by Linda Formichelli
The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:
Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong
set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master
the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.
(I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit Delete.)
And here’s a small excerpt of a 400-word comment I got a few months ago pointing out two typos in a post:
This the very first article of yours that I have read and I already have an image of you built in my mind. A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done! Not very flattering, is it.
I DO NOT think that of you, but I could and all because of two little mistakes in your writing! A person’s writing is a reflection of them, is it not? Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?
I know other professional writers get all kinds of emails pointing out their typos and grammatical errors.
So what’s the problem? People need to know when they’re wrong so they can improve, so why not be the one to let them know — right?
Wrong. Here’s why you should retire your Grammar Police badge forever.
1. Grammar Police aren’t perfect
Did you notice the mistakes in these two Grammar Police messages I received? In the first one, he put the period outside of the quote marks. (And I know he’s American, so he has no excuse.) In the second, he wrote “advise” for “advice.” (And there were many more mistakes in the rest of the 400 words he posted.
People in glass houses and all that.
If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect. And who wants that kind of stress?
2. Grammar Police waste time
The time and energy you spend policing other people’s grammar is better spent elsewhere — like, say, writing.
I just had to look up the guy who unsubscribed from my Morning Motivations emails because of a perceived double negative, and discovered that he has a book on Amazon. A book with a flabby three-star average rating (out of five stars). And reviews calling the book “boring.”
With all the time he spent getting PO’d about my grammar, writing and sending me an email, and unsubscribing from my list, he could have improved his own writing by reading a writing blog, reading chapter of a book on the writing craft, or editing some of his own work.
I guarantee you will never see, say, Stephen King shooting off an email to a writer admonishing her for a typo. He’s too busy, you know, writing bestsellers.
3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes
I love it when people write to me and say, “You may not have noticed this, but I wanted to let you know you have a misspelled word in the title of your post.” That is constructive criticism and that writer doesn’t earn the moniker “Grammar Police.”
I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.
If that’s the attitude you display to other writers, you’re going to have a hard time networking and making friends in the writing community. And we all know how important contacts are in this industry, right?
4. Grammar Police have trouble writing
People who are sticklers for grammar and who blow up over typos tend to be perfectionists who never get their writing out to the world because they’re too concerned with making it perfect — which it will never be.
When you see a writer who is über prolific, you’ll find that they make the occasional error. That’s because they don’t get hung up on getting it perfect — they get hung up on getting it done.
Also, show me someone who gets hyper about grammar and I’ll show you someone whose writing is probably stilted, businesslike, and boring. I mean, “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously”? Snooooze.
Good writers know how and when to bend — and break — the rules. For example, sometimes purposely breaking a grammar rule adds emphasis, or makes a piece of writing more conversational and reader-friendly.
Okay — time to hang up your Grammar Police uniform for good, and instead spend your time writing, writing, writing.
Ever had a run in with the Grammar Police? Let us know what happened in the comments below.
Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines, is the co-author of The Renegade Writer and blogs about writing at The Renegade Writer. Her new book is Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race and Step Into a Career You’ll Love (Carol’s link there. Appreciate your support!).