One of the steps all inspiring writers should take is join a critique group. You bring your current Work In Progress, (known as a W.I.P.,), other people bring theirs. All are read and critiqued.
My critique group meets on Wednesday night, at a Panera’s Restaurant.
It’s a good experience for a couple of reasons, which I will get into later. Sometimes, though, it can get ugly. Wednesday night, it got ugly for me.
See, I was ambushed by . . . grammar Nazis.
I won’t go into too much detail about my grammar deficiencies, except to say that it was two major things and a couple of smaller issues. I really didn’t have a problem with any of the critiques. They were all correct and I actually learned something. So it was a positive night. However, both readers got surprisingly upset about the whole thing.
Now in my defense, I was never taught grammar as a distinct course. I just picked up rules as I went along. A lot of the grammar rules I’m breaking have to do with fiction and not essay writing. Since I never took creative writing classes I was never been exposed to these rules.
Look, I get it. You need rules. Especially when you want to be a professional writer. I also admit that I need to learn those rules, and I did learn something new! I guess the thing that amused me the most was their passion for grammar and how important it was to them.
One reader put his hand on my shoulder, looked down on me from his glasses and gave me a reassuring smile, like he was announcing I had cancer or something. He kept apologizing, reassuring me. I guess he thought I would start crying or something?
The woman who critiqued me was a professional editor and was close to being apoplectic. A couple of things she said almost felt like an ultimatum – or threat.
Is it that serious?
I write all this because I am baffled about grammar Nazis, not because of the critique. I should know grammar rules, and I am learning.
But what drives a person to be so passionate about something that abstract? Is it a form of Gnosticism? Is it a form of elitism? I don’t know.
I don’t care, either.
I should know grammar rules. I am learning them. But it’s about the story. It’s about revealing something about the human spirit, the human character. Grammar is important, but it’s a tool to better storytelling, not a goal unto itself.
If you’re trying to write a short story, a novella or a full-fledged book, I encourage you to write the best damn story you can. That will include learning grammar, if you don’t already know it. I also encourage you to seek out the grammar Nazis and learn as much as you can.
What you shouldn’t do is be intimidated or scared or be diminished by them. Grammar Nazis are one of the curiosities you will find in the world of writing. They will be next to the traditional publishing snobs, the tinkering amateur who never finishes, the Indy pub zealot, and the Pharisees of Literary Fiction. Talk to them, learn as much as you can. When you see the glint of fevered madness in their eyes, smile and walk away. Whatever you do, finish your book.
In the meantime, please join a critique group! It really is a wonderful experience. A couple of things happen once you join. First of all, you get to be with your tribe. People who love literature and story as much as you do. People who will celebrate your first published story, or commiserate with your rejection letters. You also get to read some amazing stories from every day people. They will read your stories, too. Reading and being read will sharpen your ability to critique your own work, see its flaws and lack of clarity. Finally, you’ll get a thick skin about your writing – which is oh, so vital, in the writing game. I cannot tell you enough how important a good critique group is. It will improve your craft. As author Jeff Goins has said, “Art deserves an audience.”
Now excuse me while I go clean up my grammar. This might take a while.