Even though I taught seventh to tenth grade English in the public schools (1978 – 2005) and was the advisor/teacher of an internationally recognized, award-winning, high-school journalism program, I am not a perfectionist (an ARG) when it comes to editing. I do my best as an imperfect mortal with dyslexia.
My students did well (above average) on standardized tests. I taught the basic rules of punctuation, the differences between a simple, compound and complex sentence, and how to write a basic essay in addition to an introduction to the parts of speech. The textbook I used was Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (I have two editions on my resource shelf) with almost 600 pages filled with the complexity of the English language.
The literacy level of my high school students—in the same class—ranged from second grade and up.
However, most of my time as a public school teacher was spent working out of the literature textbook focusing on theme, characterization, plot, conflict, etc. We also read and studied novels such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Shakespeare was also part of the curriculum, so there wasn’t a lot of time to focus on grammar and there was little time to correct thousands of student papers riddled with mistakes. As it was, my average work week as a teacher was 60 to 100 hours—twenty-five hours in class with students and the remaining hours planning lessons and correcting the deluge of student work. The focus of the public schools is reading literacy—not editing literacy and reaching grade-level reading literacy for more than half of the students is a challenge.
In addition, how many people have photographic memoires with instant recall as an ARG probably does? I don’t. Most of my students didn’t either. I do not expect that many of my students remember much of the grammar that I struggled to teach them. There is a lot of truth in “use it or lose it,” which I have never heard from politicians and critics where public education is often attacked for its alleged failings.
English is a complex language with many rules of grammar, mechanics and spelling with endless exceptions to those rules. In fact, in the back of Warriner’s, there is an eight-page section on words often confused such as principal and principle followed by 350 spelling demons such as hour which sounds the same as our and then there is teaching the difference between to, too and two; blew and blue, etc. (Note: I bought my copies of Warriner’s used through Amazon.)
I have no idea why so many people expect children and teenagers to remember everything they are taught—memory is complex and it is not perfect. In fact, what happens to most people during waking ours is stored in short-term memory and while one sleeps the brain sorts through the short-term memory and transfers memories that are considered important to long-term memory, and no one decides what is important. That is an automatic function of the brain while one sleeps. What isn’t saved to long-term memory is deleted. Scientific studies have also demonstrated that consuming too much sugar (think Coke) in the diet causes havoc to mood and short term memory. See: Foods that Cause Memory Loss
You may be interested in what the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C. says about sugary soda consumption. “Americans consume gargantuan quantities of carbonated soft drinks and suffer untoward health consequences. Companies annually produce enough soda pop to provide 557 12-ounce cans—52.4 gallons—to every man, woman, and child.” … “The amounts of caffeine in one or two cans of caffeinated soft drink can affect performance and mood, increase anxiety in children, and behavioral effects in children remains unclear.”
Anyway, back on topic (sorry about that), in late 2007, when an iUniverse editor said the manuscript of my first novel My Splendid Concubine had too many mistakes to qualify for an Editor’s Choice and Publisher’s Choice Award, I was shocked.
What shocked me was the price to pay an iUniverse editor to edit the manuscript—three thousand dollars was too rich for my budget, so I developed the editing process that I have already described.
In conclusion, I feel that some advice for ARGs (anal-retentive grammarians) may be in order.
Instead of brutally criticizing indie/self-published authors for having mistakes in his or her published novel/book, take a page from a man considered the greatest editor in publishing history, Max Perkins, and offer constructive criticism and point out the number of mistakes with a few examples and where they appear.
Saying a manuscript is riddled with mistakes is not constructive, because one ARG’s definition of riddled with mistakes might mean a dozen in an entire book while to another ARG, riddled with mistakes means the despised bumps appear on every page.
Moreover, in English, there are mistakes most recognize and then there are mistakes only ARGs notice leaving almost 60 million avid readers scratching their heads thinking, “Big deal!”
In fact, the way the brain works while reading, when a word appears such as English and it should have been England, on the way from the eye to the brain, the word converts to what it was intended to be due to contextual clues and pattern recognition. When that happens, most readers are unaware of the mistake, which explains why five pairs of eyes missed a dozen mistakes in The Concubine Saga that the sixth pair of eyes caught, and she kindly made a list with page numbers—an example of constructive criticism. She was also the artist—Denise Killingsworth—that created the cover for that novel.
Note: My Blog posts do not go through the exhaustive editing process my novels do.
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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