Sherman Alexie, who wrote one of my favorite books, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian,” started a twitter firestorm with his short statement “Grammar cops are rarely good writers. Imagination always disobeys.”
Coming from my background, a technical writer who attended a liberal English program, I find myself conflicted.
One the one hand, I was taught and truly believe that language is so amazing because of its adaptability. There are no set rules given from God on grammar, only arbitrary rules that we decide are such until the point that subversive forces change it. The reason language survives is its necessity and adaptability. (Note: for a discussion on this, see my blog about one of my favorite words that shouldn’t exist.) And if it didn’t evolve well all of us would write and speak very differently than we do today.
But, I also wrote a 13 page paper on the verbiness of certain verbs. And I loved every minute of it. Linguistic classes were some of the toughest classes I took in college but they are worth every minute you spend looking at rules, decoding texts and engaged in late night study session.
The English language has a fascinating history. Understanding its roots, and the principals behind word foundation, punctuation and grammar has helped my writing in innumerable ways. Your writing becomes more rich. You understand how the proper adjective can make or break a piece. You can make the world hang on a period.
As one of my teacher’s once lecture to us, “A good writer breaks the rules, but he has to know the rules first so that he can break them.”
In the end, Alexie has a point, fixation on proper grammar can hinder creativity. Often very technically correct work that lacks imagination or innovation is uninspiring.
But what Alexie ignores is that grammar knowledge can also enhance writing. Knowing when to use grammar rules and when to break them enhances and adds variety with writing as does knowing the varying nuances of word history and definition.
In my opinion, it is both creativity, and a knowledge of the grammar rules (and when to break them) that makes a truly skilled writer.
Which do you think is more important, grammar or creativity? Or a combination of both?