Wednesday on Writing: Do I Really Need to Know Grammar and Spelling?

Here’s another question that gets discussed in writing groups a lot. There are those who think that a writer doesn’t need to know or care about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of writing. After all, isn’t that what editors are for?

Yes and no. From my point of view, mostly no. Yes, one of an editor’s jobs is to clean up the manuscript, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to write correctly. I don’t mean perfect style manual grammar, of course, unless you are writing an essay or for a professional journal. There a more formal style is required. For fiction, things are often a bit more relaxed, especially when dialogue is concerned. But a decent grasp of grammar and punctuation is a good thing. Spelling is just an absolute requirement as far as I am concerned. It makes you look more professional if you are turning in manuscripts that are at least mostly clean. I have also seen agents and editors that say upfront that if a manuscript is overflowing with errors that should have (mostly) been caught before the author called it finished, they will pass on it without thinking twice. For those of us who publish independently, it is even more important. We often don’t have the resources to give a manuscript to several editors to look at. The better the job we do at knowing and using good mechanics, the better the book will be in the end.

“But,” they say. “Even traditionally published books from big publishers have mistakes. I find them in many.” Yes, this is true. No one is perfect. Not the author, and not the editors, even if the manuscript passed through several rounds of edits. The thing is, most of the time in a book published in that manner, the errors are few and far between. One or two, maybe. There are far too many independently published books that are just riddled with errors. Things the author should have known- proper use of commas, writing a coherent, understandable sentence, spelling. And those are the the things that give independent books a bad rap. I’ve read or attempted to read too many like that.

If you want your manuscript to shine, whether you are submitting to an agent or publisher, or planning on publishing it yourself, do the basic homework of learning and using good mechanics. Your readers will thank you. And maybe go on to read more of your work.


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