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Grammar Sensitivity

handle_criticismRecently I had my first three star review for Dissolution of Peace.  There are many who believe that writers should avoid reading reviews of their work.  Of course, as a new writer that can be tough.  There is a certain quest for validity when you are first starting out.  This is especially true of independent writers, those not publishing through one of the big house publishers.  But you also have to have a certain level of thick skin when it comes to reading reviews.  It is the same thick skin you have to develop when you get those first critiques back from beta readers.  I think I am fairly good at taking a bad review or critique.  I am willing to admit that my writing isn’t for everyone.  I don’t think every story is for everyone.  In fact, I don’t think there is one story that is for everyone.  Tastes vary, and I can appreciate that.

But there is one chink in my review armor, an Achilles heal of bad reviews, and that is grammar.  Nothing makes me feel more incredibly horrible as a writer, or even as a human being, then when someone points out bad grammar.  The worst part is so many people feel compelled to do so.  I have a friend who doesn’t even like to read who will point out just about every grammar mistake I make on social media.  My sister-in-law loves to do it as well.  My wife, she can do it all the time.  She especially loves to point out bad grammar in my speech.  My mom even pointed out that she thought I had a bad editor, because of the mistakes she saw in my writing.  I found this even more disheartening because I thought my Editor did a great job helping me polish this out.  So my first thought was how horrible the original could have been without his help.

Every time someone points it out, I feel like a hack.  I have an insecurity when it comes to my grammar.  This includes my spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.  Really any of it gets me down.  So while a three star review is decent, the text of his review got me down.  Down to the point that I nearly scrapped my current novel in progress and packed up the keyboard.  Nothing makes me feel more like a want-a-be writer than when I get hit with grammar points.

But like any Achilles heal, I’ve had to learn to deal with it. There are two reasons I never pursued my original dream career, one of them was a mentor of mine who repeatedly pointed out my horrible spelling skills.  I don’t think she ever called them horrible, but that is what I heard. So when the second thing came along, I never bothered to overcome it because deep down I was self conscious of my ability to deal with spelling.  I can’t let that become the stumbling block for my dream to write.

If it wasn’t for spell check, my spelling would be worse.  But one can not rely on spell check alone.  It isn’t a perfect system.  Sure, I could resort to blaming others.  But that really isn’t fair either.  In fact, I really haven’t found a trick to dealing with this.  I try my damnedest to learn everything I can about grammar, and do my best to catch it all.  I hire an editor to make sure my grammar is on point.  And I listen to those grammar complaints from everyone who points them out, even when it gets me beyond angry.

I also try to remember that I am not the only one.  I know others that have had, or continue to have grammar difficulties.  So here are some tips I use to help me deal with my Grammar Sensitivity:

Grammar Police1. Not everyone knows what they are talking about.

Frankly, many don’t know what they are talking about.  There have been a lot of people to point out grammar mistakes for me to spend time looking up only to find they were the ones that are wrong.  But, just because they are wrong doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a little more about grammar.

2. Learn what you can about grammar.

If you are like me, you hate learning about grammar.  I don’t like it at all.  But if you have the dream of being a writer, it is something you have to deal with.  When someone points out a grammar mistake, look it up.  And when you are not sure, look it up.  There are many ways to look it up.  A fellow author shared this site with me: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/  It has helped me out a lot.  But if grammar is your stumbling block, learning it may not be so easy.  But you could also be making it harder of yourself.

3. Don’t over think grammar.

Once of the biggest draw backs to constantly studying grammar has been that I am now constantly second guessing myself.  I don’t know how many articles I have read on then versus than.  Yet, I still make the mistake.  And 95% of the time, I make the mistake because I spent so much time over thinking the way I was using it.  And spending too much time thinking over the grammar only slows down your progress on the story.

4. Grammar can be fixed

I believe I have said this before.  But grammar can be fixed while the ability to tell the story generally can not.  Story is much harder and sometimes impossible to fix, but changing a semicolon to a period is easy.  But only if you can catch your mistakes.

5. Hire someone to catch those mistakes

Hire a grammar cop to edit your stories.  If you know grammar is your weakest link, get a grammar strong editor.  Get grammar strong beta readers too.  And don’t restrict them from pointing out grammar issues, especially in later readings.  I’ve made this mistake before.  I’ve been very restrictive on grammar comments from beta readers and in the long run it only shoots me in the foot.

6. Have a safe zone.

My friends tend to make this impossible.  But I used to use social media as my reprieve from grammar.  That is why I have made it one of the rules on my blog that there be no Grammar policing on my site.  This is my break.  But, my mom still feels compelled to point it out.  While there is no real safe zone from grammar cops, you can do your best to make some sort of buffer area.  It is why I get so angry with my friends on social media when they get grammar crazy.  It just isn’t the place for it.

7. Grammar mistakes are not a stopping point.

Grammar mistakes should not be something that stops you from realizing your dreams.  I wish I understood that ten years ago.  Grammar mistakes can actually be a starting point.  They can be a spring board for you to learn from.  You can make yourself a better writer by getting these mistakes brought to light.  And then learning about them.

8. Watch out for the ones that point out grammar too much.

Yes, there can be too much grammar.  Those that expect perfect grammar in dialogue for example.  But it has also been my experience that many who are absolutely crazy about grammar are not exactly good with story.  I know some people are going to go nuts over that comment.  But it is still my firm belief that when you are writing a story, you should be obsessed with the story not the grammar.  If you have people around you that drag you down over grammar, they may not be the type you want to have around.  But that ones that want to build you up by helping you with grammar, those are the keepers.

Here is a trick to tell which type of person they are:  It is all in how they point it out.  If they point it out with a rude comment, then it is obvious they are the “drag you down” type.  But sometimes it isn’t so cut and dry.  The sarcastic joke, the laughing at you (even an LOL or a 😛 count as laughing at you) for your mistake, and the constant pestering of you for your grammar.  Those are all signs of the “drag you down” type of person.  And most of the time, the “drag you down” person is jealous of some other aspect of your writing, such as your story telling ability.

But the person who wants you to succeed will point out resources for you to learn.  They will explain the grammar error to you.  They will do their best to tell you how to fix it, how to learn more about that mistake, and how to keep from making it again.  That is a person that wants you succeed.  They are happy that you have all the talents for writing that you do have, and they want to help you make grammar another one of those talents.

I Don't Know9. Once it is published, it is published.

Don’t get me wrong.  If you don’t think a work is acceptable and you are self publishing it.  You can pull it down.  But, if you have been following some of my other tips and tricks, you likely did all you could to make it the best possible work you could put out at the time it was published.  Going back and changing something after every review that points out a mistake, will only lead to an inability to move on and progress as a writer.

10.  Push on.

I mentioned above that I was ready to give up on writing over the grammar review I got.  It hurt.  But I also had to recognize that it is also their opinion.  And, I think it is a bit exaggerated.  But even if it isn’t exaggerated, the point of Amazon reviews is for a person to give their honest opinion of the product.  Even if it gets all one star reviews, you have to move on.  You have to move on and start on that next project.  You have to keep pushing for that dream.  Giving up on it now will only cause regret later.  I still kick myself for giving up on my career goals.  Giving up on my writing dreams will not work.

 

If you are going to be a writer, you will have to deal with grammar.  Even worse, you will have to deal with grammar critics.  If you have a sensitivity to grammar correction, like I do, you will have to learn to work around it.  I hope with a few of my tips you can at least manage to keep writing.

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“The End” Doesn’t Really Mean The End

So many of you made a point of letting me know that I forgot my weekly blog post this past Sunday.  I didn’t forget, in fact I let my Facebook and Twitter followers know exactly why I didn’t post.  I was finishing my novel.

Of course, by finish I mean putting ### (The End) on the first draft of my novel manuscript.  It is in no way finished.  But it sure felt nice to say it was finished.  I let myself bask in the fact that I had completed my novel for a few days.  And now, reality has struck.  “The End” on paper doesn’t really mean the end.

Many of us can write.  Most of us can write enough to create a short story.  A few less can write enough to create a novel.  But far fewer can keep following though on all the steps after “The End” to really finish a novel (or even a short story).  I’d like to see a few more people reach the real finish line.

When it comes to writing works for publication (even self publication) there are steps you have to take to reach the finish.  I’m going to clue you in on some steps so that you know what to expect after you type “The End” on your manuscript.  I’m new to the Novel steps, but they are the same as those for a short story, just longer (and maybe harder).

Let it Rest

You have to let the story rest in your head for awhile.  That is, you have to forget about it a little.  If you finish the first draft and then start edits the next day, you’re bound to miss things because the ideas and words you typed are still fresh in your head.

How long is enough time?  Well that is really up to you.  I know fellow writers who wait months to touch a short story and years for a novel.  I know others who can wait a week on a short story and two weeks on a novel.  There is no right answer when it comes to time.

For my short stories, I post the first 13 lines (or the hook) in my writer’s group.  I give them a week to ten days to share their thoughts and offer to read the story.  After that I move to my second step.  With this novel, I plan to wait until March to start the next step.  I think it will be enough time for me.  If not, I’ll give myself more time after the next novel.

You don’t need to forget the story as a whole.  If you are like me that could be impossible.  It’s just enough time to allow you to forget enough of the gritty details that you will see things like inconsistencies, grammar errors, missing words, POV errors, and other things.

Self Edit

Next, you will need to read your entire manuscript and self edit.  Check for errors that don’t fit the story line.  Maybe you typed a chapter thinking you’d go one direction and now it no longer belongs in the story.  Perhaps another area needs more development to increase the story.  Go though and edit all these things.  If you find grammar errors, punctuation mistakes and typos fix those too, but that isn’t the main focus here.  They point here is to begin to smooth out the story.  Cutting out unneeded areas, and beefing up areas that need it.  Once you are done with that, you’ve got a second draft.

Trial Readers

Once you are done with that second draft you need some trial readers.  You need someone who will give you HONEST thoughts on your story.  This isn’t likely to be a family member or even a close friend.  No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially not those of a friend.  Friends and Family are best left to read the final product, not your drafts.

This is where a writers group is very handy.  You can get honest thoughts and critiques on your work from other trusted readers who also know a bit about the business.  I’ve planned a blog post for later this month on critiques.  Watch for it.

Now, you are likely to get responses at different times.  One reader might be done in a week, the other might take two.  Since you definitely need to have more then one trial reader, here in my suggestion:  Don’t read any critiques or change anything until you get a response from all your trial readers.  Otherwise you may change something one reader hated, but the other four readers loved.  So save yourself the extra work and go through each critique after you have them all.

Self Edit: Part 2

Look at all these suggestions your trial readers gave you.  Some of them you will find completely useless and you should ignore those.  However, if all the readers point out the same trip up, you might want to fix it (even if you think it is fine the way it is).  But remember, this your work not theirs.   And only you know what is best.

You may really like a scene, but your readers have trouble with it.  Rewrite it then, or cut it.  That is up to you.  But again, this isn’t about grammar and punctuation.  You will be polishing this into a even better story.  Soon, you will have something resembling a third draft.

Proofreading

Unless you made major story changes, it is time to move on to the final draft.  I am a firm believer in four drafts and done (the done being the fourth).  It keeps you out of the endless rewrite circle.  I have a friend who is on their twelfth draft of a novel.  As I have told that friend, that novel will not be published.  They have become obsessed with making it perfect.  It won’t happen.

Now, with my short stories my proofreader is my wife.  She catches most, if not all, my typos, grammar mistakes, and punctuation screw ups.  And for a short story that is enough.

There are proofreading services out there.  I haven’t use any, but I may use one when it come to my novel.  I miss things, and a professional shouldn’t.  Now, some people don’t feel comfortable with that.  It is entirely a choice that is up to you.  I see no reason to do it for short stories.  But, my novel is 67,000 words.  So after my wife reads it she may miss some things.  If the rate is reasonable I will use one.  Otherwise, I am an author that has no money.  I won’t spend a lot on it.

However, no matter how you do your proof reading this is the time to go grammar cop.  Fix all those little mistakes.  Look for those rather then anything to do with the story.  Fix them.  Once they are fixed you have your forth draft and your completed manuscript.

THE END

You are done with your novel, right?  Well not exactly.  You want to see it published.  That involves a lot more work.  It is really a blog topic in itself.  But you have already accomplished much more then the average person who sets out to write.  You have a completed manuscript.  Pat yourself on the back.  Go get a snack, and then start working to get it published.

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Grammar Police

My rant on Grammar Police in Social Networks

I have always found it a bit aggravating to run across the Grammar Police during my adventures on the Social Networking sites I frequent.

First of all, compared to the vast majority of what I have read in status updates and news feeds, the mistakes I make do not come close to warranting the attention of Grammar Cops.  Many of these people, especially the generation coming up behind mine, post words (and I use that term loosely) that are not recognizable as English.

But secondly, and most annoying to me, is that fact that this is social networking.  It is not a college dissertation and type0s are to be expected.  I don’t know anyone that proof reads their tweets, calls in an editor for a Facebook entry, or scrutinizes their Google+ feed.  The fact of the matter is this is Social Networking, it is more about the exchange of ideas and thoughts (and more commonly the way you tell us all that you finished breakfast).  So be happy I didn’t tell you about my last toilet break instead of worrying about my use of punctuation.

Grammar and the Writer

So I can already hear the Grammar Cops saying: “Mr. Flores, you are a Author you should have more respect for the grammar law.”

Well, sorry Officer.  Good grammar is not necessary to be an amazing Author.

I will give you a minute to catch you breaths and pick your jaws up off the floor.

Think about the greatest stories you have ever read.  For me they include many great works by undisputed story telling superstars.  What made those stories good?  Was it the fact that the Author knew the right location for a semicolon?  Or was it the life-like characters, the vivid scenes, the compelling dialogue, and the intertwining plot threads?

If you are any of my English Teachers you probably said the semicolon.  If you are a true fan for reading and story telling, you likely chose the second.

It takes imagination to write a good story.  It takes skillful character building to make them real people.  It takes a skillful world builder to make a planet you have never seen seem like its your favorite vacation spot.  It takes a special talent to develop a plot that does not seem like it was developed at all.  It takes a whole different breed of person to then selflessly hash apart your work to make it reach a publishable word limit.  To remove scenes you are in love with because it doesn’t really move the story forward.  Or to ruthlessly murder your favorite character because his time had come.

The grammar errors can even be put in on purpose, to illustrate a point.  Words may be spelled wrong because as you desperately click away the keys on your keyboard you might miss a letter, or hit the wrong one.  It is part of the writing process.

Grammar Police do have a place

My spelling is not the best, my grammar can always use work.  But, that is why all my stories go though checks by other people.  I even have my own Grammar Cop that looks at my works in progress just to catch grammar mistakes and ignores the prose.  I need them, but when the time is right.

When I have gotten the story just right.  When it is just about to go out to those pesky (but necessary) editors.  I hand my work to my Grammar Cop and she writes me a boat load of infractions.  I pay the fine, fix the mistakes, and send it out.

But when I am on the social networks, writing in forums, or posting on this blog the Grammar Cops can move along.  There is nothing more to see here.

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