Practice Makes Perfect by Fay Lamb

Today’s post comes from Fay Lamb, a freelance editor and author of Christian romance and romantic suspense. Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Because of Me, is soon to be released by Treble Heart Books.

Fay has a passion for working with and encouraging fellow writers. As a member of ACFW, she co-moderates the large Scribes’ Critique Group and manages the smaller Scribes’ critique groups.  She also offers advice for self-editors as the Tactical Editor, To find out more about Fay and her writing, visit her website at and enjoy her blog On the Ledge, a humorous take on the writing side of life.


I learned a life lesson that applies to writing from my son’s violin tutor. My son is an accomplished violinist, but when he was just starting out, his tutor, a first string with the local symphony, struggled with keeping him on task. One day my son Corey walked in and he said, “Igor, I don’t want to play violin. I want to learn to fiddle.”

Well, Igor stood back in his old clog shoes, and he wiped a hand through his hair, which was always oily, and a big smile crossed his face. He’d just caught on to a way to get Corey to take his violin seriously. “Corey, you have to learn from the masters. You have to know the scales. You have to play these hard pieces that I’m teaching you and giving you to practice every day. And then when you have mastered the violin, you will be able to play it like a fiddle.”

That’s how it is with rules. I run across so many writers who don’t know where to put a comma. They play the comma by ear. If it sounds like a pause then that’s the place for the comma. Problem is, sometimes that pause is at the end of a complete sentence. When do you use an em dash or an ellipse? Why aren’t we supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction? The semicolon—don’t get me started on the semicolon. Ninety percent of us use it incorrectly. Exclamation points! For goodness sakes, are your characters screaming at everyone? Why is a sentence that starts with an “ing” word inappropriate, and what makes an “ly” telling? Do you realize that not every “ing” constructed sentence or every “ly” word is bad?

In order to have technique, I contend that you need to know the rules. And when you break the rules, you don’t break them consistently. As Noah Lukeman so aptly teaches in his book, A Dash of Style, you use them to your advantage. Too much of anything gets rather tiring, but put in an appropriate semicolon (and yes they are allowed in fiction—maybe not in dialogue for some publishers) or an em dash or ellipses for emphasis, and even misplacing a comma for a dramatic pause—these things adds zing to your writing.

You can’t write a masterpiece until you know how it is formed in just the same way that my son couldn’t learn to “fiddle” before he learned to master his violin. Practice makes perfect in music and in writing.


About Jennifer Slattery

Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery, also writing as Jen Pheobus, uses humor, grace, and truth to inspire God's children to live abundant, Christ-centered lives. She does content editing for Firefly, a southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and is a regular contributor to; Internet Cafe Devotions; Faith, Friends and Chocolate; and manages the social media for Takin’ it to the Streets, a ministry that serves Omaha’s working poor and homeless. She’s placed in numerous writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous compilations, magazines, and e-zines.

Posted on October 21, 2011, in community, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you for allowing me to share with your readers, Jennifer.

  2. I love the analogy of your son learning to play the violin before the fiddle. Thanks so much for understanding all those rules and for sharing your knowledge.

  3. Oh Fay, I know you’re talking about me when you mention those commas. I hang my head. I need to study those punctuation rules, I guess…was that the right place for that comma?

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