A dilemma

What do you do when a client corrects something you know is right and in doing so, makes it wrong?  Do you put it right, because it needs to be right to make them look good?  And if so, how do you do it without embarrassing your client?  Or do you leave it, because “the customer is always right”, even though they aren’t.

I tend to take a view.  If something is a whopping blooper, I re-correct it.  If it’s a spelling mistake, I re-correct it.  If it is some odd thing that’s more about being technically accurate than creating clear, understandable copy; if the copy is just as articulate and the error doesn’t stop the reader in his or her tracks, then I leave it.  Sometimes that goes against my perfectionist streak, but hey, that’s my problem.

The advent of social networking and text-speak has spearheaded a far greater informality in language and many of the more formal grammatical rules and structures seem to have become almost optional.  There’s a right way, but then there’s often another way or several other ways, which are just as clearly understood, even if they are grammatically less than perfect.  As time goes on, the alternative usages cease to be wrong and become tomorrow’s norm and since language is always on the move, why is there anything wrong with this?

Language today is less formal and more rapidly changing than at any time in the past. So, is the job of a humble copy writer to cling perilously to the vestiges of yesterday’s terminology and style, or acknowledge that change happens for a reason and it isn’t always bad and embrace the brave informal new world?

Content is king?

In the UK in days gone by, we used to wrap fish and chip suppers in yesterday’s newspapers. All that news, comment and analysis, covered in salt and vinegar.  So here’s the thing.  Content is interesting.  Sometimes it’s fascinating.  Occasionally, it is ground-breaking.  Often it is spectacularly well written (prompting waves of jealousy from yours truly) and worth reading for the pure pleasure of the words alone. But…. But…. Just how much content do we need in our daily lives?  Are our days the richer for reading it, or the poorer for skipping over it?  Perhaps, sometimes, by skipping over, we might just miss something interesting.  But is that really a crisis?  Will our businesses fold?  Will we lose all our friends?  Will the world come to an end?

One thing is certain; there will be more content tomorrow.

Agnostic? I don’t know

Since when has the word agnostic changed its meaning?

I write often for companies in the technology sector and you see this phrase everywhere these days: platform agnostic. It’s used to mean that it doesn’t matter which hardware or telephony platform you own, the solution in question will work with it. Go back a few years, and the accepted phrase was platform independent – used for software that is independent of any platform constraint, therefore can run on any platform.

Look up agnostic in the dictionary and you’ll see it means unknown or unknowable and  it relates specifically to the existence, or otherwise, of God. What  these misguided corporate marketers are actually saying, is we don’t know, not it doesn’t matter. And I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

So why reinvent the word agnostic to replace a perfectly acceptable term which everybody understood?

I found this article which describes the take-up of the term platform agnostic in recent years. It says what’s happened, but it doesn’t explain why. So I offer this as a thought; every marketer seeks to differentiate. Somewhere, a few years ago perhaps, in a shiny air-conditioned unit on a landscaped Silicon Valley campus, in a 6 foot square cubicle decorated with a thousand colourful giveaway gadgets, gismos and graphics designed to show what a quirky, creative individual the occupant is – a quirky, creative individual without a full grasp of the English language coined what he determined was a new and different way of describing an old and well established concept. His colleagues, none apparently in possession of an English dictionary, congratulated said quirky, creative individual on his quirky creation, and the phrase was launched on the techno-marketing universe.

And I don’t know, but somewhere, in a damp crypt in deepest rural England perhaps, an ancient scholar, a teacher of Latin, a lover of language, from the first or second century, turned silently in his grave.

Jackanory for grown-ups

Some people are purists when it comes to books – nothing other than leafing through paper pages will do.  I see it differently.  Audiobooks enable me to ‘read’ far more than I could otherwise make the time for. For me, audiobooks mean I can enjoy more writing and a wider range of books than I can treat myself to in plain book form.  There’s an added pleasure – that of being read to; of enjoying the way a good narrator adds dimension, drama and emotion to the experience.  It’s Jackanory for grown-ups.

The other morning, engaged in the usual start-of-day repair job on my face, I tuned into my latest audiobook (Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo), to be presented with the last three sentences of the chapter. I nearly poked myself in the eye with my liner.  Drat. It happened again.

It’s the one thing that bugs me about audiobooks; you can’t see when the end of a chapter is coming up.

I listen each morning whilst attempting to renew my menopausally blotchy face with a few coats of war-paint.  I switch off once I’ve achieved all the silky-smooth radiance a bottle of foundation and a tub of powder is ever going to offer me.  Next day, same process, so I return to the audiobook where I left off.  And there they are again, almost every day; those three or four stray sentences – the chapter conclusion just seconds away.

If I were reading a paperback, I’d see the chapter end coming and unless I had no time at all, I’d read right to the end.  But when an audiobook is recorded in sections, where each section comprises several chapters, you get no clues.  And the Grumpy Old Woman in me rails at those stray sentences and pleads one of those “why don’t they” questions….. Why don’t they record audiobooks with tracks that correspond to every chapter?

You’d think it a simple enough task.

Reading and learning

I’m soaking up everything I can find on writing fiction at the moment. OK, that’s not strictly true. There is far more written than I can possibly find the time or energy to read, especially if I want to find some time and energy for… writing. Apparently, much of it is of questionable quality too, so I’m told. But here are a few books I’ve already found helpful:

  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M Bickham. Good advice, practical and entertaining at the same time.
  • Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I’m glad I waded through the impenetrable first half of this much recommended book, because the second half turned out to have some very sound advice.
  • Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff. Easy to digest and good advice from the perspective of a writers’ coach.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Advice on technique from a Master, combined with fascinating biographical insights. A must-read, whatever your preferred genre.
  • Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. Very usable advice, particularly on two major stumbling-blocks for new authors – showing-not-telling and choosing your POVs wisely.

I’m also now reading fiction that doesn’t immediately appeal to me as being “my sort of book”, watching for technique and writerly skills as well as the pleasure of a good story, well told. And on a cold and soggy Sunday and I can think of no better way to pass a few hours than to make a comfortable nest on my sofa, line up a mug of coffee and a biscuit and stick my head in a book.

The thing is…

….. is….. there is no second ‘is’. One ‘is’ is enough!

I’m a bit of a linguistic fusspot and there are one or two little clunkers that really get to me.  The thing is, is this is one of them…. the way people make a big thing out of the word ‘is’…. One ‘is’ really is enough! Unless, of course, we’re in the process of creating a new word….. thingis, as in: The thingis, is we’re mucking up our beautiful language, one little word at a time.

Now I’ve probably spoiled it for you. That little extra ‘is’ will be jumping out at you from every radio interview and TV vox-pop you encounter, from friends and family, colleagues and customers, maybe even from your own lips….

The thing is, it might just make a few people do away with that little surplus-to-requirements word.

So am I a writer?

I’ve loved writing and the written word ever since my school days.  I used to relish the challenge of essays and lengthy exam responses.  Over the years I’ve honed my skills on a slew of erotic vignettes (they spiced-up a diverting if unconventional relationship), more letters of complaint and pleas for better service than I could ever recall (I am an acerbic and uncompromising Angry of Tunbridge Wells) and a couple of lengthy and impassioned diatribes (hours wasted deconstructing failed relationships).

Today my paid-for work includes writing sales proposals and every type of business communication.  If it needs words, I can rise to it.  Space issues or word counts?  No problem. Formal or cheery?  Technical or salesy?  Humorous, ironic or earnest?  Whatever you want.  I find it absorbing to develop documents in different styles which address all sorts of audiences.  Absorbing enough, but if I’m honest, it doesn’t exactly excite me.

I’ve lately become intrigued by the idea of writing stories.  I want to find out if I can evolve my commercial writing abilities to craft entertaining, saleable fiction.  I began by writing three short stories and I submitted one to a magazine competition.  It won first prize and with the cheque for £200 came the first, very small sign, that this story-writing idea might not be a totally absurd notion.

So I pressed on, and now I’m around 45,000 words into what I’ve been calling my writing project.  It’s very much a work-in-progress – a learning-in-progress.  If it were a marathon, this would still be the first fresh-faced mile or two; to call it my novel still sounds far too agonisingly pretentious.