I seem to spend as much time unlearning bad habits as I do trying to teach myself new ones. So, I am currently reading one of my many, many ‘How to Write’ books. This one is more specific than usual How to Write a Sentence by the erudite Professor Stanley Fish. My only problem with the prof is his tendency to run down The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (which just so happens to also be in my collection).
I have two shelves in a bookcase dedicated to books about writing or language or linguistics.Dictionaries and other word compendiums feature strongly. I obsess about grammar and fear that I am actually a terrible grammarian. When I was growing up, Queensland schools stopped teaching proper grammar after the third year of primary school. We never got past learning about nouns, verbs and adjectives, and I was never taught about dangling participles and articles and tenses and what a gerund was. I had to wait until I was at university doing my creative writing course before I got the chance to really lean about grammar.
I managed to get the best marks for my two grammar/linguistic subjects. And yet I still collect grammar books.
While I am writing, I try very hard to write correct sentences. But now that I am in the throes of editing, my obsession is overwhelming me.
As you can see, I’m not exaggerating my collection – with the doubling up on the shelves due to lack of space.
The grammar books and ‘how to write’ books are just the tip of my reference collection, but are probably just as important to me as my collection of fairy tales, myths, and legends from all over the world.
And this brings me to the heart of the question I posed in the title of this blog post. Can you actually know too much? Maybe I should worry less about the clarity of my grammar and just get on the story telling? But how can anyone build an inspiring structure with poor bricks and mortar?