Now, look back up at my title of this post. No, really, read it again. Do you see it? I'm guessing most of you don't see it. Actually, I'm guessing that none of you see it, but, hey, I could be wrong. If you see the problem, raise your hand. Anyone? It's wrong. Specifically, "wrong" is wrong. The word in that spot should be an adverb, because it's (supposed) to be modifying how people do it. The appropriate wording would be, "Most people do it incorrectly."
Why do I bring this stuff up? Aren't grammar and punctuation subjective? Can't you just kind of do it however you want to? No, not really, despite what a lot of people, including some (bad) editors, would have you believe. There are rules for grammar and punctuation for a reason, and, frankly, I'm getting tired of seeing comments like this from authors:
"I write first person because that way I don't have to know any of the grammar rules."
I'm sorry; that's just lazy and irresponsible, and, honestly, if you can't take the time to learn the rules of your job, then you shouldn't be allowed to write.
The problem, though, is that editors, also, don't want to learn the rules of their jobs, and publishers don't care as long as they're going to make money, and more and more of them are cutting back on the editorial staff to increase profits and "allow the audience to get involved in the editing." (Yes, that's a real quote from a real publisher (but I'm not gonna say which one).)
While we're at it, why don't we let drivers get involved in the process of building cars. Without training.
So, yeah, I'm being kind of ranty, but the attitudes around this stuff are (frequently) just wrong! (And, see, that time the "wrong" is correct, because it's an adjective telling what kind of attitudes. Wrong ones!)
Here are two things that I've experienced recently that I want to point to:
1. In providing feedback about a manuscript recently, I made a punctuation error. Yeah, I did, because no one, and I mean no one, is ever 100%. Part of it was just that I don't go back and proof blog posts and emails and things like that quite as thoroughly as I do a work I mean to publish. I just don't have the time to proofread these things quite as fanatically as I will something I want someone to buy. Part of it was just that I was having a brain fart and was thinking about the word incorrectly, so I punctuated "although" in the manner that you should punctuate "however." All in all, it was a relatively minor mistake, and it wasn't a repetitive mistake; it was a singular slip. However, I made this error while providing grammar correction to someone. And there were a lot of corrections in the other manuscript, and they were all repetitive mistakes. See, that means the person in question didn't know what s/he was doing and needed someone else to say, "Hey, you're doing this incorrectly," or, in the vernacular, "You're doing this wrong." A third party responded by pointing out my mistake and saying that I had no business offering grammar corrections, because, LOOK!, I'd made one, too. Basically, if I couldn't be 100%, I had no business giving advice.
That is a ludicrous statement. In fact, if you take that out to its full implication, no one would ever be able to teach anything. Because why? Because no one is ever 100%. Not all the time. If I'm operating at, say, a 90% capacity and you're operating at, say, a 30% capacity, it's just ridiculous to make the statement that I shouldn't be allowed to make the assist on you getting better. This attitude of having to be at 100% just supports the idea that anyone can do whatever they want any way they want to because there's no one qualified to make them better. HOW STUPID! I just want to say: take the help you can get and the help that's offered and learn as much as you can. If you can see that someone else is more qualified than you, don't be a dunce and dismiss him/her because s/he's not 100% qualified.
2. Someone recently posted her first chapter and asked for feedback on it. Now, this was supposed to be in "final" condition. As in, she was getting ready to send it off and was asking for final thoughts. This also means that she was "finished" with her editing process, whatever that was. I'm assuming, based on comments, that it included feedback from critique partners. I figured I might as well give it a glance. I was barely able to do that.
The very first sentence had a punctuation error in it. And, I have to say, it was one of those that is really beginning to bug me, because I see it everywhere. Still, I thought, maybe it was just a slip, so I kept reading. The piece was full of errors. The dialogue was rarely punctuated correctly, and every instance of the type of sentence like the first sentence was punctuated in the same incorrect manner. Clearly, the piece needed editing, and I only made it about 1/3 of the way through before giving up. I left a comment noting the error in the first sentence and stating that I was unable to finish the piece because of all the errors.
The author asked for examples. Well, I felt I'd already given an example, so I related to her that I was busy editing another piece for someone, but I would try to give her 1st chapter a pass when I was done with the other project. Her response was, "Oh, no, I have critique partners for that; I just wanted an example of the punctuation errors you were talking about."
Clearly, her critique partners had failed at their job.
And that's the point, really: "Most people do it wrong." Critique partners when used as editors are entirely overrated, because, honestly, they don't know any more than you do. If you think you're going to get what passes as editing from your critique partners, you're going to be incredibly disappointed in almost every instance. They can't catch those comma errors, because they don't know they are errors. Do you know, without looking it up, the difference between a coordinating conjunction and a subordinating one? I guarantee you, your CPs don't have any more clue than you. And that's an easy thing.
While it's true that grammar and punctuation and, heck, language change over time, that does not mean that it's subjective. That just means it changes. Speech changes, and writing changes along with it to reflect those changes, but that doesn't mean that it's subjective, although there are often cases where rules can be argued (But that's just like science. Remember, science still doesn't know what glass is). Rules exist in grammar for a reason and while, yes, fiction is allowed to play with those rules more than non-fiction, it's not a reason not to know them or to break them because you don't know them.
I get that writing how we talk is all in vogue, right now. The first person experience has become this holy thing and everyone is getting on board, but what comes out of it is a lot of garbage because people don't actually know how to write. First person has become the short cut to actually doing the work, and, yes, that bothers me. Writing, even first person writing, is not like speech. It shouldn't be. Writing is a separate discipline, and it should be treated as such.
I'm going to end this with a quote by C. S. Lewis. Specifically, he's speaking here about using italics in writing, but the idea can be expanded to all of writing, especially 1st person writing:
I am now inclined to think that this was a mistake - an undesirable hybrid between the art of speaking and the art of writing. A talker ought to use variations of voice for emphasis because his medium naturally lends itself to that method: but a writer ought not to use italics for the same purpose. He has his own, different, means of bringing out the key words and ought to use them.
What this really says to me is that a writer should learn to write. A writer should not be someone that just copies down what people say. Speaking and writing are different and should be different. Make words your tools and learn how to use them.