In the days before E-mail and social media, public humiliation high school style took a different form. When you are sixteen going on seventeen, you don’t want to hear that your letter has been posted on the chalkboard of a boys’ high school classroom and red marked for grammatical errors. Even more irritating is the realization that the letter was written at two in the morning and was very casual in tone and style. It included arrows leading to side comments and slightly illegible, casual penmanship. One of the participants took great pleasure in telling me about this journalism class exercise later on. The spirit and motivation behind the exercise was clear.
I was reminded of this experience recently when I came across a tweet that was addressed to women via the #BlogHer hashtag. It was written by a popular Canadian dad blogger. He advised the 5,000 women attending the Blog Her conference in New York City that some of them should consider attending a “how to write” seminar. “Funny”, I thought,”I haven’t noticed appalling writing styles on mom blogs”. Then again I’m not looking at the quality of writing on a mom blog. I will notice how a piece is written in the local newspaper columns and I do appreciate the high quality pieces that appear in the most famous newspapers and magazines. Tweets fly by on Twitter at a furious rate. Perhaps I was the only one who noticed this tweet or cared about the tone and perspective of the author. Or perhaps nobody challenged his suggestion because he is popular in the blogosphere and Twitterland. Mom blogs came about as a way for women to share their interests and passions with other women. As long as ideas are conveyed and information is shared, it doesn’t matter if the writing style is tight.
When I was in my early 20s I worked with a highly respected academic from Jamaica. He was a former Vice-Chancellor of a Commonwealth university and is widely respected for the work that he undertook in international education circles. (Sadly he passed away a few years ago.) The lesson that stays with me as a result of our conversations is that there are many ways to write a sentence.
Recently I came across a the draft of a message that I wrote in response to my contemporaries who mocked me. I offer this piece to mom bloggers who might feel insecure about their ability to write. Keep calm and blog on. Every woman has a unique vision and story to tell. If one or two people gather round your blog, you have a community of dedicated readers. Don’t let them down. Keep going and ignore the sour grapes.
Sir Winston Churchill once wrote that a preposition is a terrible thing to end a sentence with. “Why spend a pound for metropolis when you can have city for a pence”, he asked. There are basic grammar rules we must always use but we should not become slaves to all rules unless we want to produce stilted, awkward pieces of writing.
If you are writing a legal document one type of writing style is used. If you are writing a letter of solicitation another style is used. A friendly letter [or blog posting] should be natural and will tend to break some of the lesser grammatical rules. Many famous writers regularly use writing structures which are ungrammatical yet paint the picture most clearly.
Never become trapped by the tendency of some literary writers to ignore a natural style – one that reflects the writer’s personal way of expressing him or herself. Slavish obedience to all grammar rules produces writers who could experience difficulty adapting to the ever changing nuances and practices that affect a language as it evolves.
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Daily Dish Archives: Pamela Chan/Publisher, BCfamily.ca
For some extra help do check out the Harbrace College Handbook (Canadian edition).