I recently started relearning how to play the guitar after a rather long hiatus. It’s not like I ever learned how to play it properly in the first place — so I’m still a beginner. And at times, I find it frustrating. I just want to pick the thing up and rip out a song, but I’m constantly tripping over my own fingers, and let’s not even talk about the pain that comes from pressing your fingertips against thick metal strings, repeatedly and for extended periods of time.
Writing’s not so different from playing the guitar. Sometimes we get hung up on the technicalities of the language, and the creative flow is hindered. It’s not easy to rip out a short story when you’re worrying about whether you can end a sentence with a preposition or whether your terminal punctuation marks go inside or outside of the quotation marks. These kinds of setbacks can be painful.
Learning the rules is a drag when you want to fly, but to master any craft, it’s essential to build a solid foundation. Learn the basics; memorize and practice them until they become second nature, and then you can really take off.
Grammar Helps You Write Better
You don’t have to learn grammar in order to write — just like you don’t have to learn how to read music to play the guitar — but it sure helps if you want to make music instead of a bunch of noise. Your poem might be captivating, your short story compelling, and your essay might be a veritable masterpiece…when read aloud. But if in writing, the grammar is shoddy, you’re going to have a hard time getting published or finding readers.
Even with years of practice and learning, questions about grammar continue to arise. I’ve seen college professors (who taught English) wonder about the rules of good grammar or turn to a handy reference book to look something up.
That’s why I believe that good grammar is a commitment, and for writers, it’s a lifelong commitment. It’s not what makes a writer, but lack of good grammar can definitely break a writer.
The Grammar Lifestyle
I’ve always been interested in grammar and writing well. But since I launched this blog back in 2007, I’ve become increasingly dedicated to understanding grammar. Oh, I break the rules from time to time, but I try to know which rules I’m breaking and why.
Today I thought I’d share some tips for making good grammar part of your daily life. These tips are taken from my own experience, habits, and practices. All of them have helped me expand my grammar skills and become a better writer.
- Stop being lazy: When you’re not sure if you’ve written a sentence correctly, take a couple of minutes to look it up instead of rewriting it or hoping for the best.
- Invest in writing tools and resources: These include reference books that deal with grammar and style. My personal favorite is The Chicago Manual of Style (aff link).
- Make it a chore: Some chores you do every day, while others can be tackled weekly or monthly. Set a schedule for regular grammar lessons and stick to it. They don’t have to be long. You can learn something valuable in five short minutes!
- Talk about it: Turn your grammar questions into conversations. Ask others how they use language. Oddly, I find that even non-writers are interested in basic grammar questions. And if you can’t find anyone who wants to discuss good grammar, take your conversation online. Remember you should always use a credible resource, but discussing grammar-related issues can be a good way to learn the nuances, intricacies, and to gain broader understanding.
- Put it to practice: Every time you learn something new, incorporate it into your writing until it becomes second nature.
Good Grammar for Writers
Writing isn’t really about grammar; it’s about communication. A writer’s job is to share ideas, inform, and entertain. Yet grammar is essential to clear writing. If you write without understanding grammar, it’s like playing a game without learning the rules. You’ll be all over the place, your performance will be a big mess, and you won’t have a very good shot at winning.
So make grammar part of your daily life. Get it into your routine and embrace it as part of the work you have to do in order to write well.