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You’re the Writer, Not the Grammarian

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Despite what the grammar teacher taught you in high school or that all-too-serious English Professor said during lecture, when it comes to writing fiction or non-fiction, grammar does not matter. A tutorial/public service announcement for both beginner and veteran writers concerning grammar.

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You’re the Writer, Not the Grammarian

The Pit

One of the biggest problems beginner writers–and even seasoned ones at times–can have is falling into the Grammar Pit: the place where writers become too focused on the grammar of their piece than on the piece itself. What is worse is that they do not even realize they have fallen into the pit thanks to its benign and subtle-like nature. The slow slide into the pit begins once writers start to ask questions in the middle of their writing; questions which are better left asked after they're done. Some of the most common are: “Was it supposed to be who or whom?”, “Is that Oxford Comma needed?”, or “Is this sentence fragment okay?”

If these questions were taken to a Grammar Nazi or (worse) to a Grammarian[1], the answers would be concrete: “You should use whom”, “Use the Oxford Comma”, and “The sentence fragment is most certainly not okay.”

Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if these were the only questions writers had, but the truth is, once writers begin to get uneasy with their grammar, they begin to falter and doubt. They start double-checking themselves sentence after sentence, checking over each comma, dash, and period, and worry whether they used the correct verb form of “To Be” rather than on what “Should Be”–the piece itself. When this happens, they realize too little too late they’ve fallen into the pit and either one of two things will occur:

One.) The writer will become frustrated with their work and throw in the towel.

Or, Two.) They’ll finish the piece, discover that somewhere along the way they lost the joy of writing it, and will never want to write again.

This is something that is taught in schools and colleges and is trapping waaaayyyyyy too many writers. But, don’t lose hope. There is a way to avoid it.

The Truth

Despite what the grammar teacher taught you in high school or that all-too-serious English Professor said during lecture, when it comes to writing fiction or non-fiction, grammar does not matter. Yes, you read right. Grammar Does Not Matter.

While it is important to know when to use a semicolon in place of a comma or a dash, a writer is not bound by these rules. If they were, Joyce, Hemmingway, Twain, Verne and even modern-day writers such as Stephen King, Toni Morrison, or Cormac McCarthy[2]–all their works would be banned since none of them adhere to the supposed rules of grammar.

True writers understand that people speak and think in fragments, understand that one-word sentences are worth a thousand, and understand that specifying “Who did what to whom?” is a formality and not a necessity!

The Double-Edge Sword

Does this mean writers should ignore grammar? Of course not. True, the rules of grammar are not mandatory, but they are still very important. Grammar sets the standards for how a writer should write. Without it, it would be difficult–if not impossible–to understand or read a writer’s work. Meaning, while writing a few good intentional sentence fragments are okay, writing an entire book composed of sentence fragments is not. No reader wants to read a solid wall of text and no reader wants to have to decipher something that looks like Klingon. So, don’t toss the grammar book out the window, but don’t let it act as a ball and chain either.

The Escape

What should writers do with grammar? The answer is simple: use it as a guideline. Writers have free reign over what they create. Breaking the rules every now and again is common and often part of a writer’s style. They key is knowing when to break the rules and when to follow them. Besides, if writers did follow every rule of grammar, Grammarians would either have to come up with some new rules or look for a new line of work.

The individuals who create the rules of grammar and are what Grammar Nazis wish they could be. [1]↑

Look at any of Cormac McCarthy’s works and you will discover that he never uses quotations. Ever. [2]↑

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