Shame, shame

(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 4)

Many writers are ashamed.  They’re ashamed of their spelling.  They’re ashamed of their punctuation. It keeps them from writing.  I know; I often had kids who hid from writing assignments because they knew they weren’t good at it.

Self-appointed grammar police officers stand in the wings, ready and willing to mock.  But those enforcers are destroyers of writing, not champions of writing.  Many of them are just trying to justify the misery they were put through as children themselves.  And a surprising amount of the time, the rules they “know” are wrong.

Here’s the secret:

Line editing is last.

Meaning and language are far more important than punctuation, grammar, and spelling in the first draft.  Every time you look up a spelling, stop to check a grammar rule, or dither about a comma, you derail yourself.  Multi-tasking wastes time, and the human brain can’t actually do two things at once, even if one of them is automatic.  Every time you stop writing to do something else, whether it’s to worry about how bad your grammar is or to search the Internet for an answer, you will have to load yourself back on the writing train.

I’m not saying mechanics don’t matter.  The purpose of writing is communication, and the conventions of writing make meaning clear.

I’m saying that if your time is valuable, for instance if you’re attempting to produce 50,000 words by the end of the month, it’s best to stick to one thing at a time.  And when, at the end of the month, you wipe your brow and get ready for revision, you’re still not going to be correcting your grammar first.  You’re going to be deleting scenes, adding sentences, rewriting characters, and making your story or your memoir more coherent.  Then you can tackle those comma faults.

If you’re going to delete a chapter, in other words, it doesn’t make sense to correct its spelling first.   No matter what your crazy English teachers did when you were in high school.  They couldn’t help themselves.  I know.

The only exception I’ll make to this rule is if you have someone else reading as you go.  You have my permission to fix things in that case, because that’s simple kindness.  But do it after you have hit your quota for the day, not before.

No, I have another exception.  For god’s sake, please capitalize first letters of sentences and proper names as you go.  It’s a bear to fix that afterwards, and auto-correct sucks at it.

Tomorrow:  Last minute scramble – writing in haste

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