Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thyme to Bored You're Fight

Today's ranty blog takes us to the land of imagination. To be exact, the airport of imagination. Say you're a passenger on the new supersonic jumbo jet I designed. I call it the OmniTurboTron 3000. It's going to make the Concorde obsolete. And you're here to ride on one of the very first flights, the maiden voyage. The rest of the passengers are on board, the luggage is packed below, and the flight crew goes to close the door.

Oh, but there's a problem. The door's not quite the right shape for the frame. It's built to all the specs, but it doesn't seem to fit. That's odd.

The crew wrestles with it for a while and finally figure out if they use some crowbars to lift it a bit on the hinges it mostly fits into place. They just need to whack it with a sledge a once or thrice and it sits almost perfectly. Well, maybe with a few blankets pushed into that crack on the bottom.

The question for you is... are you going to stay on this plane?

Heck, if I'm supposed to be an engineer and I messed up something as simple as the door, what else is wrong? Is this cabin airtight? Are the windows safe? It seems like I didn't run any kind of tests or double-check anything--maybe the wings are going to come off in mid-flight!

Believe it or not, the same logic and conclusions are true of writing. If a reader hits something which shows I didn't check any of this or don't even know what something does, why should they risk going any farther? If I don't even know how to spell or use an apostrophe, who knows what kind of plot holes were left behind when I declared this "done" and put it out for people to see. Why would any editor (let alone any reader) risk their time with something like this when there are signs of shoddy workmanship right up front?

Y'see, Timmy, if I skim the page and see Wakko is playing a few cords to compliment the music the band is perforating over their, do I really need to read anything else? That's four failures in one sentence.

Yes, four. If you can't see them, pick up a dictionary.

No, not spell check. Not the internet, either. A real dictionary.

I know I've gone on about this again and again. Spelling is the number one thing I tell people to work on here. Just look how many links the keyword "spelling" has over there on the right. You cannot succeed at this until you learn what words mean and how to spell them. Not more or less what they mean. Not close enough with the spelling so people will know what you mean. You have to know and you have to be right.

I also know I push owning a dictionary a lot, which seems a bit pointless in our wonderful space age world, but there's a rhyme to my reason. A dictionary and the internet are not the same thing. If you have to look something up in the dictionary, you are the one doing the work. When you do the work, you learn. Once you've learned, you rarely need to look it up again. Like any skill set, your writing improves with study and practice. You need both.

When your computer does the work, you become more dependent on your computer. As I've pointed out many times now, a computer is the worst writing partner you can choose. It has no idea what word you wanted to use, only what words you're close to. This is why people who use spell check all the time continue to use it and continue to need it. Same goes for the folks who tend to Google-search for definitions rather than looking them up. They're not studying how to write--only practicing.

And practice without study is like that idiot guy in the park swinging his katana around and convinced he's learning to be a ninja.

Yeah, you know that guy...

Now, there're some great arguments out there that people don't need to know this stuff anymore because computers do it for them. It's my firm belief this is why there' been such a boom in would-be-writers lately.

Thing is, we're not talking about people. We're talking about you. And if you're spending any amount of time here reading the ranty blog, the assumption is you want to be a writer who can actually sell something. As a writer, you must know how to spell and what words mean.

There's a huge difference between an engineer and someone who owns a copy of The Way Things Work. Just because I've got few friends I can call to help with car repair does not qualify me as a mechanic. Taking a health class in high school and owning a first aid book does not make you a doctor. More to the fact, we'd all mercilessly mock (maybe even sue) anyone who tried to call themselves an engineer, a mechanic, or a doctor based on these "abilities."

Likewise, if you're going to say you're a writer because your computer knows all the right words and spellings, don't expect a lot of people to take you seriously. Because in their eyes, you're just that guy in the park, wearing a black tee-shirt and swinging your katana...

Next time, I would like to tell you all a 100% true story about a baby discovering her own feet. Really.

Until then, go write.

3 comments:

Rakie said...

you're very angry about this... more so than usual, i mean. Have people been mangling the english language particularly badly at you this week? ;)

(i can sympathise - i keep a special hardbacked dictionary for beating those people with)

hey, Script Frenzy starts on thursday, any advice?

Virtual Stranger said...

I don't think I'm any more frustrated by it than usual... :)

Part of it is listening to a friend who's reading for a contest right now and pulling her hair out at some of the borderline-illiterate things people have paid to submit.

For example, one would-be-writer is working under the belief that any time a word ends in S, you use an apostrophe...

Wow. That's a lot of italics. Maybe I am angry... :)

Rakie said...

not as angry as this guy... :D
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/SpellingRage.html
(nsfw due to large angry swearing, btw)