By Keith Fisher
I have a confession to make. No, I haven’t committed any great sins recently, and there aren’t any warrants out for my arrest. I read grammar and style books. Well, that’s not quite, the right term. I skim them. But then, I would venture to say, so, do you.
You see I struggle with the English language. Not that I hate it or anything, it’s just hard for me. I used to think I missed it in the fourth grade, like math. Since I was at home with the mumps for awhile, I didn’t learn certain key elements. Consequently, I went through my life thinking I was stupid, when it came to fractions and decimals.
Later, in college, I had the opportunity to take an arithmetic course. It was basic stuff, and I was able to go through it at my own pace. When I reached the part about fractions and decimals, a light came on, and I understood everything from that point forward. I suddenly knew why I struggled with algebra. Combining numbers, or ciphering, (As Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies, used to say), become joyful for me after that.
I’ve tried, since then, to learn the basics of English, (thinking I missed it in the same way I did math). It was tough. I began to wonder how I communicated at all. It was a miracle to me, that I could write it. As I struggled through the books, I began to realize I already understood this stuff, I just didn’t know the proper terms.
Now I know, it’s not me. I have a friend who calls herself a curmudgeon in matters of style and grammar. All my friends in my critique group seem to get it too, but I struggle, and I know others that do also. It’s not easy to remember the rules. While reading, Lapsing Into A Comma, by Bill Walsh, I realized styles are constantly changing. It’s no wonder I don’t get it sometimes. Then if you add the growing list of words and phrases I can’t use in the LDS market, I think I do pretty well.
When I got serious about writing, I admit, I was clueless about rules like subject/verb agreement, and the placement of commas, but we all have our own problems. Even my friend, the curmudgeon, had trouble with the whole lay/lie/lye thing. But when I look at my earlier manuscripts now, I’m amazed I did so well.
So, when I find a red mark from critique group or the spell and grammar check shows mistakes on my sentence, I relax. Most of the red marks are plot problems and a few comma discrepancies. When the self important spell checker says I made an error, I feel confident in knowing what I’m doing. Writing E-mail as one word, is not a crime when I say, “Sorry, I didn’t know it was wrong,” and I go back and fix it.
It’s hard to keep up with changing style regulations. There are hard and fast English and grammar laws that must be headed, but technicalities can bog you down. Most rules can be bent as long as I know the reason, I’ve learned to find out what’s wrong, and I change it. Basically, I’m still learning the language I write in, without knowing what I’ve been doing.
I’m grateful to have friends who know this stuff, and keep me in line. With their help, I’m getting better—I’m developing talents.
Don’t sweat the small things. Tell your story, and fix the grammar later. Good luck with your writing—see you next week.