More Word Wisdom from Lydel Sims

Today I happened again upon some yellowed clippings from Lydel Sim’s old “Watch Your Language” columns. You may recall I wrote about him and his writing advice in my earlier post, Remembering My Mentor, Lydel Sims.

It has been more than 30 years since I first took one of Lydel’s writing classes at then Memphis State University (now it’s the University of Memphis), but I still am grateful for the help he gave during those long-ago classes, and for starting me on my writing career. Lydel’s advice was always tinged with his brand of humor — maybe that’s why I’ve recalled it so many times since then.

Here are two questions from the column along with his responses:

Sir: Plagued as I am by early English teachers, I’m still bothered by the use of “none” as a plural. But I’ve seen the use in many publications. Care to comment? — Bill C.

Gladly. The idea that “none” always takes a singular verb is one of the most potent, and mistaken, ideas of the uninformed. “None” may be either singular or plural and its use in the plural is actually more common. If your teacher taught you otherwise, ask for your money back.

Sir: A story in my newspaper said “she is one of those who was willing to speak out.” Is “was” correct? Shouldn’t it be “were”? “Of those who were. . . ” sounds better. Grammar can be so nitpicky. —J.S..

It can indeed, but I agree with you completely. It should be “she is one of those who were…” But I must regretfully confess that some authorities insist it’s all right to use the singular verb if you prefer. That leaves me feeling just as frustrated as the reader who thinks “none” should always take a singular verb. ‘Taint fair!

Since Lydel left this world, I’ve had to get my grammar help elsewhere. That’s okay, but I still greatly miss his advice and his unique humor.

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How to Become A Selling Writer

Selling writers know that you can become a selling writer only by keeping at it. Keep writing. Keep sending queries. Keep submitting your work.

Call it what you will — persistence, stick-to-it-tiveness, doggedness, determination, just plain old stubbornness — it’s the usual way to make that first sale and to follow up with more and more sales. It”s how most of us get started in the writing business.

If you have that stubborn streak and if you keep writing, you eventually reach the place where you can claim to be a selling writer.

That point was brought home by Robert Dugoni, the New York Times bestselling author of “The Jury Master,” “Damage Control,” and “Wrongful Death,” in an Off The Cuff piece he wrote in the February 2010 issue of The Writer. Dugoni says he bridged the thin line between trying and succeeding by learning the three P’s — Patience, Perseverance and Persistence.

And he compares his writing efforts to that of his nine-year-old son learning to hit a baseball. In “Don’t be afraid of striking out,” he says that in writing as in baseball, you have to stick with it to hit one out of the park.

“As writers, we can’t become paralyzed at the thought of rejection. We can’t fear it, or seek to avoid it. Rather, we must confront it head on, charge into it with reckless abandon. We must look at rejection like a ball player looks at striking out, that thin line between trying and succeeding, a line we must cross as many times as necessary, knowing that on the other side exist our dreams and goals.”

Dugoni is a fiction writer, to be sure, but his advice can help nonfiction writers as well to become published writers. The entire article could be the motivation you need to succeed. I picked up my copy of The Writer at my local Barnes & Noble, but you probably can find the magazine at another bookstore or read it at your local library if you prefer. I think it’s one article you won’t want to miss.

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