Advice for New Writers

I would never allow a blind person to walk into a wall or into traffic if I have the means to prevent it. With that said, I thought I’d share a private message I sent to someone recently who has intentions on writing and possibly starting a blog. I know many people (not just the person to whom I originally sent this message) who are lacking in their basic spelling and grammar skills.  Mind you, I only sent this message to be supportive, not critical. Name and gender have been purposely omitted for this post. I am posting this as advice to my readers who also may have plans or knows someone with plans, to write or start a blog.

“Hey “X”. I hope you’re well today.

I understand that you are considering starting a blog. That’s kool. But I would not be a good friend if I did not give you some important advice before you start that venture. Now, you can choose to take my words as constructive criticism or something worse. However, I feel the need to give you some unsolicited advice for your own benefit and not as any personal attack to you or your intelligence. If you plan on getting into writing a blog, I suggest you first begin practicing proper spelling and language syntax in your Facebook posts and text messaging. I’ve noticed several times in both venues that you tend to misspell many simple, common, and often-used words. I never said anything before now because I understand that sometimes mistakes happen when one is typing too fast or can’t see very clearly what is being typed (particularly if typing from a smart phone or some similar device with a tiny screen/keyboard).

“X”, I’ve never before read anything you’ve written other than your Facebook posts and messages and phone texts. However, as one who has had nearly 40 years experience of writing (and proofing) all sorts of things from class reports to military personnel performance evaluations, to detailed lesson plans , military “how-to” instruction manuals, and more, my trained eyes will always automatically do a “laser-like” focus on any misspelled words, bad grammar, the lack or misuse of punctuation, etc. Usually, I catch such errors within the first few sentences or paragraphs of almost everything I read.  Mind you, I am not claiming to be perfect in my use of English syntax; I’ve made mistakes before and I still make mistakes; just not nearly as many as I used to! I’ve had years to learn from my mistakes and those of others.

We’ve chatted a bit about my new blog. Did you know that I NEVER draft any long blog or Facebook posts directly on-line? I ALWAYS draft such in MS Word first. I will read, re-read and then read a third, maybe fourth time, the entire draft. Then I’ll read it through one more time before posting/publishing on-line. I’m not suggesting that you need to follow suit; my method is caused by the perfectionist traits in me. Anyway, during the reading of my draft, I’m thoroughly checking for any errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, word flow, redundancy, and a host of other things too numerous to mention. I do not want my readers to ever misunderstand my line of thinking.

I tend to write less formally in my blog and Facebook posts. If any of my English teachers read my work, they would certainly make a fuss over my unique methods of the way I start and/or end some of my sentences! My computer’s Spell Check option works pretty well and catches many spelling errors in my drafts but it does NOT catch everything. In fact, I NEVER fully rely on any computer’s spell check feature! It’s really up to ME to confirm the proper spelling and use of words and phrases. I’ll check on-line any word or phrase which I have the slightest doubt about.

People often send material to me to read all the time. Some come from professional sources relating to my job in radio; other material are usually posts or links to stories, poems, or lyrics to some rap/hip hop song sent by someone who wants me to “like” or comment on their material.  If I cannot understand what someone is saying in their writings, I give up on any further reading. My philosophy is this: I can usually forgive a misplaced comma or misspelled word or two, even the use of certain slang in almost any letter or writing I receive. However, if a person has SEVERAL or rather MULTIPLE errors in his/her written work, especially assuming they have had schooling for how to use the most basic English syntax procedures, then that tells me that he/she did not care enough about their own work to be taken seriously by me or any other intelligent reader.

In the Navy, I often made many of my subordinates quite upset with me for “red-lining”  or marking up in red ink, their written work and making them do it over again to the point where I could understand what they wanted me to know.  I felt that it was NOT my responsibility to wager a “guess”, or make a “safe assumption ” for what was on the writer’s mind or what he/she was “trying to say” when they wrote their words. Over time, some of my guys improved their writing skills; others did not. Command of English and its written use (among other things measured by superiors in military service) are observed and monitored quite often. As such, guess which group I was more willing to recommend for promotion?  And yes, I follow the same “red-line” proofing methods with my teenage son as well. He hates it but after he gets the work right, his work earns a high grade from his teachers!  For the record, I wasn’t a total asshole in the military, nor am I now, with regard to proofing the written work or others. In fact, I always offer alternative methods for re-wording and/or restructuring, as necessary, certain things in someone’s writing. Next to the dictionary, a thesaurus is indeed, a very good friend… as is a person who has considerable experience and skills with writing.  

There is no reason for any high school graduate or one with at least a 2-year college degree, to write or communicate as though they were still in the fifth or sixth grade. Always bear in mind the INTELLIGENCE and possible READING levels of your TARGET readers. You do not necessarily need to write your posts DOWN to their reading level (although sometimes it helps!) but you should always strive to write AT or ABOVE that level – at YOUR level of reading and understanding. If you have enough words in your mental vocabulary and understand how to use them, this will become easy to do the more you write. However, bear in mind this one warning: if you ever attempt to write at a level far higher than your own (and I’m not necessarily referring to your formal education level) it will obviously and adversely appear in your writing! Nobody likes a fraud.

This advice has been given so that you don’t waste time writing and expecting others to read your work only to lose those readers due to them not being able to understand your thoughts and ideas. Do your homework: that is, read over a few times what you’ve just written. Che ck for errors. Change a word or two or re-write a sentence or two.  You should still write as you would orally communicate with others, however there is a very importance and distinct difference between written and oral communication. When speaking to someone, you can change “on the fly”, your use of words, the inflection given to each word, when to pause, etc. ORAL communication also allows for immediate, almost instantaneous feedback from the LISTENER. WRITTEN communication does NOT allow for any of this. Once you’ve submitted something to be read – be that a Facebook post, a blog entry, a text message, or a hand-written short note – those words CANNOT be changed instantaneously! The interpretation of your words – errors and all – is always left to the eyes and mind of the READER, who may or may not be able to ask you, “What the fuck??”

Reading anything should be fun or at least, easy; akin to a face-to-face conversation between speaker and listener. It should never be a chore for the reader to try to figure out what you, the author, is talking about. Be well.”

That’s it, people.  I’ve since added a few things to the message for the purpose of this blog post but the general content is the same. I believe “X” understands that the reason I posted this message here is to help other potential writers as well.
Keepin’ It…REAL!

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