Thursday, March 8, 2012

Writing Versus Words

Those of us who write have a special conceit - we think we can write better than most.  That may or may not be accurate.  However, there is one undeniable truth.

Most people can't write.

I don't mean that they can't properly spell words, but that most people are terrible writers.  I know, I know - I've broken another cardinal rule and criticized a large portion of the potential audience, but that doesn't make the arrogant point I'm discussing any less true.  There are people out there who couldn't write their name in the snow.  Some of what I come across makes me want to jab a sharp needle into my eyes just so that I'll feel a different kind of pain from the one being inflicted on me by whoever wrote that thing I wasted part of my life on.

Why do such things irritate us so much?  I think it's because writing is a form of communication, and communication, at least when spoken, is taken as a basic sign of intelligence.  Therefore, when someone is unable to make a cogent point, we assume them to be stupid.  That'll often translate into reading what someone has written as well.

I don't know about you, but when I read something, I imagine someone talking to me, so there is little more annoying as when I can't discern what the person is trying to say.  Even worse, that person usually isn't standing right in front of me so I can't ask them just what the heck they meant.  Instead, I'm left to try and read between the lines so I can glean some nugget of information, no matter how well they've covered it with confusing writing.

Think back to the things you read, be they memos from work, an essay your friend has asked you to proofread, or a comment on a message board you frequent.  What are your thoughts about them?  If you're being honest, you know you were thinking, "Geez, how did this person escape our public education system with even a high school diploma?"  That's because we want to correct it, to make it properly understood.  Such is the nature of a writer(and yes, it usually drives my friends insane).

Good writing requires two things - talent and practice.  The first is God given, and if you have none, then no amount of practice will help.  If this is the case, get a job that requires little but grunting and hand gestures.  However, most people have at least some talent(although some have much more than others), and that's where practice comes in.  Peyton Manning is a great QB with more natural talent at the position than just about anyone, but he also puts in a phenomenal amount of work in the off-season and during the week.  He studies the playbook, watches film, and throws to his receivers an average of around five hours a day.

That's what most people lack - dedication to getting better.  To master writing, a person must write.  After they write, they need to be critiqued and told where they messed up so they can improve.  Criticism is never easy - and let's face it, most of us writers have egos made from crystal - but you need to know where you screwed up.  Sometimes we can figure that out for ourselves.  We can look at our work and say, "Good God, that was terrible."  Unfortunately, most of us get so attached to our work that honest self-criticism is impossible.  I mean, come on...we know what we're trying to say, so why doesn't everyone else?

Good friends, honest friends, will know how to tell you that you suck without crushing your dreams.  They can gently guide you to better awareness of your weaknesses and how to compensate for them.  We need this to become better writers and be better understood by those we're trying to reach.  Some of us will take that route, while others will ignore it and turn out garbage time and time again, further frustrating those who have to be subjected to their scribblings.

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