Once, at a party, somebody told me you don’t need to use correct spelling and grammar to be a good writer; feelings are what count. I couldn’t disagree more.
Everybody makes mistakes. If you’d comb through the hundred-odd posts on this site, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found over two hundred typos.
Yes, I sometimes write ‘to’ when I mean ‘too’. I occasionally write ‘they’re’ where it should be ‘there’. Or I drop a word from a sentence.
Saying that it doesn’t matter, though, that’s a whole different cup of tea.
When you write, you’re communicating with a reader through the medium of paper. They are separated from you in both time and space, possibly quite a distance in both. That makes the transfer of information prone to static, like a faulty radio transmission. Jokes about current politics or pop culture might be incomprehensible a decade or two from the moment you write them. A brand name might not exist on the other side of the world.
Grammar and spelling
One of the things that you can control is your words. They are your medium, your toolbox, your paints. When you use them imprecisely, you are introducing static in your writing and will have more trouble communicating.
The typos like mixing up ‘to’ and ‘too’ aren’t that bad, of course. But those are just the visible tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface there could be words that are used wrong, sentences that are ambiguous, and a whole host of other writing smells.
A writer is like a carpenter, with words instead of hammers, screws, and nails as their tools. Would you trust a carpenter that uses a hammer to drive screws into a wall? Then why would you trust a writer who regularly mixes up ‘you’re’ and ‘your’?
For literary works, the problem is compounded, because it’s not just information you’re trying to communicate. You trying to paint an alluring picture in somebody else their mind. Writing as art means it has to be polished to a sheen. Mistakes in spelling and grammar are like a blurry photograph. No matter how good the composition, if the picture isn’t sharp, it’s not alluring.
A life of learning
As the title of this post suggests, this post is not just to point out writers should use their language correctly.
You will also often hear the advice that a writer should write as much as possible; a writer should write every day.
The thing is, most people will tend to interpret this to mean they should be writing stories every day. You should strive to do that, but there is more to it. I say: grab every opportunity you can to write, and make everything you write count.
I write novels, but I also have a blog. Then there’s my day job as a lead software developer. That means I write other things than stories: blog posts, software documentation, but also proposals, and e-mails. I try to make all of those count. Even when texting and using Twitter, I try to use proper spelling and punctuation.
That’s right. Every word you put on paper (or an electronic device) should be an opportunity to practice. I personally enjoy using semicolons in e-mails. I like creating nuance by using specific vocabulary. I try to word everything I e-mail unambiguously so that the receiver will understand exactly what I mean.
For example, instead of e-mailing a colleague that his speech was ‘nice’, I might tell him it was ‘eloquent’ or ‘prodigious’. Actually, that might be a bit much. Don’t overdo it, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
The point is: write every day. Each word is another step on your road of writing. Make it a good step.