I refuse to listen to people talk about their dreams. A lot of people crave to do this, and I believe that there's something about the study of writing - as opposed to, say, a class like 'Learning to use QuarkXpress' - that encourages it. I don't mean their capital-D dreams (although I mostly won't listen to those either), I mean like the dream they had last night about their best friend from childhood sawing a peach in half on their grandmother's hatbox. I don't want to know about that. I don't want to know about their personal experience with heartbreak, drug or alcohol abuse, or sexual indiscretion. I will do anything to make them stop. I'll end up making unequivocal, patently false statements like 'Personal experience has nothing to do with writing' and 'What goes on in your subconscious has no connection whatsoever to what goes down on the page,' just to shut down these conversations. God help me, I've even started giving grammar quizzes.
I'm engaged in a futile assignment here. What I'd like to do is change the way our entire culture treats matters of the subconscious, known in still other circles as the spirit. That's right, I said it. I'm trying to get writers to take the spirit seriously. Art, as far as I know, along with perhaps a handful on monastic sects, is the only realm that does this. Otherwise, think of how we speak about the spirit in this culture - how impossible it is to separate it from the perverting, silly-making influences of capitalism and self-obsession. Think about yogic flying and American 'mega-churches' and vastly expensive meditation and 'personal growth' retreats in exclusive tropical resorts...
So I give grammar quizzes. Grammar, like algebra, scares people. It inures us with the kind of holy terror our ancestors probably felt at some placid mountain's first violent, volcanic retches. If this is the only way to get would-be writers quaking at the task at hand, then by god, the dissection of participle phrases it will be. I flip out over syntax and punctuation. I. Flip. Out. I want to say: Look! Is this a sacred calling or not? Are you commuting with something vast and profound or aren't you? Do you revere and respect your own humanity in relation to that of your fellow human beings or what? Then, for the love of all that is holy, learn how to use a semi-colon. Care enough to do it well, and right. Then you can think about the peach.
- Lynn Coady, from her "Notes on Writing" essay for Event Magazine (Summer 2007), as collected in 50 Years of Event Magazine: Collected Notes on Writing.