|This kinda sums me up|
Sometimes words I don't even think I know find their way into my writing vocabulary, and I am puzzled as to how they got there. When I'm in doubt as to their source I find my dictionary and marvel that I actually knew the word I had to look up. I give myself a self-congratulatory nod and thank the literary Gods for throwing me a bone, giving me the fleeting feeling that I am a writer.
Then I am reminded of my core belief that big words are for people who really, really, really know how to write. Only those who have mastered the art of sentence construction have the right to play canonical games with their intellectual brethren--of choosing those hard to pronounce words used to puzzle their "known" readers for whom they show their prowess. I stand aside for those writers, and let them pass. It's taken me most of my life to realize that, even to me, English is my second language, though it is my one and only native one, too.
As a Black American with no known contemporary cultural ties with my ancestors in Africa, or Native-Americans, or other non-English speaking Europeans in my bloodline--I've only had occasion to learn English. That was until I became fascinated with the languages of other people, and started learning "theirs." As a child, I could not fathom why I didn't have a separate language to speak with my parents, like my Japanese, Mexican, Samoan, German, and Portuguese childhood playmates, whose parents spoke in either broken English or with a heavy accent. Their languages fascinated me. I even made up my own to speak with my sister, a gobbledegook of gibberish interspersed with English words that allowed us to actually understand each other (Example: "kudosudomapalogo-go-to-the-store?").
When I had the opportunity to learn Spanish in junior high school, I jumped at it, and found an ease of learning languages that has informed my career choices and my general interests as a human being. I speak a modicum of French and can wind my way around Italian and Portuguese, falteringly. However, two of the languages I actually learned to speak, Cambodian and Cebuano, do not rely on the same sentence structure as English, which made them much easier for me to learn. All I had to do was figure out the meaning of the words, and somehow, string them together, and I could get the message across. But I can't say that knowing more languages has helped my writing.
Even before my travels, my shortcomings had been pointed out to me by two professors: one who admonished me that my ideas were brilliant, but not capable of comprehension; the other who scolded me about using words I didn't understand (I used "blitzerig" for blitzkrieg in a term paper :P).
Another problem for me is that I hear words like I hear music, and I get into a rhythm of writing where sounds are more important than content, at times. Don't ask me where this comes from--although I have romanticized that it is remnants of my forgotten African ancestral language, somehow laying dormant in my DNA that has surfaced to destroy my ability to convey English appropriately. It has taken me over ten years of writing my novel to realize that I never learned how to write, and I recognize that writing well will be my cudgel to bear for the rest of my life.
What has helped me throughout my life in my travels has hurt me immeasurably as a writer, but my deficiencies really hit home after years of working on my novel with my mother, my unofficial editor. I wish everyone had a mother as intelligent as mine, and who has the patience to explain over and over and over and over again why my sentence structure was less than desirable. My grammar has improved, but, I guarantee you, it will likely never meet my mother's standards. She is a much more voracious reader than I'll ever be (thank you, law school). Also, she is a classically trained pianist with an ability to break music down to its core elements. She was also trained to speak and read in German, a necessary linguistic skill when analyzing classical music, particularly, Beethoven, the King of classical music. English being a [half] Germanic language, the strict rules of German grammar have rooted themselves into our English language, but without true understanding by many of us, educated or not.
I recommend that every writer should find someone in their eighties to edit his or her work. Someone in that age range likely has a better understanding of grammar, frequented libraries (instead of malls) when younger, and whose education predated the ascendancy of movies and its obliteration of our English language. Most likely, someone in their eighties and nineties also understands how to diagram a sentence. My grandmother, who did not attend college, but who did graduate from high school, used to sit down with us and show us how to diagram sentences. When I complained about my difficulties writing, my mother reminded me about diagramming sentences, and to my amazement, I came across a diagram sentence website: Grammar Revolution.
I cannot speak more highly about Grammar-Revolution, and I encourage people to support the website by purchasing materials and spreading the site's gospel. So much of the site has free information to which one can return often, but please consider supporting the site by purchasing, at a minimum, the $19 Diagramming Reference Manual. I think Elizabeth O'Brien has done such a brilliant job of trying to save the English language, at least here, in the USA. Everyone should spread the word about this website and every writer should be referring to it to assist his or her writing endeavor. Note that I have never spoken to Ms. O'Brien, and at least as of this writing, she has never heard of me (I'll diagram the whole blog and make corrections before she gets word of me - LOL). Watch the trailer of their 80-minute film, independently produced and directed by Elizabeth and company: http://www.grammarrevolutionmovie.com/
My quest for improvement, introspection, and perseverance is ongoing. That's what my writing journey has been about, all along, I believe. By sharing this blog with you and giving you information to help you along your journey, as readers of my upcoming novel (and present, past and future writers) I hope you are able to take the short-cuts I couldn't take because, I didn't take the time to learn that I knew so little about my native language.
Big words are merely big words. Conveying ideas is what writing is all about. When my novel does surface, you'll see the pains I went through to say what I wanted to say. Thanks to my mother and hired editor, it should all make sense.
Well, hope springs eternal. Whatever that means.
P.S. Here are some other grammar-related websites and blogs:
http://blogs.kansas.com/grammar/ also known as @GrammarMonkeys
http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl also known as @GrammarGirl