In my blog post What’s the Matter with Grammar? Part I, I established that grammar is one of my tools as a novelist. I went on to state that it’s my passion for my craft that leads me to strive for excellence in novel writing – and that includes knowledge of the good use of the English language.
One of the highest goals of a writer is to communicate. In order to communicate clearly, one must be understood. Correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar work to keep meaning clear.
Solve the Puzzle
Let’s use this set of words as an example. (If you’ve seen this little word puzzle you already know the answer. For others it will not be so easy.)
that that is is that that is not is not is not that it it is
As it stands, it makes very little sense. Something is lacking. That something is correct punctuation.
How about this:
That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is not that it? It is.
Ah! Now we are communicating.
The “Mechanical” Aspects
It appears to me – in all my years of teaching, editing, and working with writers at all levels – it’s the mechanical aspects of grammar that make most writers cringe and recoil. They just want to do the creative stuff!
Grammar-Check a Joke?
If you’ve chosen to lean back and rest in the fickle arms of grammar-check (or some form of it) my only response is that you have my heart-felt sympathy. I have often joked that those who designed grammar-check for Windows must have English as a fourth language.
I would venture to guess that grammar-check helps me about 15% to 20% of the time, if that. Outside of that, it’s good for grins and giggles. Some of the suggestions that come forth, just make me laugh – right out loud.
Not a Good Editor
Grammar-check reminds me of a ghostwriting gig I had several years ago. The client had already commissioned his book to a small publishing company. This meant after I finished his book, and after he approved it, the manuscript was sent to this small press. When the galleys came back to me for one final edit, I nearly fainted. The so-called editor had actually introduced grammatical errors (structural errors too) where none existed prior. It was a total disaster!
This in no way is meant to be disparaging to editors – every writer on the planet (everyone who wants to excel, that is) loves a good editor. This was not a good editor!
The Professional’s Need-to-Know
The point is, you cannot – and indeed you should not – rely on either spell-check or grammar-check. Leave that for the novices. You want to be a professional! Right?
Take time to understand your own relationship with grammar. If your view is that it’s all mechanical and arbitrary, this says you have yet to come into a full appreciation of the tools of your profession.
Correct grammar usage and correct spelling and punctuation is organic, not arbitrary. Interpreted that means it is belongs to and is an integral part of the written language.
Just Do It
If grammar truly is a problem for you, stop thinking it doesn’t matter. It does matter. Take refresher courses at a local community college – or online. Find good reference books and keep them at your fingertips. (Or on your desktop.) Then use them!
Only then will you truly be on your way to becoming a novelist!
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