You’ve probably heard a writer somewhere, sometime, say, “Words are the tools of my trade.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. While that sentiment is true, grammar and punctuation are right there taking up space in the same toolbox, like it or not.
I’ve heard the anxiety from many of you concerning grammar. (Writer anxiety is why I have a job editing.) But grammar doesn’t have to be a scary thing. Many excellent books on the subject exist, including the perennial favorite, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. It is a great starting point for the grammar-challenged writers among us.
But maybe you are one of those writers who could care less about grammar. “Why bother? No one will notice,” I hear some of you say. The problem with that attitude is your fledgling story might someday cross the desk of an editor—an editor who has the power to publish you. We editors are a stubborn lot, and we pay attention to the seemingly little things like commas.
Or maybe you think grammar doesn’t matter because you are choosing to self-publish. The problem with that line of thinking is then you have to deal with the reviews your readers give you, and some of those reviewers know their grammar. Trust me, I hear from writers all of the time who complain about one- and two-star reviews from a frustrated reader who likes stories without errors.
Punctuation is important. As Lynne Truss explains in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, “Pause in the wrong place and the sense of a religious text can alter in significant ways.” Consider: “Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” And, “Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” Major religions are divided because of a comma.
So you aren’t writing major theological texts. But you are in the business of communicating.
Go forth and do so correctly.