The other day in my Writing with Styles class, our professor gave of us a strange request…
Think back on and come to an understanding about the way you have learned grammar and its impact on you as a writer.
Now to most, the phrase think about grammar brings stirrings of the ad nauseam of grade school, English class pop quizzes, writing self-doubts. But, as I began to think about it, grammar and style balanced with content has played an enormous role in the way I compose my writing. Grammar is not just a set of rules, a consistent parental lecture, nor is it a host of red marks on a final paper. Everything…creation of an idea, organization, style, memory, and delivery…the grammar, word choice, content, my voice all have a symbiotic relationship in allowing me to be a successful writer and reader. Whether I break the rules or follow them…by taking the time to sit down, analyze and understand my grammatical experience, I can have a better knowledge of the performative aspects of my writing. I can create for myself a more positive writing atmosphere in everyday life.
When I was younger, I distinctly remember my grammar experience in my English classes. Early on in grade school there was this constant emphasis of dividing our classes into the literature section and then the grammar/spelling/ vocabulary/handwriting section. I remember spending hours diagramming sentences from our grammar textbook, memorizing lists of prepositions, learning sentence types or how to properly use a semicolon. After a few years of this, the attention shifted to a literature-based focus for class with constant reminders and quizzes on correct grammar and vocabulary. By the time my peers and I entered high school, proficiency in grammar was expected and it soon just became the information to reference in the back of our Writers Inc. book, in case of our occasional writing-rules memory loss.
In ways, I think that these processes helped, but also hindered me. Through memorizing rules, and constantly applying principles I was able to develop my grammar skills through practice. I became a wiz at identifying adjectives, participles and prepositions. Learning these forms and structures played into my ability to grasp writing as a mathematical formula or as we discussed in class, “a limited number of infinite possibilities.” Just like in Jabberwocky (Lewis Carroll), writing could be as Stanley Fish describes it “perfect grammatically but semantically nonsensical.” In other words, whether or not the content made sense, structurally the sentence would work. I believe this is what prepared me and gave me a keen eye for editing in my high school, newspaper-staff years.
Analytically studying writing, I feel, hindered my writing in the younger grades. The teachers were always worried about grammar and spelling. My mind was in the mode that “it’s not the thought that counts” and “it doesn’t matter what the content is.” Similar to this is Noam Chomsky’s “colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” I could understand form, but was overreaching in my ideas and meaning. So, I came up with an important mantra of writing for myself. Good writing is the intersection of technique and skill (grammatical abilities/vocabulary), having a voice (style), and delivering the content in a way that ignites the readers understanding of the content, but also sparks curiosity.
I realized that, yes; grammatically I can say, “I sat in the rain on the bench.” It makes perfect sense. But who is going to read it? Realizing this is what has allowed me to grow and develop in my writing. As the years passed, the grammatical rules slowly became less prevalent in the forefront of my mind and just became intuitive. My innate nature of analyzing was part of the reason I had such an extensive “grammatical knowledge to create a strong style and performance,” as referred to by Chris Holcomb and M. Jimmie Killingsworth.
Writing became less of “first, then, next, and last” or “this happened, then this happened.” I began to give real stories, with a heightened propensity for the beauty of language. No more, were the tired, grammatically correct sentences of the past. My writing found transitions, better vocabulary word choice, and stylistic variants of value. While some would say my writing now resembles that of a Charles Dickens novel, with its tendency to be long, lyrical and overtly descriptive, I would say that I found my style. I found my voice. I became a writer. Despite this, I never grow satisfied with my writing abilities. That, in my opinion, is a writer’s death. I constantly hunger for nuances to make my writing more concise, to “tweak this word choice here” to understand why “that word doesn’t quite work right.” In constantly exploring and challenging the ways I utilize language, my voice remains, but I become a better writer because of it.