Can you imagine a nutritionist who eats exclusively at fast food restaurants? A personal trainer who never exercises? A writer who can’t be bothered with grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
In most professions, best practices and tools of the trade are mandatory. If you want to be a lawyer, you must pass the Bar exam. If you want to land a job in accounting, you need math skills. But writers can easily finagle around best writing practices, especially with the increasing accessibility of self-publishing.
Basic grammar skills used to be mandatory — not just for writers but for all high school graduates. These days, you can get out of college with a degree but no clue how to properly structure a sentence or differentiate between they’re, their, and there.
I’ve lamented the fact that grammar is absent from education. But I’m even more saddened by the absence of good grammar among self-proclaimed writers.
Good Grammar Habits for Writers
I’m not going to rehash all the reasons writers should practice good grammar. It all boils down to being a professional and showing respect for the craft of writing and for your readers.
Learning grammar — mastering grammar — requires a long-term commitment. You don’t have to spend hours every day poring over grammar guides and dissecting sentences, but you do need to develop a few basic grammar-related writing habits.
These are the habits I’ve adopted in my own writing practices. Through experimentation, trial and error, and sheer willpower, I’ve managed to turn these practices into ingrained habits.
- 1. Know What You Don’t Know
- Nothing chaps my hide like a self-proclaimed author/writer/editor/proofreader who doesn’t understand the basics of grammar. I frequently come across blogs (and comments) that promise writing tips or expertise but offer more in the way of promoting mistakes. I suspect these writers don’t realize they’re getting it wrong (and spreading bad grammar like a disease). Take a step back and figure out what you do and don’t know. And before you offer advice, make sure you know what you’re talking about.
- 2. Collect Resources and Build Your Arsenal
- Got a friend who’s a grammar geek? Is the Chicago Manual of Style (aff link) still sitting on your wish list? Do you have a bookmarks folder packed with reputable grammar websites? Round up your resources so when questions arise, you can quickly and easily get (correct) answers.
- 3. Look it Up
- When you’re writing and come across a grammar question, take a few minutes to go in search of the answer. Don’t write around it or put it off for some future writing project. Stop and look it up right now. And remember that every time you look up something, you increase your worth and skill as a writer.
- 4. Read Well and with a Sharp Eye
- If you read nothing but blogs and social media posts, you’re not reading well. Make time in your reading schedule for books that you know are well written — books that have gone through the tried-and-true editing and proofreading processes. Also, read with an eye for grammar. Be on the lookout for questionable sentence structures, typos, and other errors.
- 5. Polish Your Work
- Most writers who produce material that is littered with bad grammar actually know the rules but haven’t properly edited and proofread their work. All the learning and resources in the world won’t matter if you don’t double-check every writing project and fix all those pesky typos and grammar mistakes that you made as you rushed through the first draft.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; it’s based solely on my own experiences, so if you have any tips or best practices to add, please share by leaving a comment. Keep practicing those good grammar habits, and most importantly, keep writing!