My, problem

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 :D.

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…

5 Responses to “My, problem”

  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    July 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Both grammar and spelling are fairly new to the human experience. The ‘rules’ weren’t set down until sometime in the 1800s. If you looked at Abraham Lincoln’s notes for his speeches, you’d be appalled. The President of the Unites States couldn’t spell! Well, yes he could. There was just no set spelling for words. The same word could be spelled several different ways within the same paragraph and no one thought that person was ‘slow.’

    Grammar and spelling standards are absolutely necessary, IMO, for written language. As in your example, a comma here or there changes a sentence completely. BUT, to make you feel better, it’s a fact that this is a new development in human history. It’s not an automatic switch for most people. Brains work one way for eons, then we become ‘civilized’ and expect them to change as quickly. Doesn’t work that way. Honestly, I don’t like the term ‘learning disabilities.’ Brains work differently–some just don’t work with the ‘new’ things humanity comes up with to confound them with. Grammar and spelling can be learned. The creative spark can’t.

  2. 2 Jeremy
    July 4, 2009 at 8:21 am

    While my spelling has never been all that bad, one thing I’ve found has helped on words that I commonly do misspell is to go in and manually correct them rather than using autocorrect once the squiggly red lines appear. After correcting them enough times, I tend to start to remember the proper spelling.

    No tricks for grammar, I’m afraid. I’ve internalized English grammar well enough to communicate effectively in writing, but I’m not very strong on the formal rules. I probably learned more about the formal side of English grammar when I started studying Chinese than from any English Comp course I took in college — learning the grammar of a new language tends to force you to think about the grammar of your own quite a bit as well.

  3. July 5, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    My suggestion would be to not stress about this AT ALL. Let me give you an example one step removed from the discussion. I’m a web developer. I’ve worked in MANY languages: perl, ColdFusion, CSS, HTML, XML, C++, Java, PHP, SQL, and numerous frameworks in many of the above and other languages. My single most important tool is a good development environment … particularly one with code completion. The BIGGEST benefit to this is having fewer characters to type. The second benefit is what’s relative to this discussion.

    I’m familiar enough with all of the languages above to remember the names of important functions and the general syntax of the language, but there are a ton of details I don’t even bother remembering … they’d take up way to much space in my brain. Between a good development environment and a good search engine I can fill in the gaps as needed and concentrate on the overall design of whatever I’m writing. That said, the language I’ve used the most over the past 8 years I can type blindly (none of the above mentioned assistance) into an email, and be confident that my code will execute flawlessly.

    Do the creative stuff and worry about the quality control later.

  4. July 9, 2009 at 4:26 am

    Professional grammar and writing support and excellent proofreading and editing services are readily available nowadays and are key to any writing work self-published or professional. Writers need not to experience dry spells or weeping and gnashing of teeth anymore.

  5. July 10, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Great Post! Writers need not to gnash teeth anymore. All they have to do is seek for support.

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