Rules We Memorize

MemoryI’ve been pretty busy lately with editing, both for clients and myself. One of the authors I work with said something to me that got me thinking.

Commas and hyphens are the minions of Satan. I’ll never figure out how to use them.

Anyone who knows me knows math is the bane of my existence. Higher math, that is. I had a summer job as a bank teller (two years), so I can add and subtract with the best of them. (Go ahead and laugh; I know that’s pretty pathetic.) But give me a word problem with logs, imaginary numbers, and cosines? Forget it. I’d rather watch paint dry. I’d be done faster that way. (And I’d have freshly painted walls, so that’s a plus.)

Grammar, though? Easy peasy.

I’ll never swear I know every rule, and I know I make mistakes (who among us doesn’t?), but something about sentence construction and punctuation just clicks in my head. I don’t know that I “memorized” the rules. I just find complying with many of them to be easy for me. (Certainly easier than trigonometry or calculus, anyway.)

When I talked with the aforementioned author, I told her this:

Grammar is a skill anyone can master, but creativity can’t be taught. That’s a gift—one that should be nurtured, honed, and shared.

As a writer, I hope I have that gift. As an editor, I can tell you that poorly-written work can be polished (even though sometimes it’s really hard to get from draft to release-worthy), but poorly-conceived storylines can’t be saved. Not easily, anyway. Yes, developmental editors can show an author where the holes are and how to fill them in, but often by the time that work is done, it’s a different story.

Write drunk. Edit sober.
There is a reason that quote is so popular in our profession. To edit sober is to turn off the flights of fancy and ruthlessly shape the imagination’s triumphs into a stable and recognizable form. To write drunk is to write with abandon, to be open to new ideas and unexplored paths. In short, to be creative.

And if you enjoy a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey while you’re doing that, well, who could blame you?


Inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Memorize

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20 thoughts on “Rules We Memorize

  1. Great post, again, Staci. Math has never been difficult for me, but I do find in my work a misplaced comma or two. They are so much easier to find in the work of others.

    If I were to partake, my beverage of choice would be a Guinness at room temperature.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links | Staci Troilo

  3. Commas. Ugh! Just when I think I understand them, I plummet back to square one.
    Grammar has never been my forte (or higher math), which is why it’s so crucial to have editors hone our work. And just for the record, you rock both the creativity side and the structural side.
    This was an excellent and entertaining post.
    A pox on the minions!

    Liked by 2 people

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