No time to catch up on all the blogs I missed while I was away (other people's, that is) so have skimmed a few and discovered that we are coming up to the Dead Zone in publishing. Agent Kristin Nelson says she is madly submitting this week because after that, most editors are off on early Christmas breaks or trying to clear their desks. Useful to know, if you are about to submit something yourself.
Where I work, we are madly interviewing new applicants for 2007, and it's a very interesting process. These are people who want to be writers or editors or something like that (we once listed 34 different jobs our students could do after completing the Diploma, and novel writer was only one), but we have learned the hard way that we need to screen more effectively. So we created a grammar and punctuation test. One page long, three short sections. Some people still manage to make more than 20 errors. We have also learned the hard way that these people do really badly in our course and often either fail or drop out.
The bald, unvarnished truth is - if you want to be a writer or an editor, you have to know how to use the English language, how to make it work to its ultimate best, and if you can't punctuate properly or keep your verb tenses consistent or spell reasonably well (and know how to use a dictionary for the tricky ones), you haven't got much chance.
I sometimes feel very lucky to have gone to school when all that stuff was taught - I see young people coming out of high school who didn't get the early grounding and have very little idea of even where to put a full stop and end a sentence. I've come to believe that if you don't get it early on, it's five, or even ten, times harder to learn it later on. I have seen a few who have managed it, but not easily.