Friday, January 21, 2011

Grammar will make everything better

I'm a bit of a grammar freak. I'm not to the point of grammar nazism, however. I understand how things work, but I could never sit down and starting listing off the comma rules. Yet, one of my biggest writerly pet peeves is when people start arguing that grammar isn't important in a first draft.

I've heard all of the excuses: Grammar is the reason we have editors. I'm focusing on the story, not the writing. First drafts are supposed to be bad.

These are some of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. There is no good reason for your grammar to suck. In fact, the pros of good grammar far outweigh the cons.

For one thing, good grammar allows your readers to actually understand what you're trying to say. That's because grammar exists to clarify things. Quotes mark dialogue, commas mark breaks in the sentences, and question marks are for questions. If your manuscript is lacking punctuation, your poor beta readers are going to end up crying themselves to sleep because nothing will make sense.

Your beta readers will also be crying over the fact that you've left them so much more work. Getting grammar right in the first draft of your manuscript will save countless hours of time. I know, skipping a few quotation marks seems like a minor thing, but if you're failing to punctuate any sentence correctly, then that starts to add up. Your line edits will give readers nightmares.

Not only will your manuscript be cleaner with good grammar, but you're writing will be better. This is because if you don't understand grammar, you can't abuse it. Know the rules to break them, right? Professional writers use sentence fragments for dramatic punch and consciously drop grammar rules in order to keep a voice. It's impossible to do this well if you don't understand how and why you're breaking the rules.

Knowing and using grammar will also make you look better. I've worked as a copyeditor and we're never impressed with people that don't know how to work their words. If your profession is writing, then grammar is one of your tools and you should know how to use it. Otherwise you don't look serious and you definitely don't look professional.

Proper grammar can do so much for you. Your beta readers will be happier, your time will be saved, your writing will improve, and you'll actually look like you know what you're doing. The only con to understanding grammar is that doing so takes time and effort.

But really, don't worry! Grammar isn't scary, and once you get the hand of things, it gets easier. No one is expecting you to be perfect, we just want you to try. Take a visit to the Grammar Girl or pick up a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Both are good resources

What about you? Are you a grammar nazi, or are you trying to pretend it doesn't exist? Tell me in the comments! I promise I won't hate you either way!


Kate said...

OK, lecture received and I see your point and it is a valid one. I will aim to do better now.

Annerb said...


But of course, you knew that already. I don't mind being a grammar nazi. I don't mind being about to spew out the rules of commas and explain exactly what a compound modifier is and why it isn't an adverb (my brother, there). I AM sometimes sorry that I can upset people with this, though. I'm sad I annoy people. But, I hope they know that when I correct, I do it only because I want to make them better. (This isn't really pointed at you, btw.)

Oh, and I really cracked up in the middle of this coffee shop when I read: "I've worked as a copyeditor and we're never impressed with people that don't know how to work their words." I don't think if I told anyone THAT'S what I was laughing at would get it.

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