A letter to primary school children in England
We’ve heard all about the spelling and grammar test you have to do as part of your SATs. We think it sounds pretty tough.
Not just the test itself, but all the months you’ve spent learning about things like fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases and subordinating conjunctions. We’re willing to bet you wish you’d spent a bit less time doing that, and more time making up funny poems, or writing your own adventure stories.
Well, there’s something we wanted to tell you.
We asked our team of 15 professional writers whether they knew what a fronted adverbial was. How many do you think said ‘yes’?
One. And that’s because she has a daughter in primary school, just like you.
The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Remember, we all earn our living from writing, and helping other people to write better. And we’ve all managed to get this far without the words ‘fronted adverbial’ ever entering our minds.
We did try, honest. We looked up ‘fronted adverbials’ online, and spent a good few minutes frowning and scratching our heads. We couldn’t really understand it, and then we decided not to worry about it anyway, because fronted adverbials make sentences sound a bit weird, like they were written by Yoda from the Star Wars films, and we went off to make a cup of tea instead.
All this isn’t to say spelling and grammar aren’t important
They are. Our writers all know where to put apostrophes, and what semicolons are for.
And we understand how grammar choices can affect how writing comes across to the reader. Like how passive sentences can be unclear or – worse – make it seem like you’re trying to hide something.
But we don’t know what every single little grammar thing is called. And we don’t need to.
Trust us. We’ve helped thousands of grown-ups all over the world get better at writing. And we’re going to tell you the same thing we tell them: it’s okay to sound like yourself when you write.
You don’t need to use long, complicated words to sound important. You don’t need to use fronted adverbials or expanded noun phrases to be a good writer (we think you’ll be a better writer if you don’t). And it doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t recognise a subordinating conjunction if it clonked you over the head.
If you find those things hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at writing.
What makes someone a good writer?
You’re a good writer if you sound like a human being, not a robot. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a story about robots.)
You’re a good writer if you’re kind to your reader: if you don’t write long, boring sentences, or bang on for pages without getting to the point.
You’re a good writer if you have something interesting to say, and you’re not afraid to say it.
You’re a good writer if you make your reader change their mind about something. Or look at something differently. Or do something they might not have done otherwise.
You’re a good writer if you can make your reader feel happy. Or sad. Or indignant. Or motivated. Or reassured.
You’re a good writer if you can keep your reader interested, even if you’re writing about something really boring, like gas pipes, or tax.
You’re a good writer if you can take something really, really complicated, and explain it so simply that anyone could understand it.
And, most importantly, you’ll be a good writer if you enjoy writing, have fun with words and even break the odd rule now and again.
Don’t worry about the test. Really.