I don’t like to complain (pause for extended derisive laughter), but I’ve been noticing something recently that ticks me off a little bit, probably more than it should. (No, I don’t mean the Hugos. That mess ticks me off a lot, but I’m trying to get better.) It’s writers who don’t know how to write. And when I say “write,” I mean they can’t use the basic tools of their trade.
One of the books on my shelf is “The Elements of Style.” I regret that I was not introduced to this book until college, but it was required for all freshman comp classes. It’s really basic stuff, like “Don’t use the passive voice.” A little book, chock-full of basic but highly useful advice. As I said, given to all the freshmen.
It’s too advanced for what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about writers who can’t spell. I talk with a lot of writers on line, most of whom are published, many of them more accomplished than I, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them can’t spell. Or reconcile their tenses. Or use proper pronouns. (And I’m not talking about gender roles, I’m talking about lousy grammar.) These are the tools in your toolbox, just as if you were a carpenter or plumber or a doctor. If you can’t write properly in correspondence or a blog post, how am I supposed to be induced to read your fiction?
(Speaking of blog posts, there are those who would benefit tremendously from reading “The Elements of Style.” I’m talking about writers who can’t organize their thoughts to form a coherent 500-word essay. They’re full of irrelevant information, they don’t outline a thesis, and their arguments range all over the page. By the time I’m half-way through, I feel I’ve entered a rhetorical maze from which I will never escape, even if I finish the post. I know I’m never going to read these people’s fiction. If 500 words confuses me, five thousand words could cause brain damage.)
Never let it be said, of course, that I claim perfection, or even superiority. I’m human, I make mistakes, my stories have been known to not be publishable even after extensive editing. (One criticism was that my characters all talked too well.) But I am an excellent speller and I fancy I know the rules of grammar well enough that if I break them, it’s on purpose.
If you want me to buy your books, you should be able to say that, too.