Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

A Few Thoughts on Writing

My ex and I were in Family Dollar buying some storage bins (I’m reorganizing my living space;  if you are interested you can read about it in my other blog, The Dangling Conversation), and after I swiped my credit card, the clerk said, “And now I just need your autograph.”  I replied that I was more used to signing books than plastic screens.  He asked if that meant I was a writer, and when I replied in the affirmative, he asked how he could improve his writing.  The ex and I asked what was wrong, and he mentioned run-on sentence and a few other things.  He mentioned that he had been told that he needed to read more to be a better writer.

We both agreed that reading was good, but pointed out that the thing to do was to keep writing, and to find someone who could show him how to correct his errors.  We also pointed out a few books he could look at to improve grammar and construction.

I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut, who said that if he were teaching writing, he would give each student a notebook and a pencil, and tell him or her to go and write until the end of the semester.

I agree that the way to improve one’s writing is, primarily to write.  In that regard, it’s like any other muscle or skill:  the more you exercise it, the more adept you will become at doing it.  And, yes, I agree that the more you read, the more your writing will reflect that.

However, I remain adamantly convinced that any person wanting to be a writer would do well to master the basics of the language he or she wishes to write in.

I know that stories can be compelling, even when they are not written in formal English.  When I was a school aide, the kids would recommend books that I never would have read on my own, and I read them (I I had a deal with them — I’d read what they recommended if they’d read what I recommended).  Invqariably, i found the stories compelling, even while wishing I had a red pencil in hand to correct the grammar (or lack thereof).  I’m not talking about the use of dialect or slang here, by the way.  I can live with those — they often make a character more vivid.  I am talking about plain old-fashioned misspellings and poor grammar.  The stories would have been even more compelling and would have appealed to a much wider audience (in my not-so-humble opinion) had the grammar been better.

This was pointed up to me nowhere more than reading Sistah Souljah’s excellent book, The Coldest Winter Ever.  The grammar was spot on, yet didn’t detract from the story at all; in fact, it made it much more readable.

So, yes, both reading and writing are essential for improving one’s own writing, but so is taking the time (and making the effort) to improve one’s grasp of the basics of grammar.

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