Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grammar is not my thing (but parentheses, oh parentheses are...)

I've always thought of myself as a good writer. As a kid, I hated grammar and paid as little attention to English class as possible, but I also read voraciously and wrote for fun. I wrote everything - short stories, poetry, abortive attempts at novels, essays. I wrote essays for fun. I studied vocabulary for fun. I'd usually go through my vocabulary workbook by the end of September and then spend the rest of the year making up my own vocabulary lessons that no one ever wanted to do.

Basically, I was a little geek until you planted me in front of an English workbook and told me to diagram sentences, at which point my Love of Learning evaporated in a sad little puff of smoke.

Also, I don't do things I don't want to do, as a general rule, unless you offer me money. And no one did that in fifth grade. So I never really diagrammed any sentences. I did develop what I believe is a decent ear for English and a very natural, thoughtless approach to writing. That approach served me well enough throughout my school career and into work -- despite the fact that I struggle to recall what the difference is between an adjective and an adverb.

But I've been realizing lately that's not enough. Two people recently critiqued two different pieces of my writing where I used 'laid' when I should have written 'lay'. Reading 'Reasoning with Vampires' (which, besides being snarky as hell, is also pretty educational) has made me wonder about my indiscriminate use of commas (the comma is never wrong!) and perhaps excessively enthusiastic love of the em-dash. And, well, the parentheses. If you read my blog, you probably know how I feel about parentheses (LOVE! I'd make sweet love resulting in baby (parentheses) if I weren't already married). 

I want to be more than a good writer. I want to be a great writer. That might mean breaking rules of English composition on occasion, but it should be deliberate, not because I write the way I talk.

So I have some studying to do. But seriously?

I'm still not diagramming any sentences.


Beckah-Rah said...

The English language is a hodgepodge of contradictions and "this is ALWAYS true...except when it's not" rules. My personal favorite is the 'rule' of 'I before E, except after C, or when sounding like 'A,' as in 'Neighbor' or 'weigh.'" Not always. Check this sentence out: "Neither Leisure Foreign Sheik Seized Their Weird Height as Forfeit for the Heifer's Protein."

Grammar rules make me cry, and I'm fairly sure they make heifers cry, too.

Sophia Richardson said...

If you come across any good grammar books while studying feel free to give recommendations!
- Sophia.

Lynn Colt said...

I didn't know what an indirect clause was until like 11th grade! lol. I just learned by reading, and hated official 'grammar' lessons. Finally my junior HS Language & Composition teacher (who was probably my favorite teacher for making me take my writing skills to the next level) filled in the gaps so I could write consciously AND unconsciously.

As for em-dashes and parentheses, I think (like everything else in the writing tool cabinet) they're fine so long as they're not overused. I have to cut half of them out of my rough drafts during editing!

Taryn Tyler said...

I have exactly the same issues with grammer! Plots, I can do. Interesting turns of phrase. Ok. Characters. No problem. But --you know-- correctly organized sentences . . . not so much.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I like using semicolons, which is why they're all over my writing. I don't think your writing necessarily has to be perfect. Besides, once you get published, wouldn't it part of the copy editors' job to focus on the grammatical aspects?

Sidney said...

i understand. ellipses are my drug of choicer.