An Opinion Piece

rogersgeorge on September 24th, 2017

Two of my rules about good writing are to be clear and correct, the latter partly meaning to follow the rules of grammar and spelling. We call these rules the mechanics. I even proofread my emails and seldom abbreviate even my grocery lists (ahem, whenever I write one).

I even have a sixth rule, to write for your readership, and here I must depart a bit from correctness. There’s a place for variation in writing style. On the one extreme, we have passages like the Olive Leaf Petition I mentioned two posts ago, addressed to King George III, and on the other extreme, well, I’ll let this 9 to 5 comic speak for itself, and for me:

Sigh, I hate to say it, but he has a point.

I generally write these posts in advance, so sometimes another comic comes along that also makes my point. Case in, um, point:

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About flow and other things

rogersgeorge on November 19th, 2013

A couple weeks back I got a comment from someone who looked like a spammer, but the comment, rather than being a vague compliment, it was a pretty good legitimate question about writing. So I figured it might be an actual person who wanted to actually sell actual ladies’ underwear, so I replied. Turned out the gmail address bounced, so I deleted the comment.

The question had to do with having trouble getting started writing, and wondered if I would share how I managed to not waste time waiting for the mood to strike.

Not being one to waste a perfectly good comment about writing, I share it herewith:

I’m not sure your question is legit, considering your user name, but the problem you describe is a real one, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

It takes your brain ten to fifteen minutes to get into a state we call flow. That fifteen minutes is normal, so it’s not really being wasted. Think of it as warming up your car engine on a cold day. You can shorten the time somewhat by developing a ritual before you start actually writing. Get your coffee (or whatever) ready, the chair arranged, and so on. Doodle a bit, or jot down random ideas related to what you want to write about. Before you know it, you’ll look up and an hour or more will have passed!

That person missed some good information by being bogus. Flow is an important part of writing.

By the way, the process of writing has gotten a bit easier with the advent of tools like word processors. Editing is so much easier now, because it’s so easy to insert things in the middle of what you’ve written. I like to write “sideways,” not beginning to end. I start out with whatever comes to mind, then go back later and add things that occur to me. Especially at first, I don’t worry about what order things should be. Resist the temptation to make minor fixes, too. Just get a lot of stuff down. Include notes about looking up things that you don’t know for sure. Include sentence fragments. Include topics, headings, metadata. Include actual content.

When the time feels right (when you have the content pretty much down; at least referred to), sit back and move things around. More ideas will occur to you; put them in. Presently you will feel like you have the content and organization fairly well in place.

Now take a break. At least several minutes, overnight is better. When you return to the writing, you’ll be amazed at what else you think of. Make the changes. About now you can start cleaning up the mechanics, too.

When you’re fairly satisfied, take another break.

Now go over it meticulously for mechanics: grammar, punctuation, SV-agreement, spelling, and all the rest. At least twice. Get someone else to do a proofread. Never let something out with bad mechanics! I’ve read several articles, even novels, (—online. Apparently the ones that end up on real paper get proofread by professionals) that were interesting and maybe accurate, but they were laden with simple mistakes and it gave the lie to their competence with the content.

You wouldn’t wear perfectly good underwear if it were dirty, would you? Then be sure your writing is clean.

The latest internet marketers’ goof

rogersgeorge on September 18th, 2009

Internet marketers are infamous for being careless about their writing. They say, “Hubba hubba, get the message out, don’t get hung up on the details” (I’m not quoting anyone, but this is a common message). Ever hear the saying, “The devil is in the details”? When you are careless about little things, you advertise (true or not) that you are careless about big things.

This seems to be the mistake du jour:

Peek—to look at something, especially in a secretive manner. A Staples ad in my inbox has it right: They want me to take a sneak peek at their latest ad. I’m not distracted by any bad writing, so I’m free to be curious. Maybe I’ll take a look when I finish this tirade against  people shooting themselves in the foot.

Peak—The top of a mountain, the best of something. I see an email subject at this moment: the guy wants me to peak at some DNA. Its PEEK, folks!

Pique—to arouse, especially interest or curiosity. One doofus recently wanted to peek my interest in his product. Not from an illiterate, thanks.

These are second-grade words (okay, maybe “pique” is ninth grade). Advertise your products, not your ignorance!


I hope you have something to say about this. Leave a comment. If you’re motivated to improve your writing, fill in the form on the right to learn some ways to make sure you don’t commit these atrocities.

First or Foremost?

rogersgeorge on August 10th, 2009

Okay, perhaps this distinction is falling into disuse (the people who like to be pretentious are winning), but if you make this distinction in your writing, your writing will be tighter, less pretentious, and easier to read.

Prior—ahead in order of importance. Think of the phrase, “takes priority,” which still conveys this meaning. ” I’d agree with you, but that would contradict the court’s prior ruling.”

Previous—ahead in order of time. (This word’s teammate is “before.”) “Your previous statement led me to believe you were kidding.”

If you use “previous” or “before” to refer to something that happened beforehand, instead of “prior,”  no one will notice that you used the simpler word, but your writing (and speaking) will flow more smoothly and it’ll have a bit more punch.