The Writer's Problem Isn't Grammar

For Christmas, my wife gave me a mug that says, "Writers block is what gets the housework done." Housework is only a small part of my procrastination industry. I do a little editing of the work of others, especially when I'm disinclined to work, as I prefer editing (which is fun), to writing (which is a chore). I continually see the same collection of problems in the work of inexperienced writers and differentiating who/whom, which/that, lay/lie and similar grammatical horrors barely registers as an issue. What does? It's a deficiency of logic and clarity, coherence and imagination.

In, Lord of Misrule, a deservedly award-winning book, Jaimy Gordon wrote, "The effort made her hot and nauseous ….," and if a honed writer won't distinguish 'nauseated' from 'nauseous' why should the rest of us bother with further/farther and the like. Do read up on grammatical advice but don't obsess over it. You'll be a standout writer if you can move your characters through scenes that engage your senses, and can clearly communicate what's happening and what your POV character is feeling.

In the beginning writer's forest of errors, these faults stand thickest:

Redundancy and excess:

"With arrogance and disdain he slumped down in his chair and really stared. He saw that he even quite liked her small neat frame." (Cut nearly half these words. If in doubt, leave the word out, what remains is stronger.)

Causal connection:

"The lights flickered as he rubbed his hands." (Is it possible a reader will interpret your sentence perversely?)

Ambiguous pronouns:

"At what price? He cupped his chin and asked her about it." (A careless writer is displayed if there's a momentary doubt as to what "it" is.)

"She owed her honesty, and she stood angrily over her." (A sentence with identical pronouns that refer to different people is likely to be a teaser.)

Logic:

"The view out the window hovered across the road to the sea." (Views don't usually hover.)

"She peeked through the crack in the curtain. They were speaking earnestly. She wished she could hear her brother. Her sister kept saying, 'No way. No way.'" (A reader might ask why the observer can hear her sister but not the brother. Never let your reader doubt your words.)

"The voice inside the room was annoyed." (The voice wasn't the one annoyed)

All such problems are likely to be corrected on the first edit if the author will read the work, not as an author, but as a reader.