Too many times I’ve heard a saying, such as:
Grammar doesn’t matter, it’s the story that matters.
For a long time, I thought it as well. It’s a great lie to motivate oneself to write for the purpose of writing. And yes, you read it correctly, I did say a lie.
But if it makes you feel better, I can confidentially say that:
One can train his writing, but it’s hard to train creativity.
– Elven, 2018, 24th December.
Creativity is an interesting thing – a lot of people don’t have it or have it as a weaker side. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not required to write. There are enough people who write cliche stories and are doing fine. After all, there are so many different types of fiction, and not all of them require you to be creative.
But even if you’re a genius, one of a million, you still can’t ignore a simple thing called – grammar. It’s especially true for us, whose English isn’t their native language.
And this is something that I’m focusing today. There might be a million resources out there, and a million people who could help you to get better at English, but not all of them understand the struggle of learning it as a secondary.
The below tips are mostly meant for those who want to write but feel that their English is their weak point and might be struggling with it. These are things that I learned as I learned to write.
And I hope that perhaps there’s something that I can help you with. Or perhaps those who are masters in English could try to understand me or our point of views.
#1 Whatever you learn, apply it immediately
When I began writing, I could write over one thousand words in half an hour. Now I can do around 700 or so.
The above is because when I began writing, I just wrote, and I never stopped to think about grammar. I did the thing that most writers told me to do – vomit words.
But one thing that I learned in time was that vomiting works if your native is English, or you know it well enough. It didn’t work for me, though. Why?
I could give you a long list of why it is so, but I’m gonna put it in a straightforward sentence.
If you puke words, you do not practice what you’ve learned.
The best way to get better at writing is practicing everything you’ve learned. But I would say it’s a mistake if you only use what you’ve learned when you edit or proofread your writing. You should use your knowledge as you learn them.
An example? Sure. I learned that using an action tag as a direct speech was really bad. Such as:
“Bakana,” he frowned.
Frowned is not a tag, it’s an action. There are so many different ways how to solve it. A few:
“Bakana,” he said, frowning.
He frowned. “Bakana,” he said.
“Bakana,” he said, pushing hands against his face and frowning.
Grammar nazis, pls don’t kill me over the examples <3
But as I understood and decided that the original method that I used was wrong, I began using the better one everywhere, immediately. It didn’t mean that I always wrote it correctly straight away, but I started practicing it and slowly getting it as part of my automatic writing thought process. And since I find it wrong in my automatic writing brain process, I notice it more often when I edit my stuff as well.
This rule has helped me most and is my A and O.
#2 Edit, edit, and edit!
First, I didn’t edit. Then I did it. Now I proofread and edit.
It really depends what your objective is, but I have that I edit everything at least once, no matter what’s the writing. For serials, I edit it once and proofread at least once. When I’ve finished my series, I began a whole new cycle of an editing process.
Why do I edit always? Because that’s the moment when I find the mistakes and learn from them. That’s the moment when I take a time-out and find out how to do something I’m unsure of. That’s the moment when I learn about it, and try not to do it in the future.
For example, after I began editing, I realized how much I use “then” in my sentences, so I’m actively trying not to use it as often. I only notice those things when I’m editing my stuff. That’s when I see if I use one word over and over again. Or that’s when I understand that I have particular problems in my writing style.
That’s also the moment to self-evaluate.
Which leads me to…
#3 When unsure, do research, do not take other words for granted
I used to listen big names like their feedback were A and O. But I barely got any better, and it slowly destroyed me.
Oh gosh, I hope some individuals aren’t reading this… The above doesn’t mean that their feedback is terrible – absolutely not true. But it was how I worked with that feedback.
You have no idea how many times I’ve asked how something worked, just to get an answer: “I just know it, I have that feeling!”
The sad truth is that it won’t help me get any better, and not even slightly. There’s a saying.
Give the man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for life.
This is something that works for me in writing. I might get the help that solves one particular problem, but I’ll be back at it the next time. The only way to solve that problem is to understand the problem and how to address it.
Since English isn’t my native, I don’t have the feeling how things should work. Or if I have a sense, it is very often wrong; thus I cannot trust it. I will get it in time, if I practice enough and understand the grammar rules, but until I reach that level… no.
So, the only way for me to get better is to dive deep into the problem and learn it, learn the rules and make it understandable for myself.
An example time! And please don’t judge…
He ran like crazy, and he ran fast.
A lot of people would tell me that the comma is there because it just feels logical. Others might argue that it depends on the situation. But no matter how much I try to understand them, I can’t. So, I learned it in my own way. I created a rule that I follow and which helps me to get through that situation.
If there’s a subject after ‘and’ use comma.
He ran like crazy, and he ran fast.
If the ‘he’ didn’t exist there, I would not use a comma. And that’s it. Now that I have learned how to fish, things will be more straightforward. I will not stop at that problem every time and wonder what the correct method is. There might be exceptional circumstances, but I honestly don’t care about those special exceptions, because those are something that I learn as I write.
It’s essential that you’ll learn how to grammar your way, not their way.
And here’s a quick side-note.
Even Americans/Brits/Grammar nazis are wrong.
But prepare to be wrong a lot, and adjust depending on needs. Don’t be stuck to your understandings if someone explains to you why you’re wrong and even gives you resources to get better.
Alright, that’s all for now. There are definitely more tips that I could give, but that’s something for the next time!