4 Reasons Freelance Writers Shouldn’t Be Grammar Police

Editor

Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers. Makelivingwriting.com

Note: Are you part of the grammar police? Or do you despise well-meaning writers who can’t overlook an errant punctuation mark or typo? In this post, originally written by Linda Formichelli, she serves up four in-your-face reasons grammar police make terrible freelance writers. Enjoy! —Carol.

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 a deep breath 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? Tell me about it on Facebook.

Linda Formichelli is the founder and creative director of Hero’s Journey Content, LLC, which offers personality-driven content for complex brands.

 

6 Comments

  1. Beverly Coomer

    I’m so glad you’ve differentiated grammar police from word lovers! I admit with shame that I’ve spent time on both sides of those jailhouse bars, and come to realize that I’d honestly rather be in the cell with the rest of you charming and hilarious creative ne’er-do-wells, than toting tea with the uplifted pinkies and noses of the uniformed uninformed. Although, I must say that “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” is still one of my favorite reads! Thanks, Carol, for re-posting, and reminding me to major on the majors!

    Reply
  2. Kaitlin Morrison

    Good post! I think a lot of people are in love with the IDEA of being a professional writer, not the reality. They love to imagine feather quill pens and ink pots, living a creative life following your muse, leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee with a novel draft they’re slowly working on with their typewriter.

    I met this one lady who told me she’d make a great professional writer because she loves grammar and diagramming sentences. Nothing wrong with that, but she’d probably happier teaching the English language, rather than having to produce writing consistently day in and day out like a lot of need to.

    Reply
    • Kaitlin Morrison

      Ha, like “a lot of US need to,” that’s what I meant. 😉

      Reply
    • Carol Tice

      Agree! The big takeaway I got in 12 years as a staffer, watching new hires wash out over and over, is that not many people can do what we do. Not many people can write FOR A LIVING, where you need to have several ideas every single week, and then go out and successfully execute on those, to stay fed. Poking at other peoples’ writing is far easier!

      Reply
  3. Kiwi-ian

    Maybe some “grammar police” have a bad attitude because of all the arrogant grammar criminals who cannot, and will not, simply acknowledge that they have made a mistake.

    In think the biggest mistake is not checking what you’ve written before pressing go (you’d call this proof-reading). This would eliminate many spelling errors, typos, etc. And it is why editors exist, to correct the errors of writers without changing the style or message. And I began these sentences with ‘and’!

    The thing is, English DOES have rules, and these rules need to be enforced. The whole point of language is communication and if I, a reader, do not understand what the writer has written because of ambiguities introduced by bad grammar, spelling and style, then the writer has failed. It is not my fault for misunderstanding, it is the writer’s fault for misleading.

    As for great writers bending the rules, this is because they know the rules and are bending them for effect. It’s a bit like Picasso colouring in over the lines. We know he can do it properly, but for effect he’s deliberately doing it, but it’s not like a four-year-old’s attempts. Let the child learn how to do it properly, and then let them go.

    It’s the same for grammar. Teach the kids how to spell, punctuate, use words, and then set them free. Letting them run before they can walk is a recipe for them being unable to communicate clearly and concisely with anyone outside their group or class which will only close doors and hold them back.

    Reply
    • Kiwi-ian

      Who spotted the typos that should have been picked up by my proof reading. Guilty as charged.

      Para 2 should start “I think . . .” Apologies for any others. These are my mistakes and I have to own up to this sloppiness.

      Reply

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