Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I know a lot of people who stumble over their own words.  They'll stutter, repeat themselves, and dance around a point until you just want to grab them by the shoulders and scream, "STOP TALKING!"  And while this happens more frequently when speaking, it also happens a great deal, and far more than it should, when writing.

Good writing is about taking a coherent stream of words and transferring it to a page.  What I've discovered is that those who have no real stream of thought and like to jump randomly from point to point are usually horrible writers.

In conversation, this is almost understandable.  Most of us are in such a hurry to get our points out there that we rarely stop to think about the pattern created.  Worse, in an attempt to make sure our point is made, we'll say the same thing over and over, often in the exact same way.  This is frustrating for those of us who are too polite to mention what a moron the person talking sounds like and can lead to charges of our either being elitist or introverted when we intentionally don't seek out others for discussions.  Trust me - most of us aren't doing this because we're shy, but rather because we don't want to have to navigate the chaotic waters of conversation with someone who couldn't read the directions off a shampoo bottle.

However, when writing, there should be less excuse for this.  Think about it - we can't write as fast as we can talk, so we should be able to recognize when we trip.  This includes misspellings, atrocious grammar, and using the same word or phrase over and over and over and over again within a single paragraph.

Someone who takes the time to write something down should take the time to organize his or her thoughts, and then that person should give at least a minimal one time over the world edit to their piece.  Not doing this is similar to going out on a date wearing a shirt with a mustard stain - it says you really don't give a shit about the person you're engaging with.

Nothing will make me put down a book or article faster than poor writing.  Several years back, I taught at a university in California, and my students had to turn in a few papers each term.  Most were decent works, but I'd occasionally run across one that read as if a 4th grader had done it.  Spelling and grammar mistakes were an automatic letter grade reduction.  Why?  Because I would find myself looking more for what other mistakes lurked in the body of the paper rather than focusing on the ideas behind the writing.  The papers I had my students turn in were meant to see if they understood the concepts behind what we were discussing in class, not to see if they'd mastered the basics of the English language(being juniors in college, they were already supposed to have a working knowledge of it).

When I read, I should be able to understand what I'm reading in a single sitting.  It should allow me to grasp the concepts underneath, or at least understand them enough to know they're above my head.  When I have to go back and re-read something because the mistakes caused me to have to translate what was being said, all the joy goes away.

How can you tell if your writing is stumbling over itself?  The easiest way is to read it out loud.  We all have a natural rhythm when we speak, and if the words don't match the tone, we'll notice.  Even better is to have someone else read it out loud to you.  They don't have the bias in favor of your work that you do and will stumble more easily, allowing you to pick up on when your work hits a bump.

Yes, this all sounds very elitist, but bad writing is a reflection of all of us, especially in the indie publishing movement.  Such mistakes give the snobs who already look down on us more ammunition to say how crappy indie publishing is, so it's not just your work that is disregarded.

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