How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Grammar

If you want writing to be your career, then mastering grammar is your job.

Did you know there’s a National Grammar Day? Well, there is and it’s right around the corner. Sunday, March 4th is the official day to “speak well, write well, and help others do the same!” I have to admit grammar has never come easily to me. Years I wandered in the wilderness, too timid and frustrated to write, because I knew I would make grammatical mistakes. I felt I would never comprehend the many rules of grammar.

Of course I was taught grammar in school, but the level of instruction was merely adequate. It was fine for those with a natural affinity for the subject, but for those of us for whom grammar does not come naturally, there was zero follow-up. Only years of bleeding red papers and no further instruction. When I finally started taking my writing seriously, I knew that meant taking on grammar. I was just going to have to slay this dragon, even if I had to build my own armor and smelt my own sword.

Alas, the personal metaphor that set me on the path to improving my written English has nothing to do with dragons. When my daughters were babes I got into knitting, like WAY into knitting. I borrowed scads of books from the library and learned numerous techniques. I knit like a banshee until we were hip-deep in knitted items of every description. Today, although I don’t knit as much as I used to, I do know my way around a pair of knitting needles, a skein of yarn, and a knitting pattern. 

After getting notified (with kindness) from my writers’ group that my grammar needed work (and after a nice long scotch to dull those old feelings of frustration). I told myself that, if I can master a lace pattern and turn the heel on a sock, then I can master the rules of grammar. In fact the metaphor continues to serve as grammar and knitting have a lot in common. They both have a core of unbreakable rules (just watch your scarf unravel when you miss a stitch), and they both use pattern and repetition to create infinite variety of garments.

Since that day, I’ve devoted ten minutes a day to grammar. While I’m far from perfect, I am no longer the grammar idiot that I once was. I am a journeyman traveling on the road to mastery. And you know what, it’s getting fun. The more I know the ins and outs and the whys and wherefores of the rules the more it feels like play when I’m crafting sentences.

There are so many resources out there. As with any real course of study you have to find the method and the materials that work for you. Everybody knows about Strunk & White, but honestly, they are not my favorite. Currently, I use The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need for general checking,

and Garner’s Modern American Usage for more detail.

Grammar Girl Podcast

The Purdue Online Writing Lab‘s Grammar site is useful as well.

I have several apps on my iPod including The Grammar App, making it easy to get a quick ten minutes in on the go and the Grammar Girl podcasts count too.

Not only is good grammar central tool for writers, it is a fascinating topic in its own right. Language is a living thing, a moving target. Because of its variable and elusive nature, I know I will be studying the rules and history of grammar for the rest of my life. 

P.S. I’m sure there are grammatical errors in this post. You’ll have to take me where I am.

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