Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for perfection. I grade papers as part of my instruction at Ryerson, and I am grading for many things, including an adherence to the CP Style guide and basic English grammar rules of punctuation and sentence structure. I’ve never graded a perfect paper, but I know that I’ve also never written a perfect paper. So we have to get close, as close as we can, with what Deadpool calls Maximum Effort.
But I’m one of those people who is annoyed when we have a panel of agents or editors up on the stage telling us how to make our query letters better.
Invariably, their first piece of advice is “to get that query letter as clean and perfect as you can,” before you send it out. Many say the same thing about our manuscripts.
Here’s the thing: of course we’re going to do our best cleaning and clarifying and creating the best version of our query letter/manuscript that we can. I don’t know anyone in the writing community who is just whipping off their first draft and sending it out on submission. This isn’t a lark. It’s a passion project for most writers.
But you’re not really turning down great stories because of bad grammar. Fifty Shades of Grey is evidence that terrible writing and a storyline setting feminism back decades can make agents dance like elves at Christmas.
Editors have jobs too, and it’s not to write the story, it’s to make it better. Every book I’ve written has been made better by my editors. Every journalistic story I’ve written has been improved by my editors. I have great ideas. I write well. I’m not perfect.
But spending months and years stressing about each comma, each word, each punctuation mark? No thank you. I’d rather dedicate my time to the best story I can write and then collaborate with a brilliant editor to take it up a notch.
To quote Shia Lebouf: