by Kate Maruyama
GRAMMAR! Grammarian. Correct grammar. Poor grammar. Good grammar. Eeek! For many these words are terrifying and I’ve got a pretty good idea why.
I’ve taught writing to all ages, from grade school to graduate school, undergraduate students or grownups who just want to write.
One constant I’ve encountered in all varieties of writers is a nasty residue I like to call the Ms. Nibs factor. It seems like all of my students, no matter their background, have been at one time or another in their life– most likely in their grammar school or in high school–smacked down for their writing in one way or another. English teachers in primary school tend to function on a rules and correction formula which is not the right formula for creative writing. And, unfortunately, as we’ve all had English teachers, no matter how good we get at creative writing, we carry that “I’m doing it wrong” Ms. Nibs hangover from our past. This sometimes rears its ugly head when we are sitting down to write. It prevents many students I know from writing at all.
We carry with us every criticism we’ve received on our writing and very often, every red mark we’ve seen on a paper. When we get notes from editors, it stings in the same way.
And somehow, when the word “grammar” comes up, it lands in the Miss Nibs category, and can lead to mini nervous breakdowns.
The truth is grammar is just the mechanics of how sentences are put together. It’s the terminology for each word you use and why you use it. And it’s essential for a writer’s toolbox. The way to rid yourself of that baffled Miss Nibs feeling is to take hold of this toolbox and start wielding your verbs more mightily, owning your modifying clauses and discovering the music and the function of your sentences.
Once you have already written a draft (no one should get in the way of that creative process, especially not Miss Nibs,) it is time to go back into your prose and make sure each word is doing what it is meant to do and is chosen for maximum impact. Having a firm handle on how all these details work makes that final polish solid. Before you hand your work over to an editor, a beta reader, a potential agent, you have the tools to see that beyond creativity, story, and character, your writing is clear and powerful and has fully embraced the parameters of the language. And in doing this you have served your story well.
Kate Maruyama’s course, Grammar Redux: Comprehensive Tools for Writers begins on January 15th.
Kate Maruyama’s novel HARROWGATE was published by 47North. Her short work has appeared in Arcadia, Stoneboat, Whistling Shade and on Salon, Duende, The Rumpus among other journals as well as in two anthologies: Winter Horror Days and Phantasma: Stories. She teaches in the BA and MFA programs for Antioch University Los Angeles as well as for Writing Workshops Los Angeles and the inspiration2publication program. She writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles where she lives with her family.