Sunday, February 19, 2017

Grammar for Writers

Funny, as creative and evocative as writing is, I have always been very detailed.  In high school, I remember a guidance counselor telling me my placement tests pointed me towards a career in engineering.  In college, I took some beginning engineering classes, but quickly decided that world was not really for me.  Maybe I decided that world didn't suit me.

Then, I found the world of English academics.  The literature and writing suited me well.  And after several classes in linguistics, I considered a phD in linguistics--the language demands for even the easiest programs were at least three foreign languages.  This brought about a three-year bout of independent study of foreign languages, leaving me with a superficial understanding of half a dozen different languages and no real confidence in any of them (yes, I didn't retain them).

That tangent aside, I discovered the order and science of language.  Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker are two masterful writers and scientists in linguists.  I read them extensively during that time and learned the order and patterns of the English language (yes, I mention them frequently on this blog).

Certainly, semantics and linguistics seem more of a science than a tool.  However, the basics of words and rules is important.  And increasingly, the appreciation of the standards appears to dwindle.

I met a writer in my MFA program (completed in 2011, not decades ago), and he insisted that he didn't need to waste his time learning grammar because he would eventually gain an editor who would do the work for him.

I have found this thinking common among writers, and I also find this frustrating.

This is lazy.  If we are writers, how are we not to care about the details of our work?  Certainly, the science and the patterns can be complex or difficult to learn, but just because it is difficult, doesn't this make it more valuable and more important?

Additionally, writing today is changing, and we cannot rely on publishing houses and editors to do our work for us.  Often, we need to do our own editing, marketing, and sales.  Why can we think that grammar--an intrinsic part of writing--should not be integral to our toolbox of knowledge?

As writers, we need to care about every aspect that we do, including the intricate details of how our language works.

I would like this to be my introduction of another series: grammar for writers....

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