Slogging Through Sentences

Morning Tea

My reading about writing continues. Like many budding writers, reading about writing is easier than actually, you know, writing. For inspiration, I picked up the Chuck Palahniuk book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Several short sentences about writing. The Palahiuk book was a dud and the Editing book useful. I’m working through Short Sentences.

Basically, it’s a collection of sentences clustered around different elements of writing. Each sentence ends with a line break. I can’t follow every thought and intention, but it reads well.

A few things stick out. About 1/3 of the way in, Klinkenborg introduces grammar and the structure of sentences. First, he knocks down one of my previously held beliefs:

“Many people assume there’s an inherent conflict between creativity and a critical, analytic awareness of the medium you work in.

They assume that the creative artist works unconsciously And that knowing too much about matters like grammar and syntax diminishes or blunts creativity.

This is nonsense.”

Whoops. I’m in this camp. A quick reading of this site uncovers subtle grammatical flaws. Not so much spelling, but 102 level grammar. And I agreed with the “writing has some magic and flow so you don’t need to be an expert in grammar,” schtick.

I went to an excellent school system and took honors and AP English classes. I don’t remember spending much time on Grammar (with a capital G). A lot of time reading and writing analysis and looking for the deep meaning in stories, but very little time talking about the mechanics of language. Or, as Klinkenborg explains, the creation and editing of sentences.

“But you do need to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs…active and passive construction…relation between a pronoun and its antecedent…verb tenses…nature of participles and their role as modifiers…subtleties of prepositions—the hardest part of speech….”

I had to look up a few of these terms. I was introduced to them in sixth grade, but didn’t learn the real mechanics…I was an avid reader, and instinctively knew a wrong sentence without knowing the correct grammatical label.

So maybe I’m like a musician who never studied, can’t read sheet music, but still shreds on the guitar?

“The names of the kinds of words, their relation to each other. and their functions.

Like a painter’s knowledge of color and the laws of perspective,

A jazz musician’s knowledge of chord structures and his instrument.”

Whoops. So much work to do.

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