Why Grammar, Spelling, and Usage Matter

Grammar is Sexy

Photo by Thomas Leuthard (Creative Commons)

Anyone who has been following The Write Practice since day one knows how I feel about the semicolon, sentence structure, spelling, and other grammatical foibles. If a writer lacks any of these things in his or her work, it drives me crazy. I’ll start railing on about the destruction of the English language, the dumbing down of society, blah blah blah.

But why would any writer care about what I think?

Writing Is Subjective, but Grammar Isn’t

Some writers completely throw the rules of structure and grammar out the window, and they’re massively successful. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind right away, and there’s always the bane of my existence, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who wouldn’t know what to do with a semicolon if it held her hand and guided itself to its proper placement. If those writers can sell ridiculous quantities of their novels, what’s to stop you from following in their footsteps with all your comma splices?

While Ms. Meyer seems to be the glaring exception, if you’re a writer looking to publish your first work, these details are of the utmost importance. Why? Because you are an unknown commodity. Readers don’t know anything about you or what you’ve written. They don’t know anything about your writing style, and will be judging your work on two fronts: the story, and the structure.

Don’t Make Me Abandon Your Book

If no one is familiar with your work, then you have to convince them to continue reading. Sloppy sentence structure, poorly placed punctuation, and spelling errors can tank the reader’s opinion of you, and you are the one who needs to earn the reader’s attention. I’ve abandoned books because I’ve gotten frustrated with the author’s poor writing and poor structure, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

When you’re a starting writer, you need to establish your credibility with the reader. Abandoning the rules of structure will do the exact opposite. As annoying as you might find the rules of commas, it will make the reader’s work easier. Their attention is yours to lose. Don’t let a run-on sentence be the straw that breaks the reader’s interest.

Have you ever abandoned a book because of the bad grammar?

PRACTICE

Joe here. Liz couldn’t think of a practice today, and so she left me to the task, which is always dangerous. While Liz spends her time writing grammar textbooks, I spend mine trying to break each one of their rules.

And so today, let’s see what the world would like without good grammar. Free write for fifteen minutes, breaking as many rules as you can think of. Use commas instead of spaces. Bathe yourself in passive voice. Be as rebellious as you like, because Liz is right, if you want to be a successful writer, this might be your only opportunity to break those rules.

When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to comment on the rule breaking of your fellow writers.

Have fun!

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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