Can you get a novel published if your grammar ain’t no good? That’s a good question and it deserves a better answer than a mere “yes” or “no.”
Elizabeth posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
My question is about grammar. I’ve just started to take my writing seriously and noticed that my grammar is not all that great and needs some real improvement. I’ve tried reading grammar books, but they seem to confuse me as to what I should do. Do you have any suggestions on this? I know I need to have good grammar to get published later on in life.
Randy sez: This is a good time to talk about your strengths and your weaknesses. Everybody has strengths. Everybody has weaknesses. Is it better to focus on the strengths or the weaknesses?
Strengths are those things that you do Xtremely well. An editor says “yes” to your book because of your strengths. But no writer on the planet is strong in everything. Some writers are strong on plot and only mediocre on character. Some are the opposite. Some writers shine on dialogue. Some on their creation of a compelling Storyworld. Readers have different tastes, but they typically gravitate to writers who are strong in what they like, even if they’re not so strong in other areas. If you’re going to get published, you need to be strong in at least one area.
Weaknesses are those things that you do Xtremely badly. An editor says “no” to your book because of your weaknesses. A weakness is a show-stopper, and you will find it very hard to get published if you have any serious weaknesses.
The strategy I teach for improving as a writer is the two-pronged approach:
- Identify your strengths and find ways to make them even stronger. Never outsource this, because if something is truly your strength, then it’s almost impossible to find somebody else who could do it better than you do.
- Identify your weaknesses and find ways to bring them up to the acceptable level. Don’t waste time trying to turn a weakness into a strength. That would be pointless and would waste vast amounts of time. Either find a resource that can teach you how to make your weaknesses at least acceptable, or else outsource this task.
Just as an example, if I were back in high school and wanting to go out for a sport, it would be idiotic to try for the weightlifting team (I’m a beanpole and always will be) or the baseball team (my eyesight is too bad). But my lean physique makes me a good candidate for the track team and I’d be ideal for the 5k, 10k, or marathon. It would make all kinds of sense to do mostly endurance training (my strength), with just enough weight training (my weakness) to give me a decent finishing sprint, and with no attempt at all to improve my eyesight (my other weakness).
Now moving on to Elizabeth’s actual question, her weakness is grammar. Elizabeth, you have two choices:
Door #1: Improve your grammar to the point where it’s acceptable. You’ve tried this and it isn’t working. Stop trying.
Door #2: Hire a freelance copyeditor or proofreader to bring your grammar up to snuff. This seems to make the most sense to me.
The bottom line on weaknesses: Either get the help you need to become acceptable, or outsource it to somebody for whom it’s a strength.
The bottom line on strengths: Focus a substantial amount of your effort on becoming world-class in your strength. Most of the rewards go to those who are really, really, really good in one particular thing. Remember that nobody can possibly be really, really, really good in everything. Pick one strength or two and focus your efforts on those.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.