This is going to be somewhat of a mini-memoir on my own struggle with grammar and usage, so it’s light reading at my own expense. If you got through the rest, you deserve it.
Only a couple of my clients know this: writing wasn’t always easy for me. I’ve always had an amazing vocabulary due to a favorite past time: reading the dictionary.
I started writing very young, but the nuts and bolts .... Let’s just say I was “behind.” I had a tutor in elementary school that I saw a couple times a week; in addition to the tutor, there were a couple of boys struggling along with me, mostly giggling and not paying attention.
But for me, it was a battle. I was such a great speller that I always won first or second place in my schools' spelling bees (at all grade levels), but I didn’t understand the mechanics of writing. In first grade, I was held back.
I once received a social-studies assignment back; the teacher said I had done it wrong. There weren’t any paragraphs. I ran the whole thing together. “Why do I need paragraphs?” I asked. The teacher looked at me like I was stupid and said nothing. Of course, that was incredibly helpful.
In junior high, we were made to diagram sentences in ways that looked interesting but made no sense to me. We had to take a lot of notes, so everyone stayed dutifully in his or her seat and copied what was on the board. That’s a nice idea, but I don’t learn by writing things down. So I did what I always do: I taught myself. Once I read a high-school grammar book on my own and understood the words topic sentence, a light bulb went on over my head. We break things down in order to build and construct them in logical order. Topic sentence, sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, book. Small things create big things (duh me).
In my freshman year of high school, I was in advanced English, and it nearly bored the pants off me. I still can’t understand the value of memorizing and retelling a Shakespearean soliloquy. I could have stayed in the gifted class, but it didn’t challenge my actual knowledge base ... and besides, I was too busy writing stories.
Eventually, my short stories got published and won contests, as did my poetry.
A few years ago, I gained a serious reputation for knowing the mechanics (and citing my sources) of writing. My critique partner suggested that I could charge for my ability; simultaneously, I had two authors come to me and say they wanted to hire me. Not long before this, I stopped critiquing more than two writers at a time. A really good edit will take time, so with every new draft I critiqued, it would take me a few days. Because I wasn't receiving the same in return, it was a poor investment of my time. I have incredibly talented authors as clients, but I average between 300 to 500 comments, excluding actual suggested changes.
The whole point of this editorial is that anyone can do it. No matter how dumb or ignorant you think you are about this stuff, I was way worse. I did it.