Love in the Grammar Trenches

by Bill Brenner on March 4, 2013

Since Erin and I are both writers-editors, there’s almost a Valentine’s-Day quality to this National Grammar Day. It can be a dangerous thing putting two wordsmiths together in holy matrimony, and yet we’ve managed to keep it going.

How, you ask? I’ve been thinking about that.

A basic truth about people who work with grammar for a living: Put more than one in the same room for long periods and someone gets roughed up. People like us are brutally opinionated when it comes to words, sentence structure and punctuation. Our honesty over said opinions makes us abrasive, harsh, volatile, picky, critical and just about every other unpleasant word you can think of.

The danger is especially palpable when one person is doing the writing and the other is doing the editing.

In talking with newspaper reporters and editors, we all tend to agree that newsrooms are like viper pits. We all slither around looking for someone to bite while trying not to get bitten back. When you get bitten, the venom stings like no other pain known to human beings.

I’m a product of newsrooms. I’m especially difficult, because I also grew up in Revere, a city notorious for mispronouncing the English language. Erin comes from office environments that are more reserved and quiet, but no less volatile. We’re English majors who met at Salem State College (now University), but she edited the literary magazine on campus and I wrote for the newspaper. Though both were on the same small campus, they inhabited two different worlds.

The college paper is in the basement of the student union. Today there’s a nice TV and carpeting in there. But in my day it was dirty and smelly, thanks to a leaking grease pipe in the ceiling (a cafeteria was above us). We swore a lot in that room, and we yelled at each other quite a bit. Across campus, the literary magazine met in the library, a quieter environment, for sure. The newspaper worked in prose. The literary magazine worked in poetry.

In those environments, so different and yet so similar, Erin and I met and started dating.

Twenty years later, we still have our differences in the grammar department. I have no qualms about dropping cuss words into my copy. You won’t find Erin doing that anytime soon. She’s meticulous in her planning, using outlines and heavily polishing. I just dive in with my two typing fingers and go to town, without a filter. That’s gotten me into some trouble.

Also see: “Marital Differences in Style,” Part 1 and Part 2.

Now we’re partners on The OCD Diaries. I write the posts and she edits them. We both plan strategy and design, and she manages a lot of the marketing and back-end tasks my brain can’t always comprehend. We have our share of arguments on the direction of this thing. But taken whole, it works. The resources section and cleaner, more elegant design? Her ideas. The use of sidebars and more sophisticated use of photos? I give her credit for that, too. She also keeps me honest in the writing, calling bullshit when she thinks I’ve written something that doesn’t ring true.

Meanwhile, I push her to try things that are often less focused and rougher around the edges than she’d prefer. I also ensure that she’s listening to more of my heavy metal music. She checks the mood music to make sure the Spotify player is working properly, and I’m amused when Facebook announces that Erin Brenner is listening to Dead Kennedys, King Diamond or Iron Maiden on Spotify.

I think what works is that she’s always accepted my crudeness and I’ve always accepted her critical sensibilities.

In the world of grammar, writing and editing, as in the rest of our marriage, we fill in each others’ gaps.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter March 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

How, um, well – lovely! An enviable relationship.

Ruth T-C

Joanne Sprott March 4, 2013 at 11:29 am

Well, a very cool thing for Grammar Day. It’s tough to be in editing relationship with author clients, much less someone you live with every day. Good on ya!

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