“Contrary to what some people seem to believe, simple writing is not the product of simple minds. A simple, unpretentious style has both grace and power. By not calling attention to itself, it allows the reader to focus on the message”
–Richard Lederer and Richards Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lay, 1999. More Words of Wisdom
Journalists and book authors were once held to impeccably high standards in terms of grammar, spelling and content matter. Somehow our society has degraded on the whole to what feels like a 4th grade level. Sometimes it’s even worse thanks to the prevalence of “text speak” in situations where it is so very inappropriate. Hyperbole and a Half said it best (regarding coping mechanisms to avoid exploding in a ball of white hot fury): “When someone types out “u” instead of “you,” instead of getting mad, I imagine them having only one finger on each hand and then their actions seem reasonable. If I only had one finger on each hand, I’d leave out unnecessary letters too!”
Scenario 1: I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey recently out of journalistic compulsion given all the drama and controversy surrounding it. While I can appreciate the overall sentiment to the book, the author’s absolutely horrid writing skill and dreadful lack of editing (and seeming inability to pick up a Thesaurus) ruined the promising plot and eclipsed even the awful and baffling fictional depiction of a BDSM relationship. Read the reviews on Amazon; some annoyed readers took to looking up the word count for certain things on their Kindle edition. I don’t care to do it for myself but someone else did! The repetition of words is distracting to the point of ruin. I’ve seen many media bits about this book/trilogy that laud it as “well written”. This is well written? Seriously? I have many more thoughts on this book but that is meant for another post. Jeez. Oh my…!
Scenario 2: I was reading the report on CNN about the Army nurse captain who died during a Skype call to his wife. The original story has now been fixed but when I read it it was: “(CNN) — An Army captain’s wife witnessed her husband’s die while the couple was engaged in one of their regular video chats”" Oh CNN, why? Who should be blamed here? The writer or the editor or both?
Scenario 3: I like my erotica. Let me rephrase that: I like my well-written erotica. I do not expect something to be at the level of Anne Rice or whatnot but I do expect that you’ve read through it before hitting “publish” to pick out any spelling errors. When someone relies heavily on spell-check it is obvious! There is one erotica blogger/writer that I read despite the annoying spelling errors they refuse to care enough about. I notice the errors because of the tone of the prose; each error sticks out like a sore thumb. It causes me to halt in my reading like a needle being yanked off a record to figure out what word they meant to use. Oddly enough if it were a transposed letter, like writing “soemtimes”, then I would be more likely to not notice. But when one leaves off a letter (not/no, off/of, and/an, an/a, too/to) or screws up too/to/two or your/you’re or simply uses bizarre swaps like the/that it comes across as lazy writing. Unintelligent writing.
Scenario 4: Recently I’ve been editing on-site sex toy reviews before they go live. I fully understand that everyone has to start somewhere. Even I cringe at my early reviews for the tone and my childlike enthusiasm for some things. However….some people should not be writing reviews. Of any type, in any place. In fact they should please just stop writing altogether. Some of the reviews are so bad it’s difficult to edit them for better grammar without resorting to re-writing them entirely, which I’m not willing to do. I wish now that I’d copied the original bits from some of the particularly bad ones just to show as evidence.
I realize that most bloggers are not being paid for their words. But whether it’s a blog post or a sex toy review – don’t you care about how you look to others? A spelling error or two I can forgive. I’ve done it. But when it is consistently done then I stop respecting you. If it is done to the point of distraction then I’ll just stop reading your blog altogether. I also realize that many people are purposely writing to mimic the way they speak. This is fine to a point. And I’ll admit that comma placement still confuses me sometimes but when I see people obviously abusing it to the point where even I think it’s too much, I have to wonder about their intelligence. I’m not a “grammar Nazi” and I’m not a college English professor. I’m just a reader who wants to read words that make sense when thrown together in sentences and paragraphs. I don’t expect perfection; I just expect simple readability.
Read through your blog post or product review before you publish it! If you need to, read it out loud to aid in finding typing mistakes, run-on sentences or missing words. Polish up on comma placement (you don’t have to put a comma in a sentence for every time you would pause in speech); bookmark sites that have a list of commonly misspelled words such as lose vs loose or breath vs breathe (the latter is one I always screw up); stop using “alot“; learn possessive vs plural; and for the love of Pete if you’re writing about sex toys it is SILICONE not silicon. Another bizarre mistake I keep seeing is forgetting to use a question mark to cap a sentence that was obviously started in the tone of a question. Something I personally should learn to fix is something called “writing in the passive voice“. It’s how I speak and therefore how I write. Not enough importance is placed anymore on simple things such as apostrophes in contractions or capitalizing “I”. Another trick to figuring out if your personal speaking/writing voice comes off stilted/weird/wrong to others is to read through your writing and be sure to pronounce every word fully. Example: “…the reason for that is that Mary thinks…”1. Say it the way you speak naturally. Do you change the second “that” so it sounds more like “thet” or “thit” and it rolls off the tongue quicker? Now read it again where both “that”s are the same and rhyme with “hat”. It sounds weird, right? Redundancy!
Mark Twain: “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”
When you write in the passive voice or have run-on sentences longer than the average paragraph….with lots of ellipses….with alot of redundant phrases ….. can tick of even the most forgiving reader2. There are a lot of helpful sites3 that can make you a better writer. Letting out this rant and researching the links for common mistakes has opened my eyes to things I do wrong, too, so I’m not proclaiming to be a perfect bastion of the English language here!
I also recognize that true blogging4 contains many moments when your text is your voice – or rather, your speaking voice replacement – and that writing in your speaking voice is more acceptable there (to a point). I’ve done it a lot and I’ve seen plenty of others do it in ways that personality, dialect and humor/emphasis shine through wonderfully. But when you write a post that you want others to take seriously, you should take a moment or three before publishing the post to the public. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to showcase a blog post as my Editor’s Pick on e[lust] because of the subject matter but bypassed it because the writing was just atrocious.
And finally, remember this: we are largely an online-only community. Your written words are your clothes, your power, your voice, your facial expressions and that by which we measure intelligence, personality and even attractiveness. Does your writing portray you in the best light? Please don’t underestimate the power and sexiness of intelligence.
- Changing that to “the reason is that Mary thinks..” says the same thing in fewer words, less awkwardly ↩
- See what I did there? Ha! I kill me ↩
- the one I’ve linked to in the paragraph has many very useful, quick and easy to understand posts about common mistakes ↩
- As opposed to journalism style writing, professional writing, or sex toy / product reviews ↩