No lessons today. Today, I’m asking you to indulge me in a little rant – though the rant is definitely about writing. The rant concerns the technique of writing – not the storytelling, but the craft.
One of the hats I wear is as a reviewer for my own site, the bookstore where I work, and a couple of other places where my reviews get posted. I’ve been at this for twenty years so I have some experience. My reviews have appeared in magazines, online, and in multiple newsletters. In addition to this, I have a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in library science. I’ve also been a copy editor for various publishers for a dozen years, and a multi-published writer for fifteen. I give you this information so you know my background and know that I do know a little about this business.
So what’s the rant? Authors who don’t bother to learn the craft. They have no idea what good grammar is, mix up homophones, split infinitives, head hop, change tenses, misspell words, and more. Although I am not trying to downgrade any one aspect, I find this is especially true of self-published writers, but it also pertains to some of the “professionally” published books I’ve seen lately. I just finished reading a book for review that had the basics of a good story, but I could not finish it because the writing was so bad. The writer head-hopped all over the place, sometimes within the same paragraph, and once within the same sentence (basically, this means switching point of view too many times so the reader doesn’t know which character’s head she is in). In addition, she constantly mixed up word usage, especially peek/peak/pique and other homophones. These are not the same words and do not have the same meaning. It was obvious, at least to me, that she used just a basic spell-check program. This would not pick these words up since they are spelled correctly, but they were definitely used incorrectly. It’s a shame the book came across so poorly because I think there was a kernel of a good story in there, but I could not in good conscience recommend it because of the writing (And no, I did not post a review. I wrote back to the author and gave her my opinions and suggested she find a good editor before she went forward, which she is doing.)
I’m not saying nobody makes mistakes. Typos happen. They happen to me all the time, especially when typing fast. So do other mistakes. And I’m horrendous at editing my own work. Most writers will tell you they have trouble editing their own work – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is always a good idea to have someone else read your manuscript before it gets sent out. A new set of eyes will pick up what you may have missed. But therein lies part of the problem. If you’re going to pick someone out to critique your manuscript, they should at least know the basics of grammar or they’re going to miss the problem issues as well.
So please, if you’re going to write a novel – or anything – learn how to spell, learn the definitions of words, learn punctuation and grammar, learn about point of view and continuity. In other words, learn the craft of writing. If you don’t care for these basics, or are too caught up in your own writing to care, then at least lay out the bucks and hire someone to take care of it for you. Your readers will thank you. And I will too.
Some books and/or links to look at for help:
The Chicago Manual of Style – THE book for all things grammar
Strunk and White’s Elements of Style – a classic that should be in every writer’s library
A good dictionary – Merriam Webster is a good place to start, but any good dictionary will do
Common Errors in the English Language
Random House dictionary
American Heritage dictionary
Getty Research Institute – for vocabulary
Purdue University Writing Lab