Grammarians of the world – untie!

August 5, 2009

Ok, make that “unite.” Today’s boggle comes after reading five submissions – all were grammatical disasters. Syntax errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation disasters, subject/verb displacement, possessive confusion, indefinite article misuse – these all serve to make me want to drown my sorrows in the beagle’s margaritas.

My distress is two-fold. The more immediate of my suffering centers on why an author would submit such a disaster in the first place. Do they not know or care that their knowledge of English would fit on the back of matchbook cover? My rhetoric isn’t meant to be insulting, but one of genuine shock. One of the most important writer’s tools is understanding grammar, so it blows out my space/time continuum to see sentences like this:

The group of drunk beagles were a sight to behold.

The proper way to write this is:

The group of drunk beagles was a sight to behold.

“Group” is the subject of the verb “was.” Many writers feel the first sentence is right because they’re looking at the plural “beagles.” Since it’s closest to the verb “was,” the assumption is that “drunk beagles” is the subject. It isn’t.

Grammar is a writer’s tool. It’s like a plumber coming to your house without his toolbox. You’d be tippy tapping your foot saying, “time is money, dude, and you’re wasting mine because you didn’t come prepared.” Guess what? A manuscript that logs a Force 5 on the Grammar-Disaster Scale is a waste of any editor or agent’s time as well because the author didn’t come prepared. Whether it’s apathy or ignorance, it’s an instant rejection because I don’t have the time to teach writers grammar. It’s assumed writers know the tools of their trade.

And this leads me to the second part of my misery: Apathy

If I had a dime for every time I heard a writer say, “I don’t need to worry about grammar; my editor will clean it up,” I’d be able to fire the beagle and hire a real secretary. For starters, this statement implies the writer – I refuse to call them “authors” – is too self-absorbed to learn his trade. And he couldn’t be more wrong. The only known cure for a grammatical disaster is a rejection letter. Period. Any writer who lives under this misconception will be perennially unpublished. Or incredibly lucky.

Moreover, I don’t understand this kind of thinking. Since when did it become acceptable to do anything less than your best? When did “good enough” replace personal pride and the satisfaction of doing a job well? This downturn in societal indifference leads to soggy results. “Hey, who cares if I can’t conjugate a verb or spell Mississippi?” Who cares? Well, I do, for one. But YOU should care. Do you want to be seen as someone who must rely on others to fix your work because you don’t care enough to be self-sufficient? What happened to personal responsibility?

If you know your Grammar ‘O Meter barely registers a single ping, then you need to spit and polish your education. Stop your writing and tend to the most important skill you’ll ever learn. If you can’t communicate effectively, how on earth do you expect to write an effective story, or be taken seriously? We aren’t going to clean up your mess for you. I give you my personal guar-an-tee on that. Writing with confidence is like drinking the perfect chocolate martini,  skiing the perfect mountain, or writing a satisfying scene. It’s knowing that you worked hard to attain a gift that will aid in your success.

After all, anyone can be the plumber who forgot his tools.

%d bloggers like this: