Non-Compliance Has a Cost

Available in print & e-book

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.
and,
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

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About NL Quatrano

Award-winning author, speaker, editor and ghost writer, Nancy owns a full-time editing, writing and specialty publishing business: On-Target Words/WC Publishing. Volunteer/member of professional writing organizations including Florida Writers Assoc., Sisters in Crime, and AWAI. 2010 Professional Woman of the Year by the NAPW. Linked in Editor Pick May 2013. International Women's Leadership Association nominee for Outstanding Leadership 2014.
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4 Responses to Non-Compliance Has a Cost

  1. Diane Marie says:

    Wow, Nancy, I feel that you’ve directed this at me. I say “at” and not “to” because it reads like nothing less than an attack, in effect, using me, without calling me out by name, and publically putting forth your disagreement, disagreeably, rather than express your angry feelings to me personally. Calling writers’ styles abundantly arrogant who are not in agreement with how you
    say it “should” be and followed throughout with additional disparaging remarks — I can only hope you’re just having a bad day.

    Fyi, evolution, with regard to your “recommendations made in1918,” statement, Nancy, is inclusive of language. Water that lies becomes stagnant and a breading ground for all kinds of
    dis–ease. Whether or not one agrees, evolution is fact of life.

    A disagreement is only that, so I’m sending you a virtual hug. Diane 🙂

    • NL Quatrano says:

      Thanks for the comment! I’m very aware of how you feel about my opinions on sentence structure and punctuation, but you were not even in my mind when I crafted this blog. I was referring to several clients (and you have never been my client) over the years that felt it was my fault that their books did not sell, when they ignored all suggestions made during the editing process. My point was that there is a cost to not following at least most of the accepted writing practices, especially for first-time authors, and that will be books that don’t sell. That’s my statement as an editing professional. As a publishing professional, I get to determine what “house style” I’ll use, just like every other publisher does, and I determine what sentence structure and punctuation makes writing clear for our target audience. A writer who knows their craft and knows it well, can break every “rule” and if they are good, experienced writers, they may still have a good book. I was referring to first-time authors who did not want to learn their craft and decided that because they were publishing themselves, they didn’t have to present a well-written book. In my opinon, that is a form of arrogance. So, sorry to say, you have mortally wounded me all for naught. 🙂

  2. Diane Marie says:

    Oop’s, “breeding” ground. LOL

  3. Claire Sloan says:

    Nancy, I really enjoyed your blog. We had talked about this during lunch, so I’m sure the material was on your mind for awhile. And, you didn’t use extra words, either! I don’t agree with the statement that your expertise makes you an idiot. For me, it should say “DOESN’T.” Yhere was someone in my wirint group that used to do wierd things. After awhile, the struggle wasn’t worth it. I am working on my  summary, but I don’t know what makes my style, so I don’t know what to add. I have a tendency to blabber, I guess I made it too brief and cut out the voice. But I can’t analyze my voice.  I just forwarded a copy of Snowbird to Barbara Moroney. I encouraged her to send you something. C

    ________________________________

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