But, if I can’t have all that, I would be more than happy to settle on inspiring at least enough fear into my students’ hearts that they proofread their essays and try to use correct grammar and punctuation.
I do inspire the fear of proper grammar and punctuation, just in the wrong people: my friends and colleagues. My students unabashedly send me emails full of grammar and punctuation errors disputing their failing grades, while my friends and colleagues fear writing me emails because they are afraid I will judge their writing skills.
The irony is that the ones who worry about their writing skills the most are the ones who need the least improvement.
Most of us don’t know all the grammar rules; I know I don’t. And most of us make typos here and there; I know I do (which is why I make poor Emily proofread everything I write- and she’s out sick today so there may be a typo or two in this post). I’d say that most of our writing skills are equivalent to Andy’s fashion sense in the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada:
I know Miranda wouldn’t agree, but I think Andy looks pretty cute. No, I would not wear those shoes with that skirt, but I kind of dig that she’s mixing patterns with the skirt and the scarf and there’s nothing wrong with her coat. Basically, no one is going to look at her on the street, shake their head, and say, “That is one hot mess!” I mean, it’s not like she’s wearing this:
The people who should worry are those whose writing is the equivalent of Helena Bonham Carter’s outfit, the ones who don’t think grammar and punctuation matter. And they are out there. In fact, I had a real wake-up call this weekend. I was at a writing workshop and someone asked if the work presented to agents had to be grammatically correct as long as the content was good.
My initial reaction was “Duh!” But, I do understand where she was coming from… I think.
I think that her question stems from a belief that rules are creativity’s antithesis. Like if we adhere to the grammar rules, we are giving in to “The Man." The belief that real artists are focused on the creative essence rather than whether or not a comma is correctly inserted. That the meaning of the words are more important than their spelling.
But, think of it like this: writing riddled with errors is like wearing a beautiful Prada dress to a wedding. It's made of the most gorgeous silk, the silhouette perfectly frames your body, but it’s full of holes and stains. People won’t be focused on the dress’ craftsmanship; they will be wondering why you didn’t clean it up before you wore it, and the bride will be insulted. Poor grammar makes our writing (even great writing) look sloppy, and it's disrespectful to the reader.