Do Grammar Rules Apply to the Creative Writer?

–Contributed by Sara Baxter, Poetry Editor

For me, one of the greatest attractions to writing poetry and fiction is that I can eschew stuffy grammar rules. Not because these rules are boring and I don’t want to learn them. I want to escape the confines of grammar because I want to control my writing—rather than some dead guy who said I should never end a sentence with a preposition.

Some creative writers reject grammar rules before they don’t fully understand them. I was one of those writers, and what I’ve learned from the experience is that lazy writers don’t get away with lazy writing. To the reader, the agent, and the editor, the difference between a writer who intentionally tosses out the grammar rules in favor of style and voice, and the writer who doesn’t bother to learn them, is unmistakable.

When I reject grammar rules, it is because I want more control over the way my words are read. I want the reader to pause here, breathe here. I want him to hold his breath and persist on an on until there, no—right there. This might seem controlling and even a little manipulative, but isn’t all art? For me, part of the equation of success is having my poems read just as I mean them to be read. Interpretation is another issue entirely, but sound is something a good writer can, and often should, control.

So if you don’t know your grammar as well as you should, and you want to be taken seriously as a writer—learn it. Then use it. Study the eight comma rules. Avoid fragment sentences, comma splices, and run-ons. Once you are able to credit yourself as a grammar pro, then start breaking the rules, but do it sparingly, artfully, knowingly, and make your decisions mean something.

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