A fellow writer pointed me to English comedian, writer, and actor Stephen Fry for illumination on this paradox within me.
I never thought of myself as a pedant for insisting on proper grammar—I think of it as a personal challenge to follow all the grammar rules! Plus, I understood that some rules must be broken depending on the audience, and I would break them accordingly.
But in his speech on Language, Fry points out that language evolves by introducing slang and anomalies and, yes, breaking the rules of grammar every once in a while.
Language is meant to change. I'd forgotten that. I'd forgotten that, as Fry points out, Shakespeare made verbs out of nouns every chance he got, though true pedants of grammar mutter under their breaths at this misuse of English.
I'd forgotten that Oscar Wilde didn't worry about the "woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches"—he left them to his editor to sort out once and for all.
I used to think a writer could only be considered excellent if he or she used perfect grammar. Maybe I thought that because of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I can't use an adverb without the fear of being haunted by Strunk. And while I still believe that grammar is the backbone of language, Stephen Fry has reminded me that there's more to good writing than knowing there is absolutely (adverb!) no construction in the English language in which an apostrophe follows the S in "its." (But please don't blame me if I sleep better at night when this rule is followed.)
Perhaps one needs to break the rules every once in a while to create something wonderful. Maybe I'll give it a try. I'll let you know how it goes.
Watch Stephen Fry's speech here.