Lady: So, how do you become a writer?
Me: You write.
Lady: That part doesn’t sound hard because I have some great ideas but what about all the little stuff?
Me: What little stuff?
Lady: You know, like commas and quotes and stuff like that.
Me: You mean grammar?
Lady: Yeah, all that stuff. I don’t know where any of that stuff goes.
Me: Ummm… tactful, tactful, tactful…Yeah, grammar is kind of important.
Lady: But don’t you just send it off and the people do all that stuff?
Lady: Yeah, the people who publish it.
Me: Well, I’m an independent writer so I am the people.
She was somewhat deflated after that but we continued to chat for a few more minutes before we parted company. I’m not sure writing is in her future. Especially since the little stuff she kept referring to is actually pretty big stuff.
In fact it’s major stuff.
In a way, the conversation with this lady reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother about a year ago. He’s a construction expert who specializes in foundation repair. He was telling me about a client of his who noticed the walls of his house were shifting.
The home was not very old and had been built by the previous owner. It was a nice house, valued well over $250k, which for the area is a substantial size. The client was the poor soul unfortunate enough to purchase the home. You see, as my brother began to investigate the cause to the problem, he found that there was no foundation. For reasons only known to God, the previous owner/builder had not poured any footings. Not one. He had merely laid some crossties or beams down and started building.
I mean, who needs footings anyway, right?
As you can imagine, the solution to this problem was not pleasant. My brother recommended contacting a good attorney.
Grammar is the foundation for good writing. Without it there is nothing to build on.
[bctt tweet=”Grammar is a piano I play by ear. Joan Didion” username=”authorjbduffey”]
Of course, artistic expression comes into play, but the basic grammatical foundation is always there. Can you imagine opening a book and finding one long continuous block of words without the first hint of punctuation? How would the reader differentiate between characters or settings? Who is speaking and when? Where are they and what are they doing?
The mere idea makes head hurt.
I would actually argue that for independent writers, grammar is more important than for traditionally published authors. Why would I say that? It’s simple. The idea of an independent writer comes with a heavy stigma. Many readers assume that the only reason authors go the independent route is because they can’t get a traditional publishing deal. Somehow their work isn’t quite good enough to make the cut. These readers are hesitant to give our work a try from the beginning because they already think it’s going to be of a poor quality and why should anyone waste their money on poor quality?
That stereotype is changing, but change comes slowly in the minds of the masses.
Unfortunately, there are a great number of independents out there who prove that point. Every single day, thousands of new titles hit the marketplace. With those types of numbers, some bad ones are bound to slip by, like the books written by someone who wasn’t worried about the little things, such good grammar. Alas, that just goes to further alienate mainstream readership.
Look, I get it writing is a hard, especially if you choose to go the independent route. EVERYTHING falls squarely on your shoulders. Story and character development, writing, editing, rewriting, quality control, layout and design, publication, distribution, and marketing. Whether you do it yourself or hire a team to assist you, it is all ultimately your responsibility.
And THAT’S a lot of responsibility and work. It’s easy to be tempted to skip something.
Personally, I love being an independent writer. I enjoy learning more about the process with each new project.
But I would NEVER, EVER try to take on a writing project without a firm grammatical foundation. I wouldn’t consider editing it. I wouldn’t want to read it. And I pray to God that I would never write it.
As I said before, the idea makes my head hurt.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to go diagram some sentences and brush up on my comma usage.
Here’s hoping you never find a book without its foundation!