There’s something that goes on in the writing community that makes me peevish.
Now it’s not that Kait thinks she’s perfect in this regard. I’ve gone POV police on her, Pink Hammer’s put “Objection: calls for speculation on the part of the POV character” in her work more than once. But they’re just slip-ups. She does have that sound grasp of the mechanics of POV that Kristen goes over in her post. To Kait it’s very simple, “One head at a time,” she IMs me, “first, third, or God.”
What I thought was kind of adorable about her, as she IMs me with the picture of her in this dorky penguin hat, was the part about understanding and intuition. Honey, of course you don’t understand how other people don’t get what you get. That’s what intuitively means. You don’t even understand how you get it, you just do.
So I say that I think it doesn’t help at all that we’re given so much omniscient POV stuff in school as young readers. Which leads to this whole mutual bitch session about all the stuff we have to read in school that’s not all about producing good modern, commercial novelists. Which is another thing Kristen touches on in her post.
So I’m saying that the thing of it is, not all of us are on the same path and not all of us have been reading and writing constantly since young childhood. I think that there are a number of people who pick up writing as adults who don’t necessarily have the history of reading that other writers do. So what’s in their toolbox is largely story and character arc stuff they’ve absorbed off screen, and writing mechanics leftover from those school assignments. When you read, even before you learn to analyze everything in writerly fashion, on some level you’re studying the writing stuff, you’re immersed in language. Eventually you reach the point where it’s just there for you when you need it. Intuitively.
So I yammered all that to Kait and she said, “I think there’s a blog post in there.”
And I said, “It actually goes along with this whole grrr thing I have, so yeah, maybe.”
And the grrr thing is this: It makes me sad and a little angry when I see authors rag on people in public because they don’t write well. And there’s one occasion of this that really sticks in my head, an incident where an author I really respect published an email they had received which asked for advice on publishing. And this author’s answer to masses was that if your basic grammar skills are this bad, if you’re not even going to bother to proofread a request for advice, then you don’t even need to worry about taking that next step.
And yeah, okay, the person who sent the email will probably never be published. But damn, you know? Look, it’s not the first time I’ve seen this kind of thing on the internet and it reads like disgust. It feels dismissive. To me it feels ugly and makes me sad.
Do you know why I’m a decent writer? Do you know why I can put words and sentences together and they just come out in mostly correct English as I think them? Because I was blessed to grow up in home where people spoke English correctly. Because I have a mother who read to me every night until I was old enough to read to myself. And a thousand other advantages that cropped up in my life that made it easy for me to be able to put words together. A thousand things that were not conscious effort on my part, they were just luck.
The other day I had this conversation with @AMhairi_Simpson on Twitter. I was trying to proofread something and I complained on #MyWANA that I wished I had a better handle on subjunctive mood. Now if I said that out loud in my house, my husband would say, “You hurt yer what?” Because what the hell, who even knows what that is? Anne-Mhari said that they didn’t teach the finer points of grammar like that in her school, she got it from extensive study of foreign languages. And I agreed. I said, “Everything I know about “whom” I learned in German.” Which is sad.
But where I went to school we struggled with things like “we had went.” And when I say “we” I mean that the teacher struggled with most of the class and the rest of us just sat and waited and wondered why this was so hard and we couldn’t move on. As I child I found this frustrating and it made me angry.
As an adult I understand the tremendous advantages I was given, having come from a home where English was spoken and spoken well. When we were very little, my mother once conjugated the verb “to stink” in the car for our amusement. One summer day, when I was very bored, she taught me how to diagram sentences–just for fun. When I arrived at my first day in kindergarten, having been read to practically every day of my life, how much farther along was I than those kids who didn’t have a single book in their homes?
So any ability that I have in this regard I don’t view as entirely God-given brain wiring, nor entirely from the sweat of my own brow. There’s a lot of luck that went into who I am, too. And for me to look down on someone who didn’t have that luck, as though the luck didn’t matter, seems to me like discounting the blessings I’ve been given. I don’t want to do that, and it bums me out when I watch other people do it.
I’m a YA author. When someone writes to me about writing, I’ve got to find a way to be positive, no matter what kind of grammar I’m looking at. That’s part of my job. And no matter how bad the mechanics are in the letter, the most important part to me is that someone wanted to be a writer enough to write and ask for advice. I respect that. And I will thank them for thinking enough of my work to ask me, I’ll let them know about the critical importance of reading LOTS of books, and also of getting a handle on basic mechanics with recommendations for a few books on grammar and punctuation.
I’ve had to teach my baby and all my pets not to crap on my carpet. They weren’t born knowing that. And when they put their business where it didn’t belong, it wasn’t because they “couldn’t be bothered” to learn what was appropriate. They just hadn’t learned it yet. I think language can be like that. It’s something that comes so naturally to us, that’s so much a part of us, we can’t remember a time when we didn’t know how to use it. We sort of don’t get why someone else is behaving inappropriately. So I’m just sayin’, maybe we could give them a break. Maybe we could appreciate that there were things just handed to us that maybe they’ve never been exposed to. Maybe we could be grateful for our ability to kick ass at learning the things we’ve worked to learn. Maybe we could avoid deriding others for what they lack because we respect our gifts for the blessings they are.