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The Editing Hour: Creative vs Academic Writing

When editing and critiquing submissions, the academic in me wants to copyedit every sentence until it’s grammatically and typographically perfect. That means, if I’m following the Chicago Manual of Style, I may want to add a comma before “and” in a series: “I love ice cream, cake, and pies.” Or I may want to make sure my coordinating conjunctions always follow a comma and never begin a sentence: “The cake was delicious, but the pie was not.”

(In fact, let me pause here to give you a quick lesson on commas and coordinating conjunctions since so many writers use them incorrectly. A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects two complete clauses. They are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (FANBOYS). When using “and” to connect a complete clause with an incomplete clause, you do NOT need a comma: “I love to eat chocolate cake and pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top.” You DO need a comma when a second subject is introduced, creating two complete clauses: “I love to eat chocolate cake, and I love to eat pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top.” You also do not need a comma before “because,” another common mistake I see: “I love Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch ice cream because it has English toffee in it.” Now that I’ve strayed off into the Grammar Lesson Woods, let me return to Creative Writing Avenue.)

In creative writing, and that includes fiction, memoirs, and narrative nonfiction, you do NOT need to follow all these rules. For example, whether you choose to put a comma before “and” in a series in your book is your choice. And if you want to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, like I just did, you can. Or if you want to delete commas before coordinating conjunctions so you can speed the pace of the narrative, you can. You don’t want your grammar and punctuation to be so incorrect it’s distracting to the story. But it does NOT have to be academically correct. You can begin a sentence with “but,” indent every sentence in a paragraph, capitalize words that aren’t normally capitalized, and delete quotation marks from dialogue. Just make sure you’re doing it consciously, not accidentally, and that you know why you’re doing it and what affect it has on the narrative.

What about you? Do you tend to write all perfect CMS-style or a little looser, with her own rulz of spelling, grammar and punctuation?

6 comments to The Editing Hour: Creative vs Academic Writing

  • Depends. If I'm in 3rd person, I tend to write more "correctly," but if I'm in 1st person (stronger protag voice) then I let it go looser, more natural to how the character would think/speak.

    Always always always my #1 rule is: Is this clear and does it convey the right meaning? That to me is more important than grammar — BUT grammar tends to convey things most clearly. 😛

  • Thanks for the pointers. I am a professional planner. That means I put things in order. (I want to put a comma after means). When it comes to writing, I just do the best I can. It is amazing that I have a running blog that people read.

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