Why writers need grammar and how they learn it

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:

And pick up a book or two from your bookstore or library:

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.

What’s your relationship to grammar? Do you love it or hate it? And what are your best tips for learning it? 

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2 comments

  1. Ok, after reading all of the above, my question back to you is, have I written enough to have a book that will help people? I know I desperately need editing help, but I don’t want it re-written.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy. We hope we can be of help to you with your writing goals.

      When you say that you need editing but don’t want your work re-written, we assume that you mean you want to retain control over what get’s rewritten, why and how. We respect your right to determine what get’s published under your name.

      A book-length work of self-help is generally 45,000 to 90,000 words, depending on how involved the topic is. Getting a book ready for publication requires a lot more work than writing a blog. It’s intense and time-consuming work.

      In a book, we look for a good, interesting story, with a progression of thought that makes sense.

      If you feel like you have enough material for a book, put your book together in one document (in something like MS Word or Apple Pages).

      After your book is finished and you know the word-count, please consider submitting it to us. You can read our submission guidelines here: http://rosehallmedia.com/submission-guidelines/

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