Time Passing and Dreyer’s English

I started this blog over six years ago to chronicle the experience of learning to write.  I knew it would be a journey, even though I believed myself to be a good writer already. (Ha!) I thought at the time it would be a process somewhat like getting a power boat up on a plane:  Plowing slowly through understanding structure and technique, reading the classics in my genre, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Finally rising to the plane, where my writing would zip along.

To some degree, that is the way it’s been, although the plowing process has been longer than I expected. And continues ad infinitum, I think.

Along the way, I joined critique groups that have helped me immensely, though I often feel that my critique earns me a red-lettered ‘stodgy’ across my forehead.  Yes, my formal training took place a long time ago. Yes, I use Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White. But calling out an incorrect lie/lay or take/bring sometimes gets flared nostrils and a roomful of sighs. And we’re not even talking about the singular use of ‘they’ or the vanishing comma.

Pertinent to grammar and style, I just ran into what I think may be this generation’s style guide:  Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer. It’s an erudite, clear guide to the way English should be written with an emphasis on clear communication, rather than hard and fast rules. Also, funny and fun to read. He begins by exhorting we writers to go a week without writing Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers like very, rather, really … you get the drift. We should all go many more weeks than one with very (oops) few of these.

Another thing I like about the book is Dreyer has been at this work for two decades. I think that gives him acute judgement about which changes in style are transient and which are here to stay. All in all, a fine book.  Who knows? I may be able to rub out that ‘stodgy’.

Oops

I have learned some editing lessons in the last week.  Three, in fact:

  • When they say ‘Don’t edit your own work’ … they’re right. I have read over Fatal Score at least ten times. During those readings,I ignored at least two dozen obvious mistakes.  My copy editor missed them, as well (though at least some were probably caused by just-have-to-do-it tweaks post copyedit).  These are not grammatical shadings, but duplicated words, mixed tenses and the like.  The main problem is that first draft was first person/present tense.  I changed to third person/past tense several rewrites ago.  I didn’t execute all the tense changes correctly.
  • Grammar checkers check only grammar, not the abovementioned stupidities. I know that’s a tautology, but (for me) a painful one.
  • If you employ a copy editor, make sure you mention that you expect a serious reading of the material, not a cruise-through by Word or Grammerly.

I am indebted to early readers of the book, who have pointed out obvious problems. (Ned Froelich, your careful reading is far beyond the call of ARC reader duty.) The good news is Print on Demand allows for changes.

POD does not assuage authorial mortification.