So I’ve been editing my heartbreaking work of deathless prose over the past week (insert weeping and gnashing of teeth), as well as reading over some of my old posts on the Magic District, and I’ve discovered an interesting proclivity for one of the smaller, mundane, but still baffling and venomous members of the grammar family. I am, of course, talking about our friend, the comma.
Let me let you in on a secret: I hate grammar. Hate it. I’m bad at it, I can’t understand it half the time as it applies to my own work (but I’m ok with other people’s, how weird is that?), and most of the time I feel like it just gets in my way of what I want to say. While I’m confessing, I can’t spell either. Never could, and everyone’s always so surprised at this. ”But you’re a writer!” They say. “How is it that you can’t spell?”
This is where I point out that spelling and writing have as much to do with each other as milling and french baking, usually in a snippy, defensive voice.
The truth is I wish I could spell, because language is my medium, and every time word gives me red squiggles under a word, I feel like I’ve failed to understand the ocean of English where I make my living. This is also why I’m deeply ashamed of my inability to grasp grammar. Far more than spelling, grammar is a vital part of the language. It’s the structure that gives emotion, timing, and meaning to what would otherwise be just an outpouring of raw words. Getting it right is the difference between “Word’s grammar editor said Rachel is hopeless” and “Word’s grammar editor, said Rachel, is hopeless.”
Both are true, but you get the point .
In the end, the only solution to my embarrassing grammar disability is practice – reading complicated sentences, writing complicated sentences, working to get them right, doing it again, repeat ad infinitium – and knowledge. Not just understanding that a sentence is wrong (I can usually tell that much myself) but why it’s wrong. Thankfully, the internet is full of grammar buff websites, and there’s always The Elements of Style, which is always by my side. I may never become grammar whiz, but hopefully, with practice and careful application of editorial advice, I can someday write without constantly worrying I’m making a fool of myself… Well, at least not grammatically…