We’ve all been there…using the spell and grammar check option on Word when it makes a suggestion that we know to be wrong. When I say wrong I mean as in I’ve-Known-That-Rule-Since-The-First-Grade kind of wrong.
When this happens to me, I choose the ignore option but the last thing I do is ignore it. This mistake by a resource I have trusted has just let me down and I will spiral with worry and self-doubt for the better part of the next 15 minutes, wondering how many times I hit “change” when Word was just plain mistaken.
The truth is that as a writer, you can’t rely on Word to catch all your mistakes. You have to know the rules. Period. It’s kind of your job. As a professional writer there is simply no excuse for not having the skills necessary to write a coherent piece with correct grammar at least 90% of the time.
Think about it. What do you think about the author when you read a grammatical mistake? Are you lost in the story and the journey you are taking with the characters? No! You are distracted. Grammatical errors are extra noise in the minds of our already distracted readers. In a world where a short attention span is more common than the f-word in “The Wolf of Wall Street”, the last thing you want to do is give your reader a reason to be distracted.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not perfect. I have a few grammatical blunders that I have published. Here are some of my favorites:
- In a recent blog post, I changed the first sentence midway through but forgot to delete the original sentence, leaving behind a phrase that made gobbledy gook look like the work of William Shakespeare. The result was that my husband pointed it out when I asked him to read it after about many people had already viewed it from my regular readers.
- I once wrote “minimalist sheik” to describe my gardening aesthetic. No, I wasn’t referring to anyone in the Middle East. Clearly, not my best moment.
- I regularly find tense switching in my drafts. This is a result of working off an outline that I wrote as I am seeing the story in my head where I favor present tense. But usually when I write stories, I have them take place in the recent past. So this can create some really awesome passages that have both tenses combined. As in, “Stevie is reaching toward the sky while he moaned in his sleep,” or some other masterful prose like that.
I am more forgiving of typos. These buggers elude the best proofing eyes. Even when a person reads a piece backwards and out loud, they can miss a glaring error. The difference between this and a grammatical error is that a typo is an accident and a grammatical error is on purpose.
Years ago in college, I argued with my music theory professor that the rules he was teaching me in class were regularly broken by composers for pieces that I knew. He had an awesome response for me. He said, “You have to learn the rules first so that when you break them, you are doing it on purpose.”
This applies to grammar, too. I have a rule I break usually once or twice in a piece regarding sentence fragments. As you know, a sentence fragment is a phrase that lacks a subject and a verb. This is taught in the first grade. These days, it might be taught as early as Kindergarten or even an over-reaching preschool. But I would argue that a well-placed sentence fragment could have a lot of comedic impact for a piece. It is important, however, that this isn’t overused. Then, it just reads as poor grammar.
As a professional writer, I hope that you will take the time to learn the rules of your language. It is the least you can do to support the words that tell your stories and create the worlds that you invent in the minds of your readers. Honor and respect them by using them properly.
PS. I checked this piece 10, 000 times for any errors. Please lord, let there not be one here when I publish it.