Do writers really need to know grammar? And isn’t it drudgery to learn grammar?
This article explains why a comprehensive understanding of grammar belongs in every professional writer’s toolbox. And grammar should be pleasurable, not excruciating for a writer to learn.
Writers need grammar for professionalism.
Professional artists understand the nuances of hue and tone in color, and professional writers know how grammar works.
Julie Schumacher is an award-winning author of young adult fiction, also a creative writing teacher at the University of Minnesota. She has published an excellent essay on the importance of grammar for writers. (Click to read Schumacher’s witty essay: Fibbers, Nappers, Hens.)
She explains that professional dancers commit to serious study and practice in order to make a ballet look effortless and graceful. It’s the same for professional writers–their study and practice of the art and craft of writing makes writing appear easy.
Dancers must know how an arabesque or demi-plié is done, and they must be able to gracefully copy the form. So too, writers need to know when to use a semi-colon, what a dependent clause is, and how voice and style contribute to meaning.
Writers need grammar for clarity, to minimize confusion.
The written word is the only link between writer and reader. A misunderstanding of grammar on the part of the writer will inevitably lead to confusion for the reader.
Grammar is how a reader make sense of any written communication. The more clarity a writer has about grammar, the more effectively he or she will be able to use grammar as a tool for accurate communication.
Beginning writers learn grammar by reading and writing.
Children do not learn to speak by studying elocution; they learn by listening to people who speak well and by speaking. Young dancers don’t learn by studying kinesiology, they learn by watching dancers and dancing. And beginning writers learn best by reading good literature and by writing.
Inexperienced writers will sometimes garble things and create misunderstandings. But if they submit their work to writing partners, instructors and editors, if they openly accept constructive and respectful feedback, they will learn the basics of grammar.
Serious writers study grammar in order to advance to a higher level of professionalism.
Professional speakers and actors study elocution. Professional dancers study kinesiology and anatomy. And professional writers study grammar.
Here are a few good places to get solid (and free) help online:
- Stunk’s Elements of Style is a classic, and despite being nearly 100 years old, is still useful, practical and efficient.
- If you’re confused about the elementary terms of grammar (noun, adverb, preposition) this page from Illinois Wesleyan University will give you a quick overview. Learn the elements of grammar, and then read with awareness.
- The University of Calgary offers a Basic Elements of Grammar tutorial.
And pick up a book or two from your bookstore or library:
- Stephen King recommends Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition.
- Everyone recommends Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
Professional writers learn to separate themselves from their writing.
Those squiggles (letters, words, punctuation and paragraph spaces), once published, are not exclusively the author’s. Published writing is for an audience, a reader. And a reader must rely on the agreed-upon standards of grammar to make sense, to determine what a particular combination of letters, words, and punctuation means.
You are not your words. Your written words live a life of their own, separate from you. Criticism of your words is not criticism of you. This bears repeating. Even when your writing is of a personal nature, criticism of your words is not criticism of you. Accept this. It will help you welcome constructive criticism, which will help you improve your writing.