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So You Think You Know “Yourself”

No one knows how to use reflexive pronouns anymore.

Not sure what a reflexive pronoun looks like?
A reflexive pronoun can take any of the following forms: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, or themselves.

[By the way, if you ever say “theirselves” or “ourself” or something like that, I will disown you as a reader. All you get to play with are the above seven forms.]

I heard this today, and a slight nausea overtook me:

“She called myself, and I was like…”

Photo credit: Harryalverson

It doesn’t really matter what the rest of the sentence was…I promise, it wasn’t all that interesting. That’s why I cut it off and left an ellipses.


In this article, I’m going to explain how these pronouns work. And, to give you a hint, they don’t work like the anonymous person I quoted thinks they do.


Before going straight to business, let’s get some basic sentence ingredients down, so that you know what I’m talking about:

Subject: The topic the sentence is about
Verb: The word that expresses an action or a state of being
Direct object: The person or thing that receives the action. It comes after the verb. If we’re using an direct object pronoun, it’ll be in the form of me, you, he, she, it, us, or them


Now, here’s how reflexive pronouns work:

If your subject is “I” and your direct object is referring back to the subject, you use a reflexive pronoun. It’s that simple.

That makes the above example incorrect.


Well, what’s its subject? The subject is “she,” right? What’s the verb? “Called.” Now, who was it that she called? The subject didn’t call itself, right? No, it called someone else. Thus, we don’t use a reflexive pronoun.

So, the correct version of this sentence would be, “She called me.” Me is a direct object pronoun.

If she wanted to use a reflexive pronoun that badly, she should have said, “She called herself,” which would lead to, “She talks to herself,” which would be okay, because “everyone talks to himself or herself sometimes.”


So, let’s get a bit more advanced.

I ran across this sad sentence in a Craigslist ad:

“This cabinet was made by myself.”

To set the stage, I should tell you that this sentence is in the passive voice. Whenever the thing/person doing the action is not the subject, you’ll find a passive sentence. It matters not for our purposes, because the direct object and the subject still have to match in order to use a reflexive pronoun – wherever the two may be located in the sentence. In a passive sentence, you’ll typically find the one performing the action following the word “by.”

Why’s this sentence grammatically incorrect? you ask.

What’s our subject? “Cabinet.”
Who performed the action? “Myself” (apparently).

What’s wrong with this picture? The subject and the one performing the action aren’t the same thing, so a reflexive pronoun should not be used.

Instead of the word “myself,” we need an object.

Correction of the sentence: “This cabinet was made by me.”

(But as a side note: the sentence would read better as, “I made the cabinet,” avoiding passive altogether.)

Want to use a reflexive pronoun in this sentence, just for fun?

Sure you do.

“This cabinet was made by itself.”

What a magical cabinet!

How to Turn Writer’s Block into a Thing of the Past

Writer's Block




You’re sitting at your writing desk and staring at your computer screen. It’s blank. You can almost hear the white noise coming from your brain.

You have writer’s block.

Not to worry – Here are some tried and true ideas for getting over it!

Have a Conversation with a Tape Recorder

Over the years, I’ve sat down with a number of writers faced with writer’s block and asked them to just tell me what they want to write. I’ve asked them to just explain it to me, imperfectly.

With much stumbling, many unorganized ideas would pour forth from most of these writers. While these thoughts were definitely unorganized and rough, they were there.

Interestingly enough, talking to me isn’t nearly as helpful as talking to a tape recorder. While I may be very supportive, I don’t have the memory that a tape recorder has.

Nor do I have rewind and fast forward functions.

With a tape recorder, you can get it all out and then reorganize your thoughts on paper. Coming up with something creative is the hardest part; the reorganization is much easier.


Let Your Characters Do It for You

You know your characters, right? You created them and brought them to life through your writing. They all have unique personalities, unique agendas, and unique foibles.

[If your characters aren’t well-defined, forget getting over writer’s block; getting to know them is your next step.]

If you know your characters as if you’ve grown up with them, they’ll be able to pull you out of your writer’s block.

Throw your characters in a room together and have them interact. Or just put one in an peculiar situation, and he or she will react accordingly.


Remember: In your story, you are God.

Pick up a couple people, drop them anywhere you’d like, sit back, and let your sick sense of humor have a ball. (Or, if you don’t have a sick sense of humor, just, you know…enjoy seeing what happens, or whatever.)

Then write down what you see.


Bounce Around in Time

You’re an artist. Chances are, you don’t think linearly.

Luckily, there’s nothing that says you have to start writing at the beginning of your story, and lift your pen only when you reach the end.

If trying to write scenes in their correct order is making everything much more difficult to write, don’t do it.

Write whichever scene you’re inspired to write. The whole piece will come out better that way and might even have an added bonus of further complexity: you could wind up understanding your characters better or, because you’ve already written your story’s future, you may be able to throw in some extra foreshadowing.

Just remember: Nothing’s published yet. You don’t have to write all your scenes in order; your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect; and you can always go back, reorganize, and polish your piece.


Get Re-inspired

Have you ever thought about a word over and over until it sounded funny, and you started to wonder if, maybe, you didn’t just invent that word, and it never actually had a place in the English language to begin with?

Sometimes we do this with our stories, or certain elements of our stories. We obsess over them until they no longer make sense, and we wonder what it was that we were thinking in the first place.

I find that the best way to deal with this phenomenon is to back away from the story and get re-inspired.

Ask yourself what it was that pushed you to start writing in the first place.

Is your piece a work of historical fiction? Check out some books at the library, or watch a movie based in that time period. Were you inspired by a piece of music? Put on your headphones, close the curtains, shut out the world, and get lost in that song. Was it reading “Perhaps not to be is to be without” by Pablo Neruda? I love that poem…let’s read it again!

The point is that you’re writing your piece for a reason, or you wouldn’t be writing it at all. Go back to that reason and you’ll get back to writing in no time.


Act It Out

If you have some good friends who wouldn’t mind helping you overcome your writer’s block, invite them over. If you don’t have any good friends, make sure you don’t tell the friends that you have what you’re doing –  your friendships may not survive the awkward silence that ensues.

Craftsman of Air
So alone or with the best of friends, act out whichever scene or scenes are giving you problems.

And I’m not talking silly-, half-assed, fooling-around-acting; do it like you’ll win an Oscar for it. There’s no point otherwise.

Put yourself into your character’s shoes and let your emotions stir. Conjure up whatever emotions your character would have in his or her situation, and learn from the experience.

I’ve always said to people who’ve given me advice in the form of “if I were in your shoes…” that if they were in my shoes, they’d do the exact same thing that I would do.

Why? Because they would have the same experiences, the same genetic make up, the same hormone fluctuations that I have.

It’s the same thing for your characters. You know your characters; you know what they’ve gone through and how they think about things. It shouldn’t be too hard to put yourself in their shoes.

And, when you do, you’ll do exactly what they would.

Then you can write it.


Alright, so now that you have some devices for overcoming your writer’s block, get moving! There are stories to be written!

Creative Commons License photo credit 1: alexkerhead

Creative Commons License photo credit 2: CarbonNYC

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Where Do I Put My Preposition At?

I’ve seen some crazy sentence constructions over the years. In the pursuit of using proper grammar, many writers avoid placing prepositions at the end of their sentences.

Many times, they turn a perfectly comprehensible statement

The rabbit didn’t know which hat he should hop into.

into a crazy, unnecessarily convoluted, and rather formal sounding construct.

The rabbit didn’t know into which hat he should hop.

Antiquated Grammar Rules

Such writers should know that this “No Prepositions at the End of a Sentence” rule is antiquated.

Not to say that we should just throw caution to the wind and stick prepositions at the ends of our sentences all willy-nilly.

It’s something like torture when I hear statements such as:

I don’t know where the car is at.

Why would anyone use the preposition at there? The sentence doesn’t need an at at all.

The speaker is missing a car, not a preposition.

The moral of the story is that no one needs to try too hard with prepositions.

If the sentence works and doesn’t end with a preposition, don’t add one; if the sentence works and happens to end with a preposition, leave it alone.