by LinDee Rochelle
Are you certain that what you’ve written is understood as you intended?
“Seriously, he said that?!” Be it by a friend, colleague, journalist, or other well-meaning author, we’ve all wondered aloud at some of the inane, painful, or infuriating words we’ve read. With e-mail and texting, not to mention eBooks and our printed tomes, the written word today, is more powerful than ever!
Whoever originated the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” was stoically defensive and possibly aiming for courageous. In reality, his head was stuck in the sand and he just couldn’t hear them.
Words can hurt – a LOT. And they can be horribly misconstrued. What came from your brain in easy, humorous scribbles or even pointed, but carefully chosen prose, is not necessarily consumed by the reader in the same context. Wars have been started over a few carelessly written words.
Once you’ve clicked on Send there is no body language, voice inflection, or opportunity to explain further – until after the words are ringing in the reader’s head.
Will he understand exactly what you said?
Apparently that question still floats around our schools – much to my satisfaction. As you know if you read WWYC = Write When You Can – Will Texting Change the World? I’ve recently been concerned that grammar and the finer points of English have fallen by the wayside of texting. Consider:
Parade magazine’s Q&A section recently responded to the query, “Why do we spend so much class time on parts of speech?” I love Parade’s response, “You need to learn every single principle because less-than-great grammar dooms you to a life of being misunderstood.”
I’ve never heard a better reason for learning grammar! Of course, you can be a Pulitzer Prize winner and still write a misleading or misconstrued missive. Even fickle moods play a part in altering our perceptions of what we read.
Consider: “It’s up to you what we do tonight,” vs. “I don’t care what we do tonight.” Are you angry today? How’s that second option going to sound to you? Fine! I don’t care either, let’s just stay home, you jerk!
Reader reviews can put your writing in perspective.
Spotting a blog reviewer’s inane comments, I was reminded this week of our writers’ fragile egos and the power of those who review our works. C’mon, admit it. When anyone comments on your writing, you hold your breath until you’re certain it’s complimentary – and inwardly crumble, when it is not.
Sad to say, but some book reviewers especially, have a “sticks and stones” agenda – to discover (or in some disreputable cases, fabricate) a flaw in your writing that they can exploit – because as you know, controversy sells.
Readers on the other hand, generally dive enthusiastically into your book and offer heartfelt comments – although, if your writing needs work, they may be no less critical than the worst reviewer. Oh, that I could teach the world to offer only constructive criticism! Alas, some people have the tact and diplomacy of a stinging bee snarled in your hair.
If you’re an emerging author not yet published, readers’ forums are a great place to wander into with your writing. Author Nation for instance, gathers writers and readers together in a lively exchange of ideas, imaginations, and yes, critiques.
Posting your writing in readers’ forums offers instant gratification and conversely, immediate criticism, good and bad. But they’re helpful to test the waters before you formally publish. If you haven’t tried it yet, give it a shot!
You don’t need to offer your whole book or article up for grabs – most writers make the same mistakes throughout, so comments on a few pages in a well-presented excerpt is all that is needed.
L’s Seven Suggestions for … clarification and critiquing:
1. polish your writing as if for retail publication before you offer it up to readers
2. A good book goes through many rewrites; if possible, “finish” your book and put it away … for at least a day or two … read it again when you’re fresh, and pretend you’re someone else, not the author
3. Be a reader of your own work – test your wordsmithing powers and take for instance, one crucial paragraph of your book – rewrite it using different key words; did it skew your meaning? – If it did, do you have a problem?
4. Seek out book discussion clubs online and off – ask if they’ll read an excerpt of your fabulous new book and offer comments (an incentive might be autographed copies at a 10% discount when published)
5. Seriously consider any critical analysis – especially those presented as constructive criticism, as their point may have validity and could be the turning point in your book
6. If you receive 4 comments, don’t consider them separately – consider them a “reader poll” – 3 out of 4 said this, or hopefully, 4 out of 4 LOVED it!
7. With any important communiqué try not to “push that button” to e-mail, post, or publish immediately after you’ve put the final touches to it – you’ll be amazed at what you may have written that will evoke, “He said that?!”
Director, Author Services, LinDee Rochelle, November 3, 2010:
While I sometimes become agitated at the flagrant commercial solicitation of our youth – as if the over-50 population has dropped into an ever-widening sinkhole – I also know that our planet’s future is in the sweaty palms and wild imaginations of those young’uns.
To be fair, I’m not anti-youth – I have a couple of young’uns myself. And every aging generation has faced the formidable wave of change they bring – it’s the inevitable regeneration of society. No industry is unaffected, including writing and publishing – like it or not, it’s (loosely) called progress.
What concerns me now is that we’re on the cusp of something more than just an obvious trendy updating of the dictionary. Like our insistence in the 1960s that “ain’t” is a word, and “groovy” has nothing to do with deep ruts, a new breed of words and phrases have materialized. “Cloud computing,” “webisode,” and “fan fiction,” are all products of new technology, created largely by twenty-somethings.
Throughout previous millennia of the written word, new words and phrases have been added to the bursting dictionaries, refinements have skewed other definitions, and some have dropped out of sight altogether.
What’s different in this generational turnover, however, is we wordsmiths are faced with a language revolution that threatens to alter the very core of English, as it’s been known since the emergence of Modern English around 1550.
Today, we are challenged by our youth to keep up with their “Newspeak” or drop like flies into the sinkhole. Though Orwell’s Newspeak in 1984 (1949) was politically motivated, its shortened, simple, and truncated vocabulary principles, as were his philosophies, were way ahead of its time. In theory, Texting is today’s Newspeak.
For example, in the texting world, “?4U” = I have a question – I maintain we can accomplish the same meaning and still remain literate, with “??please” – not only does it still convey we want to ask the receiver a question, but it’s polite!
However, I have a confession to make – yes, I too, have left out vowels and abbreviated words while texting. Only in the interest of saving time, though, I swear! I have no desire to write that way elsewhere.
Is that true of the young’uns? 21st century Newspeak is beginning to seep into everyday writing. I’ve seen it in email messages (what’s the excuse, there?), and in blogs, and while most have been used “in passing,” will we begin to see more and more?
Common usage is what changes dictionaries. In twenty years will we be writing in a greatly modified version of today’s English? Or will we assign one language to the left side of our brain and the other to the right, and hope they can co-exist peacefully? Although often change is good and needed, it isn’t always in our best interest.
In response to my blog, “Monday, November 1 – National Authors’ Day,” Infinity author John Wolf recently declared November “authors’ month,” so go out today, tomorrow, next week – and not only hug an author, but commend them for preserving our language! If you must text, be a rebel, and abbreviate your sentences, but please, use whole words!
Think about it. LEMENO .02 HAG1 (Let me know your two cents worth. Have a good one!)
Ciao for now … LinDee