Tip #7 in the 52 Ways Not to Get Published Series
Even the best of prose turns to junk once peppered with grammatical mistakes.
I’m not talking about those controversial grammar rules that are the topics of passionate debate among linguists, like whether it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition or the pros and cons of the Oxford comma. I’m talking about clear blatant mistakes that make any good English teacher want to chew off her left arm.
Truly sloppy grammar takes practice. The amateur simply uses incorrect subject-verb agreement, comma splicing, incomplete sentences, misused apostrophes, and misspelled words. With time and intensive study, you may work up to misplaced modifiers, incorrect verb tenses, or interchanged homonyms.
What does grammar matter? Most of the English-speaking world doesn’t remember the simple rules of grammar anymore. We slap commas wherever we think we would pause when speaking. (Whoever came up with that malarkey? Really?) We write like a text message. New editions of learn-to-read books have been reworked to reflect this new writing: “C Spot run Dick & Jane BFF LOL.” Is anyone going to know if you used “which” instead of “that?”
Besides, the art of your craft is more than mere words strung together with punctuation. A dance is more than a bunch of moves. Music is more than notes strung together. Your writing is your expression of something incredible. The rules of the English language should never get in the way of your creativity.
In truth, I must admit I have a hard time being snarky and sarcastic about misusing language. We’re writers. Language is our tool, our instrument. We should play our instrument, but we also have to take care of it.
A dancer trains her body for years in order to build a full movement vocabulary. The composer relies on the fundamentals of music theory. Writers train on the English language (unless they are writing in other languages, in which case they train in Spanish/French/Russian/Mandarin/Swahili/Hindi/Latin etc. Of course, if you are writing in Latin, you can safely ignore the rest of these tips. Your chances of getting published are already nil.) We weave words like musical notes, building chords and phrases that sing to our readers. Grammatical mistakes are discordant notes.
As the jazz musician knows when to harness discord, good writers know when to bend the rules of grammar. Just remember, you must know the rules in order to bend them. If your reader has to wade through confusion of grammatical errors to connect with your amazing characters, you’ve lost a reader. The question is whether you’ve lost a book contract.
We all know that in the current publishing environment, editors are overpaid and underworked. We are the artists; we can leave those details of grammar to someone else. Let the editors earn their outrageous wages by fixing our mistakes. It gives them something to do.
So, go ahead. Abuse the English language. Fail to proofread. Give that editor an easy excuse to reject you.
If you haven’t read Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss, I highly recommend it. I laughed. I cried. I called my 5th grade English teacher.