The Importance of Sharpening Your Grammar and Punctuation Skills

By Fay Lamb

True story: I once had a favorite New York Times Bestselling author. I met her once at a book signing in which I traveled 600 miles to see her. Yes, I was a fan. Then one day, she responded to a comment I made on Facebook about the importance of editing well.

In very clear diva-style she said that her publisher paid people to edit her books. Her job was only to write the story. The editors would clean it up. My first thought was, “Aren’t you fortunate to be so beloved that you’ve gotten to the point where editors clamor to clean up your mess.” My second thought was “I’d hate to be your editor.”

Then she switched tracks in her career to an entirely new genre based upon a new interest. She’d gotten involved in a sport and had written two books involving it. However, her New York publishers weren’t interested in taking the risk. She found a small publisher in the South where her new interest is enjoyed by millions of people. This never-heard-of publisher jumped at the opportunity to publish a book by this well-known author. And publish they did.

I read the book.

I suppose this particular publisher assumed the author had a command of punctuation and grammar.

They assumed incorrectly, and if she read the galley, she proved that very well.

Oh, she could tell a story, but she could not spell or place a comma or determine where a sentence ended. And forget those misplaced modifiers or the split infinitives.

In the world of best sellers where this author came from, I’m sure that the editors were paid well to do what they did for her. I can attest. They did a fine job.

Editors who work for small publishers also work hard at bringing out the best manuscript possible, but I’m here as both a writer and an editor to tell you that mistakes happen. It is impossible to catch every mistake that will be made in a manuscript. Oh, I try. Believe me. I try. This is the best reason I can tell you for learning the basics of your craft. Those basics are spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

As a writer, it helps that I do know my stuff. I probably forget half of what I know in the process, but I do know it. When an editor has made a mistake, I can state with specificity why it is a mistake. On the other hand, when the editor calls me on a mistake, I am also able to understand what I’ve done incorrectly.

As an editor, it helps for me to be able to explain to an author why a comma should not go after a conjunction that starts a sentence or why I would use a comma in that instance on occasion. I can also explain to an author why some sentences can start with a conjunction and others should not.

Do you know the answer?

If not, you might want to learn the basics before you become a New York Bestseller and someone takes that privilege away from you.

Click to tweet: The Importance of Sharpening Your Grammar and Punctuation Skills by Fay Lamb.  Learn the basics. #self-edit #amwriting

Writing Prompt: Cecilia couldn’t believe her eyes. On the front page of their town’s daily newspaper…

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Sharpening Your Grammar and Punctuation Skills

    • I actually believe that the old lawyer’s adage: he who represents himself is a fool pertains to the writer who doesn’t seek to have someone else review their work. I have been so fortunate to have critique partners who delve into the entire editing process when we review. I shun critique groups that don’t encourage proofreading edits as a part of the process mainly because I can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to mistakes in submissions. I also still believe a good edit (even if you are an editor) is needed, and an author should try to present their best work to the editor. This isn’t to make it easier on them. When you provide the cleanest possible work to your editor, it allows them to find all the mistakes you’ve missed–and you will miss some.

  1. I relearned the importance of editing while helping my youngest with a short story he was writing in elementary school. His first draft is a stream-of-conscious style of writing, devoid of any punctuation, except for occasional quotation marks. All in one giant paragraph.

    • I used to love those type of exercises. They allow for creativity. I admit that punctuation and grammar can thwart the creative process for some, and first drafts are a good place to let all of that go. But then there is the second, third, fourth … drafts that need the clean up. I actually do edit as I write, and I write without an outline. I edit three or four times before it goes to my publisher for the editor to find what I didn’t find. 🙂

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