Kris Spisak’s Get A Grip On Your Grammar Interview

  • M.A.Greene: First let’s talk about your book Get A Grip On Your Grammar. What made you decide to write it?

            Kris Spisak: Writing Get a Grip on Your Grammar was a bit of a happy accident. I was teaching college writing courses at the time, and I was an active @jamesrvrwriters volunteer; however, even surrounded by so many words, I kept seeing the same mistakes over and over, little subtleties that people kept missing. I started posting weekly playful reminders on Facebook, which later became my blog… and then while I was having fun with my weekly posts, they somehow just took off.

            I was convinced to self-publish a collection of my first 100 writing tips, and that little indie ebook was what eventually brought me to my agent and my first traditional publishing deal. That deal was Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017). We just passed Get a Grip on Your Grammar‘s 3rd birthday, and it’s been an especially exciting year because 2020 saw its first hardback edition!

  • M.A.Greene: Your book baby has a 3 year anniversary that’s awesome. What was the publishing process like for Get A Grip On Your Grammar? Did you find a publisher right away or did it take a while?

            Kris Spisak:  I’ll admit that my first traditional book deal was a bit of a dream story. The subject was something I was writing for fun, not initially for publication at all, other than on my blog. When things started moving with it, I was so surprised. The blog began in 2012. I self-published a collection of the writing tips in the fall of 2015. In 2016, I signed with my literary agent (someone I had met and really enjoyed connecting with at a James River Writers event a year or two prior), and one week after signing with her, I had a book deal. It was wild!

  • M.A.Greene: That’s amazing how your publishing journey went! What’s great about this book is that it can be used for fiction and nonfiction books, school, work, and more. Did you intend for it to be so versatile?

            Kris Spisak: Thanks. I try to shape my work around how we can all communicate better, no matter what that communication may be–whether it’s storytelling through fiction, the language on a cover letter, an email to your boss, and anything (and everything!) in between. I now teach workshops across the communication spectrum, from corporate environments to creative writing conferences, and it seemed like Get a Grip On Your Grammar was the book that was missing in all of these settings. I mean, I love “The Elements of Style,” but a playful, contemporary resource was something fun to add to the world.

  • M.A.Greene: Get A Grip On Your Grammar is written in a down to earth tone with hints of humor. It doesn’t feel like I’m reading a textbook or any book of that nature. Did you mean to write it that way intentionally?

            Kris Spisak: Who says conversations about the English language have to be something that puts you to sleep? I think we’ve all been trained to think of it that way, or perhaps we have memories of slogging through painful grammar lessons in our school days. But think of the worlds than can change (personally, professionally, and creatively) with a better usage of words.

            I honestly never thought about readers at the start, because I was just having fun with the topic, first on social media and then later on my blog. That’s just how it came out. I think I found my voice as a writer by having this “no pressure project” honestly, without worrying about anything else but entertaining myself. I had fun, and I think, in the end, it allowed my readers to have fun too. (Though “in the end” might not be the right wording because my writing tips blog is still going strong!)

  • M.A.Greene: That’s great you had a no pressure zone to start for the material for your book. When you traditionally published Get A Grip On Your Grammar, was that when you started taking your writing career seriously or how did you decide to start doing that?

Kris Spisak: The publication of Get A Grip On Your Grammar was a landmark moment for me in terms of my nonfiction writing and in my efforts to help others. I had been slowly stepping away from teaching college writing courses and moving into ghostwriting and editing over a number of years, and that book solidified my goals. For the longest time, I had seen myself as a fiction writer who loved helping other writers on the side, but Get a Grip on Your Grammar flipped that script. I became an author and editor, dedicated to the power of storytelling and communication, who also writes fiction. For me, the shift was unexpected but empowering.

  • M.A.Greene: For those of you who don’t know, I’m in a writing group called James River Writers. Kris is on the board of directors for JWR. How did you get into that role and how did you join James River Writers in the first place?  

            Kris Spisak: I had come to Richmond for graduate school, and my plan was to be here until I finished my degree and then move on to a bigger city. James River Writers was one of the biggest reasons I stayed in Richmond (well, JRW and meeting my husband, but JRW came into my life first so I think they get equal credit here). My employer at the time offered to pay for me to attend my first James River Writers Conference in 2004, something I couldn’t have afforded on my own at the time. The education, the inspiration, and the amazing community sucked me in. I’ve been a dedicated member ever since, as a volunteer for years doing little side efforts like stuffing tote bags and helping at events, and then later as a board member. This is my second year as board chair of James River Writers, and I’m honored to be in the role. It’s an amazing organization.

  • M.A.Greene: I’m glad you became a member. I found out about your book Get A Grip On Your Grammar when it was being sold at a James River Writers conference. You’re absolutely correct when you say it’s an amazing organization. Finally, what advice would you give to all types of writers since this book can be useful from anyone writing in school, from writing a book, magazine, or pretty much any other type of writing?

            Kris Spisak: So often people think that great writers are born that way, but here’s the secret: it isn’t true. Every writer has to learn. Every writer has to practice and work to perfect their craft, no matter what type of message or story or audience there may be. But when a writer cares and truly tries, great things can happen.

     Thank you again for chatting with me, and if anyone is ever curious for more (beyond my books), I have a monthly writing tips newsletter where I love to connect with other language lovers. You can learn more about this and all of my work on my website:

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