A Wordsmith’s Guilt

A Wordsmith's GuiltA good chunk of you know that I am not shy about admitting my writing mistakes. There are very few wordsmiths in existence who could claim to never ever question a word or complicated punctuation. Editors have style guides and dictionaries for a reason, and I assure you that they are well-used. You may be surprised to know that many professionals editors and writers have the same difficulties as those who write or edit as a hobby. We don’t just have trouble with severely complicated content.

And just because I am not shy about admitting that I make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel terribly guilty about some of them as someone who spends so much time honing their writing and editing skills.

The words and technical issues that I personally find the most daunting include:

Affect/Effect. I generally get this right now, but I still have to stop and remind myself which is the correct form prior to typing it out. No matter how many times I try to get myself to remember which is for what, I fail, so I just remember some trick with the “a” and the “e”.

Peruse: Every time I go to spell this word, I spell it “puruse”. That doesn’t even make sense. It follows virtually no English spelling rules.

Hierarchy: This one I can spell just fine, but I despise having to say it. The double “r” syllables get me every time.

Separate: I spell this as “seperate” every time. Every bloody time.

Plural Possessives: Why do these even exist? Why can’t they be their own separate words? Seniors’, Families’, and Farmers’ are words that I despise so much, I will avoid writing them if possible. I will completely rewrite a piece of content in order to stay away from the torture that these words give to me.

Capitalization: This is more of a style choice, but I hate having to make it. All caps, some caps, no caps? Consistently, only for certain titles/CTAs, or apply at random? It’s fine for one off things, but for an entire company, or even just an email campaign? Painful.

Limiting my Vocabulary: When you write the same kinds of content over and over, you start using the same words over and over. For example, when you write about real estate a lot, you begin to use “property”, “house”, and “home” intermittently. This is bad because you limit yourself to those words without exploring other options. If you are bored when you are writing, your writing will be boring.

Commas: I feel like no one actually knows all of the comma rules. I feel like it is impossible to know. In school, we were taught to use commas as pauses, but then in university I was told that that is incorrect. Then I was given a giant book full of comma rules that, though  I read the pages, never actually stuck. I have a good understanding of commas, and where they are supposed to go, but I think of them like salt and pepper: too much and you will ruin everything, not enough and you will have no flavour.

There are more, but I feel like I have admitted enough of my shortfalls today. It’s actually quite cleansing in a way, to admit that though you are a professional, you still make mistakes just like everyone else. Of course, I should be held to higher standards since I claim to have expertise, but if I were to know everything there wouldn’t be any point in reading or writing left, would there?

What are you guilty of? What words drive you mad, and which punctuation rules do you fail to grasp no matter how many times you learn them?

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13 thoughts on “A Wordsmith’s Guilt

  1. I don’t have guilt with spelling troubles and whatnot, mostly just frustrations. Well sometimes I have trouble with effect/affect and I do feel guilty about that, but otherwise it’s just frustrations.
    Contrariwise, I have immense pride that I can spell “simultaneously” correctly on my own now…used to always spell it so badly spellcheck had no idea what I was even trying to go for.
    Oh…there WAS that one instance when I was a lot younger where I couldn’t think of the word “protruded” and instead used repeatedly in its place the word “produced”. I was describing noses. Things got awkward. Around the same time, I also mixed up “foreshadowing” and “foreboding”. Good times.

    • We’ve all had those awkward moments. Once, in a writing forum, before I had taken copy editing, I was trying to think of the word “warrant” but used “wardened” instead. That still makes me blush. And unfortunately, the internet can be a terrible place to make such a mistake. But, at least we both know that we aren’t alone now! 🙂

  2. On the subject of ‘writers’ mistakes’, the only mistake I make consistently is getting out of bed in the morning. There’s hardly a day goes by I don’t plop myself down in front of my computer and say to myself, “This is a mistake, Steve”. Then I get out of the chair (my second mistake), shuffle to the kitchen for a second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee; anything to keep from going back to that damn chair to stare at that gawd awful blank page.

    • When I try to force myself to write I find it painful, so I don’t so that. I just write when I feel like I need to, instead of setting expectations for myself. Of course, opinions vary on the usefulness of that, with some authors even saying that it’s better to write garbage than to write nothing, but I disagree. If I am going to write, I want it to be a piece worth reading, so don’t be so surprised when you expect something and it doesn’t come. 🙂

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