I’m a Pat Rice kid. I know where the commas are supposed to go. I also know where I want to redirect the flow. Creative writing has to be, well, creative. There is nothing creative about sanitized grammatically-correct sentence structure. Outside of the textbooks, grammar is a guideline, not rule-of-law. I’m writing so that people can hear my words in my own voice. I’m not trying to sound like SIRI. I’m trying to sound like a Chan Zilla. I don’t even use a standard emoji ;’)
When I say I’m a Pat Rice kid, I mean I had some pretty kick-ass help at finding my own literary voice. As a teacher of English and Language Arts, Ms. Rice made sure we knew the rule of law. She didn’t just have to decrypt sentence structures, we had to understand their purpose in communicating thoughts and ideas. Understanding those rules were more important than knowing them. And that became evident when it came time to applying them.
I (literally) found my literary voice in my debates with Ms Rice over my essay grading. The argument was less student/teacher and more copyright/editor-in-chief. I had to fight for “appropriate word choice” and “unnecessary punctuation” and “1st/2nd/3rd person mismatch” to preserve the tone and message of my essay. I stood a pretty good chance of making my case, if I read aloud both versions and mine sounded better than hers. Or, at the very least, it sounded more like me than her.
Once, and only once in my entire life, I handed in a report (one of her famous “five paragraph” papers) that I applied every single WordPerfect correct to, the version that got a perfect score for grammar, reading level, and readability. She gave me a B, the lowest report grade to me to-date, commenting off-paper that it was the least interesting she’d ever seen from me. After class, I showed her the WordPerfect scoring results, as well as the original pre-scrubbed paper. The short of it was “If it sounds good when you read it aloud to someone else, turn it in. If not, keep working on it.” A tenet I still exercise to this day.
Grammarly hates my writing voice. I use it only to snag obvious snafus, mostly misspellings and tense abuse. But it tries to trash my choice of words, my abuse of tenses, and my rampant use of the “Chanzilla comma” over the “Oxford comma.”
On Facebook, as in life, I’m about as grammatically correct as I am politically correct. My voice is a manifestation of my mindset. Neither are die-cut from the factory model. I’m native Japanese who learned Engrish watching PBS and moved to the South during adolescence. Of course my literary voice is going to be different. I want people to recognize me in my works. I want them to know it’s me, whether my name is on it or not.
Be your own voice. Stop sounding like everyone else. Be your own t-shirt. Express yourself. Let the world hear you roar. Or squeak. Or belch. Just don’t let them hear you parrot. Unless, of course, you’re a parrot.