Monday, July 19, 2010

There Really ARE Magical Creatures

Has anyone else out there spent hours pouring over Strunk and White's (grammar guide),

only to give up and drown your sorrows in a tub of Ben and Jerry's?


Well, I have. More than once, actually.

I'm not horrible at grammar, but I'm no so great at it either.

Should that be a comma?
semi colon? dash? Sometimes I just don't know.

But...never fear!
I've learned that, if we as writers focus on our story, there are wonderful and magical creatures in our universe called

copy editors!

It's true!
These little faeries exist! And they will wave their wand over (and by waving their wand over I mean marking up incessantly) your manuscript and make it all shiny and clean.

Questions: On a scale of one to being me and ten being Michelle at Slushbusters (a grammar queen), where do you fall? Have you ever felt frustrated or worried your lack of comma knowledge will keep you away from publication? Have you ever worked with a copy editor before? I'm interested to know your processes!


Alissa said...

I'm embarrassed to say that I majored in English in college am a former newspaper copy editor (though, copy editor was only one of the many hats I wore at that job) and still feel completely inadequate when it comes to grammar.

Martin Willoughby said...

Some punctuation is a matter of style rather than hard and fast rules. Semi-colons can be ignored or not as can colons.

Some grammar has to be in there, such as full stops (periods), but commas and the rest. More style than substance.

You're better than you think you are.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I feel confident in my grammar most of the time, but there are a few things I always have to think about and look up. That's frustrating. But I don't think commas are going to sink a request for a manuscript--misuse of words might, though.

Tere Kirkland said...

I think I'm about an 8, in that grammar usually comes naturally, but sometimes I have to think about how to properly punctuate or use a tense change. I'm actually looking forward to working with a copy-editor, because consistency is probably my biggest worry.

Great post!

Jen said...

Long live COPY EDITORS!!! I know my grammar and run-on's are awful so it's nice to have people around who are well aware of the problem areas I have and are able to help me fix them. Learning is key too... I have a lot to learn!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hurray for copy editors! I'm not too bad with grammar, but I don't worry about it too much. I try to polish my manuscript as best as I can and hope the writing speaks for itself.

I don't know why I haven't see your new blog layout yet, but I like it!

Davin Malasarn said...

When I was in college I worked as a writing tutor for the university. Along with work, all of the tutors were required to go through an additional two years of "Advanced Grammar" workshops. In some of the lectures, the two writing professors would actually argue about things like parentheses in sentences. I realized at some point that punctuation was subjective. Yes, there are the basic rules, but when the prose starts to get complicated, those rules don't cover everything. That gave me a lot of confidence to do my own thing. Now, I strive for clarity and impact. I don't have rules memorized anymore.

laurel said...

I feel pretty confident in my grammar skills--I've been working as an editor for over a decade and a half. But I still look things up, because
much in usage is a judgment call. There are lovely books called style guides that adjudicate matters like whether to call an accountant a C.P.A. or a CPA; whether to use the Oxford comma or not.

Just pick a general style book (Associated Press, Chicago, MLA), stick consistently to it and you'll be in good shape. (Notice I didn't use the Oxford comma after the "it" in that sentence. That's Associated Press style.)

Robyn Campbell said...

I tell people I'm a TEN, but shhh, I'z really a 0. Waaaahhaaaa

I'm terrible, but I don't think it will keep me from publication. (Although I use to.)

I never know about those crazy em dash things. And ellipses drive me up the wall. YIKES! So I guess and rely on critique partner Beth to save me from myself. Poor kid, Beth. I feel sorry for her. ;)Having me as a crit partner and having to show me over and over. I must have a brain block. Yeah, that's it! A grammar brain block. No cure either. Dang it!

Thanks for entering the contest, Tess. *hugs*

Great post, Tess.

Tess said...

Alissa: you may feel that way, but I bet you'd beat me in a grammar-off!

Martin: I have always thought this was true, so I appreciated your comment. Style is a big part of it and that is at our discretion, right?

Tricia: I've seen your writing on your blog. You are a perfectionist (or so it seems to be by the quality thereof) so, I bet this is cake for you.

Tere: I'm looking forward to it as well. It's amazing what I've learned through this process and I know that will just bring it to another level. If it sinks in, that is. If I can keep myself from tuning out, eyes glazed over. If.

Jen: me too! lots.

Amy DeTrempe said...

I would be a five. I've never worked with a copy editor, but a few of my critique partners really know their grammar.

Tess said...

Cindy: thanks, it's summery, imho. And, I'm thankful for the stop gap that copy editors are, too. very thankful.

Davin: really? like a fellowship in grammar? impressive! and, you make the same excellent point as Martin. Some of it is stylistic and that is a freeing thought.

Laurel: holy cow! that is an impressive comment. you know your stuff, girlie!

Robyn: hahaha, that made me laugh. thanks.

Tess said...

Amy: that's the number I'd choose, too. 5. Its a good solid medium.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I totally loved your punctuation over on my blog. Now that's my kind of style! Yay for copy editors!

Angie said...

I'm pretty good at grammar (English degree), but a really bad typist, so I still make all kinds of errors. I have my own personal proof-reader to help me make it better.

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I have no idea. I always think I'm doing a great job until someone says something like, "You don't hyphenate for plurals". And I say, "Seriously? I've been doing that for thirty-two years!"

The more I write, the more things I find out I do wrong. :) At least my learning curve hasn't flattened out yet.

Jackee said...

Yes! I did that just this morning. Only it was Skinny Cow not Ben and Jerry's.

Good to know copy editors can make everything all better (because I'm probably only a 4 on the scale).

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Oh boy! I used to think I was pretty good, back when I was younger and cockier. I was a writing major in college and worked on the newspaper staff as an editor. But then I started teaching English as a Second Language and realized I didn't know diddly-squat. Humbling! So, now I try my best, but I know I still make mistakes. For instance, I just learned yesterday the difference between further and farther. As for punctuation, I still follow British rules because those are what I learned as a kid in British school in Hong Kong. Basically I just put a comma anywhere I take a breath. :) Works for me! Not sure it will work for a copy editor somewhere down the road, however. :)


Michelle said...

Thanks, Tess, for the shout out! I was thinking of you. Sarah and I are at Chautauqua now. Remember when I won a copy of Eggs off the blog? I got it signed yesterday! :)

Jill Kemerer said...

I brush up on punctuation and grammar every six months--and I still struggle sometimes! I'd say I'm an 8. Not perfect, but solid understanding. And yes, Strunk & Whites drives me to ice cream every time.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I'm not sure what my copy editor ranking is...Maybe Amy A.C. can tell you... Fun post, Tess.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I find grammar, punctuation, and mechanics fascinating--the way a puzzle is fascinating. But I sure don't get these aspects of my writing correct all the time (not even close). So, I love the copyediting stage of a book in progress. Those magical, wonderful copyeditors buff and polish and make a manuscript shine. And I learn from their magic.

Susan Fields said...

I think my grammar and punctuation are decent, but I'm sure if a copy editor were ever to review my writing, she'd have to keep her red pen very handy. :)

Tess said...

Terry: how could I not get excited about frogs?

Angie: what would we do w/out our proofreaders?

Amy AC: oh yes, I love those moments. Grateful for them, but feel a bit sheepish at the time. I've had plenty.

Jackee: dont you love skinny cow?

AL: now I'm curious...what is the difference between further and farther?

Michelle: I forgot you got that book...see how serendipitous life can be?

Jill: do you have a schedule? how very interesting!

Sharon: I'll have to ask :D I'm sure it's up there, being a school teacher and all.

Cynthia: I would never, ever say what you just said...about the fascination w/ grammar. How cool that you can feel that way. A blessing for a writer, I'd say.

Susan: decent is good. better than my medium, I'd say ;)

Amanda J. said...

I'm fairly decent at grammar, but that's because I like it. That being said, I still get things wrong sometimes, and I'm an English major so grammar was required. :P

On an unrelated note, I really your background.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Tess, you won a prize in my random question/prize 18 day blog party! Congratulations! You don't have to send me your address...I'll use telepathy to find it out. (wink)

Heidi Willis said...

I thought I sent my editor a perfectly clean manuscript. I was an English teacher, after all.

And she sent it back all red... apparently I really DON'T know how to use a comma!!

I slunk in horror and embarrassment, and then I went on to memorize ever comma rule ever invented.

We still come to battle over apostrophes, though. Turns out there's more than one acceptable way to use them. How stinky is that?

Anita said...

I used to worry about grammar all the time. Now I just go for it and that approach is working for me.

dellgirl said...

Hi, Tess. I'm "un-rate-able". Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I agonize over the comma (and a few other things). Then, I get over it and go on.

I’m just dropping by to say hello. Have a super Week!

dellgirl said...

PS: I meant -- Then, I get over it and go on, right or wrong.

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Tess! It's been a while since I've popped over to your blog! And I really like the new look! It's beautiful and classy! And I agree about the copy editors. We really shouldn't worry about the commas and semi colons. They won't make or break us!

Amy Saia said...

I constantly worry over my grammar and sentence structure. I've always been slightly dyslexic and pretty much have, for the last year, forced myself to figure it all out by writing constantly and learning constantly. here's to an editor in my future, a kind one.

It's kind of cool for you to admit this. And it really makes the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief that's for sure. Thank you Tess!

Tess said...

Amanda: it is a wondrous and rare creature who can honestly say they really like grammar ;)

Sharon: hooray!

Heidi:that is so interesting to me ... how much they know.

Anita: that is exactly what I'm doing now ... and it is a really great feeling.

dellgirl: hey there, friend! Hows the summer heat? And, being a pub'd girl, I bet you're better than you realize at this sort of thing.

Jody: thanks for coming by...October is almost here...are you getting excited?

Amy: impressive that you would be so mindful about it, and - like we've said here, it won't make or break you if you do your very best and let the story lead. :D

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

gave you an award today on my blog :)

Kelly H-Y said...

I'm kind of obsessed with grammar ... and, yet, I have to check, and re-check, and double-check against the 'rule books' all the time!

Elaine AM Smith said...

When I was reading back my first draft I realised I used punctuation more artistically than accurately.
These days, I'm much more savvy with the punctuation.

Terresa said...

Ten years ago I worked @ a publishing company with all kinds of editors. I had a hard time telling them all apart: I was the company Librarian and did research related work.

I don't think your punctuation could be that bad. Or hold you back from being published. (I think I use commas too liberally. I need to be schooled...)

J.A. Palermo said...

While I don't quite remember how to properly conjugate a complex sentence, I am the product of Catholic school education. Grammar drills from Sisters Regis, Aurelia and Pierre are right up there in the old frontal lobe. But I still keep the Chicago Manual of Style in easy reach and read Strunk and White for funsies.

Elizabeth Byler Younts said...

Oh, you are speaking my language. I am just about to head into the revision stage of my WIP & it makes me nervous. Wish I had a copy editor...and a lot of $. ;-)