I have a good friend who teases me often about my rigid adherence to Strunk and White and what is considered correct, if stuffy, punctuation (if I said grammar he’d slap me). I considered the question over months of good-natured ribbing and came to a conclusion regarding why I am so careful about how I write. Since the decision was largely made in my gut, it took me awhile to pull it apart and understand it, but the answer ended up far simpler than expected.
I am a professional writer, editor, and publisher. This means a lot to me, and in today’s world I have people scrutinizing my grammar and word choices everywhere I write. Friends pick on me about misspellings or typos in my social media posts (and I don’t mind), clients read my blogs and judge whether or not I am a good fit for them, and my editing is evaluated by readers who are often so jaded by the state of the publishing industry that they are looking for problems.
While I could, and often do in personal correspondence, loosen my grip on the rigid structure of “proper” punctuation, I feel I cannot do so anywhere more public for exactly the reasons I stated above. With so many hacks out there I could easily be lumped into that category if I were to loosen my stranglehold on what is known to be proper. We writers come under such intense scrutiny because these days any idiot with a word processor can call themselves an author. I don’t say that to belittle the strides toward fair treatment and personal control of one’s books, but with those victories come costs.
In this environment of critical eyes and minds, writers are under more scrutiny than I think we ever have been. Our audiences are bigger than ever, but with that comes a constant state of being audited for our ability to wield the language. We are weighed, judged, and if we are found wanting the court of public opinion is not gentle. Particularly for those of us who are publishers and editors because the expectation (and not wrongfully so) is that we should have a higher quality grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word choice than others when we write.
Overall, I recommend anyone who looks at writing as a vocation, or even just a pastime, consider the importance of presentation. Every blog or post on social media we make (yes, those count) is judged by our friends, our family, and potential readers. With that in mind, we must consider our use of language. It might make the difference between success and failure.
4 thoughts on “Why I am a Punctuation Snob”
Presentation surely matters but is “proper” punctuation really the preferred package for the product that is your prose? I mean really do people care about that shit anymore? Do most reader or even writers posses the knowledge to pick apart a poorly punctuated piece? I would posit that instead of focusing your attention on where and when to place a period that looking for the ever elusive and so maligned “flow” of the words is of greater import. Have you over done your alliteration(impossible btw) or is there a sentence with words so large and unwieldy the average mind chokes trying to process it? How to tie words to each other to form a phrase and how those phrases intermingle is the art of writing. Grammar is the science and engineering work that, while important, is ignored so long as it is sturdy enough to keep up the foundation and walls where the paintings are hung. hmmm that analogy got away from me. Regardless I think that in this world of high literacy but low reading levels, full of colloquialisms in both words and phrasing, that an adherence to perfect punctuation may be at a habbit with low to no ROI. But that’s just a personal opinion.
I’m not suggesting we neglect the importance of the other aspects of editing. Flow, word choice, character development, plot, etc. are all just as important as punctuation, and I have written many blogs to that effect. However, in this case, I felt it necessary to also call out the importance of proper punctuation because in the competitive market we live in right now punctuation is one of the deciding factors in what readers notice. Also, of course, poor punctuation makes a book difficult to read.
Punctuation can, as I am sure you are well aware, change the meaning of a sentence. There are many memes and silly little bits out there (let’s eat, grandma/let’s eat grandma) that display its necessary function in writing and editing. Now, I don’t think every single writer needs to have perfect punctuation, and there are many different belief structures out there of what “perfect punctuation” looks like. That said, for someone like me who is not only a writer but an editor and publisher, I face more intense scrutiny than most in that way. After all, if you go to school and the teacher is making constant spelling errors (even if it is a math class), that does enter into your fundamental judgment on that person’s ability to teach.
Love the alliteration at the beginning of your post, Ringo…
And then there’s the ever popular “what’s that dragging, a long behind?/what’s that dragging along behind?”…