Paul.E.Bailey’s World – Living the Dream Part 12 (Grammar)

Welcome back to my on-running series. I hope you like the new title image. As much as I like the quote from the old one I figured I’d freshen up the image and keep it simple.

On my recent break from blogging, I took the decisive step of refreshing myself as regards grammar. This is something that has weighed rather heavily on my mind over the years because, as a writer, I feel I should have a very good grasp of grammar. Being a writer and not being a good grammarian is, to me, like being an electrician who doesn’t know what a plug is.

I’d like to stress that I feel I do and always have had a decent grasp of grammar. The problem is that it’s kind of been by accident and applying common sense rather than actual knowledge of it. Even an electrician who doesn’t know what a plug is will be able to look at the three prongs (talking British plugs here that include the earth—like all good plugs should!) and work out how the plug goes into the socket. Common sense is a commodity worth its weight in gold (I’ve never quite understood that phrase as common sense doesn’t actually ‘weigh’ anything).

However, despite applying common sense and getting away with it, there has always been this niggling voice in my head that screams “Charlatan!” while I type away; somehow hitting the right keys at the right times with a good degree of unwitting accuracy.

I could have continued on that path and perhaps got away with it too. I didn’t want to though. It’s always been on the agenda to do something about my lack of grammatical knowledge. I was considering some kind of course initially. That never would have worked. Besides, all I really wanted to do was educate myself as opposed to gain some form of qualification. With that in mind I began searching eBay for low-priced self-teaching books. Then a further bout of inspiration struck: “Hey, Paul,” I said to myself, “you have a library card there that you haven’t used in years. Now might be a great time to dust it off.” I paid heed to my own inner voice and headed on down to the local library where I stumbled across the Teach Yourself ® book, Essential English Grammar, by Ron Simpson.

It took me longer to work through the damned thing than I’d planned and all I really did was take notes. Initially I was going through the little pop quizzes at the end of each section too (with varying degrees of success), but ended up leaving them out as I went along; instead opting to download a couple of grammar apps for my phone with tests included on them. I’m yet to try them out at this stage. I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on with those.

Going through the book has taught me a lot. While I’m certainly not the perfect grammarian overnight I do at least feel that I have some proper knowledge now as opposed to relying on common sense. Essential English Grammar is a good book and Ron Simpson breaks the topic of grammar down into very concise chunks. I feel much more confident heading into a new manuscript now as well as feeling like I might actually be able to do a good job of self-editing Revenge on the Spanish Main.

I spent much of the book confused as to why Englishman Simpson opted to use z in place of s in some words (e.g. localized) until all became clear in chapter 11 (Affixes: prefixes and suffixes). The ize suffix isn’t strictly an Americanism at all and is perfectly correct where verbs end in ise (pronounced ‘eyes’ of course). There again, ise is also correct so it comes down to a matter of personal preference—such is the case with a lot of grammar as I’ve come to realise (or is it realize?).

The strange thing about grammar is that I really don’t care if the grammar of others isn’t great. All that concerns me is that what they’ve written is entertaining, educational, informative, etc. While I notice the errors, they don’t bother me at all and I don’t judge the piece based on the grammar, only the content. Yet when it comes to my own writing I want it to be as grammatically sound as I can get it. The yardstick I set for myself is that much further down the road than the yardstick I set for others. That’s not because I perceive myself as being better than others. It’s because I’m my harshest critic and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. That was one of the reasons I went on the break. My perfectionism had taken leave and I was allowing sloppy work to slip through the net. The only way to stop that was by taking a step back and looking at everything from a different standpoint.

I’m glad I decided to go through with relearning grammar. I’m glad I didn’t just get the book out from the library and then proceed to ignore it. I’m glad I saw it through to its conclusion. Now feel in a much stronger position than I was. While most of it was reinforcing and/or refreshing what I already knew, I have picked up a few things I wasn’t aware of too: little bits of ammunition and armour that weren’t there before and will protect me from the evils of grammatical incorrectness.

It’s all another step towards that one big goal of getting Revenge published. The way I see it is if the manuscript is as close to grammatically perfect as I can get it the better my chances of publication. I could be wrong, though I can hardly see being a decent grammarian as anything other than helpful.

My foray into this world has taught me one thing: a lot of what we consider/are told are right or wrong these days is in fact perfectly fine. So much of grammar is personal choice that you wouldn’t believe it if I listed it. The aforementioned ‘ise/ize’; the use of em dashes instead of brackets; semicolons and colons used to break up sentences (I see these used so little while I’ve always liked the semicolon as a punctuation mark); as ranted about in a previous Living the Dream post, the use of flamboyant verbs to describe speech and manner. All of these are perfectly sound along with so much more.

So the next time somebody is telling you that something isn’t right, I suggest you pick up a grammar book and consult that rather than listening to the hearsay and opinions of others. From this point onwards that is precisely what I shall be doing and encouraging others to do when they’re questioning themselves or being questioned by others.

Grammar is important. I don’t care what anybody says. People may butcher the English language via their fast and loose use of it on social media, but I believe it’s as important now as it ever was. Without it, we would be spelling words and forming sentences in whatever way we choose whilst losing most everybody in translation. Grammar deserves our respect; especially us writers. I certainly won’t become a Grammar Nazi and go through everyone’s posts picking them apart. In fact it infuriates me when I see somebody make a good and valid point on social media just for some smart-arse to comment “*You’re” or suchlike. That said I do believe we should all be paying particular care to grammar if the desire is to have our words seen by the many. Surely that is just common sense. Surely that is just respect for the English language.

Catch up with all previous additions to this series by clicking here.

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