Things Every Writer Should Know

Things Every Writer Should Know

The internet is filled with articles and opinions; websites filled to the brim with content about everything from video games to basket weaving. And porn. Lots of porn. Peculiar perversions aside, the web is an excellent place for a new, enthusiastic writer to start projecting their thoughts and ideas out into the world. If you’re one of those fledgling wordsmiths, first off I applaud you. Writing is a rewarding and stimulating hobby that allows you to creatively convey your cerebral kookiness to the rest of the world. However, there are some things you should probably know…

Although a transcendent vocabulary is laudable, one must remain eternally vigilant that the calculated target of communication does not become ensconced in obscurity. Therefore, eschew obfuscation.

That is one of my favorite statements of all time. It uses a barrage of what some Kentuckian might call “five dollar words” to say something in such a way that directly contradicts its own message: When you’re communicating, make sure the person at the other end can clearly comprehend what the hell you’re talking about. This is one of the most important lessons you can ever learn as a writer.

Having a large vocabulary is a whole lot like being able to juggle: you just can’t wait to show it off to all your friends. And just like juggling, there is a time and a place where flexing your linguistic prowess is appropriate, and a time where it isn’t. After all, you wouldn’t start juggling in the middle of a funeral, would you? On second thought… don’t answer that.

You want to convey your thoughts and ideas in a comprehensive manner, so that they are communicated clearly to the reader. Think about your demographic when you’re writing; your target audience. You wouldn’t want to craft overly complicated language for an article targeted at kids (or Kentuckians), and you wouldn’t want to use overly simplistic language for the specific adult population you’re addressing. If you’re writing an article about a biological study for a general news site, you probably don’t want to mention the finer details of how the electron transport chain operates during oxidative phosphorylation during cellular respiration. If you’re writing for a website targeted at researchers and physicians, those details will be expected.

But my favorite game of all time, unless you cont Dragon Quest, which is probably only my third or fifth or maybe sixth favorite eva, is probably a game you heard of, or maybe not, depending on where you live, but if you live in the state’s and grew up in the 90s I bet you heard of my favorite game called Super Grammar Nazi, and Nintendo Power called it “the absolute greatest thing ever”!!

You also want to make sure your grammar is sound. Read your sentences out loud to yourself, and listen for where the pauses and stops will naturally occur. When writing an article, it’s a good idea to make sure your sentences can be said aloud within a single breath. Punctuation typically goes inside quotations, “like this,” an ellipsis is only three consecutive periods (not five… or seven),and a comma isn’t an excuse to continue a sentence beyond its logical contextual boundary. Punctuation is important. Very important. 

grammar

That doesn’t mean you have to be a master-class writer overnight. Writing is much like playing the guitar: the more you play the guitar, and the more you practice, the better you get. The more you pay attention to other guitarists, the more tricks and techniques you will learn, and the more your toolset will grow. Nobody becomes Hunter S. Thompson overnight. It’s a craft; a skill you hone like any other. And everybody… absolutely everybody makes mistakes.

That’s where an editor comes in. Everyone, from Jim Sterling to Stephen King, uses an editor. When you submit an article to a website, an editorial to a newspaper, or a manuscript to a publishing house, it will go to an editor first. That editor is there to proofread your piece (because it is nearly impossible to catch all of your own mistakes), check for grammatical errors, the flow of the language, and whether or not the writer’s message is being communicated effectively. In many instances, editors also format the article to look tight and professional on the page. In order to accomplish all of this, the editor must…

MAKE CHANGES TO YOUR WRITING! 

Macaulay-Culkin-Scream-Munch

It isn’t personal, and I know it takes some time to get used to the idea. The first time I ever submitted an article to an actual, professional outlet, I was shocked to see edits in my work. Maybe even a little hurt. As a creative person, it’s easy to feel inadequate when someone alters your creation. Just keep in mind that an editor’s job is much like a music producer’s job: Our sole purpose is to make you look better.

That’s what it’s all about. You’re building the car, we’re just putting the shiny paintjob on it. We’re making sure that your work looks the absolute best that it can possibly look, and that it will effectively communicate the ideas you’re trying to present in the most comprehensive way possible. We are there to make you look more professional, by making any changes that need to be made in order to do so, all while working diligently to preserve the author’s unique voice in the process. We are your friend, making you look better while taking none of the credit. The unsung heroes. Everybody knows that Butch Vig was the producer who made Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind sound bigger than life, but nobody knows the guy’s name who cleaned up A Farewell to Arms so it didn’t look like Ernest Hemingway wrote it with his fucking feet.

Writing is a tremendously rewarding skill that allows anyone to share their mind with the rest of the world. However, it’s challenging, and something you can always continue to improve at. Hopefully I’ve been able to help you along a bit in that journey.

Be sure and follow J.C. Wigriff on Facebook and Twitter.

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Writer, guitarist, gamer, alchemist. Editor at Fextralife.com, and host of the INT Spec Podcast. Be sure to follow him on twitter.

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4 comments on “Things Every Writer Should Know”

  1. Lanzen says:

    Excellent article. Thank you.

    You’re tactfully covering two points about which there is a lot of sensitivity these days: grammar, and editing.

    There’s some problem with the education system if grammar is perceived as some evil authoritarian imposition designed to make life hard, and the preserve of the intellectual snob. Grammar is courtesy; grammar is the set of signposts that tell your reader how to navigate your sentences. As with all things, it improves with usage (we need a Skyrim perk for grammar). Unfortunately text messaging, and character limitations in services like Twitter, do not exactly serve to give people such opportunity.

    Stephen King repeatedly recommends Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” Personally, I am not ashamed to admit I have “English Grammar for Dummies.”

    Even then, as you say, there is the role of the editor. Editing and writing are two very different mind-sets and skill-sets. Also important to note is that editing and critiquing are two different things. A good editor does not think they are replacing Siskel and Ebert.

    I also thought your point about vocabulary is interesting. This is, perhaps, a case of ‘know your audience.’ If a person is genuinely choosing the most exact term to convey what they want, it tends to read well. I have seen quite a lot of over-written prose, particularly on the internet, and it seems the same as the uncanny valley is for visual effects; somehow you just know the person is trying too hard, often because the usage of the flowery word is off in some indefinable way. However, ultimately it is the ideas to be communicated, not the words used, which are of most interest to a reader.

    Inappropriate use of the Oxford Comma – definition of a panda: eats, shoots, and leaves.

  2. This is a really great piece. I’ve been a writer (non-creative) in my professional career for some time and the closing bits about the value of an editor are absolutely spot-on. Whatever you’re working on, it makes an enormous difference to just have someone who cares read it over. I’ve recently embarked on a massive creative project of my own (www.aknightadrift.com – it’s an original dark fantasy, Souls-inspired podcast, if you’re interested), and I WISH I could find an editor with time and inclination to look at my scripts before I start recording. Too often I find myself going down the infinite time-suck that is self-editing and realizing in my moments of despair it would have taken someone else approximately five seconds to realize whatever errors it took me a week to pick up on.

    Anyway, thanks for putting this piece together – I really enjoy your writing on the site and your advice is well taken. Now to go check out the most recent episode of IntSpec!

  3. J.C. Wigriff says:

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful replies fellas. I’m glad you both enjoyed and acknowledged the intention of my post. 😀

  4. SeyroonTheMage says:

    I notice there is a punctuation error or typo in your paragraph on punctuation:

    Punctuation typically goes inside quotations, “like this,” an ellipsis is only three consecutive periods (not five… or seven),and a comma isn’t an excuse to continue a sentence beyond its logical contextual boundary.

    See it?

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