One of the biggest issues I see with new or unpublished writers is poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It's one of those controversial items I mentioned in the introductory blog for this series. Some people think it matters, and some don't. What I'm about to say might ruffle a few feathers, but it's the truth, and I feel it's worth discussing. Good grammar absolutely matters, and here's why. If you're writing a book, more than likely, you're looking to eventually get published. Getting something published takes a lot of hard work, determination, and talent. It's part of the long process of turning your scribbles into a work of art, something professional. And it should be treated as such! If you don't make it as professional as possible, and that includes good grammar and spelling, it will reflect poorly not only on the company that publishes it (also making it much less likely that they will even accept it) but yourself. So why would you want to take all that time and effort to create something that is subpar? Those who care very little about the professionalism of their work will not get very far. They may get lucky and have a one-time hit, but I guarantee they will not wind up with a successful writing career that lands them multiple publications. Publishers know what will make them money, and it's not drivel that a get rich quick or get famous kind of attitude can provide.
However, not everyone is able to soak up all the grammar rules we learned in elementary, and that's perfectly okay. My husband, for example, is an extremely smart man, an engineer. But he's a terrible speller. He couldn't spell several everyday words if his life depended on it. But he doesn't let that deter or override his professionalism when communicating in his line of work. If he doesn't know how to spell a word, he looks it up or asks for help. If he isn't sure where a comma should go, he finds out. That's one thing I've always admired about him and his writing, even though it's not his forte. So what can people like him do to improve? What can those who are very good with grammar and spelling do to improve?
1. Build your vocabulary. Get in the habit of learning new words on a regular basis. Look up words you don't know or can't spell. Make notes. Take these new words, and use them. Do writing exercises with them and make them part of everyday conversations. Make yourself some flash cards if you're having trouble with any. The more you use new or unfamiliar words, the better you will get at incorporating them into your writing. That doesn't mean you have to choose big words either; simple, yet strong verbs can have a more profound effect than long, uninteresting ones.
2. Attend creative writing classes or workshops in your local area. Both will teach you writing and grammar skills. They will help you build connections with other writers (and sometimes those in the publishing industry), teach you ways to improve your writing skills and existing pieces, give you ideas for new stories, and they will give you the opportunity to help others overcome roadblocks. This is another stepping stone to becoming a successful writer. Your writing skills will be tried and tested, and you will be pushed to improve. You will be challenged to go outside of your comfort zone. But stick with it. Overcoming those challenges will leave you with a feeling that you know you've achieved something great. You will strengthen your abilities as a writer, as well as gain some new knowledge and skills. Most importantly, these classes will keep you writing. Practice is the key to success in this field.
3. Read well-written literature. Reading is always a recommended tip for improving writing. Reading well-written literature in specific can help with grammar and spelling. The more you see good writing styles, sentence structures, and proper punctuation, the more you will pick up on it. It's a lot like learning a new language. By observing skilled writing techniques and practicing them, you can gain new skills and retain them quite quickly.
Good writing isn't just about how much raw talent you have; it's about learning to take your pre-existing skills, fine-tuning them, gaining some new knowledge, then combining those abilities to create something unique and enjoyable. Good writers practice good writing and continually strive to improve. That's what separates successful writers from unsuccessful ones.