Sunday, June 22, 2008

Slush and Punishment: You're Can Fix My Tpyo's, Right?

"You're spelling words are on the board" said Mrs. Feelings. "copy them, down and remeber to study hard on the wekend." Terrance thought "O'K. This ca'nt be so hard. But, Terrance has a problem. A problem with his eyesihgt. Terrance need's glasses.
That's a clever twist. You absolutely had me believing his problem was going to be dyslexia.

You know, I'm going to defer to Sean Lindsay, who responded to this problem (much more thoroughly than I'm ever going to) in this essay on one of the most pernicious myths of publishing: It dont mater how bad is my speling or grammar, cause thats’ what copyeditors is for.


Anonymous said...

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that this is the fault of the massive wussification of education in Western countries over the last forty years. . . .

So, now we’re on the second generation of kids who are getting a free pass through the school system while barely learning to read and write at a functional level. The frightening thing is that some of them still think they can be writers — while the saddening thing is that . . . they could have been writers.

OMG, is he right. There's a huge misconception out there that if you want to write, all you need is a great story. Um, no. First of all, your story's probably not as original as you think. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Even if your story is great, if you plan to share it by WRITING it, well, then -- you have to know how to write. And, increasingly, you don't.

Liana Brooks said...

Authors aren't idea boxes. We don't get paid for our thoughts, we get paid for *writing* a book. Writing includes: forming coherent sentences, adherence to basic laws of grammer, and using the spell check before sending out a query.

I wish we were paid just to think up crazy ideas. I can do that with almost no effort. It's getting the crazy ideas down in a coherent fashion that's hard.

For the query....maybe the author had two drafts and in her/his confusion and fear of the submission process they accidentally sent the rough draft of the query. It's possible, right?

Anonymous said...

Oh my, a kindred spirit. Every time I raise this issue I get accused of being an anal-retentive, elitist, discriminatory snob. "'Cause golly, everyone has a right to present their story to the world, even if they do it in txt, and it's just rude to expect correct spelling and grammar! And besides, haven't you ever made a mistake?"

Um, yes indeed, but I expect it to be noted for my correction and general edification, not ignored. And certainly not celebrated as an expression of my individualism and nonconformity.

Laurie Woodward said...

Hey anonymous,
I'm a teacher in California and that is political propaganda you are spewing. It is a common misconception propagated by politicians that teachers are lazy do nothings who just eat cookies and show videos to kids. In reality California now has the highest standards in the nation and EVERY teacher I know takes that responsibility very seriously. Personally, I tutor kids at recess, lunch, and after school trying to bring up their skills even though many are newcomers from Mexico, Guatemala, or the Philipines and can barely speak the language.
Poor submissions are due to the laziness of the writer not because of a teacher who bent over backwards to help him/her fifteen years ago.

Brooke said...

"Mrs. Feelings," huh? Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Leaving the greater part of my diatribe on the "dumbing down" of education for those closest to me, I must agree that writing skills are on the decline in the US. I too have wrestled vainly to teach my students rudimentary grammar-- forget style, audience and voice. The Subtleties of writing be damned.

I want coherent sentences and paragraphs. I want to finish reading a term paper without having to empty a bottle of vodka. There are students in high school who capitalize randomly and use punctuation like accessories. It's enough to make my eyes bleed.

So many of them don't read, so they don't recognize the basics of writing. They recognize OMG and LOL, but not the difference between its and it's.

I'm not blaming the teachers. Bless them, I think they do the best they can with everything that's expected of them. The trouble begins with the other media. Video games, DVDs, TIVO, instant messaging. Why would any kid need to read for entertainment?

Okay. So, sic 'em! Find another J.K. Rowling and create a whole new slew of bibliophiles!

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, hoorah, and hooray for anon 5:58. You rock!

Anonymous said...

I agree (in the article) that copyeditors are not a replacement for your own lack of commitment to your probject. On the other hand a novel of mine "flew" through copediting because it was so, so "clean." Later in a review, someone slammed the book for some "glaring" (yes, they used the word "glaring") spelling errors.


This is why I always err on the side of forgiveness when a book I'm reading has a few minor errors. It'd be insane to simply assume the writer didn't care, or the copyeditor either, for that matter. Life happens. People are human.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to prove my point I forgot the "y" in copyediting!


Anonymous said...

anon 5:58, I'm right there with you.

But I believe there's more than just other media at work. Like the original blog quote says, we're now on the second generation getting the free pass. By whom is this second generation being taught? Yes -- the first one. Are there plenty of competent teachers out there? No doubt. But telling the truth that many aren't up to the job is FAR from political propaganda.

I teach writing at the college level. My students range in age from young adults to 70, and since the course is online, they cover a wide geographic area. MANY are teachers taking the course to keep up their licenses. I have seen writing from classroom teachers that you would not believe. No spelling. No grammar. No margins or other format. NO PARAGRAPHS! So help me, I am NOT kidding or exaggerating. There are classroom teachers in this nation who are native English speakers and NOT literate. (The ones who enroll in my course mostly end up dropping it, BTW.)

We're not talking about the occasional typo in a ms. or in print, which can happen to anyone. We're talking about actual illiteracy among people who don't even know they're illiterate, and among people who are supposed to be teaching children to write.

Chris Eldin said...

Teachers have always been overworked and underpaid.
They can only do so much.

It's not the parents either. Most of the time, both parents have to work, and come home exhausted.
There's not much in the way of extended family anymore to help out.

To me, it's about the choices the government makes. Where do they spend our tax dollars? On subsidizing quality childcare programs? On reading enrichment programs? Healthcare? How about a national roads program? Any national program?

The government should help to pull everyone together. Give people who need it support. We need an FDR.

Sorry, but I hate to see teachers blasted. And parents have so little help this generation. But the problem exists, so I wanted to present what I think is the root cause.

Anonymous said...

I think it's the public schools, and insofar as they are a government entity, we actually agree.

Teachers being overworked and underpaid is a separate issue from their being insufficiently literate. They were the latter before they became teachers. Again, there are brilliant teachers. There are also horrendous teachers. I'm not saying they aren't also working their butts off and suffering from lack of funds. I'm saying their own educations are inferior. If it's sacrilege to say that some teachers should not be in the classroom because they don't have enough basic knowledge to be teaching, so be it.

I don't blame parents either. Back in the 50s when many dads earned enough living to support a family and many moms stayed home, the dad was absent a lot of the time and the mom's role was primarily housework. Parents didn't have much time then either, especially considering that families were often much bigger and elders didn't go to nursing homes. Education was left to the schools, and outside of attending PTA meetings, most parents really had no clue what went on in the classrooms. Nothing's ever perfect, but compared to now, the schools were doing the job then.

That's the original poster's point. Education in our country fell apart with the relaxation of everything in the 60s. Many colleges dropped or significantly relaxed their core curricula. My sister took part in an alternative, ungraded classroom experience for her fifth grade year. Her verbal skills were good, so she didn't lose reading or writing. But she lost math that year, and never again got on top of it. As time went on, these unprepared people began to enter teacher training, and now it's 35 years later and the blind have been teaching the blind all this time.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps it was just that in the 50s, the teaching profession attracted the cream of the crop because women's job opportunities were limited mostly to migrant farm worker, housekeeper, nurse, secretary and teacher.

Actually, I can never relate to some people's nostalgia for better schools. I attended small-town Appalachian public schools in the 70s. I had some great teachers, who made us diagram sentences and memorize poetry. I had some lousy teachers -- not only couldn't they punctuate, they sexually harassed female students (not that any of us knew the term "sexual harassment").

My son's public schools, both the all-white one in a well-off neighborhood, and the one in which 3/4 of the kids speak English as a second language, have been worlds beyond anything I experienced. The kids have richer experiences and learn more advanced material at earlier ages. For instance, when I went to school, kindergarten was half a day, and optional. Now it's all-day and mandatory, and the kids are supposed to know their whole alphabet and be able to write their names BEFORE THEY START KINDERGARTEN. And by the end of the kindergarten, they're supposed to be reading.

Also, the teachers know how to manage the kids without using corporal punishment.

And then, of course, some entire public school systems are disastrous. I think it's hard to generalize about public schools in a way that's useful.

But if publishers now receive more grammatically disastrous submissions than they used to, I suspect this is mostly because technology has made it easier to produce and submit a manuscript.

Anonymous said...

How did this get to be about teachers and education? The fact is that even educated, competent and successful [in other fields] people routinely misjudge the children's book field. Many people think that all you need is an "idea" and publishers just start writing checks. I have had well educated people ask me: "Do I really have to work at it and make it perfect if I feel I have a good idea? Won't publishers fix it if they like it?"

Grandiose people are naturally attracted to publishing, and always will be.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This almost competes with a fellow English major who once told me that "capitalization is arbitrary."

Anonymous said...

It's all very well and good to criticize the educational system for the overall drop in standards when it comes to literacy, but here we are talking about the self-selected group of people who set out to become professional writers. I would expect these people, even if they were not blessed with top-notch teachers, to pick up a grammar book or a dictionary from time to time, or to run a spell-check on their word processed documents. Or maybe even to have read enough fine books with an ear attuned to the language they are reading (which, if they are true writers themselves, they will do naturally) so they assimilate the rules and techniques of those who came before them? If would-be professional writers aren't sufficiently interested in language and writing to want to do this kind of thing, they would not be any more likely to succeed if they had had better teachers spoon-feeding them grammar or teaching them to spell when they were young.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:02 has it exactly right. It is not the educational system's job to turn out professional writers or any other specialization. I learned math in school, but I don't imagine I could take that and be a mathematician.

Writing is a vocation and a craft, and a person truly passionate about writing and serious about a career would naturally spend their own time to pursue developing that craft. Same with illustration or any other profession. The problem is more that many people go into magical thinking gear about children's books and refuse to see it like "any other profession".

If someone submits a ms that shows a lack of basic attention to detail and craft, that is a sure sign that they are not a committed or natural writer in the first place. I am not a writer myself but the ones I know have an intense affinity with words and a natural strong interest in the rules of usage - the same way illustrators can talk obsessively about technique and materials.

Wannabees just talk about wanting to get published, not craft.

Chris Eldin said...

Was your English major friend e.e. cummings?

(Just teasing!)

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think anyone is an idiot or has never written anything worthwhile if they think someone doesn't have a excellant story if they don't catch all of their errors. When you are into what you're writing, the story comes first. The mistakes come later. I've hired editors and had them still miss mistakes. It has nothing to do with teachers. i kud spel evry werd rong u'd stil git et

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