that was our theme. It was only meant to be, at most, a page long.

I turned in five.

I don’t remember many details about the story, but I know it featured a magical Easter Bunny that was hopping around, granting people’s wishes, and creating all kinds of chaos. My teacher said it was really creative. She kept it for a while and after that, I’m not sure what happened to it.

I wish I’d asked for a copy. My first piece of genuine writing! It’d be so fun to re-read it and share it with my children.

Not much later, I wrote my first poem. I’d always had a rocky relationship with my parents, and once I hit double digits and got my period at 11 years old, things only got worse. I needed an outlet. Naturally, I turned to writing.

I titled the poem My Life is Not a Drag. I don’t remember anything about it but that. I wrote it to try to cheer myself up, listing things in my life I was thankful for, or that made me happy.

I do remember that I wrote a lot about my cats. And books, of course. I’m nothing if not a creature of habit.

I look back on my first forays into writing with nostalgia, but if I still had either of those pieces, chances are, they’d be objectively awful. What does a young child know about grammar, or how to write a good story or poem? Next to nothing. What I did know, though, was imagination and wonder.

And the all-consuming need to write down my thoughts.

I’m much older now, and I’ve got the rules of grammar (mostly) down pat. I also know how to tell a good story — I think. Imposter Syndrome is often a bitch, but even I’ve been proud of some of the things I’ve been writing this year. I feel like I’ve hit a really good groove with my writing, consistently putting out quality pieces.

I didn’t reach this point easily. It’s taken a lot of work. Every blog post, poem, short story, or half-finished novel has been practice for the next piece. With everything I write, I only get better.

I used to be ashamed of the poetry I wrote when I was younger. I’d look back on it and cringe. Did I really think these were good? I’d ask myself. The rhyme schemes were cliché, the imagery overdone, and I was definitely trying too hard. I’d have to constantly stop myself from impulsively deleting them. But I knew if I did, I’d regret it. I filed all my old poems away into a separate folder and didn’t look at them for years.

I recently re-read them. All of them. My former criticism still stands; they are definitely not something I’d be proud to submit to poetry magazines. Nonetheless, I am proud of them. Within them I can see the poet I aspired to be, the poet I’m on the road to becoming.

If I hadn’t written my first poem as a 10-year-old with too many feelings to know what to do with, then I wouldn’t have written my angsty, gothic poetry as a teenager with even more feelings. If I hadn’t written those poems, I wouldn’t have gone through my Renaissance, where I re-branded myself as a poet, moving away from rhyming completely and only writing in free-verse. If I hadn’t written those poems, I wouldn’t have written the poetry I’m so proud of today.

I don’t read my first poems with embarrassment anymore. I read them and think, good job, past me, for sticking with it. They are the cornerstones without which I wouldn’t exist today.

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Street: A Tanka

Photo by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels.com

castles in the street
foundations of fall splendor
my children climb up,
reaching for sky, laughter bright
as the blazing orange leaves

Today’s Tanky Thursday prompt was “street.”

Around here, it’s not uncommon for people to rake their leaves into piles in the gutters. The city later comes by and sucks them up. Before they do, though, you have to get in one or two good jumps.

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Vortices: A Haiku

The wind is being STUPID LOUD today, so I wrote a haiku about it.

there’s a man outside
screaming at the sky, dancing
vortices of wind

Is it normal to feel like you’re cheating on one blogging platform with another? I’ve been doing a lot of writing on Medium. I really like the community, and I’ve made it into their partner program, so now I’m monetized!

Yes, this absolutely is a plug to get you guys to check out my Medium profile. I’m not ashamed of myself at all.

If you like my writing, please consider subscribing with my referral link. It’s only $5 a month, you get to read as many things as you want, and I’ll get a portion of your membership fees!

Honestly, I’m not above begging.

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Pipe Dreams

Any other writers out there with dream projects building up in their minds but no confidence to actually write them, or are you normal?

I have one such project. It’s been eating me up inside for a while. I daydream about it all the time.

Everyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with Tudor history and literature. They also know I love ghost stories. It’s been my desire the last few months to write a ghost story wherein Henry VIII is being haunted by his ex-wives. I even have the opening scene mapped out: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are dancing in yellow, rejoicing that Katherine of Aragon has finally died, when Henry VIII feels like a cold hand has reached inside his chest and squeezed his heart. I even wrote a poem about it!

Ring around the banquet hall
in yellow silk a’twirl,
raise your hands, give up the call:
hurrah, the Queen is dead!

Yellow Silk by Cassandra Armstrong

When it comes to actually writing it, though? I freeze like a deer caught in headlights. I’m not at all confident in my ability to do it justice. Or in my ability to finish it if I do begin it.

Once, just once, I’d like my brain to operate as a normal brain, so I can Get Shit Done.

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October Art and Writing Challenge Wrap-Up

Though I didn’t share many of the haiku I wrote in October to WordPress, I still want to talk about the challenge, why I chose to do it, and what I got from it–the good and the bad.

I was stumbling around on Twitter and came across this post by Holly. On a whim, I decided to give it a try. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to 1) force myself to write and 2) practice my digital art skills. And it was a prompt list all about autumn and Halloween, two of my favorite things.

Why did I choose to write all haiku? Because I find haiku to be rather easy to write, and I’m good at them. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of time writing long poems as it was my intention to finish a 31-day challenge in only 15 days. Because I’m extra af sometimes.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the challenge. And I like most of the poems I wrote for it, with notable favorites being Death and Witches. There were a few I felt were not my best work, especially towards the end of the challenge, but I’m proud nonetheless. I did finish the challenge, after all. It’s not very often I get to say that.

Endeavoring to write 31 poems in 15 days did what it was supposed to: it forced me to write. Multiple times per day, in fact. Which is somehow both a positive and negative thing. I definitely started feeling some burnout towards the end of the challenge. The last few poems felt like pulling teeth. I started to hate what I was writing and didn’t want to do it anymore. But I was determined to finish the challenge, so I made it easier on myself the only way I could: I stopped drawing illustrations for each poem and used stock photos to complement each piece. That helped a lot, and I was able to finish on a high note.

For the last poem, I chose to break away from the haiku format. It is, of course, titled Halloween. Enjoy!

Read the rest of the poems here or on my Instagram.

when the nights grow chillier
and a red moon turns clouds into rivers of blood —
Hallowe’en is here.

the pumpkins put on smiles,
jagged teeth gnashing fire into pulp —
Hallowe’en is here.

the witches take their vengeance to the sky
phoenixes risen from the ashes of their abusers —
Hallowe’en is here.

to the breaths of ghosts on the wind,
the long-lost souls doomed to roam earth —
Hallowe’en is here.

The bats in the belfry have awoken,
a black cloud that blots out the moon —
Hallowe’en is here.

the doorbell is a too-normal sound
among all these phenomena.
Hallowe’en is here.

at the painted faces of the children
dressed as ghouls and ghosts and gross things.
Hallowe’en is here.

into warm blankets, autumn treats at hand,
and wait for the next round of haunts.
Hallowe’en is here.

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Macbeth Doth Come: A Poem

I press my hand to
black fur soft as
a newborn’s blanket.
I can feel his heart beating
beneath my fingertips,
and though he looks lifeless,
his chest rises and falls
as he inhales,

Though there is pain in his eyes,
and though he is confused
and frightened,
I also see love and trust
shining in those green depths,
and I’m stricken by the breadth
of love
I feel for this four-legged angel.

Through the tears, I smile
and remember the first day I saw him,
so small and scared and lost.
And I have to laugh
because I never stood a chance;
I didn’t choose him,
he chose me.
I was his before I could ask
“Can we keep him?”

I was 17 years old when I came home from a walk with my friend and my mom told me she had found an orphaned, feral kitten in the garden. He was the cutest little thing, and so hungry and scared. We caught him and brought him inside — and that was it. He became mine. My angel. My Macbeth. ♥

Years ago now, Macbeth came down with a terrible urinary tract infection. He had crystals in his urine and was close to death. The vet was able to save him, though, and to this day, I can’t thank her enough for it. I wrote this poem in honor of that.

Today Macbeth is 14 years old and still my baby. He’s the best cat I’ve ever had and I love him to pieces.

If you like my writing, please consider donating to me at the link below. All proceeds will go towards furthering my career as a writer.

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Witches: A Haiku

gather my witches:
the women who burned at stake
for the sins of men

gather my witches
save them from the salt marshes
let their bones breathe free

gather, my witches,
let us ride out and show them
fire cannot break us

gather, my witches,
we are the phoenix, and they,
are nothing but ash

Find more autumn and Halloween-themed haiku on my Medium page. And if you like what you’ve read, please consider leaving a tip. All donations will be used for reading fees to poetry and lit magazines.

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