The conversation went a little something like this:
“OMG, are you reading a dictionary right now?”
After glancing up and trying NOT to roll my eyes irretrievably into their sockets, “No, Hon, I’m actually reading a professional guide for editors to refresh my knowledge and see what’s new in the field.”
“So, like a dictionary, but worse?” Laughter and mocking conversation followed as the rest of the family got in on the joke.
“Har, har. You guys are hilarious.” I pushed my reading glasses back onto my nose and once more wielded my highlighter like the weapon it is.
The Importance of Staying Current
You know how our kids mock us when we say things like “groovy” or “psychedelic”? As writers, we spend a LOT of time focusing on speech patterns, slang, and even everyday activities of the younger generations. Why? It’s not because we enjoy watching exotic species in their natural environment. It’s because we need our writing to stay relevant—and, also, we don’t want to be mocked into a permanent room at Shady Acres just yet.
Writers today have many options. We’ve all seen the movies about hermits who decide to become lighthouse keepers on remote islands. They end up writing brilliant novels, and they never have human contact—except for that one captain who arrives in a rickety boat that crashes toward shore once per year with the basic supplies needed for survival. And who among us isn’t clamoring for that option?!
But—and this is just me going out on a limb—there are those writers who want to live an existence in modern society and write about current topics. And that means staying up to date with what is going on around them.
Collectors of Knowledge
We’re collectors and learners and hoarders of facts. And when you think about it, observing new trends, behaviors, and speech patterns are all ways of learning and collecting knowledge.
The intuitive and empathetic nature most creative people possess drives them to not only study and recall behaviors, but also try to understand how they fit into the context of the world surrounding them. All the human emotions and behaviors we learn about add to the worlds and stories we create.
But Why Study Grammar & Editing & Stuff?
The mechanics of our jobs—whether you’re a writer, an editor, a proofreader, or all of the above—are the supporting framework of the creativity we put out there. Think of the inner structure of a building, the weight-bearing support.
Is it all about grammar? Absolutely not. Is it about rule-breaking? Nope, not that either.
It’s about how everything works together to form a balance. It used to be all about grammar, but today I read style guides and grammar books to learn about updates and accepted uses.
THEN, I use my professional judgement, based on the text I’m currently writing or editing. True, there are still a few dusty, by-the-book rule followers who are likely growing apoplectic at reading this, but they are few and far between. Most writers recognize they’ll capture a larger and more invested audience if they “speak their language.”
Yeah, I’d Totally Read a Dictionary
When it comes down to it, I suppose I should apologize to my husband for being so appalled that he mocked me for nerding out while reading an editing guide…because it could have just as easily been a dictionary or a thesaurus. (#Guilty)
Why? I want my writing to be the best it can be. Likewise, I want my clients to get the very best work I can give them when I’m editing. That means they deserve the extra time I put in to stay abreast of current style guide updates and even the latest additions to Merriam-Webster.
P.S. Did you guys know that, as of 2021, “hard pass,” “@,” and “cancel culture” have officially been added to the dictionary? Don’t blink! Things change daily.