George Orwell, the visionary author of 1984 and Animal Farm, had a real passion for the English language. Not only did he use it to great effectiveness in his writing, he defended what he considered the attack on -- and degeneration of -- the words he held so dear.His take on the issue is timeless, and worth remembering, so we'll hand it over to George to explain it.
"Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to airplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
"Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers."
By Steve Boudreault
Here's a little gem that's been floating around the interwebs. As always, if you've already seen it, apologies. But if you haven't, read on.Playing off the popularity of the Chilling Two-Sentence Horror Stories, the challenge here was to create a scary story that was only five words long. Twenty-one examples emerged, and while the fear factor varied, some of them are legitimately terrifying. Enjoy, if you dare ...1. Your browser history is public.2. Living alone, toilet was warm.3. We lost Internet access. Forever.4. Hard drive failed, no backups.5. On heavy medication, sleep deprived.6. Redtube clip shared to Facebook.7. George Martin dies; book unfinished.8. Alone in bed. Blanket shifts.9. Strangers. Friends. Lovers. Strangers again.10. Wife screams, at her funeral.11. You didn't kill that spider.12. She lied about birth control.13. Wake. Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.14. You awoke suddenly, buried alive.15. Last person alive hears knocking.16. Her heart stopped. She didn't.17. That door was just closed.18. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Monday.19. Narrow staircase, no shoes, Legos.20. Just saw my reflection blink.21. It enjoys watching you sleep.
This has been floating around the interwebs for a little bit, so if you've already seen it, apologies. But if you haven't, be prepared to sleep with the light on tonight.Over on reddit, someone posited the question, "What is the best horror story you can come up with in two sentences?" Now on the surface, two sentences doesn't sound like a lot, but the folks who wrote these maximized their limited space and came up with some that are creepy as shit. Have a look and see if you don't agree.1. I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror again.
2. The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her long rotting nails through my chest, her other hand muffling my screams. I sat bolt upright, relieved it was only a dream, but as I saw my alarm clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.
3. Growing up with cats and dogs, I got used to the sounds of scratching at my door while I slept. Now that I live alone, it is much more unsettling.
4. In all of the time that I've lived alone in this house, I swear to God I've closed more doors than I've opened.
5. A girl heard her mom yell her name from downstairs, so she got up and started to head down. As she got to the stairs, her mom pulled her into her room and said "I heard that, too."
6. She asked why I was breathing so heavily. I wasn't.
7. My wife woke me up last night to tell me there was an intruder in our house. She was murdered by an intruder 2 years ago.
8. I awoke to the sound of the baby monitor crackling with a voice comforting my firstborn child. As I adjusted to a new position, my arm brushed against my wife, sleeping next to me.
9. I always thought my cat had a staring problem -- she always seemed fixated on my face. Until one day, when I realized that she was always looking just behind me.
10. There's nothing like the laughter of a baby. Unless it's 1 a.m. and you're home alone.
11. I was having a pleasant dream when what sounded like hammering woke me. After that, I could barely hear the muffled sound of dirt covering the coffin over my own screams.
12. "I can't sleep," she whispered, crawling into bed with me. I woke up cold, clutching the dress she was buried in.
13. I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, "Daddy, check for monsters under my bed." I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, "Daddy, there's somebody on my bed."
14. You get home, tired after a long day's work and ready for a relaxing night alone. You reach for the light switch, but another hand is already there.
15. I can't move, breathe, speak or hear and it's so dark all the time. If I knew it would be this lonely, I would have been cremated instead.
16. She went upstairs to check on her sleeping toddler. The window was open and the bed was empty.
17. Don't be scared of the monsters, just look for them. Look to your left, to your right, under your bed, behind your dresser, in your closet but never look up, she hates being seen.
18. My daughter won't stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night. I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn't help.
19. After working a hard day, I came home to see my girlfriend cradling our child. I didn't know which was more frightening, seeing my dead girlfriend and stillborn child, or knowing that someone broke into my apartment to place them there.
20. There was a picture in my phone of me sleeping. I live alone.
Yesterday I was writing a piece for a client, and I was really cranking on it. You know that great feeling when you're working on something and you hit that groove? It's heavenly.The ideas were flowing and the words were pouring from my brain to my fingertips to the keyboard, and I had just typed "Above all, don't forget to ... " when someone interrupted me. To be fair, it was about something reasonably important, and I spent a few minutes putting out that particular fire. But when I came back to continue writing, I stared blankly at the last line I'd written and could not for my life figure out what I'd been about to say.It seemed pretty important, too. Something you should never forget. I reread the lead-in paragraph, looking for context clues, but there weren't any. I was about to go off on a tangent, and because I'd come un-grooved, I had no clue where that tangent was headed or what point I was going to make.This has to be the bane of every writer -- the interruption. Perhaps other writers are more skilled than I when it comes to picking up the thread, but man, that unexpected break can really thwart some great prose.Then comes the killer -- trying to finish that thought with something that may or may not have been the original idea, but probably isn't. It's like trying to stuff a marshmallow into a piggy bank. It may fit, but it sure isn't pretty. And then you mourn all of that great copy that would have been created from your original groove.I should note that I was able to write this blog about interruptions with no interruptions and get all my points across just the way I wanted to. Score!By Steve Boudreault
In a delicious twist, I was going to skip this week’s blog because I simply didn’t have time to write it. Which got me thinking about how tough it is to find time to write. Which inspired me to write it anyway, irrespective of the time constraints. So here we are.
I know a lot of writers, and I don’t know how any of you do it. I mean, if you’re getting paid to write, I get it. That’s your job and you can devote eight to 10 hours a day to it. But those of you who write for pleasure and post your daily word counts … I just don’t know how you do it. I know why you do it, make no mistake. I just don’t know how.
“Well,” I’ve been told, “you make the time.” How do you make time? Time is time. And if you’ve got kids you need to take care of, and/or any sort of social life, and/or anything else in the world you like to do (watching TV, for example) or need to do (going to the gym), how can there possibly be time left over to write?
And even if you do have a chunk of time when you’re not raking leaves, running errands, paying bills, Facebooking, or anything else, aren’t you exhausted? Wouldn’t you much rather nap than write? Like I said, I simply don’t know how you do it.
It seems to me that the perfect writer is single with no kids, a hermit, and independently wealthy. But what are the odds that a person fitting that description would be the least bit interested in writing, let alone be good at it? Astronomical. But if I’ve just described your circumstances, more power to you.
So I’ve managed to make the time to write about not being able to make the time to write. But seriously, that’s all I have time for. Well, maybe one more thought -- to all my writer friends who somehow make it happen, keep making it happen!
By Steve Boudreault
There are plenty of pros and cons to being a freelance copywriter. Every copywriter knows that. But one of the biggest perks is being able to write something, send it to your client, and wash your hands of it. Unless they request a massive rewrite, you’ve given birth to that particular baby and put it up for adoption, and that’s that.
Being a copywriter in a company is a horse of a different color. Often times you’ll write something and hand it off to the next person in the chain -- a senior writer, a creative director, someone who will keep it moving through the system. They’ll make changes to it, and then the next person will make changes to it, and then the client will invariably make changes to it, and by the time it circles back to you -- if it ever does -- you can’t recognize a single word you wrote at the start. It’s been sanitized, homogenized, rewritten just enough so that someone else can take credit, client-ized, mutilated, spindled, devoured, and shat back onto your desk. It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling to see your work treated in this manner.
Of course, no copywriter expects their first draft to be a final draft. There are always tweaks to be made, and even the best copywriters will make edits to copy after letting it sit for a day or so. But there’s no happy ending when it comes to copy by committee. If it comes back unrecognizable but better, you feel like a failure. If it comes back unrecognizable but worse, you feel like you wasted your time.
So what’s an in-house copywriter to do? There’s only one reasonable solution, and that’s to do what the freelance copywriters do: let it go. Wash your hands of it. Accept that you’ve done your best and that there are forces beyond your control that are going to mess with your stuff no matter what. Find outlets for your writing where you can say whatever you want without input. And take plenty of deep breaths.
By Steve Boudreault
It’s probably safe to say that every great writer was once a great reader. It’s hard to imagine someone sitting down and committing the time and effort to writing something meaningful without first having been inspired by someone else’s writing.
But writing is just like any field — no matter how inspired one is by the greats, there will be always be extraordinary writers, good writers, and folks who were just never cut out to be writers.
Early in my career as a proofreader, I got my hands on a manuscript, the title and author of which I will take to my grave. Calling this thing a piece of shit would be charitable, and actually insulting to pieces of shit. It was the worst, most God-awful piece of writing — if one could even call it that — I’ve ever read in my life. And the poor guy who sent it to me for an edit was next planning to submit it to publishers. I did my best to tell him that it — *ahem* — needed work, but in his mind he was already spending his royalty checks, so I let him be.
The takeaway here is that the author — again, if we can call him that — in question had no idea how terrible he was. Most people don’t. To be fair, many extraordinary writers don’t know how talented they really are, nor do the good ones know they’re good. But at least those people aren’t wasting their time. Or anyone else’s.
The trouble with bad writers is that it’s so hard to tell them just how bad they are. You don’t want to be responsible for crushing someone’s dream, but you don’t want to be any more responsible for hearing “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Can bad writers become good writers? I’ve seen it happen. But it means following an incredibly tough road — writing something, putting it out there, and accepting honest criticism. It’s certainly not for everybody, but if writing’s what you love and you want to get better at it, it’s the only way.
One last thought on the topic of bad writers: I myself was once a terrible writer. I can’t even stand to read most of my old stuff. Am I good now? I can’t answer that with any objectivity, but I can say this for sure — I’m a hell of a lot better.
By Steve Boudreault
One of the toughest relationships to build in the editorial world is the one between the writer and the editor. You would think that two people with a love for the written word would have a natural understanding of one another, but that’s rarely the case. And unless you’ve been on both sides of the fence, it’s really hard to see it from both perspectives. So here’s a little insight.
From the writer’s perspective:
Creating the written word comes easier to some than to others, but generally speaking, writing is tough, arduous (but eminently rewarding) work. Sometimes a writer can spend hours, days, weeks, or an eternity coming up with the exact word, the exact phrase, the perfect sentiment to capture the moment, the feeling, or the subtlety they’re trying desperately to convey. And now along comes an editor, with no knowledge of the roller coaster the writer’s been on, and they hack and slash with their red pen, trying to destroy what the writer worked so long to create. Not only is it infuriating for the writer, it plants the seed of doubt -- after all that, was the passage really crap after all?
From the editor’s perspective:
An editor spends his or her entire life fixing errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The higher level editors spend their lives trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear -- that is to say, taking a batch of copy and doing whatever it takes to give it a logical flow and construction and make it shine. And then invariably the writer steps in and says, “No, we can’t change that. Keep it as it is.” So now, in the middle of a carefully edited and polished piece, is a clunky sentence that stands out like a cockroach on a wedding cake. And who’s going to take the blame when the readership starts stumbling over it? Not the writer, no. They’re infallible. The only question that will be asked is “Why didn’t the editor catch this?”
That’s why trust is so important between the writer and the editor. If they can work together, have a little give and take on what’s really important, what works, and what doesn’t, then everybody wins. Generally speaking, writers aren’t out to vilify editors and editors aren’t out to ruin a writer’s writing. Everyone just wants the best final piece possible. And once trust is established, that’s what everyone gets.
By Steve Boudreault
When you make the decision to dip your toe into the editorial world – and here’s hoping you do – you have to make a fundamental choice early on. Are you going to create the words, or are you going to fix them?
I’ve seen every type of scenario imaginable when it comes to writing and proofreading, and there are only two that are ideal: when a talented writer is writing for a living, and when a talented proofreader is proofreading for a living.
Here’s what can happen when things go wrong.
- I want to be a writer so I’ll start as a proofreader. This is far and away the most common situation, and the most frustrating for the editorial department. If you’re honest about your intent to use proofreading as a stepping stone, why would the proofreading department want you? You’re already planning your exit! And if you’re disingenuous, you’re only going to piss off your fellow proofreaders when you leave, and that is not something you want to do.
- I want to be a proofreader so I’ll start as a writer. This never happens.
- I choose to be a writer; proofreaders are bottom-feeders. Harsh as it may sound, there is some truth to this statement. Proofreaders are bottom-feeders in the sense that if there are no writers, there’s nothing for proofreaders to do. Still, an attitude like that will not ingratiate you to your editors, who can make or break you at their whim.
- I’m a proofreader, and I could write better than this. Even I’m guilty of this one – you read the copy looking for errors and it suddenly dawns on you that the writing is shit. You naturally assume that since you have a passion for words and an ability to spot shitty writing, you’d make a better writer than the writer. Trust me, it may look easy, but writing is hard. Really, really hard. Just because you think you can write better doesn’t make it so.
- I hate proofreaders. This would be the battle cry of the tired and cranky copywriter who just got back his or her copy marked up in copious amounts of red ink.
- I hate copywriters. This would be the attitude of the proofreader who just spent hours and hours thumbing through dictionaries and thesauruses to try and make heads or tails of what the copywriter is trying to say.
- I’ll do both. It’s not often you run across someone who’s an equally skilled proofreader and copywriter, but it happens. If you’ve got both skills, go for it. Just don’t fall into the trap of being the only proofreader for your copy. Get some fresh eyes.
- I’ll do neither. This is perhaps the greatest gift you can give the editorial world. If you have enough self-awareness to know that you stink at writing and you stink at proofreading, then choose another career path with our heartfelt blessing. There’s always politics.
By Steve Boudreault