In future episodes, I’ll be talking about specifics of usage, writing, grammar, punctuation and all sorts of related things.
But today I want to talk in general about the topic that’s the whole foundation for this podcast – as well as me yelling at the TV, the newspaper, books, you name it. Yeah, I do that.
Writing is both easy and not easy.
For those of you who simply need to know how to communicate better at work for instance, the biggest goal should be clear and concise language. You want to know the rules of spelling and grammar well enough that the people you’re communicating with will understand what the hell you’re saying. Okay, maybe it’s not that easy.
Those of you who write for a living, or want to, have it harder.
Not only do you have to get your message across, but everything you put out there represents you. It’s an ad for you and what you do. I’m not just talking about your book, press releases, articles or whatever you write, I’m talking about your Facebook posts, your tweets, your blog posts. I’m talking about your emails pitching your work. I’m talking about every way you communicate with the written word.
No one has everything down. No one knows everything. Not even me. (Come on, that’s a joke.)
But the one thing that should always be at the forefront of everything you write, whether you do it for a living, a hobby or as part of your everyday communication, is respect for the craft. Respect the rules enough to look things up. Respect your craft and your audience enough to proofread and to make sure your point is clear. Use capitals and punctuation. Use spell check, but also know whether you’re using the right word. The wrong word spelled right is no better than the right word spelled wrong. No one expects everyone to be perfect all the time, but it’s pretty clear who’s trying to get it right and who isn’t.
Learn to use a dictionary. Don’t just look up a word online and go with the first spelling you see.
Popular culture, the internet age, movies and TV shows that show writers merrily pecking away and barely breaking a sweat have done writing a disservice. People think it’s easy.
Expect it to be hard work. Expect there to be parts that aren’t fun. Expect to think about it.
If none of that is happening, then you’re not giving it the respect it deserves.
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”
If you’re writing, you expect to get something out of it. Don’t let opportunity pass you by because you don’t want to take the time to seriously think about what you’re doing — how you’re using the words, what you’re saying, the grammar and punctuation rules. No one gets a break because he or she is such a genius or so talented the rules don’t apply.
I once had to critique a manuscript that was a total mess. The writer said that James Joyce was a mess, too. What he failed to understand – aside from the fact that he wasn’t and never will be James Joyce – is that James Joyce didn’t just throw all those words on a page and hope someone could make sense of them. His writing is incredibly structured and thought out. Ever tried to read Joyce? It may be hard work, but he worked a lot harder to put it together.
I’m not trying to scare you straight out of writing. But I do want to make the point that if you want those opportunities to come your way – or you just want to communicate clearly in your work emails – put on the overalls and think about what you’re doing.
Thanks for listening.