by Giselle Renarde
This isn't the post I thought I'd be writing.
See, I'm currently in the woods. Vacationing. It's great--you should try it some time.
I fully intended to schedule this post to go up on its own. Of course, I ran out of time and didn't get it done. Scratch that. I didn't even get it started. If I'd written this post last week, it would have been about Steven King's "On Writing." Man, I'd have had great things to say about that book!
But this week I picked up Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, and I have even more to say about this little treasure. It's a book about punctuation, if you're not familiar. A best-selling book about punctuation, mind. You'll find it classified as "Reference/Humour," but perhaps "Humour/Reference" would be more apt, because it's laugh-out-loud funny. Or maybe I'm just a nerd. Yes, I'm definitely a nerd.
Nerd. Grammar Geek. Serious About Punctuation.
Although Eats, Shoots & Leaves contains instructional-ish referency-ness, I'm not sure it would appeal to those of us who aren't at least a little bit militant in our nerd-dom. Lynne Truss's approach to the evolution of punctuation isn't militant, but she takes no prisoners when it comes to those who get the basics wrong. In that sense, I guess she's saying what we're all thinking.
...or, at least, what I've been thinking...
...and I've been thinking it for a long time, holding my tongue, trying to keep it to myself because, gee, I don't to offend anybody...
Aww, screw it. Some authors may be offended by the content of this post.
I follow other authors on Twitter. I read their blog posts. I cringe. I cry. I writhe in pain. And why? Because a good many professional writers in our genre have only the most tenuous grasp on the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
"So what? That's what editors are for!"
Umm... okay, but do these editors give your blog posts a once-over before you hit that orange Publish button? No? Thought not.
Let me speak briefly as a reader: when an author tweets, "Its my book and here's it's cover," or when their blog post contains lines like, "There going to they're house," I honestly shout at my computer.
I shout, "You're an author! You need to know when to use its and when to use it's. You need to know their/there/they're. Okay, sure, I've heard that Hemingway didn't have the best grasp of English language conventions, but you ain't no Hemingway. YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS SHIT."
When a writer obviously lacks textual communication skills, they automatically go on my NO WAY IN HELL I'M BUYING YOUR BOOK list. I'm telling you, kids, it's a damn long list.
And, who knows? Maybe these authors' books are edited by the best of the best and I've got nothing to worry about... but... well, there's no diplomatic way to say that some editors don't know an apostrophe from a hole in the ground. Pair 'em up with the authors who never learned the basics and you end up with a book that looks like it was written by a middle school student.
Whoo... I've been trying not to say that for years! Feels good to get it off my chest.
I take my punctuation seriously. Without naming names, I'll tell you very discreetly that I no longer submit work to one particular editor because this person had no compunction about filling one of my short stories with comma splices. Yeah, you heard me right. I'm talkin' comma splices in every paragraph.
Why? Why would you do such a horrible thing to an innocent author? Let alone an author with a punctuation sensitivity! Next time just stab me in the throat, why dontcha?
Not that I'm a punctuation ogre (obviously). I'm flexible, where style is concerned. I was told early on in my writing career that semi-colons had fallen out of fashion in contemporary erotica--dashes should be used instead. Okay, whatevs. I can swing that way. In fact, I've swung. I almost never use semi-colons anymore. Gave 'em up cold turkey. Don't even crave them with my morning coffee.
Style is variable. I have no problem with authors playing with punctuation for stylistic purposes IF (and only if!) they know their shit.
And, yes, an astute reader can tell the difference.