This is the first post in a (planned) two post rant about grammar.
Recently, I came across this little gem originally published on Business Insider. Entitled “Why You Should Never, Ever Put Two Spaces After A Period”, the author rails on the long-standing practice of ending sentences with multiple spaces. For the record, multiple sentence-ending spaces is a pet peeve of mine.
When I worked in the corporate world, I routinely got memos and emails from colleagues who seemed to have only recently discovered the space bar on their keyboards.
“What does this do?!” I can imagine them asking excitedly. “Oh, oh! Blank space! I’m going to use this so much!”
And use it they did. One former coworker in particular comes to mind. She apparently pounded on the space bar in some kind of wild fit after completing each and every sentence. I don’t know if her love affair with the space bar was celebratory (“I finished! I finished a sentence!“) or what, but her emails were littered with extra post-sentence spaces–three, sometimes four, five or even six spaces between a period and the first capitalized letter of the next sentence. (In my mind, I picture her laughing hysterically as she raps repeatedly on her keyboard, gleefully unaware of how amateurish and choppy it makes literally all of her emails look.)
I’ll be the first to admit that grammar isn’t a particularly riveting subject. Diagramming sentences stopped being fun when…well, before I started diagramming them. It was never fun. I hated studying comma placement, proper sentence structure and the etiquette of preposition usage. However, I’m a writer. Grammar is to me what a basic understanding of electrical current is to an electrician. Said another way, exciting or not, it’s important.
In his must-read book, On Writing, Stephen King said the following:
Bad grammar produces bad sentences…Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking.
If you want to be a writer, you have to know grammar. Back in the day, that meant buying a style guide (there are a lot of good ones out there), but the digital era affords you a new option, as well: Google it. Or, see if the Grammar Girl (over at Quick and Dirty Tips) has any advice on the subject in question. (Her articles are thorough, easy to understand and well worth referencing.) Whatever your approach, learn and use good grammar.
Bad grammar will make your stories a chore to read and will almost certainly make a horrible impression on editors and agents. Good grammar may not win you any awards, but it’s an invaluable asset nevertheless.