I’ve talked about this many times before, in other platforms and in various & sundry formats. But it seems like I can never really get it out of my system. Every time I hear a writer-friend talk about how they don’t need to understand syntax because, “that’s what editors are for,” I feel the need to rant well up inside of me.
(Sidebar: That’s not what editors in the modern age are for. Trust me on this one. Unless you’re an A-list celebrity, of a B-lister about to publish a tell-all, an editor isn’t there to be your proofreader.)
This has nothing to do with grammatical or spelling errors. Heavens knows I’m probably the biggest culprit (fun fact: I read over some of my writer’s bootcamp posts and was downright in awe at my English-as-second-language grammatical skills at certain points). No one is perfect and very few people know every single rule when it comes to linguistics (and even then, some rules are obsolete, others are on the cusp, and new ones are gaining traction). My frustration is not directed at people who love to write, but seem to fall short in their technical skills. My frustration is directed at people who not only don’t know the technical rules, but don’t want to know them — and think it’s silly to spend any time or energy learning them.
I finally realized that my issue is twofold. The first is one that I’ve gone over a million times before: being a writer who disregards the rules of writing is like being a musician who disregards the rules of sheet music. Could you imagine a violin player rolling her eyes and going, “Well that’s what a composer is for”? A writer is someone who loves the intricacies of the written word — and you can’t expect to get anywhere with your writing if you only respect the broad, basic formulas. Being a writer means playing with sentence structure like an architect plays with a building layout — or discover new ways to use words the way a dancer discovers new ways to move. Being a writer means respecting the rules and breaking them only when the situation actually calls for it. It means recognizing that e.e. cummings had a firm grasp of the English language before creating his abstract poetry, the same way Picasso was first a classically-trained painter.
But there is a bigger issue at hand, and this one applies to more than just grammar: when a writer blatantly flouts spelling, grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, punctuation, all the while proclaiming, “Who needs to learn this anyway? I am a writer! An artist! I don’t need to be technical,” they really mean, “I don’t get it, therefore I will find any reason to excuse it away.” Instead of taking the time to actually learn something that might not come naturally to them, they find a way to make it seem frivolous.
This is a problem we see everywhere these days. People are so quick to call themselves intelligent or witty that they’ll actively disregard anything that they might not yet know. I mean, what is easier: to call yourself smart while regurgitating what you’ve already memorized or to challenge yourself and potentially realize that you’re not as smart as you thought you were? I see this all the time in politics — from both sides — but it’s absurdly prevalent in the intellectual world as well. It’s just easier to label a concept as unnecessary — or to label a different way of thinking or a new vocabulary word as pretentious — and continue to consider yourself a smart person, a worldly politician, a good writer.
And why not? The media loves to make us feel smart (the reasons for that we’ll save for another entry). We have online IQ tests that tell everyone taking it that they have IQs of 130 (Fun fact: if the person on Facebook who typically posts inane/incoherent shit, the person who always shares chain letters, and the person who thinks every user-made someecard is *hi-liarous* all get a 130 on the same online IQ test, the online IQ test is not actually an accurate measurement of anything, aside from the gullibility of dumb people). We have websites from all corners of the world with people who will gladly tell you that your opinion is the only valid one. We can choose to listen to TV shows, broadcasts, podcasts, and so on and so forth that only agree with what we believe — that either pander to our level of intelligence or make us feel intelligent by comparison. Why challenge ourselves and confront what we don’t understand when that might mean we’re not the mega-geniuses we’ve decided that we are without merit?
It took a while, but I realized that my supreme loathing of writers who stay willfully ignorant of grammar stems from my supreme loathing of people who stay willfully ignorant of anything that might force them to reevaluate their intelligence. There is no growth for mindsets like that — and it makes it harder those who want to learn and expand (and aren’t afraid to realize their level of stupidity in the process).
So, for the love of God: pick up a damn book. Learn a damn thing or two about grammar or chemistry or economics. And — for the love of God — stop taking those stupid online IQ tests. If it doesn’t qualify you for Mensa, it’s suspect at best.