As all writers know, the page is a battlefield. First, you must conquer the blankness of the white paper (or screen, depending on your preferred setting), then all of your little troops of letters must be ordered about to create sense and purpose. In this epic struggle between mind and matter, where do you draw the line between being correct and being creative?
In a perfect world, we would all be churning out perfectly written sentences full of revelatory, life-changing ideas or inventing completely new ways of saying the same old thing. However, this is just not possible for most mortals (I don't consider Nabokov to be human). Instead, we constantly fret and sweat the details, paranoid that we are getting it wrong. In response, many of us often err on the side of blankness in our quest to be grammatically acceptable.
Why reach for that obscure word when there is a nice normal one at your fingertips? Why say it another way when you know that this is the 'right' way? Why be daring when you could gasp!, make a grammatical mistake in the process?
These questions are perhaps not so troublesome in the world of nonfiction where established fact takes precedent over flights of fancy (yes, I know nonfiction writers can be creative with language too, but I am being blatantly general here for the sake of brevity). But in more creative arenas like poetry, or personal ones like social media, the debate is all encompassing.
The old adage goes: "Rules are meant to be broken." I argue that this is somewhat true of grammar, but only if the person is aware they are breaking them! Emily Dickinson's dashes and the inventive use of capitalisation and punctuation in the work of E.E. Cummings are excellent examples of flaunting the rules with finesse – but they knew exactly which rules they were breaking to achieve their desired effect.
The problem today is that people are stomping all over grammar without even being aware and, I hate to say it, even caring that they are doing so. How many of you have cringed at your friends' Facebook statuses or that gangly tweet so awkwardly hanging out in your Twitter feed? In response, some people call in the grammar police to squash all creativity out of their prose in the name of propriety. Others simply soldier on, blissful in their ignorance. But it doesn't have to be a choice between the two.
So whether you are writing the next War and Peace or just commenting on Instagram, I would recommend that you either learn the grammatical rules or work with a talented editor to bend them to your every imaginative whim in thought-provoking, rather than shudder inducing, ways.
Cassie is the editorial manager at Punch Communications, a unique company creating integrated services traditionally offered separately by a public relations, social media, or SEO agency. She has in-depth editorial experience in diverse industries, including publishing, fundraising, recruitment, and real estate. Residing at the intersection of PR, search, and social media, Punch creates seamless interactions between disciplines to offer innovative services, such as social search campaigns.
Comments are closed for this blog post