Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The REAL truth about sloppy writing

The latest nerd-controversy (nerdtroversy?) invovles this article. Basically, the author writes about the declining profits and questionable returns of comic book conventions for comic book artists. As the curtain-puller to her assertions, she posits how "our selfie-obsessed culture" is ruining comic book conventions, and then kinda/sorta throws a little shade at the growing popularity of cosplay as one potential reason for the dimnishing returns of convention success.

This is one paragraph out of a several-paragraph long post. The rest of the post goes into greater detail on other potential factors. It was clear by the time I finished reading the post that the cosplay thing was a throwaway. Perhaps the author was trying to be funny, or maybe she was just having a bad day. But even a half-hearted read of the post reveals that this one little point was not at all the focus of her blog.

But guess which part of her blog is getting the most attention? Here's a clue.

Here's where I come in. This latest issue/discussion/flame war/-gate thingie is not about cosplayers. It's not about comic book conventions. It's not even about business. It's about poor writing.

I'm a professional writer-editor, as well as a mere three months away from a Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins on the subject, so I know the difference good writing can make. I see it everyday. Here's a story from grad school: a couple of semesters ago, this very talented writer with a jones for politics wrote an editorial for our opinion writing & review workshop. In his manuscript, he used several obscure, high-falutin' words. Of the 20-minute roundtable discussion of his work, we spent maybe five of them talking about the actual content of his piece, which was indeed excellent.

The remaining 15 or so minutes were all about the writer's choice of vocabularly. The whole class went back and forth about whether all of these $50 words should or should not be in the piece. The writer himself argued with his peers about it. He loves language, he said. He wanted to use those words because they're great words.

He finally relented when I spoke up. I told him, "If the point of this article is to teach us big words, then great; stick to your guns. But consider this: your piece is actually about this politically-charged subject, yet we've spent how many minutes talking about your choice of words?"

Being 140+ entries deep into this blog, I know firsthand how easy it is to put half-assed, unfiltered garbage out onto the internet. I do it almost every day! Even now, as I write this paragraph, I'm scanning the previous paragraphs and looking at how awful they are and how much shorter and to the point they should be for publication and how I'm now just rambling and wasting words....

Ahem. Thankfully for me, I don't have a high enough readership to ever cause these kinds of shitstorms. I'm actually kind of happy about that. I don't need to worry about the implications of, say, titling my piece "The REAL Truth about whatever," knowing full-well that an opinion backed by a few anecdotes is not fact and writing it in all caps just highlights how wrong it is.

But, hey, this is my blog. That's precisely what I'm supposed to do here: write about whatever, whenever. That's what the author of that blog post did. She didn't write a news article. She didn't even write an editorial or op-ed. She wrote her thoughts and feelings, as she was having them, and that's what came out. And the entire internet (or at least, the sliver of the internet that cares about this sort of thing), looked at that digital spitballing and mistook it for something that actually matters. I promise you, if I were editing that post before it went public, I would have slashed the shit out of that cosplay paragraph, or at the very least re-worded/changed its positioning in the piece to not make it so easy to take out of context.

Here's the bottom line: when it comes to your writing, you have the ability to control the conversation. You do it by the words you choose, the topic you choose, and the way you present your argument. Yes, you can't control everyone; there will always be pundits out there twisting whatever you said into whatever they want to hear. But don't make it easy for them. Watch what you write.

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