Heh. What would the world do without me to stumble along and suddenly post something provocative that occurs to me? *grin* Probably have far lower blood pressure and be happier, come to think of it.
But I stirred up some protest that led to an interesting discussion about the teaching of language arts/English grammar and usage. Didn’t really know I was going to, but then I never seem to anticipate these things, do I? *duh*
At Ann Leckie‘s journal, when an offhand comment I made on a prior entry led to some consternation, there’s now a discussion of students and what helps them (or doesn’t). At Rachel Swirsky‘s journal, I actually get quoted! I’m famous. (GRIN) Don’t take me too seriously, as I’m usually just musing and I do expect to hear other points of view (which may become mine if I let things percolate for a while). Generally I don’t stir up people that much with just a few lines. Oh, do I? Surely there’s some GOOD use for that talent. I might even find it sometime.
At the time, I wasn’t thinking so much of students in general (when I typed all that jumble) as I was of students who know they’re going to become writers. Students who aim for other careers won’t be So Serious about the semicolon and colon, naturally. But I always knew I would write (whether or not you can pretend I am a “real” writer or just think I’m a scribbler is moot), so I tried to master usage and grammar and punctuation. When I was young, my teachers and parents said I didn’t have any interesting stories to tell, so I should prepare for the time when I would have some cool story (if only that time would hurry up and arrive) by becoming a master of the tools of the craft. I suppose people who are natural storytellers or who have ideas that are more in line with what sells today don’t have to worry so much. Or they find editors.
I concede that the “average” (everyday, normal) student through the ages didn’t study grammar and punctuation and so forth very thoroughly, and people in general are probably as literate now as they have ever been. (Consider that many jobs in the past didn’t require literacy so much as a strong back. Now we have far more office professions.) But shouldn’t someone who is a professional novelist know his or her tools? A carpenter knows his/her tools before building a house, and has practiced until he/she can use them properly. I don’t see why we can’t expect a professional writer (one who publishes a novel, no less) to be one of those people who studied grammar and usage and punctuation for himself or herself, whether or not it was taught in school.
As always, what I said was what I was thinking at the time. Didn’t really mean to imply that “the kids are baaaad,” if I did. Because really, I like the young adults of today! They’re nice people. They are bright. They are changing the world. But they are not, IMHO, maintaining the emphasis on punctuation and grammar in written language that we used to have in publishing (at least). Is this a good or bad thing? Well, to my mind, anything that does not serve clarity is doubleplus-ungood. So when we omit punctuation or use nonstandard grammar that doesn’t make a sentence easily understandable, I think we’re going downhill.
The author whose work was under discussion in that thread had written sentences that confused everyone, and was defending her book as having “nothing wrong.” A reviewer had written that her self-pubbed novel (in e-format) is riddled with errors, although the story itself (said the reviewer) isn’t bad. I extrapolated to say that nowadays, it seems that good grammar and punctuation don’t even matter. Not even to mainstream publishing (IMHO, judging by the many errors I see in published novels). I see contest entries (in RWA chapter contests and writers’ convention contests) that simply have not been cleaned up–and the judges’ sheets seem to completely give them a pass on that. It’s as if they are saying that editors and agents don’t care at all or will not notice. That it’s all about the story. I do not believe that (maybe I should), but it certainly seems that way from this vantage point. I think writers need to wake up and start caring about the mechanics of their work.
Or perhaps it will matter less and less as self-publishing becomes the norm.
That poor li’l author who was clueless now has a bunch of one-star Amazon reviews. I guess she had her fifteen minutes of fame, at the bottom of the pile-on, that is. Oh, well. More people looked at her work than I could ever hope to have look at mine, which is saying something. Not sure WHAT. She could go on to do the talk-show circuit, though. Parlay this into a mini-flash of fame. Make it her platform!
As far as my little drama burst about the kids and their resistance to learning . . . go read _Generation X Goes to College_ by Peter Sacks or _The Dumbest Generation_ by Mark Bauerlein (or any number of books about students’ lack of interest in general knowledge and gaining traditional academic expertise). It’s true that students today get inflated grades and often expect to get great grades despite not turning in the work. In the past, students would get bad grades for poor work; now, parents often intervene to get the students’ grades ratcheted up a notch. People were wondering why I said that, and thinking all my evidence was anecdotal. Well, there’s research that will tell you we do have a problem there. But it probably doesn’t matter anyhow, as the world is changing. (Ya THINK?)
The bit about the cool kids taking over publishing . . . well, that’s just me. I feel as if the cheerleaders and the jocks decided it’s cool to have a book in print, and the rules therefore changed accordingly. No longer must you be a grammar wonk or a stickler for correct usage to write books. My magical talent becomes unimportant just as I start waving the wand. Frustration city.
I understand that the next generation is going to take over and do things any way they like. But I don’t have to like it when I see a decline in the quality of books on the shelves. Who knows whether the young crowd is to blame–or perhaps people of all ages who didn’t learn how to self-edit? It seems that the shift is taking place just as a new crop of writers matures . . . but of course correlation doesn’t guarantee causation. The culprits could be a bunch of old fossils like me who were too busy smoking pot to bother learning how to punctuate. Whatever and whoever is causing it . . . I think it’s leading us down a less positive path.
On the other hand, just about anyone can go self-publish and then say he or she has published a book now . . . which is nice. It’s up to readers whether they actually want to READ the books, as ever.
I’m sure one of the reasons I feel such angst over crappy writing vs readable writing is that I can’t find much on the shelves now that I like. Nothing speaks to me. So many books start out clunky and don’t speak to me. I did get some good recommendations from a couple of people, though, and that gives me something to look for at the bookstore. It could just be a phase I’m going through as I enter my second childhood.
Or it could be a hardcore midlife crisis. *flip a coin*
Think this guy has anything to hide??