My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Writers on Grammar (Thursday's Three)

One of the reasons you WON'T find for why I hate linguistic prescriptivism is that I don't think all my grammar errors are any big deal.  I do.  There are a lot of them. They embarrass me.  I am especially bad at missing commas and typos.  I'm working on being better at proofing my own writing because I have a thing where I push a button, and the world sees my writing.  It's not good for me to push a button, and the world sees shitty writing.

Ironically, I'm not bad at proofreading.  Stop laughing; I'm not.  I worked as a managing editor for a literary magazine. It comes up in my job all the time.  I had to be to get through the lit side of my classes and all those post-structuralist expository essays. We all have a weakness for the mistakes of our own writing, but when I'm fighting against dyslexia and A.D.D. those weaknesses become like kryptonite in the shape of Lois Lane--like all the different colors of kryptonite mixed together, so she looks totally realistic.

Creative writers regularly rank among the worst disciplines at grammar, and I'm no charming exception to this.  However, I know it's in me to be better.  A lot of professional writers (journalists and content providers spring immediately to mind) have to turn in nearly pristine copy every single time.  They can't crutch on a leisurely, all-the-time-in-the-world proofreading process or an editor with nothing better to do.  I know I can improve and I hope the instant writing-meets-world format of this blog is a catalyst.  Unfortunately, since my only boss is me, I also know that probably the only thing that is going to help me cultivate that skill is getting smacked down and/or getting the shit embarrassed out of me a few times.  Until I hit that point where it's more important to me to avoid being mortified than it is to start an article at the last minute, or not check it over one more time for errors because I'm eager to get on to something else, I'm going to keep making stupid-ass mistakes.  It's tough knowing you're setting yourself up to get a few good butt-kickings, but I need them.

So since I'm still running at 95% peeps these days as readers, if any of you want to administer the beatings, I'd rather get it from you than a stranger.

Fortunately many writers know how grammar fits into the writing process, that good grammar is not, in and of itself, good writing, and that proofing is the Achilles cliche of many great writers.

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.
E. B. White

When a thought takes one's breath away, a grammar lesson seems an impertinence.
Thomas W. Higginson

From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.
Winston Churchill

Still, I think next week I'm going to have to do a pro-grammar theme just so people don't get the wrong idea about me.  My descriptivism doesn't mean I'm up for a linguistic free-for-all, and I don't lazily excuse my own failings.


  1. I am definitely not discouraging improvement efforts, but I do think maybe you're over-stressing this or at least judging yourself overly harshly, not least because even those who do know the rules perfectly are still wholly capable of making mistakes occasionally.

    I'm sure you know that, but I just wanted to suggest that perhaps beating yourself over the head about it is a little excessive. The vast majority of people don't even see copy errors; hence resulting in the thanklessness of a job as a copy editor. :)

    1. You're right. I would tell anyone else this same advice. However, I also know I won't improve without letting moments like these really GET to me and change whether or not it is more important to me to hit "Publish" without doing one more polish or risk more embarrassment.

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