This will likely be a fairly uneven blog post. I wasn’t even sure if I should file it under “My Writing Process” or “Common Mistakes.” I decided on the former because, while it is a very common mistake to make, it’s one that I make fairly often. As such, it is a part of “my” writing process.
This is about editing. And mainly, the fact that I’m not very good at it. I’ve gotten better at it over the years through a combination of experience and classes at Memorial University, but I’ve still got a long ways to go. There are several contributing factors. The first of which is that it is very, very hard to see flaws in your own work. For anyone. The second is that I simply was never taught the right way. As awesome as my high-school and college English experiences were, there just simply wasn’t enough focus on proper grammar. If I ever become an English teacher I plan to rectify this. People are much more apt to notice your improper use of the word “it’s” in a TPS report than they are to ask you for a random dissertation of Romeo and Juliet.
But there’s this thing that happens amongst some authors where they kind of shrug off grammar issues and “a small complaint.” I remember a newspaper review of the first edition of Black Womb thank, while positive on that narrative, commented on the lack of proof reading. When I told friends in the industry about this, a surprising number of them did in fact comment that these were “minor complaints.”
That’s dangerous thinking, let me tell you.
On the one hand it reduces an author’s urgency to fix the problem. On the other, such thinking in the hands of up-and-coming authors can be damaging. I remember getting a submission to the submissions email once where the grammar was so bad it was barely even readable. The sad thing is I picked through the first few pages and discovered it was actually not a bad story. When I commented to the author about this, he revealed that he had in fact never read his story after writing it and that “that’s what editors were for.”
I’m not kidding.
He did not get picked up.
So the reason, then, that this is a part of “My Writing Process” is because there are times, stylistically, when an author does “break the rules.” Jessica Grant doesn’t use quotation marks. Neither does Jeff Lindsey. I do. Both methods are equally correct. There are times when I will violate good grammar to make a scene’s mood more what I want it to be. I will forgo periods and make a paragraph or sometimes even a page one long sentence. It makes the reader out of breath. If this happens during, say, a chase scene, it can result in your reader being just as out of breath as your character. These are cool tricks you’ll discover along the way, and differ wildly from writer to writer.
Here’s the point: if you have bad grammar or are prone to typos, you’ll never get to use these “breaking the rules” tricks to their full potential. After slogging through ten pages of your mistakes and misuses, when your reader reaches a point where you have intentionally played with structure and rules, it will be dismissed as another mistake and the effect will be lost. I’ve even tried to defend some of my intentional changes to structure before only to have people not believe me. They didn’t believe the author about the intent of his own novel. That’s how deep-seeded the mistrust from bad grammar can get.
So learn from my mistakes and I’ll try to as well.
But Never Look Back