Friday, December 18, 2009

Writing Journey: Evolution of a Word Nerd


Alexes from One Cluttered Brain asked me several all at once, and they're all sort of related, so I'm answering them together:

When did this fascination with grammar and words begin? Does it interfere much when you write something? And aren't you an editor as well? How does that work when you are trying your writing hat on? Does your editing hat ever get in the way?

Being as I grew up with a linguist as a father, conversations about words were typical dinner-table fodder.

(I thought this was normal. Apparently not.)

I don't remember ever not thinking that words and etymologies and so forth were interesting.

I also grew up with a mother who was always reading. My father used to joke that he couldn't get into his own bedroom without a library card. The master bedroom had several bookcases which were filled, stuffed, and then crammed with books.

The basement was the same. So was the kitchen. Every room in the house had books. And I mean every room. Yes, even the bathroom had a bookcase. (Not kidding.) When I moved out, guess what moved into my bedroom? Yep: more bookcases.

As a result of being the child of both a linguist and a bibliophile, I think it was pretty much inevitable that I'd develop a love of language and books.

On the other hand, the specific grammar and punctuation switch got turned on in 10th grade when I had Miss Drummond for honors English. She made those subjects suddenly make sense and be fascinating to boot!

I loved her as a teacher so much that I was her aide in 11th grade and then I took College Prep English from her in 12th. (After which, I challenged the AP test and passed with a 5, because she's just that good of a teacher.)

Even my brother, who has no interest in anything English, had her in high school and admitted that she was the only teacher who ever made grammar make sense to him. She made him get it.

(See? GRAMMAR CAN BE TAUGHT! It's not just freaks like me who can understand this stuff!)

The poor woman couldn't get rid of me. She also couldn't get rid of my family. First she had Dad as a professor at BYU, then my brother as a student, then my older sister as a student, and then me . . . twice. (Or for three years, if you count the aide thing.) Of us siblings, only one of us didn't have her as a teacher.

In college, two classes with Dr. Oaks cemented my love for all things language, whether it's grammar, usage, punctuation, or anything linguistic. But on some level, the interest has always been there thanks to Dad's PhD in linguistics and Mom's passion for books.

So on to the second part of the question: Does my word nerdiness interfere with my writing? After all, I do edit professionally as well on the side. Do they conflict? Not really. In some ways, having that background helps.

The nerdiness and internal editor are just part of who I am. Yes, there are times I put on my editor hat specifically to look at grammar and usage issues, but even in a rough draft, it's just not in me to throw in a random "less" when it should be "fewer" or to mess up "imply" and "infer." That's not how I speak or write. The rules are so ingrained that some things simply come out correctly the first time.

One thing that's easy to mess up as I type is homonyms, but that's not because I don't know the right word but because my fingers often get going on one word, and it's the wrong one, so I have to fix it later.

(So yes, even I, the person who wrote a book on the topic, mess up at times when I'm randomly throwing out a comment in on a blog or on a Facebook status, as Jessica noted so ably recently when I wrote "there" instead of "their.")

On the other hand, I do have to make a point of separating my editor side from my creative side. While I'd never write, "less times" (unless it's an intentional character quirk in dialogue), there are plenty of other editorial things I could be stressing out over, and drafting is not the time for that.

Trying to edit as I draft would be paralyzing, because writing is a creative experience. You have to let go to create, let yourself get lost in the world and the characters and the story. I can't worry about revisions and editing at that point. Those will come later.

So I let go. I take off my editor hat, knowing I'll come back and put it on another time. I love drafting. It's a ball living for a time in my own little world.

The nice part is that when I do come back for revisions with my editor hat on, I know that what I have to fix won't generally be grammar errors and spelling mistakes. (Just a small bonus, really.) That's not to say I won't have plenty of other things to fix (character motivation, plot holes, telling instead of showing, lame dialogue . . . holy moly, truly, on some days, the list goes on and on).

The one place my obsession does interfere with is reading. It's really, really hard to take off the word nerd/editor hat then, which is frustrating. I have a difficult time picking up a book and enjoying it for its own sake.

It's a rare gem that draws me in so fully that I don't notice clunky punctuation or where I don't mentally rewrite sentences or groan at a really bad typo or grammar error.

My personal favorite error I caught a few years ago: three times in the same book I found prostate instead of prostrate. Oy. Where oh, where was the proofer?! I also caught a dang funny dangling modifier in one of the Twilight books. I giggled like crazy (it implied that Bella was her own father), but obviously no one else gave a snit about it.

(Then again, I doubt I'd care the slightest bit about a dangling modifier if my books were on the NY Times list for dozens of weeks on end, sold millions of copies and were made into blockbuster movies. But I digress.)

Got a question about anything writing or publishing-related? Ask away!


Kristina P. said...

I love the prostate mistake!

Lara Neves said...

Okay, yeah. Prostate/prostrate. So different. Sometimes I think people just run it through spell check and don't have an actual human being editing. :)

I love that you had bookcases in your bathroom growing up. That's awesome.

* said...

Funny, the grammatical mistakes we find in books.

My bro-in-law finds mistakes all the time in magazines, newspapers and books, too. We've told him he should be an English teacher or editor. Nope. He's a realtor. (go figure)

Sometimes, I think we assume books are like doctors: impossibily perfect, Godlike. They are not.

Although there is no excuse for printed books that have passed copy editors, proofers, etc., and still have errors! The horror. :)

Melissa Cunningham said...

Very fun post . . . AS USUAL!

Unknown said...

Love it! And I'm with you; I really love a writer whose grasp of the language is as strong as their story-telling. Because I love mysteries, two of my favorites are P.D. James and Martha Grimes. Both are poets as well as novelists, and both have a brilliant handle on the English language. Reading their work is pure bliss. Aaaahhh...

Anonymous said...

This is nearly as good as a Word Nerd Wednesday. I'm satiated. The beast is pleased. =]

Melanie Jacobson said...

You're the only other person I've met who got a 5 on the AP.

My love of language came from reading, but I admit that my linguistics class was probably my favorite in my major, even more than my lit classes.

Amanda said...

I just received your new book and I LOVE it! I've been a Crash fan for awhile and even bopped over here when she reviewed your book last year. And then recently, for some odd reason, I decided to check your books on Amazon to see what else you had written. That's when I discovered your grammar book and I knew I had to have it.

As a homeschooling mom who struggles with grammar, I was concerned how to teach this to my children. I had even asked Crash for suggestions on where to start. She did not know that just being your friend could help me so much! Her suggestions were no help, though. *shhhhh*

Today, I blogged for the first time since starting your book and I was catching so many of my 'normal' mistakes with commas. THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!

I will be sharing this book on my homeschool message boards and writing a review on my personal blog, soon.

Thanks again, this book has truly opened my eyes and I've only owned it for 24 hours!

Annette Lyon said...

Wow, Amanda, thanks! I think I need to print out your comment and frame it or something. :D I'm so glad the book's been so useful already! Thanks so much for dropping by to let me know.

Happy Mom said...

Until my senior year in high school, diagraming sentences was something I feared and loathed in equal porportions. Alma J. Pate was my Mrs Drummond. A few months in his class, and grammar became not only interesting, but downright fun! I and my friends started diagramming sentences from the Book of Mormon (the really long ones) just because we could. Any word in any sentence was constantly being labeled with it's function.

Sadly, I've lost most of what I learned. Your blog has rekindled the desire to really understand grammar again! Keep blogging!!

Erin said...

I heard a man bear his testimony once and say, "I'm so thankful we have the gift of immorality in our lives." Obviously meaning immorTality. I laughed and laughed. Sorry, that was a bit off track, but the prostate thing reminded me of it. :)

Jessica G. said...

I just HAD to respond to the their/there comment because my entire image of you was shocked to the core! :)

Jessica G. said...

But now I'm kinda nervous that you read my must drive you nuts!

Anonymous said...

Loved Ms. Drummond. Grammar certainly was a pleasure with her. I also have fond memories of just reading in her classes. Whenever I get involved with a book club, I find myself wishing she was there.
--A fellow Timpview graduate, 1993 (but not a stalker!)

Annette Lyon said...

Anon, you can't leave me hanging like that! If you were '93, then we roamed the halls together. I was '92.

'Fess up so I can pull out my yearbook. :D

Anonymous said...

Sorry to leave you hanging. Tricia Dursteler, then. I think I knew of you (again, not in a stalker-ish way) and I kind of knew your sister...Michelle? It has been a loooong time. But thanks for reminding me of my fond memories of Ms. Drummond. She was a great teacher and definitely influenced my English ways for life.

Annette Lyon said...

Tricia--I remember you! (Took me long enough to pull out the year book--blame Christmas.)

And yep, Michelle is my little sister.

I'm glad you dropped by! (Did you hear the T-birds took State in football again? :D)


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