Grammar: Why it’s Greek to me

img_6502 (1)A sweet New Year’s revelation: my spiritual studies and my grammar studies can overlap. At the end of the year, I was taking stock of my daily Bible-reading habit and realized it left me wanting … more. Yes, I read through the Bible again in 2018, but I wasn’t sure I’d gotten as much out of the reading as I would have liked. Then I remembered that a friend had passed along a Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible she no longer wanted. What if I tried reading that during my morning devotions? Couldn’t hurt, might help, I decided.

I also started reading with a notebook at hand to write down observations about the scriptures I read each morning. So far, my Bible-reading plan has me in Genesis in the Old Testament and Matthew in the new, and I have yet to finish a day’s reading without jotting down several new insights I’ve found. I can’t help thinking that this Hebrew-Greek Bible has something to do with these new insights.

This week, I found myself looking up the word “scribes” in the book’s concordance of Greek words. Imagine how it delighted my grammar-geek heart to learn that the Greek word was “grammateus.” The definition wasn’t especially profound (a writer, a scribe), but I did learn that the word could also mean “town clerk,” which was news to me.

The other big discovery? This Bible has a whole page of verb tenses that I had never even heard of. I was ridiculously happy when I found that, and I wonder how much time I’ll spend this year learning about things like the “aorist subjunctive active” (be still my heart!).

Of course, no matter how many Bibles I read and study from, I’ll be most happy if, at some point this year, I make some progress with the Christian basics, verses like Luke 6:31, and “do unto others as I would have them do unto me.” One day, I hope I’ll pass along a Bible to someone that will make them as happy as this one has made me!


A journal for bibliophiles

bibliophileTo kick off the new year, I wanted to mention a few of the tools I’ll be using this year, and one simple one that I absolutely adore is this new Bibliophile planner by Jane Mount that was a Christmas gift from my husband.

While I already had an everyday planner as well as a planner just for my writing career (that one is available here), I have never before had a journal or planner that I devoted to what I was reading—not what I was writing for myself or clients but what I was simply reading. So each morning or evening of the year so far, I’ve pulled the planner aside and jotted down the titles of the books I read each day. Since January 1, that’s included the Bible (a few chapters a day), The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle (a prayer book), and whatever fiction and nonfiction I happen to be reading at the moment. I’m also recording the names of books that my online book club is reading. Hopefully, this new tracking method will prevent me from waiting till the last minute to read these titles, as has frequently happened over the past two years of the club’s existence.

Many times over the years, I have tried to recall where I read something that week. This reading journal, I hope, will help me keep up with the books I enjoyed—or didn’t!—during the year. If you haven’t yet seen this planner, it’s not too late to check it out or to come up with a system of your own for recording your reads in 2019. However you choose to chronicle your reading life this year, good luck and happy reading!



Writers and their favorite rules


Photo courtesy of Nick Youngson,

Do you have rules for your writing? I don’t, but after coming across an Authors Publish article on 35 writers’ “Rules for Writing,” I’ve been thinking of creating a list of my own favorite writing rules.

Some of these I’ve heard before, such as Elmore Leonard’s famous, “Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.” If only it were that easy!

Some of these rules are ones I’ve heard and chosen to ignore, such as the advice of Steinbeck (and others) to “never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” I mean to simply get the words down, but then I notice a typo or a paragraphing issue and, bam, I’m off editing before I can help myself.

One author rule that I do follow, and religiously, is to read, read, and read some more. In fact, this is probably my favorite writing rule. Why? I have at least two books under way at any given moment, and in recent years, I’ve begun taking notes on every single book I read, the good and the bad. Good books teach me what to do. Bad books teach me what not to do.

And if those aren’t enough rules for you, feel free to check out the rules of these 35 writers for yourself by clicking on the link above. Do you have a favorite writing rule? I’d love to hear it!

Dictionary spellings and variants

Preferred spellingsWhen the dictionary lists more than one spelling of a word, which one should you use? I like to use the preferred spelling.

Do you know which of these common words is preferred? I know only because I’ve had to look them up for books I’ve edited over the past few years that the favored spellings are barbecue, doughnut, and drive-through. If you look these up in the dictionary, you will find, for instance, “barbecue also barbeque.” What does that also mean? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Eleventh Edition, says, “When another spelling is joined to the main entry by the word also, the spelling after also occurs appreciably less often and thus is considered a secondary variant.”

Sometimes, though, you’ll find two words listed and joined by or, not also. The dictionary notes, “When a main entry is followed by the word or and another spelling, the two spellings occur with equal or nearly equal frequency and can be considered equal variants. Both are standard, and either one may be used according to personal inclination.” An example from the color world? “Ocher or ochre.” Either is fine, and my “personal inclination” is to use ochre.

Do you use preferred spellings? Did you know there was such a thing?

Paper hoarding and Scarlett O’Hara

Spurred to speed, Prissy hurried toward the back of the house while Scarlett scratched a hasty note on the margin of Gerald’s last letter to her—the only bit of paper in the house. As she folded it, so that her note was uppermost, she caught Gerald’s words, “Your mother—typhoid—under no condition—to come home—” She almost sobbed. If it wasn’t for Melanie, she’d start home, right this minute, if she had to walk every step of the way.

— Margaret Mitchell, “Gone With the Wind”

IMG_5653.jpgAnd so it is that I blame Margaret Mitchell for my paper-hoarding tendencies. When I first read Gone With the Wind years ago, one of the many visual images that stuck with me was that of Scarlett having to scratch out a note on the margin of an old letter. Was paper really in such short supply? Apparently so, and as God is my witness, I never intend to be caught in that predicament.

So I have a nice collection of paper products: Journals. Paperback and hardback notebooks. Composition books (spiral and perfect-bound). Packages of paper (printer paper, notebook paper, cardstock). I have scrapbooking paper for when the crafting bug hits, sticky notes in various shapes and sizes, notepads in both block and sheet form, and even some leftover bubblegum pink printer paper that was supposed to signify something or other in a long-forgotten organizational system.

A2.jpgIf there’s ever another paper shortage, unlike Scarlett O’Hara, I do not intend to suffer. And so I share my latest paper-hoarder acquisition, a small but charming little A-shaped notebook I found at Books-A-Million this week. The attached tag tells me that this $6.99 notebook from Alphabooks was a 2016 Gift of the Year selection. I believe it will be just perfect for various jottings down. I briefly had the irrational thought that I ought to buy one in every letter of the alphabet and use them in sequence until I run out of paper (or things to say), but I restrained myself.

Are there any other paper hoarders reading today? I’d love to know!

Writer’s Digest: The 101 Best Websites for Writers

WD0617The new issue of Writer’s Digest has arrived, and it is one of my favorites because it’s the magazine’s annual issue devoted to the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Here are a few of the issue’s websites that I noted: — This site offers “grammar, etymology, usage, and more, brought to you by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman.” A perfect place for word nerds (like me) to hang out. — Love the simplicity of this description: “Burlington VT radio show about writing.” I plan to listen to these podcasts during evening walks and lengthy car travels. — I must confess, the name “Miss Demeanors” lured me right in. But the six mystery and thriller authors who share advice here will keep me coming back. —This blog apparently started in 2008 as a mystery lovers’ blog but now includes writing articles on any genre. It looks like good, solid info, so I’ll be visiting again soon.

and finally — Yippee, my favorite writing blogger made the list again! Way to go, Elizabeth! Love her.

If you have a writing website to recommend, by all means, let’s hear it!


Taking note of Tofu Cheesecake Woman

notebooksI imagine that most creative types have their own system for taking notes. I like to use multiple notebooks myself. In my purse, I carry a bright pink Moleskine one. The 3-1/2 x 5-1/2-inch size is perfect, but the corners don’t hold up very well. The notebook itself, however, is sturdy. When I’m at home, I use the larger notebook with the vintage lightbulbs on the cover to record all of my bright ideas, notes for various writing projects, and the occasional snatch of conversation.

Sometimes I overhear things that I’ll record on any old scrap of paper I can get my hands on, and then I’ll transfer it to one of my notebooks later. An example from last January, recorded in the lightbulb notebook: “I’m about to make a cheesecake out of tofu.”

I was staying at Callaway Gardens for the weekend when I overheard a woman say this while she was on a stationary phone near the lobby. I had just walked past her and didn’t turn around because I didn’t want her to know I was eavesdropping, but within seconds, I’d reached for the nearest piece of paper and written that down. I was struck by the unique comment from Tofu Cheesecake Woman. In the South, we don’t see a lot of cheesecakes made from tofu. And I’m always happy to see her comment when I flip through my idea notebook.

But paper notebooks aren’t the only ones I use. Occasionally I tap out a few notes on my iPhone. When I’m in a serious brainstorming mood, I might also use one of the Bamboo digital notebooks on my iPad.

I’m always interested in hearing about the way others take notes, so I enjoyed reading Michael Hyatt’s blog post about his system for tracking notes. I got some good ideas that I plan to try the next time I’m at a meeting or workshop and want to organize my notes—and thoughts.

I also took note of this week’s NPR article on the fact that taking notes by hand may be more beneficial to students than taking notes on digital devices. I was intrigued by this comment from Pam A. Mueller of Princeton: “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective—because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”


I think that’s what we’re doing when we take notes—however we choose to take these notes—and it makes sense to me that taking notes by hand makes you “more selective.” I’m a former newspaper reporter, and now that I no longer have to cover city council and school board meetings (thank you, Lord!), I find that I no longer write as fast as I used to. Selective note taking is definitely more my speed these days.

Still, I’m always up for some new lessons in how to improve my note-taking skills. Are you?