Monday, April 21, 2008

Recovering from English 101 Trauma

Think back to your early English and Writing Classes. How have those experiences shaped your writer image? Maybe more than you think.

So Cherie and I were listening to some tapes on writing by seasoned writers Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg. One of them described a former student who was perhaps the best writer she had ever taught. Yet, the student couldn't believe that she was actually a good writer. Why? Because her English teachers in high school commented solely on grammatical errors.

Imagined example: she pours her heart into a story and eagerly awaits a morsel of praise from her teacher. Instead, she sees, scrawled in red, "You still don't understand the proper usage of the semicolon."

OK. Useful point. But beyond the semicolon travesty, was the paper interesting, funny, creative, heart-felt? In the final analysis, aren't those aspects more predictive of a great writer than proper semicolon placement? Why then aren't those aspects more often pointed out and rewarded?

I suppose it's easier and more objective to count up the grammatical mistakes, subtract from 100 and assign a grade. But editors can provide semi-colon assistance. And no acquisitions editor ever, in the history of publishing, excitedly presented a manuscript to her superiors with the glowing remark, "this author's semicolon placement is unsurpassed."

I typically hated writing in school. It was all about not making mistakes; seldom, if ever, about being funny or informative (did I use that semicolon correctly?). So let's try to get over the damage done to our writing esteem by the grammar police.

Some of the most creative and entertaining writing I see these days are in newspaper vents, unedited blogs, and informal movie and book reviews. I applaud their daring. Writing with no editor is akin to streaking - running with no clothes. Scary, but strangely freeing.

Go ahead. Blog, e-mail, write movie reviews on Amazon, express your opinions, just for the fun of writing. Let the grammar police cringe, grind their teeth and rail against the rampant unprofessionalism. I'm just excited that so many people are writing their thoughts, their jokes, their stories, their passions.