What I do for a living is tons of fun. And since I learned that I’m not the editor for every writer who contacts me, life is grand!
Despite my education, training and almost twenty years of experience in commercial writing – either writing copy for marketing purposes, non-fiction for information purposes, or fiction for entertainment purposes – I still get challenged on what I consider to be the “basics,” from time to time.
One must acknowledge that if one enters water, regardless of the means, the water will be wet, and, if one crashes into a rock, or a rock crashes into you, you will experience that the rock is hard. There are just certain things that work for the large percentage of readers – and therefore, writers.
Is it true that a writer can completely omit punctuation? Sure. And as a content editor, that isn’t my primary function, but copy that is clear and understandable, is. Can a writer completely ignore the point of view rules? Sure. Can a writer write anything they want, any way that they want to? Sure. But maybe the better question is, SHOULD THEY?
In my heart, these styles feel like an abundance of arrogance. As a writer, I want my readers to enjoy my words, visualize my colors and settings, and find value in the time they spent reading my work. Why? Because I believe I have a responsibility to “Do unto others as I would have others do unto me.” Whether I’m reading fiction, non-fiction, opinions, a scientific paper, or an essay, I want to be able to fully engage in the writer’s words, not have to figure out where the darned sentence ended.
Stream-of-consciousness-style writing (think Faulkner, for instance) has a place and devotees, I know. I also know that what is pleasing and appealing to me isn’t going to be the same for everyone. However, based on information gleaned from reviews, readers groups and librarian input, I don’t believe this style is a good fit for fiction, long or short. I believe in solid, clear, basic punctuation. I believe words should be properly used and spelled. I don’t believe readers should have to wade through unnecessary words or words that require the use of a dictionary.
The problem with being the editor for writers who disagree with my “beliefs” is that the writers seem to feel justified in admonishing me about my “narrow-mindedness” and “mind-numbing conventionality.” They are entitled to their opinions, but my education, training, and experience make me an idiot because I have provided my expertise.
Ah well, I sigh. At long last, I am learning not to frustrate myself or these writers. We all deserve far better in life. I have learned to admit up front that I’m just not the right fit for some writers. And that works.
Nonetheless, maybe some timeless reminders from a mind sharper than mine will serve us all. I share the advice of William Strunk from his book, The Elements of Style,
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word, when there is a ten-center handy …
Those recommendations were made in 1918 – but I believe they are still valid today. Good writing is timeless and powerful. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or trends to whisk a reader away for a little while. In the past few years, even the APA – American Psychology Association – has rewritten their style guide and handbook to encourage clear, concise and meaningful writing.
In the end, rocks are hard, water is wet, and the writer is the boss. I know these things. I suggest that as writers, we all keep in mind, that getting one’s way may not translate into book sales. If sales are not the goal, then man the torpedoes and all the rules be damned!
Keep reading and writing! NQ