I've been working on a memoir the past 18 months or so. I'm up to the final editing and proof-reading stages. I feel a bit worried I have broken lots of rules of grammar but then I think, 'Stuff it!' There are too many grammar snobs out there, hung up on rules, yet write boring stories.
I've just had a chat to a friend who has taught English and German for years. She said that a lot of people, including American writers, are being more flexible about grammar these days. Overly formal grammar can sound stuffy and take away from the essense of the story and expression.
Technique vs creative expression
I see creative writing as any other kind of creative expression. Sure, technique can be useful but being bogged down with it can inhibit experimentation and creative expression. Words can be rather clunky. I actually prefer visual arts, yet words can communicate on a different level, so I persevere.
It's like learning to play a musical instrument. Sure, technique can be helpful but a lot of people who can only play classical music can't play anything else. It's freeing to unlock how to improvise. It's the same with painting. Fine art snobs insist only traditional techniques and styles are superior. In reality, making a mess, experimenting and breaking all the rules, can be therapeutic.
I'd asked my friend to clarify a few things for me with words and tense. My friend had generously proof-read my first novel, Pet Purpose: Your Unspoken Voice. I'd asked her to only alter anything that was obviously 'wrong', as I didn't want for my voice to be changed. By 'wrong' I mean received as what I didn't intend. Written and spoken communication is challenging for me.
My teacher friend had asked for the manuscript on paper. I'd felt dishearted when I saw the see of red. She used to be my high school teacher and she'd corrected it, like marking up exam papers. I was grateful though, as I feel it gave the final polish. There were times I'd swapped out a word that looked and sounded similar but had a different meaning. I needed a comma here and there to break up longer sentences. At times, I had worded things, so it could be interpreted differently. 'It sounds as if you are burying the twins too!' she'd written as feedback. When I'd meant the twins had helped to bury the ashes.
All keen writers will want to improve on their writing. All writers will have their little habits, which they might not notice, until pointed out.
Here's a few tips that my friend plus others have given me, when I'd asked for feedback. She reassured me that I am a good writer, with better grammar than most. I was just lacking some confidence with some things (after all, school had been over three decades ago).
Style guides vary from place to place. I made a list of what I've done, to try to be consistent throughout my manuscript. When making mention of any of these throughout the text:
Editing and Proof-reading
I find the later stages of editing and proof-reading to be tedious, as it's all technical and no longer creative. I've worked really hard to make it flow, throwing away anything not really necessary to the story.
No one else can edit my books, as they don't know what parts I want culled. Listening to music that fits my mood can help me to focus and to tap into the emotion I want to express. Otherwise, I do these final stages without music. Whereas, I usually listen to music during the creative parts, which starts off messy and a little chaotic.
Indie (independent) authors often don't have editors and proof-readers. I recommend using an app to try catch anything obvious and too irritating. If possible, have a trusted person read the manuscript to pick up anything obvious. I have breaks from working on my manuscript, so it's like a fresh pair of eyes, on what I'd forgotten I'd written.
I'm not so much concerned with breaking the rules with grammar, than to not be understood as clearly as I intended. I write with cognitive impairments and it takes me a very long time to write and edit. Quite often, I will repeat a phrase, omit a word, substitute a linked word. I mostly use simple words when I write. Fluffy words can seem impressive but it's actually poor communication, if the reader doesn't understand.
I have a trusted friend who is good at spotting missed words etc, waiting to take a look at my manuscript after I've polished it best I can. She will be the first person to read the full manuscript.
My writing tips
The best tip I can give for keen writers is to not get bogged down with grammar. Or even to write chapters in order. Just express yourself. Content can be rearranged to flow better. Spelling, grammar etc can be cleaned up later.
Worrying about whether one is doing it 'right' or not can inhibit creativity. To me, the story is more important. Sure, not having a heap of clumsy typos helps but it's not the be all, end all. I have typos in my blog posts.
I spend way longer on my books, as I'm telling a complex story which involves research, processing, rearranging etc. With a storyline that follows on from chapter to chapter (not just like a series of blog posts).
If you've tried your best, you've tried your best. Not everyone has the privilege of affording editors, proof-readers etc (I certainly don't and I appreciate when friends have volunteered to do a final proof-read).
Writing is both and art and a craft. It's something that can improve, as you develop your own style plus consider feedback, even criticism. If if you're sensitive to criticism, like me.
I am expecting to self-publish my memoir, Bipolar Courage: Are you sure you're not autistic yet? by September 2023. The story is written. I'm now doing the final editing and formatting stages. It's an unconventional love story, with disabilities. It will be my third self-published book.
This blog post isn't my usual content but I figured I may as well share, in case it helps someone else. I tend to only write a blog post these days if it's linked but not going into my books. Writing books is currently one of my very challenging, yet passionate hobbies. One of the reasons I write a blog post, is so I can potentially revisit and expand on it later. Most of what I have blogged previously, has been destroyed. Writing blogs gave me confidence to try books. It's a reflection of my journey.
Incidently, the process painting, Unspoken Voice, was painted before the events in the memoir I am currently working on.
I just want to mention that art can be interpreted differently to a recipiant. The painting to me, at the time, mainly represented breaking free from toxic relationships. As well as the voices of vulnerable children who are already alive.
The painting to the person who bought it, mainly represented the voices of children who didn't get a chance to live.
Disclaimer: the author of this blog is not an expert by profession and her opinions should not be taken as expert advice.