Writers — What Can We Expect of Them?

Hello, fellow writers. This is my first foray on your blog, so I thank you for letting me put forth this question about our present and future writers: What Can We Expect?

If you’ve had an opportunity to read many blogs or on-line postings, you might get the impression that the future of the written word is rather bleak. Reliance on spell/grammar check, the haste to post without proofing, the lack of basic forms of writing, such as parallel sentence structure, punctuation, (let’s not even talk about basic sentence structure), are all subliminal cries for help.

William Safire created a listing of 10 Misrules to follow when writing. I fear that many may have read too quickly and passed right over the NOT part:

10 Misrules from William Safire’s How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar

1.    No sentence fragments.

2.    Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.

3.    A writer must not shift your point of view.

4.    Don’t use contractions in formal writing.

5.    Write all adverbial forms correct.

6.    Avoid all awkward or affected alliteration.

7.    Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

8.    Writing carefully, dangling participles should be avoided.

9.    Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

10.  Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

You know how senior citizens are required to take driving tests at certain ages? (They are required, aren’t they, and if not, they certainly should be.) I think that perhaps anyone who wants to post anything they consider to be credible must take a periodic writing refresher course. Perhaps we should collaborate on a “Strunk & White for Dummies” book. What about making a racy version of it and change all the old sentence examples into steamy literature? That might raise the visibility a notch. Perhaps we could even create some books that are topically driven, such as Strunk & White: The Golfing Edition (think of the fun we could have using “birdies” “woods” and “irons” in different sentences). And what about the most popular sport in America? That’s right. Joe Six Pack’s favorite— NASCAR. The possibilities boggle the mind.

All kidding aside, my point is one that I harp on constantly . . .  Education is worthless unless there is a degree of context. If you can’t understand how a rule of grammar, how a mathematical equation, an instance of historical importance, a moment of scientific discovery, applies to you — to your life, then you simply miss the connection and relegate that information to the “I don’t have to give this much attention” file.

And that’s what’s happening to writing today. Many writers stand (or “pen,” as it were) on shaky foundations. Leave it to the editor to fix, you say? Ah! Then what about maintaining the “voice” of the author. It’s a double-edge sword.

What’s the answer? Well, that’s a rather serpentine road. Perhaps we have to make sure to teach and lead by example. The web provides many insights into the writing/editorial process by postings of people such as the editors of the NYTimes (except the errata department . . . I think they are too busy to be included). There are also wonderful links on sites such as Media Bistro, where they ask specific content editors what they do. You can also look up questions in the Chicago Manual, or the AP (Associated Press) Manual, when you are unsure about the use of serial commas, quotes, italics, and such. By giving our own work a more critical eye, we might flood the Internet and bookstores with well-researched and well-written material. And while these books are not always the most exciting read (they actually are fabulous for those of us who have trouble falling asleep), the worst thing that could happen is that you could learn something.

This all leads back to my question about what we can we expect of writers? Perhaps we need to take a good look at ourselves first, then find the point of context, and hoist that point upon the standard we all follow when riding into battle, into the sunset, into a world of science fiction or fantasy, or any other place where we chose to lead by written example.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest!

What do you think?

With best regards,

Ellin Yassky

Co-Presenter of the Business Writers Workshop

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Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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