The Disadvantaged Writer

26 Feb

Do you want to hear a confession? One root of my insecurities about my writing? Lean in closer. Ready? Here it is:

I was never taught grammar

Are you shocked and appalled? or maybe you are in the same boat, metaphorically speaking (yeah we did metaphors. 😉 )

Obviously they had to teach us the bare minimum such as ‘a verb is a doing word’ I think we did adverbs, adjectives and nouns too; that’s about it though.

There have been a few occasions over the years when I’ve felt the absence of learning in my life. I think the first time was watching the Monty Python  film ‘The Life Of Brian’. If you know the film then you are probably familiar with the latin lesson scene. During this scene my sister and I would look at each other in bewilderment. Not that we did Latin lessons but much of it applies to English too. We never learnt any of these rules, in fact we didn’t even understand what they were talking about. (If you’re not familiar with it  Youtube it, but there is a rude word in it if you’re easily offended.)

The next time I remember feeling in the dark was when I did my first creative writing course with the OU. The tutor feedback for my first assignment picked up on the fact that I had got my tenses muddled. She referred to the simple past tense and the pluperfect. My reaction was ‘what?’ or should that be ‘pardon?’  I had no idea what those words meant; I could see that I had slipped into a different tense but I had never heard of the terms she was talking about. I didn’t ask her; I was too embarrassed to email her and say that I didn’t understand the words she was using. After all I was on a creative writing course, which I didn’t feel I belonged on if I didn’t even understand English grammar. Even my punctuation was bad; she said it was rusty but I knew it wasn’t that. We were just not taught properly, or at least in enough detail.

I felt stupid, humiliated and let down by my school. Something I have felt frequently since. Often I can see, or hear, a grammatical error and I know it’s wrong, but I can’t explain to you the reason why it’s wrong. Other times I have to rely on Google to point me in the right direction when I get hopelessly confused.

In my second creative writing course I found ‘The Students Guide to Writing- Grammar Punctuation and Spelling’ by John Peck and Martin Coyle, which was a recommended text I think, helpful. I downloaded ‘English grammar for Dummies’,  by Lesley J. Ward & Geraldine Woods, a while back but I haven’t had chance to have a proper look at it. I have other books too which are supposed to refresh your memory. The problem is you can’t refresh your memory on something you never learnt!

I’ve tried to know enough to get by but that’s not ideal. Since I decided to take writing seriously I feel it more than ever, especially since I am aiming to self publish. Self publishing means no editor to pick up on any mistakes. I know the obvious advice, people will no doubt offer,  is to hire a proof reader. It’s a sensible idea, but I’m on a low income and I simply cannot afford to do that. I don’t really have anyone who I can ask for that kind of feedback, hence the snippets on the blog.

I rely on some basic rules and a lot of instinct. I do worry though, that when people read my work they are, or will be, laughing at the uneducated commoner trying to do something above her station. I’m scared of making a fool of myself.

What are your experiences of grammar in education. Was it something which like my school just wasn’t addressed? or perhaps your school gave you a thorough foundation in grammar? Can you tell a split infinitive from a dangling participle? (rhetorical question)

Leave your comments below.


8 Responses to “The Disadvantaged Writer”

  1. Harliqueen February 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    I was not taught grammar, or at least grammar for this kind of writing, at school. I thought my grammar was quite good until I have my manuscript to a friend to proof read and he was like, ‘um… you know that’s not right…’ 😀

    I’m pretty much leaning as I go now. So, yeah, I feel you on this!

    Great post 🙂


    • daydreaminginwords February 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! Yes it seems that I’m not the only one at sea when it comes to grammar. It makes me wonder should kids really be leaving school to go to colleges and universities without learning correct grammar first. Surely it must put them at a disadvantage when it comes to their essays? Especially if other kids on the courses went to schools where it was taught more fully. I didn’t go to uni myself so I’m just theorising here!


      • Harliqueen February 26, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

        I agree with you completely. I didn’t go to Uni either, could never have afforded it! But it seems unfair that kids aren’t getting the same level of, at least, the basic things.


  2. Jennifer K February 26, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I understand the rules of grammar but I can’t pinpoint an exact definition of certain things. When people come to me with a grammar question, I can usually tell them the correct answer but I can’t always explain why it is that way!


    • daydreaminginwords February 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      Interesting, yes I get that sometimes but I know there must be a lot that I don’t understand and get wrong. I wonder if schools just don’t see this as a priority anymore?


  3. Annabel Sketchley February 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    Don’t feel bad, I had an expensive education (not bragging) and still can’t understand spelling and grammar that well hah 🙂 I think if you are willing to always be open to improve and listen to advice, then I don’t feel there is any shame in being bad at something…don’t know where this has gone or whether I’ve just rambled like a long blah di blah…I hope you get my point.



  1. Proofreading and Editing Your Own Work | daydreaming in words - May 1, 2015

    […] will be too. When I was at school they really didn’t teach us about grammar. I even wrote a blog post on the subject. So finding someone with the skills to help isn’t always easy. If you have a […]


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