Monday, 9 January 2017

Yes, Virginia, Grammar Really Matters.

Nowadays we often hear people saying that a deep knowledge of English grammar is unnecessary, irrelevant, and so on, and that an insistence on correct forms is pernickety and makes one a “grammar Nazi”. This has particularly been the case in the last decade, as we have seen the bulk of communications shift towards the electronic (instant and interactive, and therefore casual, and above all, short). Whether or not you agree with this stance, once you become a writer, that is all going to have to change, for several reasons.

1. You’re playing with the big kids now.

While state schools don’t seem to bother much about proper literacy (yes this is a big assumption for me to make, but it’s based on many years of seeing semi-literate rubbish produced by people with tertiary qualifications), once you become a writer and publish your work, you are swimming in a completely different pond. Just as we don’t expect much balance or grace from a toddler, so we have become accustomed to expect very little in the way of literacy from the average lay person. However, if we were to go to the ballet, or the circus, and see people stumbling about and falling over, we’d probably be demanding a refund. When you put yourself out there as a published writer, you are stepping out onto the stage, climbing up to the trapeze, and the people who pay to read your work have a right to expect a certain standard.

2. You can’t write well without it.

Without a thorough knowledge of your language and how it works, you cannot hope to be effective as a writer. Words are the bricks, and grammar the mortar, in that wondrous castle in the air that you are hoping to spin. You need an extensive vocabulary and a sound knowledge of principles of grammar before you start writing. If you’re not articulate, how can you hope to transport your reader into your constructed world? You can’t.

3. If your grammar is poor, you will lose sales.

Yes, really! People browsing in bookstores pick up books and flick through them. They read a paragraph here and there and then decide whether to buy. You can observe this for yourself in any bookstore. With e-books, it’s even more the case; Amazon practically begs you to “Look Inside”. Many people will be put off by seeing incompetent writing. This hurts your sales, and therefore your income.

4. It’s fun.

There is a satisfaction in writing a really beautiful passage that can hardly be equalled by any other experience in life.

5. You want your rights.

If you live in a developed country and went to school, you had a right to receive a sound basic education. If you cannot write grammatically correct English (or whatever your language is) then you have been cheated. You did not get your rights. It’s only natural that you would want to redress such a gross injustice.

6. It’s your duty.

By the time you have finished the first draft of your book, you will have invested a vast amount of time and energy in it. If it weren’t really important to you, you would not have got this far. Your book is your brainchild, and you want the best for it. You owe it to your work to present it as well as possible. You owe it to yourself, as well.

You also owe it to the many people surrounding you who have exercised patience as you wrestled with your creative process. The people who’ve tiptoed around your house so as not to disturb your work. The people who may have taken on some of your responsibilities because you were too busy writing. Above all, the people who’ve believed in you all through the often discouraging process of creating your first draft. You owe it to them to make it as good as you can, don’t you?

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