Grammar — A Matter Of Confession

Disclaimer (lest you think me crazy): UVW promised we would not review books. I don’t believe a writing organization should do so. The danger is bias for the books our members write, and book reviews are not really within the scope/mission of LUW or UVW. That being said, this post is going to stretch that boundary in both ways. However, it will also be clearly within the boundary of helping writers. I’ll try not to rip my pants as I straddle the line, but I promise, it will be obvious. 🙂

I snatched up a copy of Annette’s Lyon’s There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd, 2nd Edition, the moment I heard it was available. When I first started writing I dove into everything you can imagine. I started seeing patterns, trends, techniques and tools. It wasn’t enough. I remember wanting to have my writing go further. It was in this setting I discovered myself at a local writing conference.

Now, I realize, I cannot hide it anymore, so I’m coming out of the closet. Yes, I’ve always been a Grammar Nerd even though I pretended to hate it (sorry past English teachers). *Breathing hard but feeling free* *fade into scene at a writers’ conference* (Never mind the hair, I know I had less gray back then.) Sitting alone at a circular table I still remember my inner dialogue:

I need to push myself, but how? I asked. I’m learning good things, but what are my biggest weaknesses? Good ideas?…nah, they’re cheap. It’s execution baby! Story structure?…intriguing and useful, but will I become indoctrinated or too rigid? Later.

There’s something else pulling on me. Character arcs and emotion?…Hmm. I’ve had intense emotional experiences all my life. I can translate that on paper, at least people that aren’t my friends tell me it’s emotional. I think there’s something there. I’m getting warmer. Quality? It’s about greater understanding and quality?

All day I pondered. I knew it needed to be about the craft. Then I walked into the bookstore area. Lo and behold a grammar book called to me from the table with heavenly music—normally I would’ve expected the crass of hell from such a book—but this was sublime. Thomas Bergersen sublime.

Despite the majesty, I remained doubtful. Grammar?…Oy Vey! No way, I hate grammar. Isn’t that what an editor is for? The music played on and the grammar nerd within compelled me. Next thing I knew, I had swiped my card and my phone dinged with a texted receipt.

I hustled to have Annette sign the first edition, but she was done signing for the day. I had to wait until day two. I tracked her down and asked her to sign it. “Write, ‘Remember to save lives!’” She looked at me the way many do—when some of my other inner nerds creep out. “Commas,” I said, “they save lives.” She laughed and signed it thus. Then she added, “No more fear of grammar!” Her last sentence summed it up.

So many people are afraid of grammar. I knew I struggled with it when I first started writing and I am still learning. The reasons for others avoiding the subject may vary from: it’s tedious to boring or “I could care less. Isn’t actually writing a better use of my time?” (To this last argument, I now laugh in more than one way.)

The irony is, grammar is essential in conveying correct understanding. In that moment of reader confusion, only the arrogant authors will accuse their readers of “misunderstanding” the work. Words, phrases, and meanings—they should all be clear. So if you are looking to take your writing farther, study grammar. Annette’s book just happens to be practical and smart on the subject. It’s a grammar book that can hold your attention. *Gasp* If you self-publish, get it, learn from it. If you go the traditional route, bad grammar will hurt your chances.

Who knows? Maybe you’re a comma junkie or your work is bloated without them. Annette can curb your addiction with her clearly explained examples. Do possessives make you feel possessed? Her book can exercise those demons. Do semicolons make you wonder? … I obviously cannot go over the whole book, but you get the idea.

If it stopped there it would be great, but then there’s a huge section on similar words. So if similar words trip you up so much that Inigo Montoya keeps getting used against you:

then this book is also for you. We happen to believe it’s for everyone. It’s part of our mission to bring books like this out because they help writers do better in the craft of writing . . . and in the business, via this fictional scenario:

Dear Ms. [Agent],

My Early Reader book, Loosing Our Climactic Environment, is intended to help kids see what kind of environment is necessary for life and what they can do to enjoy it without destroying it . . .

Rejection Letter:
Dear Mr. [Name]

. . . I believe you meant, “Losing Our Climatic Environment?” I do not think there is a market for Erotic, Self-Help (no pun intended), Early Reader.

Now be honest. Are you still a grammar hater? A secretive, closet-dwelling, afraid-of-what-others-think, full-blown, grammar nerd? Or Were you converted?

Michael Gordon

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