My grammar is cr*ppy. Should I correct it as I go along, or leave that to later?

When you’re writing, do you correct any goofs as you go along, or do you go for it “hell for leather” and worry about cleaning up goofs later?
This is something that we writers argue about until blue in the face, but shouldn’t. Why? Everyone is different. (Yeah, that one.)

The purists amongst us usually insist that you should not obstruct your creative flow in its initial stages with such banal things like grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and so-on.

No, no, say those purists. You should free-write to get your creative “juices” working (yikes, how I hate that word – makes me think of molten perspiration pumping out body odour). Yuk.

So let’s start at the beginning…

What are we taught about correct grammar etc., at school age?

What was/is it like with your kids?

When my son was in his early teens he had various assignments involving writing and he showed them to me on homework nights (if he wanted a McDonald’s treat the following weekend.)

Although I would praise him for his ideas and their development when they were good, I also would pick him up on any spelling/grammar/punctuation/syntax he had made.

This element of my comments on his homework met with a resounding raspberry (Cockney English rhyming slang – check it out!) response from the school.

“We don’t pick them up on grammar etc., because we don’t want to interrupt their creative flow…”

…so said my son’s English teacher when I asked her why they didn’t bother with correcting students’ mistakes.

While I do sympathise with the need for young people to express their creative, innovative, revolutionary and other thoughts – WTG!!! – even these young stars need to buckle down and understand basic communication in English. (If their communications are blurred or difficult to understand … what then?)

For more articles and tutorials on the nuts and bolts of writing (e.g. grammar, spelling, etc.) click here on HTWB

I expressed my views quite strongly to my son’s English teacher at that parents’ evening, as you can imagine … that teaching these youngsters to write in correct English – nudging, encouraging, rather than bludgeoning as was the case in earlier generations – would help them gain credibility that could augment the success of whatever it is they’re writing about.

Given that the education system in England where we live is yet another public sector dinosaur, we may need to wait for quite a long time before thinking along the above lines takes hold.

Why does correct English matter in your writing, even today in our robotic communication world?

As I’ve said many times before – and as many other professional writers have said and still say…

If you’re in business, in a charity, in any form of activity where your written credibility and professionalism matter … so does correct English.

That’s got nothing to do with being snobbish or perfectionist.

It has everything to do with two key considerations:

  1. Poor spelling, grammar, punctuation make you look unprofessional
  2. All of the above can also lead to misinterpretation of your text, which can be expensive and even dangerous

But back to the question. When and how do you correct your crappy grammar?

If you want a frivolous answer, it’s “who cares, as long as you do it before hitting “publish.”

There is more to it than that, though. In your case you might be happy to slap down your first draft with participles dangling all over the place and tenses and noun/verb agreements fighting each other. Then what?

Option One: especially (but not only) if it’s a longer piece, do you really want to go back and untangle all the crap once you have written down everything that’s on your mind about your topic? Does this really work, or would it be like having to unpick 90 percent of a knitted garment because you got one stitch wrong every 20 rows … and now feel thoroughly fed up with the whole thing?

Option Two: do you really want to disrupt your “creative flow” (see above, but you’re not a teenage student now, right?) by stopping every time you write a sentence and pore over it, double checking whether or not it’s correct, and so probably losing any momentum you might have gathered up in telling your whole story cohesively?

Option Three: work on your English by reading a lot and perhaps checking out this humble website across its many categories that help you to write better for business. But more to the point, if you’re not sure of your writing, get some help from a professional editor. They’re not normally expensive but can save you hundreds in correctional work, and potentially thousands in business or other professional credibility.

And no, I’m not offering, because that’s not what I do. But…

…if you could do with the help of a professional editor and want some contacts, drop me a note on I have many friends and contacts all over the world who work in that area and I will be happy to pass on a connection if I can.

How do you work when you’re writing: edit now, or edit later?

Please share your views here in the comments…

Sz xx







  1. As you know Suze, I’m a stickler for grammar and am good at it myself (if I do say so!) so personally I use Option Two.

    But if someone isn’t sure of their writing then I agree that they should choose Option Three and either read more or get a professional editor or both.

    There’s nothing worse when you’re reading a website, a blog post or an ad than coming across the use of poor grammar 🙂

    • The trouble is, Trudy, that some people in business refuse to accept that correct spelling, grammar, etc. matter because it’s just being prissy to worry about such things.
      In business it’s a lot more important than that, because grammatical and similar mistakes on your website, in your promotional material and so-on, make you look unprofessional.
      Quote from someone the other day … “If you make mistakes in the wording of your business website’s home page, what else does your business get wrong?”