Free Yourself From Your Inner Grammar Police, Part 1 of 2

Most people have interesting stories, information, experiences, and strong feelings we want on our Wellness Wordworks website as guest blogs, even from people who are not polished writers.  Mental health advocacy is often about polishing your story until it has the impact you want.

Writing is choosing words and arranging them in sentences.  Good writing is choosing strong, concrete words you use every day to create sentences that are easy and natural to say out loud.  It’s really that simple.

Why so many people have inner grammar police that tell them they can’t write:

Everyone can be a poet and writer once they get past their inner grammar police. Daniel Christensen waits with his friends for his turn on stage at the Blue Room.

Everyone can be a poet and writer once they get past their inner grammar police. Daniel Christensen waits with his friends for his turn on stage at the Blue Room.

Millions of people create clear, interesting sentences spontaneously in conversation, e-mail, and social media every day, yet they are convinced they can’t write, usually because they were taught wrong in school.

Teachers taught confusing rules that have nothing to do with clear communication or spoken English.  They deduct points from students’ writing when they break one.  So people start to write afraid of breaking a rule, not anxious to say what they want. This is what we mean by the inner grammar police, our memories of these lectures

Yet since people are not afraid of breaking rules on e-mail or Facebook, they write clearly, vividly, and easily.  It’s just misspelled, punctuated wrong, and ungrammatical, according to “English teacher rules.”  They’re afraid to write a business letter or application essay because they’re sure they can’t, or those inner grammar police are just too loud in their heads.

How to Write Blogs for our Site or Your Own:

To write a guest blog, choose a topic you know, and feel strongly about.  Then let your heart sing!

Don’t worry about grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, style, wording, or anything else until you’ve said all you have to say.  I know I’m onto something good when that first draft comes out fast, from my heart, through my fingers.

Let that rough work sit overnight, then start editing it yourself, or e-mail the raw copy to us, and let our editor (me) polish it.  Email it to kenbrait at gmail dot com with  “guest blogs” in the subject line.  In Part 2, I write about how I edit other people’s guest blogs, and how you can edit your own.

You’re the best expert on your own experience and opinions, but it’s good to add information to your opinion as well to make it stronger. Any kind of story is great for learning to move beyond the inner grammar police, or “fear of the blank page,” as Corinna West puts it in her poem called, “I Want to Be a Positive, Inspiration Person.”

Good topics for our site that will help you overcome your inner grammar police:

Opinions: Explain how you arrived at your opinion, based on what, including your experience.  It also helps to provide links (URLs, web addresses) to articles or websites.  Internet search engines like Google make that easier.  Just type in key words and see what you get.  Print sources are also good, but on a website, Internet links allow readers to look at your source without leaving your web page.

Tyree Thomas on stage at the Blue Room performing her spoken word poetry. Careful, she wins a lot!

Tyree Thomas on stage at the Blue Room performing her spoken word poetry. Careful, she wins a lot!

Research: We especially like guest blogs that tell readers something they don’t already know.  When you express something as fact, cite a source, or say how you know. “In my experience…” is citing a source, but for statistics, scientific theories, and research findings, a document, study, or journal article from a recognized expert, or reputable institution is stronger. Cite your print and web sources in the copy or at the bottom or both. I can embed URLs in your copy, so the reader can just click on a link.

Mental Health Alternatives: Alternatives don’t have to be elaborate programs, just your idea of what would be better, even if just for you.  Some guest blogs suggest alternatives just by saying “what I would have done knowing what I know now,” or what I wish had been available to me at the time.

We don’t like guest blogs that dump on medication or the mental health system without giving alternatives.

 Look at www.wellnesswordworks.com to get an idea what subjects we like as guest blogs, but choose a subject dear to you. It doesn’t matter if we have already covered it before. Overcome the inner grammar police and just write.

 Once you know your topic, and have gathered your facts, the hardest part is starting. Corinna says, “Just put something, anything down at the beginning, no matter how good it is, just to get started.” Often people have trouble starting projects, but then once they’re a little ways into the project, it doesn’t feel nearly so big.

The inner grammar police can make tiny things feel like a big deal.

Melena Robare is a hip hop artist but read a poem at the Blue Room for the very first time ever here. Talk about kicking those inner grammar police!

Melena Robare is a hip hop artist but read a poem at the Blue Room for the very first time ever here. Talk about kicking those inner grammar police!

For Wellness Wordworks, since we provide an editor, just jump right in, like you would with a Facebook comment or e-mail. Forget anything the inner grammar police might have said.

Many of our guest blogs actually start as Facebook comments we get permission from the writer to use on the website. Facebook comments usually need a lot of polishing, but I’ve been doing it since 1968. I won’t think you’re illiterate.  I’ll blame your English teachers.

To write your own lead, take your material and ask yourself, “Why should somebody care?”  Somebody means somebody, not everybody, or even a lot of people.  Answer that question in 100 words or less. Don’t let your inner grammar police think you need to earn a Pulitzer to be worth anything at all.

Open with your most surprising, provocative, newsiest fact or idea, the one most likely to make the reader want to read more.  The best editor I worked for told us a good lead makes the reader mad, glad, sad, or scared – or say WOW!

What do you need to say that your inner grammar police have held back?

Wordworks Blog Author: Ken Braiterman

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, has been an activist, news reporter, opinion writer, and columnist since 1968. From 1997 to 2009, he was New Hampshire's leading advocate for recovery-based mental health services. He is an advanced Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator.

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