Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Many Uses of Spam

Does this look familiar to you, my dozen or so semi-faithful readers...?

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Hello Dear Freind,

I am sorry to infirm you that your distant uncle has past away while working in the oil fields hear in Angola. However, before his death he has mentioned you many time’s and it is my belief that he would have wanted you named as his primary hair. It may come as an surprise that your uncle was, in fat, a very wealth men at the time of his deaths.

I is a executive managerial from Nigeria who works with the same company as your uncle. I would like very much to send to you your inheritance, which sums to several hundred thousand’s of dollar’s. However, in order to do this, I will be requiring both your primary bank account number’s there in the United State’s and a small sum of money to cover many probate court costs here and therefore expedition the release of you’re funds...

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I think most of us have received this email, or some variation of it, once or thrice over... well, probably even just over the past year, yes? If you haven’t seen this before, PayPal ten dollars immediately to the email address given with this blog and I’ll shoot you the rest of it to read at your leisure.

Y’notice what’s interesting, though? You don’t even have to go to the end of the first paragraph before you know this is a waste of your time. In fact, your brain has already made the automatic “waste of time” decision long before this executive managerial mentions money or starts asking for your account numbers, right?

Why? Because it’s written by someone who has only the barest (if any) grasp of the English language. And we all know there’s just a certain point of literacy someone needs to hit in order to be taken seriously.

This is why spelling matters so much to aspiring writers.

Now, a few folks will tell you that the strength of your writing will carry it past such things, and you shouldn’t worry about it. And, to a small degree, they’re right. Are misspelled words fatal? No, of course not. After all, there’s still a decent chance someone could finish a marathon after shooting themselves in each foot, right? Would you really want to bet on the odds of them winning that marathon, though...? I mean, you’d pretty much need to be the Flash to start with if you think you can get shot in the foot and still have a solid chance of winning, right?

If you think about it, spelling and grammar are the strength of your writing. They’re the foundation that holds up everything else. You may have the most brilliant short story, gripping screenplay, or Nobel-prize worthy novel there’s ever been, but if people are losing the flow while they try to decipher your second sentence then this little magnum opus is never going to be read.

This is also, for the record, why writers don’t get downtime. I see lots of folks who think email or message boards don’t count as “real” writing. So they don’t bother with spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or grammar when they’re online. Some try to argue that they don’t treat their manuscripts this way, but again... the “waste of time” decision has probably already been made by people dealing with them.

Now, again, this isn’t meant to make you completely paranoid. There will always be a random typo that slips through, and just because you put it’s instead of its or swapped letters in refrigreator doesn’t mean your work is gong to be tossed in the large pile on the left. Everyone makes a mistake now and then. Heck, one of my friends gleefully plays the part of phantom editor for me and she manages to catch one or two things a week that slip past me while composing these little rants.

If you’ve got a typo on every page though? Or two or three? Especially ones that show you don’t even know what the word means?

If you can’t get past that, you’ll have better luck getting your uncle’s money out of Nigeria.

Next week I’ll blather on about how simple homonyms can outwit your computer with their ayes closed.

Until then, get back to writing.

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