The dirtiest word in the English language

I have to mention a dirty word—grammar. Oh, horrors! I know, I know. Studying grammar is about as much fun as poking yourself in the eye with a stick. But if you take writing seriously, you have to acquire the tools of the trade. If you want to build a house, you have to do the same thing—get the proper tools, learn how to use them, and learn carpentry. Unless you do that, your new home will look like a tree house built by nine-year-olds.

Most technical shortcomings are as crucial as the literary ones to providing your readers with a smooth reading experience. If, for instance, your reader notices that you have written many run-on sentences or that your page is peppered with semicolons, his/her read is disrupted as much as if your scenes lacked details of the setting or your plot wandered off on a tangent.

I also know that obvious problems with grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling are reason numero uno for rejecting a manuscript. Literary agents and acquisitions editors rarely read more than a few pages—or only one page—before hitting the Reject button, which is easy for them to do when they see writing that’s littered with technical clunkers.

Many readers who aren’t as sophisticated as literary agents also notice writing errors. As proof of that, find some self-published novels on Amazon and read their reviews, especially the one- and two-star ones, not the five-star ones the author solicited from family, friends, and all their pets. Some of these reviewers mention how grammar and punctuation errors disrupted or ruined their reading experience. Too many self-pubbed authors have made the mistake of skipping the last step in the process in their rush to get into print—having their book professionally edited. As a result, they embarrass themselves and fail to sell books.

Sorry, friends, but you can’t get around the need for this kind of education if you want to be a competent writer. You simply must learn about all the nuts and bolts.

So okay. Maybe now you have decided to suck it up and learn about the rules of the writing road. Where to start? Take a class, either online or off. Buy a good college-level textbook and study it cover to cover. Or find a website like this one:

I  can help you, too. I will discuss some technical issues and other things in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services

Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

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