Last updated on May 1st, 2014
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.
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!
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.