Yesterday I got some great advice from my American History teacher on grammar. You’re probably thinking “What?” Allow me to explain.

I take an American History class that covers America’s rise as a superpower from right after WWI to 1963 as one of the required classes I need to take for my study abroad trip. The class meets three days a week for about fifty-five minutes, and it is probably my favorite class this semester. Not only is it the first class I have on the days we meet (and we meet after 10am, so I’m a little less rushed to get to class on those days), but the subject material is interesting, we do small quizzes and short papers instead of midterms and finals, and the teacher is such an animated storyteller and genial character, you can’t help but be mesmerized and enjoy listening to him when he speaks.

Yesterday morning, our teacher was talking to us about the grades we got on our first papers, where we examined the different sides in the Scopes trial back in the 1920s. He was telling us about how to improve our essays for next time, and then he said something that really resonated with me as a writer. This is what he said, as best as I can reproduce it here:

“I always have the one student that grumbles about grammar. It’s not an English class, so why is it so important to have good grammar? Well, if this were an engineering class, would it be okay to have a little bad math? Or if this were a physics class, would it be okay to have a few incorrect equations? If the answer is yes, then let me know what bridges you’ve built or what planes you’ve built, so I can know to avoid them! Good grammar is important in History, even if it’s not an English class. And I expect good grammar in your papers.”

And not just in history papers, but in all written works, one should have good grammar. If one looks at the self-publishing phenomenon, one has see new authors emerging by the thousands to publish their books. And that’s good. Although it means more competition for every author, it’s great that authors get the chance to publish their work without having to pander to New York-based publishing companies who are only concerned with making a profit. However, some of these authors, whether they feel that too much attention to grammar stifles creativity, or they have forgotten the rules of good grammar, or they’re too lazy to be bothered with it, have neglected grammar in their books. This has not only brought down the quality of their stories, but has put a stain on all self-published authors, that we’re half-assed about our craft and that we write sub-par stories with horrifying grammar.

Grammar can also be like that.

The truth is, most self-published authors–a majority of self-published authors–are very serious about their craft, grammar included. And it’s important that authors, whether they’re writing their first book or their twelfth or their fiftieth, should pay attention to their grammar. It makes the story flow nicely, the quality of the story is vastly improved, and the author feels a sense of satisfaction when, in reviews (when they get them), no one’s griping about how bad the grammar has been.

So if you’re an author who thinks that grammar isn’t that important, consider thinking again. Because grammar is there for a reason, and it is not one to be taken lightly. Yes, it’s sometimes a pain to add every apostrophe or to know where the semicolon belongs or whether to use “me” or “I”. But nobody ever said writing was easy. And sometimes we have to go through annoying or painful trials in order to make our art the best.

Or we could get on the unstable bridge or the plane that won’t stay up after reaching a certain altitude. But I hear the chances of doing those twice aren’t so great.

Oh, good news: one of my teachers is allowing me to write a short story I came up with for class (not the American History teacher, though I will use material from that class). My Deaf Literature class has an assignment where we have to bring in something representative of the Deaf community or Deaf culture. I plan to write a short story about a young deaf woman living in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the middle of the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. I figure I can make an exciting story when I add those factors together. Though whether I can add a serial killer or a monster is up in the air at this point. Might not even happen (sigh). We’ll see what I can come up with by next Wednesday.

  1. Indeed. You can’t offer an unpolished product and expect rave reviews.

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