Can I call it style if I’m just wrong?
In years past, I liked to consider myself a bold, creative writer, generously splashing paint against a backlit canvas. At my most edgy, I’d experiment with the visual experience of reading, as I went deeper,
into my pretensions of artistry.
More often, I dabbled in the run-on sentence, endless clauses strung together by comma after comma, drawing inspiration, perhaps, from the style of Dave Eggers, a Berkeley local, who, in his “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” introduced me to the notion of the extended, explosive, enervating stream of consciousness, loosely tethered to reality, with more in common with blank verse than straight prose.
But the more involved I get in copy editing, the more absorbed I get in the actual rules of real grammar. When I write weird dialogue or add that extra hyphen, I end up throwing myself off more than the reader.
“Wow,” I’ll say to myself as my finger looms over the comma key. “This will be really artsy and cool, and I’ll show my own voice through the writing and that will be very nice!”
“But you will also just be stupid and wrong,” the copy editor in me says angrily. “There’s only one independent clause in that sentence; don’t be redundant.”
More and more, I find myself becoming intrinsically tied to AP style. As many copy editors can attest, things that I would’ve barely noticed before now demand my attention. The flyer reading “How you purchas (sic) matters” plastered around my residence hall sticks out brutally every single time I pass by it; the much-maligned Oxford Comma stares me down wherever I find it in those barbaric, non-AP texts.
With these shifts in mind, it’s a bit more difficult now to be so flippant in my writing. The line between flaunting rules and not making myself cringe has become pretty blurred. The two diametrically opposed forces — creativity and need for order — are constantly working against each other. I’m not sure how much I can rationalize my own “intentional,” “meaningful” mistakes when it’s my job to correct mistakes just like those.
The AP Stylebook gives me a compellingly complete solution to my dilemma. But I have a choice in how far I go, how tightly I adhere to grammatical standards when creativity is at stake.
To quote Gucci Mane, who encapsulated this quandary so eloquently: “If you don’t got no sauce, then, well, you lost. But you can also get lost in the sauce.”
Contact Arjun Savel at [email protected].