Beware the Writing Process!

Two days ago, in a blog about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I suggested that writing a book about rearing her daughters caused author Amy Chua to change her mind about parenting. As a result of Chua’s writing process,¬†her book takes off in one direction but lands in another.

Today I’m going to give you another example of the same principle: A true story about an Army sergeant who changed his thinking and behavior after being interviewed on the radio.

In December 2006, National Public Radio broadcast a lengthy report about the way some soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) are mistreated.

Reporter David Zwerdling had asked retired Army sergeant Nathan Towsley how soldiers diagnosed with PTSD were treated in his unit. Towlsey freely admitted to harassing them: He had no sympathy for men who couldn’t handle the stress of combat. “I don’t like people who are weak-minded,” he said, adding that he’d never be caught going to a therapist.

Several weeks later, though, Towsley said that the interview had prompted him to start thinking more deeply about PTSD. Towsley decided that the syndrome is real, and – amazingly – decided to get counseling for himself. You can read and listen to the story here.

Be careful the next time you decide to talk or write about a belief or opinion you hold dear. In the process of trying to change your listeners, you may end up changing yourself.

Today’s Quiz ¬†ANSWER

Most people would consider this sentence correct. But if you’re a real stickler, you would change which to that.

An often-overlooked rule states that “which” is used with commas, “that” when you don’t have commas.

Here’s the original sentence again:

Up in the attic I found the picture which used to hang over my bed.

And here’s the correct sentence:

Up in the attic I found the picture that used to hang over my bed. CORRECT

(Many writers would also put a comma after “attic.” It’s optional – your choice – because the introductory phrase “up in the attic” is short.)

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