February 5, 2007

Grammar Slammar…Wait, I think I mean SlammEr.

GRAMMAR came up as an aside in a recent entry over at one of my FAVO blogs, Miss Snark. Go read the entry AND THE COMMENTS and then come back….

My response: Yikes.

I tried to leave a comment, but it kept sounding panicked and self justifying and defensive, so I crept away, tail tucked, and decided to be panicked and self justifying and defensive HERE instead of pouring it all over Snarktown. I left, but not before I---in an act of masochism SO SUPREME it could rightfully be called masochism bel grande----looked back farther in the snarkives and saw the last time I left a comment of Miss Snark’s blog, it had no fewer than 5 typos/errors, and probably more I didn’t spot as I glanced over it, burning with white hot fevered shame. So. Full confession time. I did my standard disclaimer about my inability to write CLEAN sentences in blog entry and cited time constraints. And that’s true. Up to a point. PROOFING would take me twice as long as it took to write the dern thing --- FOUR times as long if I wanted to actually catch more than 75% of the errors.

When it comes to my own work, I am BLIND to homophones. I THERE when I mean THEY'RE or THEIR. I Proscribe Prescriptions and prescribe proscroptions. I have such a diffused understanding of defuse I should release both from the stable of my vocabulary while singing BORN FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, and never try to harness them again. I let sleeping dogs Lie or Lay, just as they choose, and I made so MANY breathe/breathe errors in my first MS I am surprised my editor did not have me assassinated.

I even CALLED her when the copy edited MS came and I saw that over the course of 400 pages I had not ONCE used either word correctly… This was gods in Alabama, our first book together, and I thought, “GREAT! Now my new editor thinks I am brain damaged.” So I called.

Me: *in desperate tones* I need you to know I DO know the difference between Breath and Breathe. Breath is a NOUN. BREATHE with an E is a verb. I DO KNOW! I DO, I DO, I SWEAR, AND I NEEEEEEEEED YOU TO KNOW I KNOW.
Her: I accept that you know. Perhaps I’ll assume it was a [political protest of some sort. If it makes you feel better, you are the first person I have seen use the word nonplussed correctly this year…
Me: Yes. Okay. But THAT was probably an accident.

There is a REASON I spent more words in my acknowledgements thanking my copy editor than I have thanking my mom.

An editor who bid on one of my books once sent a letter to my agent that said MANY MANY GLORIOUS KIND THINGS. The word GENIUS, I confess, was bandied about, and my mind was compared to a warm bedroom and rollercoaster in the same ‘graph. Delicious. It’s a letter I KEPT for dark days when the writing is going poorly and I suspect I should go get an accounting degree and stop tormenting hapless gerunds who, after all, never did anything to ME…But in all this praise – some of the nicest things anyone has EVER said about my work---- is this sentence:

“At one point I was prompted to wonder how a mind so brilliant could be so consistently baffled by something as simple as the possessive plural.”

I am going to hell. I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW.

Rather than beating myself up EVERY DERN DAY, I have excuses that allow me to live with myself.
I say: Metaphorically speaking I DO NOT CARE if my socks match, as long as my feet are warm.
I say: I get so interested in STORY and CHARACTER that when I am writing, I do not really LOOK AT THE WORDS like, you know, words.
I say: I CAN reliably grade a freshman comp paper, but I CANNOT see those same errors in my work.
I say: I have an EAR for language – I read everything I write out loud and I can HEAR when the structure is wrong, but I can't LOOK at a sentence and see what's wrong, hence the homophone and spelling problems....

All these things are true. But knowing that doesn’t help me forgive myself when I reverse the N and G in EVERY ING word type. I feel SUCH shame over this ---especially reading comments like the ones that state with such authority that people (read: I) MUST NOT be able to WRITE a story simply because they (read: I) can’t write an error free SENTENCE. “These are not the same skill sets,” I want to yell. “Not every perfect English teacher can write a freakin’ novel, and not every novelist can diagram one of Henry James’s gorgeous convoluted monstrosities.”

I think this is part of my genetic poison, the A or F dichotomy that is INHERENTLY the gift and curse of every Jackson. I’ll talk about that more later. Right now I have to go lie down with a compress on my head and have self-pitying vapors.

Posted by joshilyn at February 5, 2007 9:12 AM

Turn off the vapors and go have some chocolate. You are an incredibly gifted and talented writer, so who cares what your rough draft looks like?

I have a very good grasp of the English language, and I try, try, try to use words correctly-- grammatically. I HATE (with the heat of 1,000 white hot suns) when I make a typo. . .but I hate it with the heat of 1,001 white hot suns when someone points out my GLARING error as though I am stupid and should know better.

The fact is, writing a novel, writing a letter, writing a blog comment, writing a note to your child's teacher. . .all should be done correctly. But it's just not gonna happen every time--especially if you are a word person and venture into the world of grammar a lot.

You are absolutely correct in saying that a grammatically correct teacher cannot necessarily write a novel, even though they make their living using words correctly. It's just like a mute illiterate who can carve living things out of a chunk of pine--each person has their own talents.

Much like being pregnant, grammatical errors are more noticeable than say, someone who bites their own toenails in the privacy of their bathroom. I would say that biting your toenails is probably a much more frowned upon behavior than not knowing the difference between lay and lie (and I THINK that lay is what you do with something else--lie is what you do with yourself--as in Bagel will lay his bone down or Bagel will lie down to rest--Bagel was laid low by Schubert, so Bagel will need to lie down and recover.)

The point of all the run one sentences with missing punctuation and parenthetical asides--you kick butt as an author AND a blog writer-- just get Laura Florind (whose name I probably misspelled even though I know to use "whose" rather than "who's" and that misspelled has two "s's")to send your copy editor some of her sister's truffles. I'm sure your copy editor loves that fact that you keep him/her employed.

Posted by: Roxanne at February 5, 2007 9:48 AM

And just to make you feel better. . .I wrote "on" as "one." See what a good fan I am?????

Posted by: Roxanne at February 5, 2007 9:52 AM

I used to blame the South's educational system for my deficiencies until I met my husband who, despite a podunk TN education, sported a 36 English ACT score. Now I blame the way I think. I am a visual/spatial learner. I write what I see and when I have to rearrange a paragraph (or a whole novel) to better suit all those linear thinkers out there I think I should just chuck it and do interior design. A photographic memory should be good for something.

Your oral/aural learning style comes out in your novels. It's definitely your strength and why your character's voices are so distinct. Writers should always highlight their strengths, but recognizing and working on their weaknesses will only make them better.

Posted by: Sabra at February 5, 2007 10:53 AM

I can proof read something five times and it won't be until I hit send that I see my worse, most glaring, and abusive typo or error(s). Never fails, I believe the universe thrives on these errors...like some universal fodder or something.

As I always say, "I can type 80 words a minute if you don't count the typos."

H always comes before t, b is almost always a v or an n (if I cut my nails it's worse.) And how many people you know write than, when it should be then? Thing when it should be think?

I often write by sound. Why, when writing about a rock group do they write singular? when it is a group of musicians, and therefore is plural? Makes no sense to me.

He who is without sin, shall cast the first stone.

Posted by: Cele at February 5, 2007 12:18 PM

Ladies (so far), there are so many things much worse then (than?) what you're describing! Like you could be me, who is so obsessive/compulsive about the typos/grammar thing as to spend hours scrubbing each word with soap until they bleed! (metaphorically-speaking) And yet I still find mistakes, goofs and have folks gleefully point out things I didn't even know I was doing wrong.

All of which I could live with if the end result of my writing was anything as "wowsers!" and "goddamn!" and "mercy me!" as what Joss has written. (and frankly I'm gonna go check out the blogs of these other commenters now because I expect they're also great writers, based on their terrible grammatical habits... winky face!)

Posted by: Femtastic at February 5, 2007 12:45 PM

Pish posh. I think the first guy who commented on the Snarkity Snark Snark blog is a frustrated non-writer who wants to be a writer so badly and can't understand why everything he writes is crap even though each word is spelled exactly right, with all the right punctuation and no dangling participles of any kind.

I admit to being rather OCD when it comes to punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. When I am looking at something where that is supposed to have been fixed (like, say, a finished, published novel or the daily newspaper or a sign in a store), it drives me absolutely NUTS. When I'm reading something personal, however, like an e-mail from a friend or someone's blog, I could care less. I notice the mistakes, but I do not feel at all driven to correct them. The ONLY time I would do such a thing would be if a friend e-mailed me something and said, "Read this and fix all of my mistakes." Then I would skip and jump happily while I did it because I derive a weird sort of pleasure from that sort of thing :)

I am NOT a good writer, OCD notwithstanding. I can write a mean transmittal letter, but tackling anything longer than 2 pages is not going to result in anything pretty. I can, however, edit the hell out of something. Give me someone else's creativity and I can improve it. I just can't create it on my own...

Anyway. Bottom line is that B,G is the best book I have read in YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, and I read your blog religiously, so I know about your errors. And anyone who says that you should not be a writer because of them deserves to be boiled alive in a pot of alphabet soup. With all of the letters drawn backwards.

Posted by: JenA at February 5, 2007 1:04 PM

A part of me would love to see you write your "these are not the same skill sets" argument over at Ms. Snark's place, because you're absolutely correct, but of course it wouldn't help. The people who would agree already get that and the people who don't get it still won't and will rip you a new asshole (so to speak), so there's not much point in posting it there.

You don't need to have self-pitying vapors, really you don't. You're a WRITER, not an EDITOR! If all writers had perfect spelling and grammar skills, then editors would be out of work and you wouldn't want to do that to your poor editor, right? So to my way of thinking your spelling and grammar errors are you way of boosting the economy...sort of like a literary version of shoe shopping. :-)

Posted by: DebR at February 5, 2007 1:27 PM

Amen, sister. And for the record, may I just say that THAT david was not THIS David. I, of the two-index-fingered typing method have long been unable to keep from typing stroy instead of story. And lie/lay? I always have trouble with that. It's misused so often that the correct usage sounds wrong to me most of the time. In summary: Rock on, Joss! You are a kick-butt story/stroy writer and we SO STEADFASTLY HEART YOU with little pink candy valentines and everything! Ha! Let them put THAT in their pipe and snark it.

Posted by: David at February 5, 2007 1:37 PM

The commentor at Miss Snark? I have a hard time believing that person is a writer. A bitter editor, mayhap, but a writer? Nuh-uh. No one who has ever truly written a first draft can fault writers for errors that everyone makes.

And that is what the blogosphere is, when it comes right down to it. Some people get their entries proofed. Some people throw it threw there spell checker sew as too cover they're knotty bits. But the blogosphere is essentially casual. So yes, Virginia, there are spelling errors out there, and some of them aren't pretty. Point is, however, not many of them need to be. If your audience is smart enough, you get the "Cambridge spelling study" effect ( http://www.2flashgames.com/f/f-Spelling-Study-2477.htm )

Anywhich, writers tell good stories That is what a writer is. A stroyteller who shares through print. First and foremost, no matter how great your grammar may or may not be, if the story sucks you've got nothing to stand on. Which means the reverse is also true -- if you're a great story-teller (and, Jos, you *are*, by the by) -- grammar is ultimately a moot point. If you haven't already got an understanding editor, you get your mother/cousin/next door neighbor/erudite chinchilla to proof it. Then thank them lots.

Posted by: Alix R at February 5, 2007 1:47 PM

Kid: Mom, lookit! *eyes wide a saucers* It's an erudite chinchilla! Can I keep it? Can I, huh, can I?
Mom: It's "May I," and the answer is no. Now, come along.

Posted by: David at February 5, 2007 1:52 PM

English is just too hard. It cries out for reform.

Imagine my amazement and jealousy when I found out that in Spanish, once you hear a word, you can pretty much spell it. Each letter has its own sound, and that sound is consistently applied to that letter. Conversely, when you see a word, you can pronounce it correctly.

Why can't WE do that?

Posted by: SUEB0B at February 5, 2007 2:06 PM

I, personally, would rather read your typo filled posts daily than a perfect post monthly. Don't most brains read right over slight errors? Unless you're *looking* for them, how does one spot them?

A blog post is a short note to your friends (which I just typed wrong and had to fix - it always comes out firends). I don't know when to use dash versus comma. Does that mean I shouldn't have asides in my posts? That's just how I talk. And my firends are accustom to it.

The stuff you're paid for has an editor for good reason. What would she do for a living if you were a perfect typist? She'd be bored. Think of her happiness! Correcting your typing and paying attention to homophones is just selfish.

Posted by: Cat at February 5, 2007 3:00 PM

I know editors get frustrated from error-filled manuscripts much as I pulled out my hair for a year after reading a continuous string of essays written by eleventh graders in which a three page essay had ONE period at the end. When told they needed to break their writing up into paragraphs of multiple sentences, I was asked, "What do you mean, 'sentences?'"
Blog/comment errors, I suggest, are much less heinous.
Blogging should feel like a friendly conversation, and we all make mistakes in our speech as well, so that's the way we should write. Please don't spend more time correcting grammar at the expense of your beautiful novels. That would be tragic!
Sometimes I feel that way in a novel. You have to break some of the grammar "rules" to make your fiction writing feel all warm and cozy. I would NEVER cut it as an editor. I just don't have that kind of attention to detail and I'm really not all that patient either. I'll just stick to making crap up.

Posted by: Michelle at February 5, 2007 4:01 PM

Honey, those of us editor/writer types who obsess over "lie/lay" and "breath/breathe" are supremely jealous of those of you who can write moving, engaging prose with ease. As you say, that's why you have copy editors! No need for shame!

And, as I currently write mostly for newspapers, I can tell you that copy editors make mistakes too!

Posted by: Edgy Mama at February 5, 2007 4:05 PM

Alas, I'm *always* Lenadra when I type. I think she's my alter ego.

Posted by: Leandra at February 5, 2007 4:24 PM

If I may, I would like to second JenA's comment:
"Bottom line is that B,G is the best book I have read in YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, and I read your blog religiously, so I know about your errors. And anyone who says that you should not be a writer because of them deserves to be boiled alive in a pot of alphabet soup. With all of the letters drawn backwards."

I love, love, love your writing, in whatever form I can find it! I have a BA in English, yet I myself am unclear on the whole lie/lay thing. I actually learned more about grammar in my media writing/editing class (such as that vs. which and anxious vs. eager). I'd like to think I'm a good proofreader but even things slip by me. Anyway, Joshilyn, you obviously have found what works for you; don't second-guess yourself. I am EAGERLY awaiting TGWSS!! :)

Posted by: Andrea at February 5, 2007 5:44 PM

Big deal. I can't proof my own stuff either. Write on!

Posted by: parrotzmom at February 5, 2007 6:47 PM

Well Hon-I think most writers and make believe writers such as myself are probably slightly OCD on this subject. We want everyone to know that we KNOW better. But if its casual writing and you can get your point across - well, does it really matter? Now when its someone like T-Mobile and they put "done" as an option for when you have finished entering your choices- That will absolutely make me crazy.

Posted by: Cathi at February 5, 2007 8:02 PM

You know, I'm sort of envious of writers who can ignore the editing part and just get right to the story. I worked as a copy editor, and it suited my Virgo anal-retentive self, and I literally can't read printed publications that are riddled with errors. It makes reading a newspaper downright impossible. Our small town paper's editor misused "horde" for "hoard" in his editor's note, and that sort of thing--by an EDITOR--drives me nuts. My OCD on this sort of thing drives my HUSBAND nuts. I admit to fixing errors in my own blog posts after they're published. Perhaps I should be on some sort of medication--I don't know.

BUT. The flip side is that during NaNoWriMo I actually took off my glasses while I typed so I could not get hung up on my own typos and errors, so that I didn't stop writing to go fix them right then. I need work suppressing my inner editor. She is a hard, driven witch. She needs a good boot-stomping to keep her dead until the last draft.

I guess I'm saying neither camp is the Be All and End All, and so the snarky editor types should just be quiet, unless, of course, they all have wonderful novels under their belt and did not require the use of an editor at all. AND, even as a former copy editor and current compulsive, I keep a grammar manual handy, to which I refer whenever lay/lie comes up. Once I get to that final draft, of course...

Posted by: amy at February 5, 2007 8:07 PM

Everyone makes misteaks.

The button hanging in my cube at work:
Prooffreading at it's best.

I tell people there are at least 3 mistakes in/on that button. 'Cause, I'm not sure there aren't more than the 3 I see.

And your writing, Miss Joshilyn, is so good as to totally obscure any fiddly little typos. Or render them impotent or something.

Posted by: Lulu at February 5, 2007 8:58 PM

I taught high school English for ten years and was compulsive about spelling and grammar. Then I became a bookseller, and since I've started reading Advance Reader Copies (and if any of you've read them, you know how completely filled with grammatical errors - and plot point oddities - they are so that they're almost a world unto themselves) I've discovered that I can either go completely bats over each error, or I can focus on reading books before anyone else gets to do so.

My priority is the work, not the structure. But I think copy editors who do magnificent work, as many of them do, deserve a lot more space in heaven with all the really good chocolate.

Having said all that, I still can't type "the" properly the first time. It's always "hte".

I do, however, tend to snarl and growl and faint in coils when I see "alot". Makes me positively snarky, which is where this all started in the first place!

Posted by: Fran at February 5, 2007 11:08 PM

Yes. Well. Meanwhile, I can produce a gramatically correct sentence most of the time (spelling is a whole 'nother story). I can produce reams of boring, precise sentances. *sigh*
I'd much rather read you. Your writing is like a roller coaster.

Posted by: Kira at February 5, 2007 11:16 PM

Once upon a time, I offered a web site for small town journalists. It was free and full of good solid advice (Lots of people including Marcia Yudkin even said so!)

Alas, I no longer offer said site because I got tired of people e-mailing me about very minor typos and acting as if I had committed bloody gory murder. To which I wanted to say "You handcode 50 plus pages of HTML PLUS write the copy and see how YOU do." Of course, they didn't care about that....

I also have Leandra's problem, which is how many people on the lovely Internets came to know me as...

Lidna SureWould

Posted by: Linda Sherwood at February 6, 2007 9:00 AM

I'm a copyeditor (freelance), and if it's any consolation, yours is one of my favorite blogs, despite the typos. It's your voice that comes through, and it's such an engaging and perceptive voice that I am able to overlook mechanics because I know that's all they are. Believe me, it's rare for me to be able to do that, and more than once I've thrown a book against the wall (figuratively) because I couldn't stand the errors in it. And don't get me started about the advance reader copies of books I picked up at BEA last year. BUT -- and this is a big but -- those are finished products. They're supposed to be as clean as they can be. Your copyeditor does not hate you, nor think you have no grasp on common homophone placement. Your copyeditor understands, feels honored to edit you (as long as you don't argue too much when he/she is *clearly* right! ;), and is striving to present your voice to the world in the cleanest possible text. Believe me, when the writing is engaging, I don't mind cleaning up little mistakes. It's when the writing is dragging on that they start to get to me -- and even then I have to remind myself that if it weren't for typos and muddy prose, I'd be unemployed. So carry on paying attention to voice and story and character -- you take care of the big picture, and we copyeditors will take care of the nitpicking.

Posted by: Jennifer Morgan at February 6, 2007 11:22 AM

I am so upset to find that you are not perfect I am retiring to my bed with a cold cloth for my forehead and bon bons for strength. Oh, how the mighty have made a mistake more than one time. My heavy tears are soaking the dickie under my modest sweater set.
Sigh. Perhaps you could find a satisfying career in IT or brick laying?


Posted by: Gillian at February 6, 2007 10:42 PM

I read somewhere once that being a good speller was a talent - like twirling a baton. If you have the talent, you can become a majorette. If you don't ... no amount of practice is going to improve your rudimentary abilities.

I keep this in mind all the time, because I have a great "voice" on paper, but absolutely no ability to proofread or spell well.

Thank you Joshilyn for validating I'm not the only one! (although you are 1001 times better than I (or is it me?) in this writing gig.)

Posted by: Mit_Moi at February 8, 2007 8:35 AM