Do Writers Really Have to Learn All That (Yucky) Grammar? by C. S. Lakin

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C. S. Lakin

I “met” Susanne, aka C.S. Lakin, (best-selling author and award winning blogger) from a friend when I was looking for an editor. She came highly recommended. I was nervous because I was giving her my baby, my pride and joy, who was a total mess. I didn’t want her to judge me (or my parenting skills, aka, writing skills), but I needed another set of eyes to get me through the rewrites of my crime thriller.

Susanne was amazing. She held my hand through all the rewrites. She sent me little notes, told me what was good, what needed work, gave me suggestions, but she never squelched my voice, judged my baby, or told me he was a brat. (Even though he was. He was totally out of control.)

Almost a year after her developmental edit and critique, I sent my baby back to her. He was almost whipped into shape, thanks to Susanne’s training, but needed the final grammar check. After another edit, she sent me back two documents. (I LOVED this part.) One edit showed the changes (grammar, spelling, punctuative, sentence structure, etc. so I could learn new skills and use them on my next baby, er, novel), and the other showed the final document with all the changes.


The reason I loved this method was because the next novel Susanne critiqued didn’t have as many grammar mistakes. It was cleaner because Susanne had taught me by showing me the mistakes with the first novel. I love her for that! Could I have relied on her to get me to where I needed to be? Probably, but I wanted to learn my mistakes so the next baby would be better sooner.

(By the way, that crime thriller, CACHE a PREDATOR, Susanne helped me with has been an Amazon best-seller. Just saying.)

Here’s what Susanne has to say about grammar:

Do Writers Really Have to Learn All That (Yucky) Grammar?
by C. S. Lakin 

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 In a word, yes. In two words: absolutely yes.

I hear groans. I hear protests. You hated English Comp in school? Old, crotchety Mrs. Snigglegrass made you dissect sentences and name the parts of speech? You got a what as your final grade? 

I feel your pain. Who ever makes grammar fun and easy? Learning grammar, to some people, is as much fun as getting a tooth pulled. Or having to memorize the multiplication tables or the capitals of all the countries in the world (remember when they never changed?). Terms like dangling modifiers, predicates, participial phrases, and subjunctive mood give some people the chills. Did you have to conjugate verbs back in junior high? Do you know the difference between the past progressive tense and the past perfect? No? Do you care? More than likely, you don’t.

Every Vocation Requires a Knowledge of Tools

But how in the world will you be a proficient handler of the English language if you don’t know anything about the tools of your trade? What would you think if you brought your ailing car to a mechanic and he didn’t have any tools in the shop? Or he had a box full of tools but hadn’t a clue how to use any of them correctly.

For some reason, many writers feel they should get to “pass go” and proceed to “the bank” without having to do the hard work of learning to write well and become a master (or mistress) at handling language. I often wonder about the logic of that.

I work on about two hundred manuscripts a year—critiquing and editing—and I’m astonished at how poorly written some are. I’m not talking about novel structure, which is difficult and tricky to learn. I’m talking about very basic grammatical issues—punctuation, spelling, sentence structure. Granted, many writers send me a rough draft to work on, so I don’t expect them to have edited it to perfection. But what I see a lot is a lack of understanding regarding so many of the basics of good writing.

A Time to Gush and a Time to Polish

Some of this is just sloppy or lazy writing due to hurrying to slap thoughts on the page, and I get that. I encourage writers to gush and let their prose flow in their first draft. But I would expect they would then follow through by rereading at some future date and cleaning up the mess. And more importantly, knowing how to.

I’m not saying every writer must have super editing chops and spend months memorizing the Chicago Manual of Style. Just as we don’t expect all doctors to memorize Gray’s Anatomy. (Should we? Do they?)

I’m afraid, though, that many writers haven’t a clue how to clean up their messy manuscripts. And even worse, many don’t really care. They think it’s their editor’s job to transform the mess into perfect prose. And we editors often do that; maybe you think I should be grateful for the job security. But, speaking for myself, I would rather work on a draft that’s been carefully edited and shows the writer not only cares about what she’s written but has a respect for the English language (or whatever language she writes in). The way some writers mutilate language makes me wonder if they have a love-hate relationship with writing.

A mechanic or building contractor will take good care of his or her tools, learning to wield them correctly, and will choose the best tool for the specific task at hand. Words are the writer’s tools. Shouldn’t writers treat words similarly? We expect that anyone wanting to become a teacher, nurse, commercial truck driver, or plumber has to hit the books and learn their vocation. So why do so many people feel that being a writer exempts from having to take the time to learn proper grammar? Who started that lie anyway? 

Proficiency Leads to Competency and Confidence

One morning I asked my surgeon/author friend to describe how he prepared for each surgery. He went on to explain how he filled out a “menu” of the surgical instruments he would need, which varied depending on the type of surgery he was about to perform. He would put a check mark next to numerous scalpels and other items (which I wouldn’t know what to call) and then turn in his menu. When he entered the operating room, he’d find his requested instruments and accessories neatly lined up waiting for him. With those specific tools, he could perform his surgery efficiently, competently, and confidently.

Well, no one is going to die if I don’t have the exact grammar tools or know all the rules when I sit down to write my novel, right? (you may be arguing). True, although I’ll be daring enough to say if you are lacking a lot of those proper tools, the patient (read: your novel, story, article, or post) may die a slow (or quite fast) and painful death. Which could have an adverse effect on your career as a writer.

You want your writing to shine. You want to show the world you are a terrific writer. Well then, Physician, know thy tools. Then you can perform your writing “operations” efficiently, competently, and confidently. And let me just add this: when you have the right tools and know how to use them, it always makes a job so much easier than if you don’t. 

The fun thing about being grown-ups is we can decide how, when, and what we want to learn. The challenge is to erase the bad associations we have with certain subjects we suffered through in school (such as English Comp?) and find a new joy in the learning. It may sound trite, but it truly is a matter of attitude. Make the decision to adopt a healthy attitude about learning grammar. Set aside some time each day or week to dig into books or websites that can teach you what some of those yucky things are all about. Who knows, you may even learn to love those dang(ling) participles or misplaced modifiers!

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Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar,

Punctuation, and Word Usage

Say What? is a compilation of three years’ blog posts on grammar from the award-winning blog for writers Live Write Thrive. Dozens of writing tips have been added that are specifically aimed at helping fiction writers tighten and improve their writing. Grammar doesn’t have to be boring or difficult! Although Say What? is aimed at fiction writers, anyone seeking to improve grammar and write better and clearer will benefit from reading the short, snappy entries designed to make learning these sometimes-difficult rules a lot of fun.

Amazon Print Book Link:

Amazon ebook link:

Back Cover Copy: 

Writing correctly doesn’t have to be hard

Great writers write well. Grammatical errors mark a manuscript as unprofessional and the author as sloppy or an amateur. But you don’t have to memorize the myriad of grammar, punctuation, and usage rules to have a well-written book. If you’re a novelist or write creative nonfiction, this handy guide is essential—giving you the most common and applicable rules and tips to make your book shine—minus the pain!

Inside you’ll find

  • Short, concise, and often humorous explanations of important grammar, punctuation, and word usage rules as featured on the award-winning blog Live Write Thrive.
  • Bonus fiction-writing tips to help you tighten your prose and say what you mean in fewer, more appropriate words.
  • Easy-to-navigate sections and a comprehensive index so you can find the answer to your grammar question right away.

Whether you’re a novice or experienced writer, you’ll benefit from these clear and helpful explanations of grammar and usage based on The Chicago Manual of Style—the US book publishing industry’s authoritative reference guide. You no longer need to search the web or thumb through a stack of grammar books to find simple answers to your grammar questions. With Say What? at your fingertips, you’ll spend less time fretting over grammar and more time writing. And you’ll become a better writer in the process.


“Good, concise, and easily accessible reference books on grammar and usage is hard to find. I mean, are hard to find. This is one of them.”       —James Scott Bell, bestselling novelist, writing coach, and author of Revision and Self-Editing 

“This handy, user-friendly reference book, presented with style and humor, is a must for any writer serious about honing their craft and garnering respect for their works. An essential resource, the e-book will save you time with all its quick links to the short, snappy topics, and the print version is small enough to stay within reach beside your computer, so I highly recommend getting both. Respected editor and writer Susanne Lakin succeeds in making a dry topic interesting and meaningful! And using this book will also help you reduce your editing costs.”         —Jodie Renner, editor, and author of the award-winning Style That Sizzles

“As a self-professed grammar nerd, let me just say this: The world needs more grammar nerds. Editor Lakin is doing her part to make this happen with her pithy, fun, and supremely useful guide to the everyday writing mistakes most of us don’t even realize we’re making. Her book is conversational and approachable enough to make for enjoyable reading. But it’s true value is in its ‘lookupability.’ This is the perfect guide to keep on your desk, next to your computer, for those moments when you’re just not sure which word is right.”         —K. M. Weiland, blogger, and author of Structuring Your Novel

Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Susanne’s award-winning blog at LIVE, WRITE, THRIVE.

How do you double-check your grammar?





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