Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How high do I have to aim?

 If a writer has done their research on the revision process, has a plan of attack, trustful beta readers, critique group, etc.; what does a writer do if their primary concern is grammar?  Should a writer hire an editor/proofreader prior to submitting, or is there a level of forgiveness if grammar isn't 100% perfect? 

There's no right/wrong answer on this nor is there some kind of industry standard, but I will tell you that when I see grammar errors and misused words in the query, I know I'm going to find more of the same in the manuscript.

That means you've raised the bar for yourself at least one notch, maybe two. What that means is I'm less likely to read something. A manuscript that's a "maybe" is a "no". A manuscript that's an "interesting" is a "well, let's give it a page or two."

I can hear disgruntled writers saying "it can be fixed! You'll miss good stuff!" That's very true. That's also not the problem. The problem is time.

I won't send a manuscript on submission to an editor that's rife with mistakes. My goal is to send work out that has zero mistakes.
One of us will have to fix this stuff.

I vote for you.
My vote is the only one that counts.

It's also VERY hard not to get pulled out of the story when I find basic errors like it's/its, lie/lay etc.
When I get pulled out of the manuscript is code for "stops reading." You really don't want to have me stop reading.

Words are your tools. If you come to the job site with rusty, bent and broken tools, you're not going to be able to work efficiently or effectively.

If you need to invest in a grinder to sharpen your blade, I think it's a very good idea. 

83 comments:

DLM said...

It bewilders me people think they can be messy with the very tool of our (would-be) trade. And annoys, frankly.

If you wish to be a writer: write well.

This doesn't just mean stringing together words you find pretty. It means using the language, in all its limberness, with respect for its forms and your readers, and enough awareness of the rules to, if you will break them, do so in style rather than by making a damned mess.

Typos are forgivable, but sloppiness is just unattractive.

Consider this, writers, as you query: you're quoting a job.

Would you hire the carpenter or electrician who used their tools poorly?

I bet not.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

"Words are your tools." manomanomanalive. How true. And yet the craft of stringing words together creatively, edgily, compellingly, can some days feel like an elusive losing battle.

Ok. I'm done whinging. Time to get back to the long-extended apprenticeship I voluntarily took on when I agreed to write this story.

nightsmusic said...

Good grammar can be learned. If you didn't learn it in school, take some online basics classes and learn it now. Plot, story and voice are the things that make the story what it is, but if you cannot put that story on paper, none of those things will matter.

or is there a level of forgiveness if grammar isn't 100% perfect?

No. Grammar is the construct your story resides in. Without that construct, your story will never hold up. I'd much rather have a plot hole than a duh moment because the grammar pulls me from the world you've built.

luciakaku said...

Adding on to nightsmusic, plot, story, and voice are the hardest things to fix with beta readers and even professional editors. Grammar, though? Find a grammar nazi friend and ply them with whisky to copyedit your MS for grammar mistakes.

Sometimes, things are just hard for someone to learn. I know some super smart, witty, hilarious people who screw up simple grammatical things all the time. Not all language skills are learned at equal paces. If you don't trust your own grammatical skills, and you don't trust your friends' or CPs' grammatical skills, hire an editor. But copyedits are the simplest of writing goofs to fix.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I either lie or lay awake at night worrying about is it lie or lay? I can tell a lie just fine, but my manner of rest is questionable so I simply kick all the slackers out of my manuscript. If they aren't sleeping or napping then I don't have to worry about lie or lay. They can sulk and stalk instead.

An editor is handy for this stuff because after a while a writer becomes grammar blind to his or her own stuff. Once a revision is done, hide the manuscript for some time then proof it with fresh eyes. It helps. The errors will pop off the page- I find this rather annoying. It's almost like the errors get together and mate while I am not looking.

Must find caffeine- another great post from our queen.

Lucie Witt said...

I get why OP might ask a question like this. We're in a post 50 Shades of Grey world - books with horrible grammar/writing can be bestsellers.

But to what DLM & NM's point, why wouldn't you want to be the best writer possible? If grammar isn't your strong suit you can study up and work with a freelance editor.

Commas are my personal grammar kryptonite. I throw them in everywhere. Once you learn your weekends it's easier to catch it and fix it in revisions.

Lucie Witt said...

Ugh. Once you learn your WEAKNESS.
I have no solution to autocorrect errors.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

We have an Unknown Library Patron who will cross out grammatical errors in our books. I'm not sure if they think they're helping, or if they just can't help themselves. But we'd prefer they not carry out this action. They also (or maybe it's somebody else) crosses out "bad" words, but only in the Large Print books.

I mean, I guess a writer should at least hit F7 before querying (that's the spelling/grammar check shortcut key in Word, anyway), which will not, in general, catch all the issues (I feel), but it is literally the least you can do. I guess it helps if your trustful beta readers and critique group also have some notion of grammar and help you out with that.

Amanda Capper said...

Opie, if you buy me Berkley Breathed's latest Opus compilation I'll send you my sister. Yes, that's right, I would sell my sister. A grammatically gifted woman but a fork in my eyeball.

Okay, maybe not sell. But renting her out is entirely feasible.

Susan Bonifant said...

I was researching a piece the other day about why employers don't respond to job inquiries. It brought me to an article posted at the site of an executive search firm.

I wasn't through three paragraphs before I'd seen three, five and more examples of word misuse: "it's" instead of "its," and the one that makes me twitch: "your" instead of "you're."

This wasn't applicant error the firm was citing - this was the firm's actual written product.

As a writer, I was dismayed. But when agents are quick to spot the easy "NO," wow, that's gotta help.

To paraphrase Nightsmusic: the stuff you can learn, learn.

nightsmusic said...

A grammatically gifted woman but a fork in my eyeball.

Bwahahahahahahaha!!! Coffee all over keyboard!

omg...

Colin Smith said...

It's great that you think your story so wonderful, any and every spelling and grammar snafu should be forgiven, Opie. But let's be real: they won't. Janet's right, like it or not. So, what's a writer to do? Be arrogant and snooty, and insist an agent take it like it is, or use this as an opportunity to LEARN? The latter, of course. That's if you want to be published, and people to read you without questioning your intelligence and/or education. (It's true: those who utilize good grammar and spelling come across smarter and better educated than those who don't. That's not fair, but that's life.)

One answer is to hire an editor to go over your work. Alternatively, (as Lucia and Jennifer suggested) make sure one or more of your beta readers is particularly grammar-sensitive, and have them tell you where your mistakes are. More importantly, ask them WHY the grammar is incorrect. LEARN.

Another approach is to use the Internet. If you're not certain you've use a word correctly, look up the definition. LEARN IT. Look up sites on grammar and popular grammatical mistakes. LEARN THEM.

I emphasize LEARNING because this will ultimately help you write more readably, and save you money on editors.

DLM said...

Lucie, just don't write your novel on a smartphone. :)

I'd remonstrate on recruiting a grammar nazi friend (a term, by the way, which is beyond distasteful to many for multiple reasons, not least of which has to do with actual Nazis). For one, they're not always right - see also: The Arrant Pedant, whose remedies for over-correctors and prescriptivists are valuable. For two, and perhaps even more importantly, your snippy grammar friends will edit with their own pet rules and agendas - not necessarily for mass market publishing standards.

Really, the BEST thing is to know how to use your own tools. But if you feel you can't do that, get an editor who has experience editing the type of work you are writing. Friends don't let friends drive drunk and friends don't let friends write crunk.


It's good to note, too, from our own comments here and in general: dedicated readers have no patience for writers who just don't seem to care about the language. We'll follow a good author a long way into experimental and rule-breaking forms, but only if we sense they are doing it on purpose. But a discerning reader will have ZERO PATIENCE for rules broken by amateurs.

Again: seriously. I'm not hiring you to build my house if you use your plumber's wrench as a hammer. And I'm not letting your writing inside my brain, that most intimate of invitations, if your writing demonstrates you're not a careful practitioner of the language.

Lucie Witt said...

DLM - a novel on a smart phone would be a ducking disaster ;)

luciakaku said...

DLM, I totally wrote a 10k short story entirely on my smartphone while making hour long commuting trips to and from school for a semester. ^_^

Afterward, I typed it up on the computer and fixed all the difficulties I'd had writing while all thumbs.

Colin Smith said...

Perhaps an antidote to Diane's concern about grammar-Nazi friends might be to make sure your grammatically-sensitive beta reader is more an acquaintance than friend. Someone willing to share their knowledge, but without that intimacy that might be taken as permission to assault you with their opinion. Or someone you know to be fair-minded, and not aggressively over-sensitive. Such people do exist. There are a number of them right here.

DLM said...

Amanda: hee!

Lucie: hee!

Lucia, you clearly have more delicate fingers than I. I have to use one finger to type on my phone, and thus am extremely slow. We will not examine whether this is symptomatic of my contrarian nature and overly prideful old-ladyness ...

Colin, a good point. I am cranky today (obviously, with the screedliness) and immediately pictured one of those snappish, self-righteous would-be grammar gods or goddesses whose prescriptivism makes me want to punch people in the neck. I'm a recovering prescriptivist myself, and am like the former smoker in this respect - I find those still in the grips of my own old bad habits insufferable.

Jennifer RD, this is why I literally cannot use the library except for research! I edit my own books, have for years. It used to be an exercise in that bad habit of mine, but now it is an exercise in "how would I do this" and a deconstruction of the way things are written. There may be occasional commentary, but mostly it's grammatical editing. I do not blackline profanity, though!

In closing: what Colin said. LEARNLINESS is next to Godliness.

And that's three. Peace out, yaw!

Kitty said...

Speaking strictly as a reader, if the story is compelling, an occasional misspelled word or lack of proper punctuation will not slow me down. BUT, if the story is less than compelling, one "it's" instead of "its" will stop me cold, and I may never finish reading the book.

This subject always reminds me of a great scene in (what I believe to be Travolta's real comeback movie)
Get Shorty: Bo Catlett and Chili Palmer discuss screen writing

CHILI: You know how to write one of these?

BO CATLETT: There's nothin' to know. You have an idea, you write down what you wanna say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren't positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words . . . although I've seen scripts where I know words weren't spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it at all. So I don't think it's too important. Anyway, you come to the last page you write in 'Fade out' and that's the end, you're done.

Celia Reaves said...

For a broader perspective, let me share that in my department we just decided not to offer an interview to a candidate whose credentials were fine but whose writing had a number of errors, including basic grammar. If you can't get it right on your job application, there's no reason to think you will get it right ever. I'm sure agents feel the same way; if you can't get it right on your query, then no.

Yes, have someone with good grammar skills (can we call them grammar gurus, please?) work with you. I agree with others here that you don't want someone to bludgeon everything into bland prescriptivist purity. Sometimes technical grammar is sacrificed to serve a larger story need. Be sure to warn your editor about that one character whose speech and thoughts reflect his uneducated background and should NOT be corrected! But it's/its, your/your, then/than -- there is no excuse for this kind of mistake.

(Proofreading this post a dozen times before hitting SUBMIT, certain I'll find a mistake seconds later.)

Miri Baker said...

Even the Google Docs spellcheck is starting to get smart about what form of a word you may have meant to use (there's a nifty blue underline for "suspect homophone", and it errs on the side of false positive). The glorious thing about editing for grammar is that there are actually rules, and if you can't learn rules--or at least go over your work with a fine-enough-toothed comb to catalog where you might be breaking them--then that seems...unthorough.

Inthorough?

Not thorough enough.

S.P. Bowers said...

No matter how many times you and other people read it, there will always be some mistake that gets overlooked and slips through. If you don't do your best, those one or two errors turn into a couple dozen sprinkled everywhere. Enough to make even the most patient reader cringe. Knowing that, how could you not do your best?

Craig said...

I don't think that I have ever read anything that didn't have at least one point of off looking grammar. I like to think that they prove that their is no grammatical demi god(dess)in some Ivory tower who rules over grammar.

For a long time I (and millions of others) thought Kate Turabian was such a creature. I know that she beat me into submission on numerous occasions.

One of my CPs claims to be a grammar Nazi. When I showed her that it was done the Turabian way she told me that the rules had changed. It is not that they changed. There have always been bones of contention in the English language and we should consider them to be smiles and not glares.

This does not make this an excuse for sloppiness or laziness.

Robert Ceres said...

Dunno if I'm qualified to provide advice to OP, but let's just say, wish I’d gotten 10 more CP's and/or beta readers before I first sent out my MS.

The risk of CPs, if you have too many and you take too much advice (and maybe this applies to professional editors too,) is getting uniqueness and flair sucked out of your story. Some characters just don't speak good, and that needs to come through. Many other examples where you might not want to exactly follow the rules.

As a dyslexic the whole lay, lie controversy is going to push me right over the edge some day.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Grammar is the bane of my existence, but I grudgingly acknowledge how important it is for my writing to be error-free (not that it ever is completely, of course). I agree that there are some errors that stop me cold and pull me out of the story, but there are a lot of mistakes I never notice until someone points them out to me. Comma splices, for one. Actually, any comma-related grammar errors fly right over my head. I hate them. Hate them, I say!

It's funny, though. I had to pass a grammar test to get my current job (technical writer). How I passed, I may never know.

Brian Schwarz said...

Janet’s point about time is so telling.

Us writers like to think that the hard part is the idea. But it’s not. Ideas are cheap (with the exception of that guy who tried to sell his guaranteed best-seller ideas for 1 million a piece).

Execution, however, is 9/10ths of the law. Wow, that sounds bad out of context.

Point being – execution is both how you tell your story and how well you tell your story. Part of telling a story well is telling it without numerous grammatical errors.

And Amanda – like Nightmusic, I also lost a great deal of coffee via the nostrils at your comment. You are too funny!

Donnaeve said...

I wish MS Word would figure out how to point out the lie/lay thing. It DOES point out an incorrect it's over its, and vice versa.

My question to OP would be...if you suspect you have grammar mistakes, why wouldn't you want to fix them? To suggest you might be able to get by with them, (i.e. the "forgiveness" part) sounds a bit lazy. Maybe, like me, you don't recognize them when you make them? That's my biggest problem. I've likely made tons of grammar errors and I'm happily oblivious. This is not necessarily a good thing. Ignorance is no excuse, but how would I know to fix what I don't know to fix?

There is this tool I love to use, it's an app you can download to your desktop - Hemingway Editor. When I bought it, it cost six dollars. Yep, cheap. What's interesting, it says you should strive to write at about - get this - a SEVENTH GRADE level. HUH. Yep. Truth. If anyone's interested, you can likely Google it and find the download. I just popped in a paragraph of my current WIP (just for fun) and hmmmm, eleventh grade. It points out passive voice, adverbs, difficult sentences...etc. Just not it's/its. Not sure about lie/lay.

Lastly, I vote Diane as the Miss Manners of the comments area of this blog. When she writes a comment, in my head it reads like the Miss Manners column! (take that as a compliment, Diane...!)

^-^

Kitty said...

Robert: the whole lay, lie controversy is going to push me right over the edge some day

Which reply is correct, because I honestly don't know at this point:
You and me both!
or
You and I both!

BJ Muntain said...

Lie vs. Lay

Lay takes an object. Lie does not. An object is the noun that 'lay' acts on.

In the child's prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep"... 'me' is the object. You can lay a baby in its crib. You can lay a paper on your desk. Baby and paper are the objects in those sentences.

A 'lie-down' is basically, "I lie down." 'Down' is not a noun, so it is not an object. You're not laying something down. You are lying down.

The biggest confusion comes from the past tense form of 'to lie', which is 'lay'.

Past tense of 'to lay': I laid the object down.
Past tense of 'to lie': I lay down.

I know it's confusing. I didn't invent the English language, though sometimes I wish I did. It's a wonderfully flexible, varied language with more synonyms than many other languages because it borrows so readily from other languages. For a cobbled-together language, it's beautiful. Like a mosaic.

I do understand that grammar can be difficult for some folks, as can even reading. But that doesn't give you an out. I have a couple dyslexic friends who pore over their work, and who have grammarly friends who will point out their errors. These wonderful writers have been published.

If you have a real problem learning grammar, then find people to help you. If you can't find crit partners who can help you, then hire an editor. To elaborate on the 'words as tools' theme: Even the best-skilled carpenter will hire an electrician to do the work outside their abilities.

BJ Muntain said...

Kitty: "You and me, both" is correct, since I think you mean, "This will push both you and me over the edge."

Yes. I have a grammar problem - that is, an addiction. The first step is admitting it...

Mister Furkles said...

OP, You must learn the gritty craft of parsing sentences and spotting usage errors. Otherwise, an agent or editor may suspect you are arrogant or lazy. In that case, they won't work with you.

Learn to parse sentences until you [turn blue] can distinguish adverbial phrases from adjective phrases. Memorize the common usages errors. English has over 3000 common usages errors and another 2000 that occur too often.

Now get busy on the Internet. Find at least ten grammar sites that help you. These are three of my favorites:

http://conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-english.html

http://grammartips.homestead.com/

http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html

And have fun with it.

luciakaku said...

Prescriptivism makes me twitch now. I occasionally jump into grammar debates on FB with, "Actually, that's prescriptive grammar. English doesn't give a rat's twat whether you split infinitives. Which is why Star Trek boldly goes wherever it wants, and no one gets confused, just uppity."

Brian--Oh dear. Execution is 9/10ths of the law sounds bad. "Ma'am, I'm afraid you illegally used 'who' when it referred to a predicated noun. That's an offense punishable by lethal injection. Please come with us."

Celia--I'll get on board with grammar guru. I like the alliteration, too.

Julie Weathers said...

"My vote is the only one that counts."

Pretty much. During the Civil War, Lincoln was being urged to do something by his cabinet he didn't want to do, probably fire Grant whom they thought was a great moral demon and bad influence on the men, having been caught drunk a few times. Lincoln told them to find out what kind of whisky Grant drank because he was going to send it to his other generals by the barrel.

Anyway, they were voting on whatever matter lay before them. The cabinet voted against him. Lincoln voted for it then stood up and said it passed because his was the only vote that mattered. He was the president.

As to the other, it depends. Maybe I should get coffee before I open a vein here and make a fool of myself. I've told this before, but perhaps it bears repeating.

Years ago, as needs be since both parties are now dead, A friend of famed western artist asked Charlie Russell asked him if he would illustrate a book he'd written about their early years together. Charlie said he would, no charge, which drove his wife Nancy nuts since she was all about the money. His only request was he get to read the manuscript and approve it.

Friend wrote the book, sent it off to a NY editor, got it back, and gave it to Charlie. Charlie said he wouldn't illustrate that. It sounded nothing like them and wasn't authentic in the least. The NY editor had everything technically correct, but he had robbed the manuscript of the style and soul. Charlie said rewrite it and he'd do the illustrations.

Unfortunately, Charlie died before Friend finished the rewrite.

Stay tuned for part II.

Dena Pawling said...


Even grammar nit-pickers [nitwits?] aren't always right. In my youth, which was a long long long long long time ago, I was a grammar nit-picker. Thought I was always right.

Then I started writing stories and was shocked at how much stuff even *I* have to look up and/or got wrong.

I hate lie/lay. I strive to NEVER include it in any of my manuscripts.

I like this site, which I read daily and I'm surprised at how much I thought I knew but didn't.

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/

The way I see it, yes my book might be so awesome that the initial grammar might not matter because it sells so well anyway. But why start with one strike against me? I know there will be problems, because nothing's perfect. I'd prefer to start with the best manuscript I can write.

This is just me. YMMV

Colin Smith said...

The I/me thing makes me twitch, largely because people tend to hypercorrect, and ALWAYS use "I" even when it's not appropriate.

For those who are still not sure: I is the subject of the sentence (no! I AM the subject of the sentence! Oh shut up!!), me is the object of the sentence. Hence, I is always the one doing the verb, and me is always the one receiving the verbal action. I hit him. He hit me. When you have more than one person involved, the same rule applies. He and I went to the dance. Tommy threw up on Jane and me.

Kitty: If you apply that, you can see why, as BJ pointed out, "you and me both" is correct. In the sentence "The will push both you and me over the edge," this is doing the verb (to push), and you and me are receiving the verb's action.

Joseph Snoe said...

I made an "A" in seventh grade RWS (Reading Writing and Spelling) class. The class has served me well.

My pet peeve is the possessive of words that end in 's.' I don't care what's proper, I hate the double "s." Jones's car may be preferable to Jones' car, but I'll write it Jones' car.

Unless it has been stolen, in which case it's Jones' stolen car.

W.R. Gingell said...

It always amuses me somewhat whenever a writer complains about people remarking on their 'bad grammar'. I mean, you're a writer. That is the BASIC BUILDING BLOCK of your job. It can be taught, and there's no excuse for not learning.

And whatever you do, DON'T trust Word etc. to correct your grammar, because Word still has difficulty with marking it's and its correctly. The amount of times I've used its (possessive), and Word has put a squiggle under it to try and get me to change it to it's(it is)!

You have to at least learn the basics.

And get flamin' good beta readers. The ones that nitpick. They're awesome.

Colin Smith said...

Linky Links!

http://conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-english.html
http://grammartips.homestead.com/
http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/

Robert Ceres said...

Dena has the right idea! "I hate lie/lay. I strive to NEVER include it in any of my manuscripts."

W.R. Gingell said...

@Colin: RE: the me/I thing, someone once told me that if you remove the other person from the sentence and it still makes sense (i.e. "Rob and I went to the store" changes to "I went to the store" versus "Rob and me went to the store" changing to "Me went to the store"), you know you've got the right one.

Or, to put it another way: "At the store, Phillip saw Rob and me" changes to "At the store, Phillip saw me" rather than "At the store, Phillip saw Rob and I" changing to "At the store, Phillip saw I".

As a rule of thumb it seems pretty sound, if you don't know the difference between subject and object, etc.

W.R. Gingell said...

(Unless you're Tarzan, of course. In which case, do whatever the heck you want.)

Kitty said...

Thanks to all who answered my question. I had originally posted "You and me both," and then wondered if it was correct. Googling did not help. So I decided to ask here, and I got my answer :)

nightsmusic said...

WR, "Tarzan not know where Tarzan go!"

Gads, I love that commercial.

And I learned the me/I the same way. Which works best in the sentence? Me pulled his teeth out, one at a time - or - I pulled his teeth out one at a time. Which then though brings us to, He and I pulled his teeth out one at a time - or - Him and I pulled his teeth out one at a time. Grammatically, it's He and I, but I can't tell you how often I read/hear Him and I. Makes me want to scream!

Joseph Snoe said...

For sports fans and music fans, the I and me problem is compounded because broadcasters and songwriters use them incorrectly. My theory on sports broadcasters is most of them in the past wanted to say "Me and him played golf" Studio execs must have pounded it into their heads to say I and he instead of me and him. So the pendulum has swung and the broadcasters are more apt to say "The waiter brought he and I the juiciest steak."

Why do Songwriters get it wrong? Maybe to make the song rhyme, or they were practicing playing the guitar instead of grammar.

Colin Smith said...

W.R.: That is a handy-dandy way to check if you're not sure.

One place where rules of grammar can take a hike is dialog. People don't always speak with perfect grammatical correctness. Even those whose writing is impeccable make grammatical blunders in speech. This is because conversation can be a lot more forgiving. And I contend it ought to be. The worst pedants (in my book) are those who correct your speech. The only exception to this is when you know the speaker may not be aware of the grammatical blunder, and you correct them as a point of education (e.g., young children, or non-native English speakers). But even there, I caution to tread carefully so as not to offend.

Joseph: It's that hypercorrection thing. As you say, people have been condition to say "You and I" not "You and me" or "Me and you." "You and I" is "polite." So people do a global correct on "me" which leads to the aforementioned abuse.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

If you haven't checked out the Ask the Editor videos on the Merriam-Webster website, I'd recommend it. There are several videos about 'rules' that aren't really rules but arbitrary decisions made by 18th century grammarians who just, like, totally had a crush on Latin.

My favorite is a video about the plural form of octopus. There's also a video on lay/lie, but it's basically a recap of what BJ said.

Julie Weathers said...

All right. I swan, my hair is trying to attack me today. I took out the shears and it fled in sheer terror back into submission.

Anyway, Hemingway said you could leave out anything you wanted as long as you knew it was there. In one story, at the end, an old man hanged himself. He changed the ending so the reader doesn't know for sure what happens and that's fine. Hemingway knew what happened and the story worked.

You can ignore or break a rule in writing, but you must know it first. If you know it, then you know when you're breaking it and you, hopefully, know why you're breaking it. If you're breaking it because you're a special little snowflake and want to prove how unique you are by not using paragraphs and commas, that's your right. Just as it's the right of people not to buy your irritating to read book.

If you're simply too lazy to read and learn the rules, then I am simply too busy to read your work. I don't mind beta reading when I have time, but don't turn me into a line editor because you're too special to review your own work. Trust me, chances are you aren't really a unicorn even if you do have a shiny horn. The unicorns are all gone. The Irish Rovers tell us so.

You're welcome.

Now, as fate would have it, I do have the exception to the rule. An elderly gentleman gave me his memoir he had laboriously hand-typed. It's rife with errors. It's also one of the most fascinating stories I've ever read of the fighting in the South Pacific in WWII. He died before I could get anything done with it, leaving it to me since he had no heirs. It was shortly after I went on my writing strike and nearly starved myself to death creatively, so it only went to one agent.

Sherry Howard said...

Teaching nuns were a wonderful vehicle for learning and remembering grammar basics, especially if you didn't mind the ruler thwacking. Just saying. I have several degrees, expertise as a grammar guru, and still need other eyes on my work. Our eyes see what we want them to see with our own writing and are often blind to simple errors. And I think professional eyes, that you pay for, help immensely with your writing journey at the beginning. Once you learn your weaknesses you can more easily guard against them.

Donnaeve said...

Yoohoo! Colin? Can you add a linky-link for Grammar Girl? (which appears to have exploded into a huge site of Quick and Dirty Tips. Oh, and Grammar Girl has finally been "outed."

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

BJ's example of how to use lie/lay above is similar to what I remember reading on GG, about whether or not there one has an "object to lay" or not. Anyway, it reminded me of the site.

Thanks BJ, that refresher was GREAT!

Donnaeve said...

Geez. Bad enough we're talking grammar here and I have an exploding one in a sentence.

Ahem. I meant, "BJ's example of how to use lie/lay above is similar to what I remember reading on GG, about whether or not there was an object "to lay" or not.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You bet yur bibby I can! http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl :)

LynnRodz said...

There should be a pass for lie and lay. That's about the only thing I struggle with as far as grammar goes. I've read all there is on Google (the Grammarist and Grammar Girl, etc,) but I still have trouble with it especially when it come to the past tense. I try not to use it, but sometimes you have to. I'm sure as heck not going to say he reclined in his tent.

Oh, I forgot, I also struggle with who and whom. A different can of worms, but they're worms all the same.

Colin Smith said...

LynnRodz: As I recall, "who" vs. "whom" is a subject/object thing again. Who is the subject of the verb. Whom is the object. Who hit whom? And why are my examples so violent? Who knows? :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

At work, have to skim.

"The problem is time."
Time to do.
Time to learn.
Time to do over.
Time to finish with a smile on your face, aching hands and a full heart.
Time, love it, hate it, need it.

Keep your quill sharpened as best you can OP.

Joseph Snoe said...

For anyone seriously having a problem with he, him, I, me, she, and her, test the sentence by substitute the plural they, them, we or us in lieu of the uncertain pronoun.

As an example, to fill in the blanks of " ___ gave ___ theater tickets.”

The plurals would be “They gave us theater tickets.” or “She gave me theater tickets.” or “He and she gave him and me theater tickets.”

“We gave them theater tickets.” translates into “I gave her theater tickets.” or “You and I gave him and her theater tickets.”

My favorite sentence of the group is “She gave me theater tickets.” I just wish me and her could go to the theater together. (It’s a joke.)

Adele said...

Internet grammar sites are great for learning, but might not help someone with iffy grammar. You don't look it up if you don't know there's a problem.

A friend who occasionally stubs her toe on a subjunctive recently downloaded a free online grammar check (Grammarly) that is advertised as up to ten times a picky as the software in Word. After two weeks, her verdict is that although it flags a lot of things she thinks are optional, rather than mandatory, usages, it also picks up a lot of mistakes she ought to have seen and didn't.

CED said...

My most recent method of dealing with lie/lay is threefold: (1) lie means to recline, lay means to place, (2) realizing that 95% of the time, I want "lie", not "lay" and (3) using "sit" as a substitute for "lie" and figuring out the appropriate form from there: sit = lie, sitting = lying, sat = lay (sit is nice, because it usually fits in the same places as lie; e.g., she sat on the bed --> she lay on the bed).

Lennon Faris said...

There was a post a while back about this same sort of thing and I didn't get it then. But it makes sense now. Typos are about the EASIEST thing to fix. If you haven't done that (at least to the 99% typo-free zone) by the time you send out your query letter or manuscript, it shows you aren't putting in the dedication required to follow through in the publishing world (in addition to making agents stop reading apparently).

Lie and lay will always make me pull my hair out though.

Me said...

I'd suggest slipping a Sheldon Cooper in your beta-reading group.

abnormalalien (Jamie A. Elias) said...

Ha well this post ran off into the depths of textbook land. Regardless, a helpful topic and discussion. I've always wondered about the procedure for a dyslexic writer. A family member who deals with dyslexia wanted to write stories and I remember another person telling him, "That's what editors are for!"

I can see now how that would be misleading. I feel like the types of errors that would come up in this case would be things that spell check misses (homophones and incorrect comma placements) but should be easily found by a grammar-guru or someone who just reads extensively. As far as I know of I'm not dyslexic, so I could be completely wrong though.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know if there is a similar kind of reading/writing issue that primarily identifies itself as putting words or phrases out of order when reading aloud?

stacy said...

Interesting timing. I just received an email this morning informing me that AP style will lowercase "internet" and "web" as of June 1. YES! Now if we could just get them to make "health care" one word...

Colin Smith said...

Just to confirm what stacy said, here's a linky link:

http://www.theverge.com/2016/4/2/11352744/ap-style-guide-will-no-longer-capitalize-internet

Not that we doubted you, stacy, but, you know... some people... ;)

Claire said...

Whenever I see a question like this, my immediate thought is "You don't read enough, OP." Reading lots and lots and lots and lots is by far the easiest way to absorb the rules of grammar, as well as spellimg, correct punctuation etc.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I know it was meant to be a joke but....I have novelled on my smartphone. Not the whole dang thing, but more than once when I was comin' in hot on the writing but bedtime arrived, I went and....lie/lay.....settled myself in bed and my brain was still forming story in sentences I would prefer to remember. So, Swype and Google Drive to the rescue! It can be meticulous and brutal, though. I don't really recommend it. But, in a pinch....

nightsmusic said...

I wish I could remember where I read it, on an agent blog but it was quite some time ago now, the author subbed their query and first three and the agent asked for the whole thing because the whole thing was written on the author's phone. I can't find it now, but I thought, Holy Crow! That's dedication!!

RKeelan said...

nightsmusic - The agent asked for the whole thing because it was written on the author's phone?

I don't track it, but I think I do a large majority of my writing on my phone, (and a large majority of my editing not on my phone) but I never thought of that as being a point in my favour. Maybe I should add that to my query letter.

Adele said...

Abnormalalien: Author Debbie Macomber is severely dyslexic, but she has made it to the top of the top of the heap because of her story-telling. I bet that in her earlier days she hired her own copy-editor to fix her MS before submission, but nowadays her publisher has a couple of editors on staff, just for her. Aaah, the good life.

stacy said...

Ha! I know you didn't doubt me, Colin. :)

I pay for a yearly online subscription to the AP Stylebook, and that's where the email came from. I'm kind of excited about these changes. Fewer track changes, don't you know.

Kate Larkindale said...

My big grammar problem is around commas. I went to school in a number of different countries, and US English uses more commas than NZ or UK English and in some different places. So I'm constantly scrambling to remember where I need to put them for the audience I'm writing for.

nightsmusic said...

RKeelan, yes, the agent was so intrigued with the dedication the author showed to write the whole thing on her phone, she asked for a full. I have no idea where it went from there, but there ya go!

Colin Smith said...

Kate: My daughter gets annoyed with the song You To Me Are Everything by The Real Thing. She insists it should be, "You, To Me, Are Everything"... :)

Interesting writing point: The song could have been re-worded, "To Me, You Are Everything" (one comma), or "You Are Everything To Me" (no commas). But when you compare these two rhythmically to "You To Me Are Everything," they lack the same bounce that drives you to the next line. Rhythm and word order matter. :)

Colin Smith said...

... and "You To I Are Everything" definitely doesn't work. ;)

Lennon Faris said...

Colin, or as Yoda might say, "Everything to me you are." That would require no commas but still has a certain cadence to it, don't you think? Sorry, off topic, back to editing...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Who got laid?

With all this lay and laid stuff I'm thinking our frisky is showing.

Celia Reaves said...

Aaannnnddd, we've come full circle back to the whole issue of the singular they. English changes, rules change, sometimes there are disagreements about things like the Oxford comma, but there are still some mistakes that everyone agrees are mistakes. Those are the ones we need to avoid. There's no such thing as the last typo, but we need to keep the number down as low as we can.

(...still checking compulsively for mistakes before pressing Submit...)

Amy Schaefer said...

Alternate POV: could this possibly be an English as a second language question? Lots of people are functionally fluent in a second language, but writing in that second language is a whole 'nother game. And in that case, I'd say it is a good idea to have an expert go over your work before you send it out.

Off topic, yesterday afternoon I had this exchange with my youngest daughter:
Amy: Hi, honey. What are you up to?
7 yr old: (playing Lego) Not much. Just ENGAGING IN WORLD DOMINATION! (shakes fists in the air, then calmly returns to building)

This, my friends, is why we have kids.

Dena Pawling said...


2Ns I read your last comment surreptitiously with my phone in my lap and laughed so hard I got caught. No worries, I'm still employed. But I'll remember in the future not to read this blog while I'm supposed to be working.....

Julie Weathers said...

It's been such an odd day, but maybe I can post something coherent. How high to aim? Aim for the stars and hit the moon as they say.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Several years ago when I started subbing to agents, I got a lot of form rejections. Then one agent, known for her high propensity for personalised rejections, told me how good my story was, but it needed editorial work on the sentence level. Yep, as E.M. put it, I was grammar-blind. I didn't realise I was making mistakes.

No wonder (what I thought) was a brilliant story kept getting rejected.

So I ran the story through grammar software (editminion.com). The Minion found a handful of particular grammar errors I kept making. It's like my brain didn't realise that I needed to sharpen my saw if I was going to keep cutting wood. I now sharpen my saw regularly.

Gradually, I ran this story through a few different apps, and through live critters and betas and eventually sprang for a couple of freelance editors. Every single time someone found something new. I made notes, I flagged the reoccurring errors in my craft, and I learned on.

The good news is, by the time I reached my last freelance editor, she declared what a nice, clean ms I'd given her. Bad news: she still had several pages of tweaks. Ah well.

Some day I will be able to write clean mss, which will make my (future) agent really happy.

Some of us are naturally gifted at SPAG and others are not. It isn't cheating to get outside help, especially if you can learn from the results. ESPECIALLY if it can help you get an agent.

----

If I were to write a novel on a smartphone, I'd use dictation software. No way I can type on a phone fast enough.

roadkills-r-us said...

E.M. Goldsmith said, "Once a revision is done, hide the manuscript for some time then proof it with fresh eyes. It helps. The errors will pop off the page- I find this rather annoying. It's almost like the errors get together and mate while I am not looking."

They do. I've caught them at it. Some things cannot be unseen. (shudder)

roadkills-r-us said...

Amanda Capper, I think I love you. I might trade a sibling for the latest Breathed collection as well. When I was 13 or 14, my brother was two forks- one in each eyeball.

I'm with Kitty on my response to books with spelling, grammar, and punctuation problems. I have quit reading less than great books over a few egregious errors.

Both my wife (an excellent editor in most respects) and I made numerous passes through YotDL, some after putting it aside for a while. I had readers involved at multiple stages. At the end I brought in a professional editor (she cut me a deal because I had helped her with a nasty project).[1] We still found three typos after I submitted the "final" formatted version. I am sure there are a couple more lurking. But they are as few as possible.

So many people griped about diagramming sentences. I loved it. What I learned from diagramming has been very, very good to me. A colleague at JHK and I once spent an hour diagramming sentences on a whiteboard to convince a VP that his sentence structure in a proposal made no sense. Because JHK was a technical shop, the VP got it, and trusted us from then on. The many hours conjugating verbs (some for fun!) helped, also.


[1] I think periods for mere clauses inside parentheses are stupid. So I rebel where I can, which is outside the professional and publishing worlds.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I haven't had a chance to congratulate Janet for the Writers Digest award. Shall I squee. I know how much everyone loves squeeing.

Heidi, I've bookmarked editminion.

OP, After I read Between You And Me by Mary Norris I realized how catastrophic my writing is.

I mix British and American spelling without knowing it. I use foreign words with their foreign nuances and not the American. My syntax is odd thanks to dyslexia and living outside an English speaking country for more than half my life. I don't hear the daily evolution of spoken English.




Stephen G Parks said...

Roadkills-r-us, I've spent a good chunk of the past decade teaching English in various countries (about evenly divided British and American curricula) with schools across all ranges of quality and the only exposure to diagramming sentences that I've ever had was Weird Al's Word Crimes. It looks... exhausting.

Janet - congrats on the award. You deserve it.

Elena said...

Belated congrats to Janet and everyone for the Writer's Digest award! Janet, I know you employ time goblins, but seriously, all the work you do is amazing.

A couple of weeks ago I had to have The Grammar Talk with someone in my writing group. It was kind of awkward. It felt as though I was telling him his sentences were fat.

And the other complicating element at work: he was a proud, self-proclaimed "grammar snob." (I think that's often a New Writer thing, where people are eager to pin that badge on their sleeve for whatever reason.)

Despite his confidence, the works he submitted under the heading of "this is ready to go out for submission, just take a quick look" were riddled with errors.

All that to say, 1. sometimes the people who crow the loudest about grammar aren't as informed as they think they are ("grammar-blind" is an excellent term to describe this), and 2. the nice thing about grammar is that what you don't know, you can learn. Or at least, learn enough so that you can recognize issues and google when you're unsure.

And there is a joy to grammar, I think. I mean, yeah, 98% of the time it's wicked annoying. But like anything else, once you get over the intimidation factor and assume full responsibility for your own sentences, it's wicked rewarding.

To add to the list of grammar resources: Woe Is I, by Patricia T. O’Conner and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gorden. Both authors have multiple grammar help books to their names.