Manuscript March: Writerly Idiosyncrasies

I hope my mother never reads this blog, because I’m about to share something embarrassing about her.

At some point in each of her emails, my mum inevitably slips into italics. For years, I couldn’t figure out how she managed this. Her emails typically begin in normal text, transition to italics, and then end with the note “P.S. My writing went on an angle and I couldn’t fix it.

Eventually I figured out her problem: Ctrl + I. She would try to type a capital I, hit Control instead of Shift, and wind up very confused as to why the font had changed. Sure enough, looking back over old emails, there was always a dodgy pronoun at fault:

“We went to the train station and i got our tickets.

“This morning at work i found the missing phone.

“The local college sent some community course catalogues and i think I might take a computer class to see whether i can get this darn thing to write properly. Oh wait, i fixed it.

Mum has since gone through keyboard shortcut rehab and is doing much better.

But I can’t mock my mum for her typing foibles, because there are certain things I do with a keyboard that make my supervisor roll his eyes:

  • I wobble my singular and plural tense.
  • As a matter of habit, my participles are often misrelated.
  • However, much I try, I can never remember when to place a comma after “however.”*

Writerly idiosyncrasies: we all have them.

They are the grammar rules we failed to learn, the bad habits we picked up at school, the elements of language use that just won’t stick in our (overburdened) brains.

My thesis supervisor has been diplomatic, but I don’t want him to have to make the same corrections over and over again.

So what’s a writer to do?

The only thing that has worked for me is to keep a running list of my writerly sins. Every time my supervisor points out one of my bad writing habits, I add it to my list. After three years, it’s a very healthy list. Given that I’m a literary scholar, that’s probably not something I should publicise.

But it’s extremely useful. I populate this list not only with my common mistakes, but also with the explanations and solutions that are meaningful to me. After several years in development, my list of writerly sins is like a personalised style guide, full of only the information I need to know, and written in a way that I respond to.

Here’s to seeing less red pen on my drafts!

Before I submit any written work, I cross-check it against my sin-list. It’s a system that gets more effective the more I write, the more I submit, and the more feedback i receive. Oh good grief, not now.

What about you, thesis-writers? Do you have any tips or tricks for tackling your personal writing foibles?


*Aha, you see what I did there?

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink. She has a research background in science and narrative. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. She has previously researched fictional representations of evolution and quantum mechanics. She has taught such diverse texts as Blade Runner and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and her most obscure skill is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

2 thoughts on “Manuscript March: Writerly Idiosyncrasies

  1. Your mum’s sloping writing is v. cute. My problem is with punctuation and I don’t know how it fix it. I learned punctuation in the 70s – the discovery method. It worked at a basic level, not advanced. So I am at a loss when getting to the nitty gritty of writing. I think it’s too late for me.

  2. It’s never too late! Mignon Fogarty (aka the Grammar Girl) has a great eBook called “Punctuation 911.” It’s written from an American perspective, as the title suggests, but still relevant for NZ English. It’s a very accessible and surprisingly unboring way to upskill.

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