I’ve been floundering to stay in the blogosphere lately. Life threw my schedule back, but rest assured, writers are always on my mind.
Disclosure: Sometimes I think about illustrators.
When I’m not writing, I lurk online in writers groups and Facebook pages, watching writers attack each other and bicker over grammar. Oh, look, luvswords87 misspelled something in her post. BURN HER!!!
It goes like this: Grammar bully jumps on a writer who makes a grammatical error or even a simple typo. Then (and often in that very first criticism), the bully makes a mistake–because only God is perfect. That prompts other crazed grammar bullies to jump in with their clubs and torches, until the whole venomous rant culminates in the original poster apologizing, deleting, and questioning her career choice. Over a comma.
Chill out. It’s not morality, people. It’s just grammar.
Disclosure: This editor secretly smiles at the poetic justice of mistakes made by grammar bullies.
Don’t get me wrong. Grammar matters. I love grammar. Love it. Copy editing is my chosen profession.
Disclosure: “Chosen profession” does not equal mad cash. Frazierhead the Mechanic pays our bills. I buy the chocolate.
Still, as much as I love grammar, I love people more. Grammar rules only exist to help people communicate. Bullying leads to fear of not being perfect, which can stifle writers to the point of never finishing projects. I don’t want you to lose your writing momentum. Writers (myself included) are insecure enough without taking every would-be critic seriously.
HERE’S HOW TO HANDLE GRAMMAR BULLIES
First things first: Don’t bully others. I will never correct your grammar unless you hire me to. For your own sake as well as the sake of others, I urge you to stick to that rule. Unsolicited criticism makes you look bad, and that hurts your brand. No one buys the line that you’re only trying to help.
Sometimes editors or proofreaders look for chances to correct. I promise you, that will backfire. Instead of seeing how good you are at finding mistakes, people will search for your mistakes. They will look for them. They will find them. And they will kill your brand.
Actually help each other. Writers are not in competition with one another. Instead of tearing down other writers, give encouragement. Compliment good work and overlook mistakes.
Know your enemy. Keep in mind that a lot of these bullies rely on memories of what they learned in English class ten years ago.
Grammar bullies who insist you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction, or never end a sentence with a preposition, have outdated knowledge. Those rules no longer apply to correct American English. Bullies who say you must always add one space (or two spaces) between sentences, or insist on using (or not using) serial commas, don’t realize that spacing and commas are style choices. And those who insist their “style” is choosing what they think looks best don’t know what grammarians mean by style choice. I could go on, but you get it.
Toughen up. Ignore trivial criticism, no matter how tempting it is to answer. OR… come up with an all-purpose comeback. “I know you are, but what am I?” works beautifully.
CRITIC: You ended a sentence with a preposition. ANSWER: I know you are, but what am I? CRITIC: That doesn’t even make sense. ANSWER: I know you are, but what am I?
Do not apologize. If you hurt someone with an insensitive remark, you should apologize. If you make a grammatical blunder, so what? Everybody makes mistakes. That’s not a moral failure. Don’t apologize.
Do your best, of course, but your priority as a writer is to follow the Muse. You can always hire a professional proofreader to clean things up when you finish.
Do you have an all-purpose comeback to grammar bullies? Have you taken bad advice from a grammar bully? Do you have a quick grammar question and want a straight answer from a professional copy editor, no charge? Post your comments and questions below. I promise not to correct you unless you ask me to. 🙂
Kathryn A. Frazier is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her beloved family, Scruffy Dog and Valentino the Ridiculously Tiny Dog. It's hot there. And swampy. With gators. She's really brave.