This tip is particularly helpful because it allows you to quit worrying so much about grammar and punctuation. When you quit worrying about that you can start writing.

Learning grammar and punctuation is about sound and the first three writing tips.

If you’ve been following this series and you know the first three writing tips, then you’ll see how these fit together. If not, check them out here: Writing Tip 1, Writing Tip 2, and Writing Tip 3.

Punctuation and grammar is about realizing that if your writing sounds okay, it probably is. Using your language instinct to write correctly is the key to sound. Now, if you read good literature, decent enough literature, that’s going to help. Punctuation and grammar are really about: “Does it sound right?”

Even in the SAT prep training they finally get down to a place of not trying to teach you grammar, but trying to get you to listen to a sentence and figure out if it sounds okay.

For example, “The boy and the dog happily trotted to the brook.” That sounds okay, right?

“The boy cornflake and Gemini 276.” What is that? A computer code? I don’t know; it doesn’t sound quite right.

“Me and Jimmy went down to the creek.” That’s a little odd. It doesn’t sound correct.

That’s the game. Grammar and punctuation is about sound combined with the first three writing tips. This will set you free to write by ear, where you’re tuning into the sound of words; the words you choose and the order you put them in as you find your voice.

You will discover, as you learn the process of punctuating this way and writing this way, that this instinctive sound orientation makes your grammar perfect, or almost perfect. I learned to write by sound before I did my doctoral dissertation. The professor didn’t really like my doctorate, which is pretty common, maybe, but he was a Harvard graduate and he did comment that my grammar was better than most of the papers he’d ever read. Well, all I had done was abandon all the rules of grammar that I knew and wrote by sound. I started writing and asking myself does this sound right? Does the word order and punctuation, the commas and periods—if it were read aloud, does it sound how I want it to? When I began to write by sound, it changed everything.

-Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
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