I have something to confess: I’ve been a grammatical snob all my life. I liken it to being a coffee snob. What? Not Starbucks? Don’t try to sell me that DD crap.
I know, hard to believe. It’s true. I don’t want to be a snob; I just can’t help it. I’m a hopeless self-critic, an endless reviser. I can’t be satisfied with a piece until every last bit of voice has been extracted out of it, every linguistic twitch beaten into submission. It’s an excruciating process, if only because what you get after all that is something excruciatingly boring to read.
But isn’t the writing supposed to hum soundlessly, invisibly in the background?
I’ve had more than one literati tell me my writing’s as bland as, to paraphrase, decaffeinated Folgiers.
I blame my third grade teacher, Mrs. Hansen, and all the rules she hammered into my head.
I blame Strunk and White.
I blame S. I. Hayakawa.
Most of all, I blame myself for taking these geniuses so… so literally.
The solution? Have you read Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite? It's a good start.
You can’t imagine the pain I felt the first time I finished a manuscript that actually contained (No!) sentence fragments, (My God!) run-ons, and (Egads!) a slew of other grammatical no-no’s. It was all I could do not to go back and fix things in the dark of the night.
Guess what? It was good!
Okay, maybe not Colombian blend good. Not just yet. But definitely getting there.
It’s hard. If there were a 12-step program for recovering revisionists I’d be stuck somewhere between steps three and four. Yeah, that’s a lot of steps left to go.
Once, on a business trip in Seattle (you see where this is going, right?), my colleague insisted he wouldn’t drink another cup of Starbucks if his life depended on it. (Does everyone take their coffee this seriously?) We ended up driving seventeen blocks before we tracked down a Duncan Donuts that was open. This guy was like the anti-snob of coffee connoisseurs. But, you know what? DD coffee isn’t half bad.
On the writer’s journey, aren’t there more important things to worry about than getting sentence structure and spellings exactly right? Sure, they're important, because you want to know when you're breaking the conventions. So you can break them consistently.
But, dammit, go out on a limb. Forget your past notions. Hey, try the java from Mickey D’s. Or 7-Eleven. Or even (horror of horrors) Der Wienerschnitzel. You never know, hot dog flavored mocha might be the next big craze. At least it’ll taste like something.
Oh, and happy roadtripping.