A Wordsmith’s Guilt

A Wordsmith's GuiltA good chunk of you know that I am not shy about admitting my writing mistakes. There are very few wordsmiths in existence who could claim to never ever question a word or complicated punctuation. Editors have style guides and dictionaries for a reason, and I assure you that they are well-used. You may be surprised to know that many professionals editors and writers have the same difficulties as those who write or edit as a hobby. We don’t just have trouble with severely complicated content.

And just because I am not shy about admitting that I make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel terribly guilty about some of them as someone who spends so much time honing their writing and editing skills.

The words and technical issues that I personally find the most daunting include:

Affect/Effect. I generally get this right now, but I still have to stop and remind myself which is the correct form prior to typing it out. No matter how many times I try to get myself to remember which is for what, I fail, so I just remember some trick with the “a” and the “e”.

Peruse: Every time I go to spell this word, I spell it “puruse”. That doesn’t even make sense. It follows virtually no English spelling rules.

Hierarchy: This one I can spell just fine, but I despise having to say it. The double “r” syllables get me every time.

Separate: I spell this as “seperate” every time. Every bloody time.

Plural Possessives: Why do these even exist? Why can’t they be their own separate words? Seniors’, Families’, and Farmers’ are words that I despise so much, I will avoid writing them if possible. I will completely rewrite a piece of content in order to stay away from the torture that these words give to me.

Capitalization: This is more of a style choice, but I hate having to make it. All caps, some caps, no caps? Consistently, only for certain titles/CTAs, or apply at random? It’s fine for one off things, but for an entire company, or even just an email campaign? Painful.

Limiting my Vocabulary: When you write the same kinds of content over and over, you start using the same words over and over. For example, when you write about real estate a lot, you begin to use “property”, “house”, and “home” intermittently. This is bad because you limit yourself to those words without exploring other options. If you are bored when you are writing, your writing will be boring.

Commas: I feel like no one actually knows all of the comma rules. I feel like it is impossible to know. In school, we were taught to use commas as pauses, but then in university I was told that that is incorrect. Then I was given a giant book full of comma rules that, though  I read the pages, never actually stuck. I have a good understanding of commas, and where they are supposed to go, but I think of them like salt and pepper: too much and you will ruin everything, not enough and you will have no flavour.

There are more, but I feel like I have admitted enough of my shortfalls today. It’s actually quite cleansing in a way, to admit that though you are a professional, you still make mistakes just like everyone else. Of course, I should be held to higher standards since I claim to have expertise, but if I were to know everything there wouldn’t be any point in reading or writing left, would there?

What are you guilty of? What words drive you mad, and which punctuation rules do you fail to grasp no matter how many times you learn them?

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Where Inspiration Hits

Where Inspiration HitsLately I have been feeling uninspired, which is probably due to an uncharacteristic level of busyness combined with a a lack of ideas. Usually, I don’t go looking for inspiration, it just finds me, often in the strangest of places.

For example, sometimes when I am in the shower, an idea or a solution will come to me out of the heavy warm mist floating around the ceiling, quite uninvited. You see, the shower is a most inconvenient place to be attacked with inspiration, as I have no pen, no paper, and I really need to concentrate on the razor if I want to get out alive.

I’m not even a relaxed person in the shower. To me, having a shower means business. I don’t stand there and let the water soothe me. I don’t sing or daydream. I follow a set of predetermined tasks and once they are done I get out. So why do I become inspired in the shower? I have absolutely no clue.

Another place where inspiration always seems to find me is snug in my blankets, immediately before I drop off to sleep. If I am lucky, it turns into a vivid dream, which I find easier to remember. It always seems to come at that point where I am too far gone to do anything about it, but conscious enough to recognize it for what it is. Really, at that point all I want to do is sleep, but I have to force myself to take a mental note and start the whole “falling asleep” process all over again.

Stranger still, I am not generally inspired by others, but instead by feelings or surroundings. A gentle rain will water my brain and set the idea seeds to growing, while a deep conversation with someone will leave me enlightened but drained. When I read a book that I feel is above par, the story doesn’t inspire me to write something of my own, but a dream about a smell or a sound might.

Not just writers, but every individual has a completely unique mind of their own, either based on nature or nurture (depending on which side you debated in sociology). How we think, how we interpret inspiration, and how we become inspired is singular to each of us. This allows us to create things in our own right, to have our own thoughts and ideas.

This is what makes every piece of writing out there its own, what gives each writer a voice and a style. And that’s why it is so important to find inspiration in something other than the work of another. In order to really write, and to cut a piece of the pie for yourself, you’ve got to have a tone of your own. Not just in your style, but in your story.

Become inspired by other writers for their success or their imaginations. Become inspired by their hardships or similarities to you. Become inspired by who they are as people, but be careful about becoming overly inspired by their words. Focusing too much on the work of another can lead to inadvertent parallels, which only reduce your value and skill as a writer in your own right.

So where, and how, does inspiration hit you? Do you go out and hunt it down, or call it quietly from the back door? What inspires you the most, and what inspires you the least?

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The Writing Zombie

The Writing ZombieYou don’t really realize how much need something until you don’t have it. I suppose everyone else has learned this by now, but after having spent so much time writing over the last year, I have finally run out of writing projects at work, and haven’t had time to work on any at home. Now, this was fine for a month or so because I had been writing lengthy whitepapers and educational articles that were sucking the life out of me.

I complained about writing them. I groaned about having to find yet another way to say “if you die” (in the event of your passing, should you pass away, when you expire… there are so many out there), and I dreaded having to use the word “important” yet again. But now? Now I have nothing to write at work. Nothing. Instead, we are focusing on other projects. Boring projects. Long and bland projects that require you to squeeze creative juice out of your dried up, papery brain.

It is because of this that I have reached a rather obvious revelation: when I don’t write I become a writing zombie. And though it may seem to be a stretch of a comparison, I honestly feel as if I am lumbering about with arms outstretched hoarsely croaking, “WWWWOOOORRRRDDDSSSS”.

I am markedly unhappy, irritable, and “dark”. My usual cynicism has expanded to new levels and I remind myself of a small child who, when he/she finds his/herself overtired, blurts thing like, “I hate everything”, and “I don’t like you”. I feel slow and pointedly uninterested in all of my other projects. And the reason for all of this immature and uncharacteristic behaviour is a lack of writing.

I always have something on the go, but I seem to be living in an in-between right now. Probably for the first time in years, and it is quite a foreign experience. Of course, I am still reading, still thinking about plots and characters, still planning projects, but I have nothing meaty to write. And apparently, when that happens I turn into a monster.

I never realized how much I needed writing until I didn’t have it, and now I have decided that for me it is akin to a serious addiction. There are words in my veins, in my breath, and in my soul, and when they get trapped it’s like a thick, black, log jam of ink.  I’m surprised I haven’t started spewing random sentences at people. And even more surprised that I haven’t lunged at anyone, pawing at their head, asking for a writing project.

You don’t have to be a writer by trade to be one by heart. It’s the kind of calling that is a part of you, not just something that you like to do or that you are good at. Writing is one of those arts that, when it really is a piece of who you are, you need to practice and release or you will go a little nutty.

Meaning, you become a writing zombie like me, begging for words and devouring them like brains.

Have you ever been a writing zombie? What happens when you don’t have any writing projects? How long can you go without writing?

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Why Some Books Suck

Why Some Books SuckTo be honest, I find it very difficult to start reading something and then to leave it unfinished. I’ve read a plethora of books that I didn’t like, because I either hoped that they would improve, or I had already invested too much time into them. But just because I finished something doesn’t mean that I would ever, ever pick it up again.

Sometimes I read unpleasant books to their ends in order to learn more about what I don’t like, so that I can avoid doing it in the future. Sometimes a book doesn’t turn out to be painful until you are already too far in. There are a number of reasons as to how books can go bad, and I want to explore some of them today.

We’ll start with the “I didn’t know the milk was bad until I’d already drank half of it” type of book. These books are jerks. The covers are usually nice, the back cover copy enticing and interesting, and the endorsements come from good sources. This is the kind of book that you pick up at the grocery store wondering how it ended up in the clearance pile until you get it home and start reading.

Then there are the “this is terrible but I can’t stop reading it” books. For me, this was the entire Twilight series. The whole time I was reading them it was like self-torture. But I couldn’t stop. I had to know what happened. I had to know if the story ever redeemed itself. These books are like dollar store chocolates—they are similar to something that you know you like, but once you take a bite you realize they’re cheap replicas of the real thing.

Next on the list are the ever painful “a family member recommended/gave this to me and now I have to read it” books. These usually come in the form of, “Oh, you vaguely enjoy non-fiction and politics?! Then you are going to LOVE your birthday present!!!” And because you are a good person, and because you are a book lover, you give it a try. But it is just as you expected and getting through it is like trudging through cement wearing overalls and a backpack full of bricks.

Oh, but let’s not forget the “this book looks pretty, and it’s expensive, so it must be good!” mistake. Also known as the “I paid too much for this not to read it” mistake. Yes, we’ve all been there. A beautiful hardcover calls to us from afar, and when we pull it from the shelf our hands tingle with anticipation. It is beautiful. It is expensive. And we must have it. Then we read it and find out that all that pretty paper just masked a whole lot of nothing.

Or the “I LOVE this author” splurge. I mean, if you liked all of their other books, why wouldn’t you like this one?! Well, because it’s not the same book. Because sometimes authors explore other genres and styles and it doesn’t always suit your tastes. Because now we have a book on our shelf that made us think differently about a favoured author.

What about the “THIS WHOLE BOX OF BOOKS IS ONLY $1!” decision? The one that gets you no good books, but that makes you feel as if you have to give all of them a shot anyway? Yes, that one. And will you ever learn from it? Probably not. Because who on earth could let a box of books escape them for only $1? What if there’s a first edition something or other in there? You never know. So you will probably do this over and over again.

See, all of these reasons are generally the fault of the reader, and not the writer. Every book out that has been enjoyed by someone, so it isn’t up to the writer to make you pick books that you will like. That’s all on you. It isn’t always easy, especially when you are a book collector or an avid reader. Books just seem to flock to you, and it’s hard not to welcome them with open arms.

Have you experienced at least one of the above? Do you have any to add? What was the worst book you ever read?

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