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The Writer’s Tool Chest

by Aaron McCarver

What is in your tool chest? Your writer’s tool chest that is.

Tools are wonderful things. We are able to accomplish things with them we could not do otherwise. When thinking about it, we have conquered the world through the use of tools.

However, tools used incorrectly are very dangerous things. Only when we learn to use them properly can we truly garner the desired results and produce the best products.

The same holds true for the tools writers use – words. Writers need to be able to use words well to produce the desired works – stories that engage our readers and prayerfully offer them something that will challenge, entertain, and inspire them.

Most of us think we have accomplished the use of language. We have graduated high school and maybe college and possibly even graduate school. We are writers; we know how to write correctly. We study and read about other aspects of writing, but words and language we have mastered. And even if we haven’t, that’s what editors are for…right?

Wrong. The grammar side of writing should be studied just like other aspects, as it is a tool that needs mastering to be used correctly. There are many reasons to continue this study, including the following:

First, grammar rules change. Any language that is spoken is an ever-evolving thing. The rules of any spoken language must also evolve to be relevant.

Second, a language’s vocabulary expands. New words are being added to the English language constantly. Even if that were untrue, we still need to constantly expand our personal vocabularies. A thesaurus can’t give us every word that could be used. Knowing more words provides us with more tools to use. With our new release, Lily, Diane Ashley and I had to learn the vocabulary of antebellum riverboats to provide authenticity to our story.

Third, correct grammar and word use impresses agents and editors. A polished proposal or manuscript is sure to elicit a better response than one riddled with grammatical errors.

If you find yourself needing to improve your mastery of grammatical tools, there are a few choices you have:

One, take a course at a local college or university. Make sure the course emphasizes grammar, which could mean it is a remedial course, as many college level English courses cover composition and/or literature.

Two, look for an online course to suit your needs. Most colleges are expanding their online offerings to keep up with the demands of students. Ask at your local college or search online for one to help you.

Three, find a good workbook to refresh your own skills. Ask a local college professor or high school teacher for the best tools of this type. This could save you a lot of money if you are disciplined enough to use them. (I suggest the grammar and punctuation sections of a good English handbook like The Bedford Handbook. Be sure to always get the newest edition.)

Just as you only want a doctor who remains abreast of the latest medicines and techniques, our readers deserve writers who do the same with the tools of our profession.


A resident of Florence, Mississippi, Aaron McCarver loves teaching English at Belhaven University and editing for Barbour Publishing. He is the co-author of the best-selling series, “The Spirit of Appalachia” with Gilbert Morris and is currently co-authoring with Diane Ashley the “Song of the River” series for Barbour.

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6 Responses to The Writer’s Tool Chest

  1. Rhonda says:

    Thanks for this reminder Aaron. Grammer is not my strongest tool… sigh

  2. Great post, Aaron! I was very good at grammer when I was in school. But I know why it was taught all through school–it is also easy to forget! And when the rules change, unless we keep up with them, we’re in trouble. I think I’ll take a refresher course this summer.

  3. good advice Aaron. Unfortunately, for me, grammer ranks right up there with writing a synopsis. It’s not the fun part. :)

  4. Diane Ashley says:

    The rules have changed a lot since I first learned them in school. I thought back then that they were graven in stone, but since working with you, I know better. I have also seen that the style between publishing houses can differ, keeping all of us on our toes. Thanks for your insight.

  5. Ginger Vaughan says:

    Great post, Aaron. Thanks for the reminder. Most people don’t think about grammar changing and they certainly don’t keep up with the new rules unless they are English professors…or writers.

  6. Parker says:

    Aaron,
    Great ideas, well written!
    Parker