This month I’ve been working hard on a big writing project. The upside is that it’s been fun. The downside is that it’s been eating up a lot of my time and energy.
Saturday night I decided I deserved a break, and I spent some time on YouTube looking for videos that might be fun to watch. Egad. I found several new-to-me videos of talks by James Hillman, a psychologist who had a profound effect on my thinking.
When Hillman died almost five years ago, I figured I was done…I’d read and heard all of his work. This is one time I’m glad I was wrong.
I’m saving these Hillman videos for a YouTube binge when my project is finished in a week or two. But I did take a few minutes to watch the beginning of one video where Hillman is a featured speaker at a psychology conference. Everything came flooding back – the exhilaration I used to feel when I cracked open a new Hillman book or pressed the button to listen to a new audio tape.
Hillman took up a huge amount of space in my brain (and my time) for years. It was frustrating because I was writing my book about Shaw and supposed to be focusing my attention there. Hillman at times felt like a guilty pleasure.
Maybe I shouldn’t have felt so guilty. Although Hillman is mentioned only a few times in my book, he was a huge influence on what I was thinking and writing. Other writers have told me about similar experiences – some unconscious forces seem to be shaping our choices, although we may not understand what’s going on until much later.
That moment of time-travel set me thinking about why Hillman was so exhilarating to read. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far: He never told me something I already knew. In fact he often challenged what I already knew.
Isn’t that what every writer should be doing?
Now think about a typical English class and a weary instructor marking up piles of students’ papers. Imagine having your paper handed back with a comment like this from your instructor: “I’m bored, Jenny. Start over and give me something interesting to read.”
Do English teachers ever write comments like that one? (I never did, I’m sorry to say.)
Everyone agrees that too many people write poorly. Perhaps the solution isn’t more workbooks, more grammar, more tests. Maybe we need to find new ways to stimulate students so that they have something powerful and important to write about.
Consider this question: Where did you use to live?
Instead of a quiz today, I’m going to explore a usage issue that has no definite answer. Take another look at the question I just asked. Is use to live correct – or would you make it used to live?
Every good writer knows that used to requires a -d at the end:
I used to live in New York. CORRECT
But what if the sentence includes did or didn’t? I prefer to omit the -d: Where did you use to live?
But I’ve seen many writers add a -d to the end. Where did you used to live?
If you do some research, you’ll find there’s no definitive answer to which is right. I’m happy to say that The Cambridge Dictionary does it the same way I do (no -d). You can read what they have to say about it by clicking here.
How did you use to handle this issue, and what do you do about it now?
What Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You is available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
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