Whom Is Dead

sculpture-3055967_1920There are writing rules that we must never break (like using a serial comma), and there are writing rules that are meant to be broken (or dismissed altogether). Part of being a good writer is to know when to break the rules and when to embrace them.

I am a writer in the legal industry, which means that I work with a lot of highly educated, verbose, and technical people. It is my job to take the concepts that these people wish to communicate and shape them into something that an average Joe could understand.

Doing so involves a lot of energy, but after awhile, you get the hang of it. Especially after having spent four years in the trenches and passing your knowledge on to your burgeoning content team.

Recently, one of said team members wrote a blog post about some rather complicated legal process for the general public. Blog posts usually have a lighter tone and style than, say, an article. Aside from social posts, they’re the most casual form of content that we write at my place of employment.

When he sent it to me for review, he had left a comment highlighting the use of “who” in the post, noting that he was aware it should technically be “whom”, but that it threw off the rest of the piece and made it sound pretentious. He said he would change it if I wanted him to.

But he was right, the proper use of “whom’ would have been jarring to the reader, causing them to stagger and interrupting the otherwise smooth flow of the content.

“Leave it out,” I said. “Whom is dead.”

So, he published the post as usual and continued his day as usual. For about five minutes.

A notification.

A comment.

Great.

One of our subscribers had, seemingly, read the post as soon as it appeared in their email inbox, apparently eager to read content that could quite possibly bore a rock to death.

Not only had she read the post, she had left a comment. Regarding—you guessed it—our misuse of “who”. She explained to us (a team of professional writers) that we had made a typo and proceeded to teach us when to use “who” and when to use “whom”. Shame on us.

As you can imagine, we were very thankful (we weren’t).

Though our hearts wanted to reply with a touch of sass, we curbed our desires and explained why we had used “who” instead of “whom”, letting her know that in modern content, especially for online readers, it is often accepted as a style choice as opposed to a hard and fast rule. She didn’t respond.

“Whom” just happens to be another casualty in the transition from print content to digital content; the formal to the informal; the standard practice to the trend. A rule that is becoming something to be broken instead of followed.

May “whom” rest in peace, along with double-spacing after periods and (much to my personal dismay) cursive writing.

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A Writer of All Trades

resume-1799953_1280While I am relatively content in my current position, I still make an effort to scope out new positions at different companies every once in a while. It never hurts to see what other opportunities are out there, and so this morning, I did just that.

But after looking through the results that came up after searching “Content Manager”, I regret the amount of stress and exasperation that I put myself through at not even 10:00 in the morning. Good grief.

First of all, I saw a position for a Social Media Manager that offered minimum wage. Intrigued, not because I wanted it, but because I was wondering exactly how amazing their company must be to pay someone that little, I clicked the posting. Now, I can’t even remember what the company was or how absolutely wonderful they were (which speaks for itself), but I do remember the requirements for the position.

They wanted someone with excellent written communication skills with experience in Photoshop, CSS, HTML, and JS, as well as a Master’s Degree. Oh, and aside from the responsibilities you would associate with the title, they also wanted someone who could write speeches, prepare reports, and, a little cherry on top for good measure, someone who had management experience. For minimum wage.

Next, I was taken on a different kind of journey. This time, the job title actually matched my search for “Content Manager”. A good sign. The posting was fairly straightforward, but there were a couple of typos, which just goes to show that yes, they really do need a Content Manager.

Since the posting looked relatively interesting, I decided to move onto the next phase of pre-application investigation: I reviewed their website. Oh, boy. Here are some of the issues that I can remember:

  • On their About page, the company name was spelled incorrectly (an obvious typo).
  • They had links to their Team, Websites, and Company pages that just redirected back to the Home page.
  • Their social media links also went back to the Home page.
  • They had nothing on the site to indicate that it was under construction.

While this may not seem as bad as my first finding, I felt it was a bit of a slap in the face. Why? Because the hiring company expects applicants to put in time and effort to apply for this position when they can’t even take the time to ensure that their posting is free of typos and to even mention that their site is in development.

And, as a potential candidate, I was decidedly unenthused after learning that I wouldn’t be able to view their site or social media pages. Something that virtually every applicant will want to do before sending in a resume.

Next was a position from a company that not only spelled the job title incorrectly but that I had worked for in the past, albeit in a different department. I’ll be honest and tell you that I looked at this position mostly out of curiosity and not genuine interest.

Now, this posting was a little more subtle in its faults, but it was a perfect example of how writers, communications professionals, and content leads are expected to “do all the things” in a role that should be specific to their skills.

This job wanted someone who would communicate effectively with clean writing and grammar, develop a cross-country marketing strategy, and create content for online, print, radio, and everything in between, aside from a plethora of other responsibilities.

Now, it doesn’t sound that terrible, I know. But the issue with it lays in the desire to have a writer who can create content for so many different platforms. Yes, we writers are versatile, but just because we know how to write for one medium does not mean we can write in another.

For example, writing for radio is a writing specialization. Certainly, any writer who wishes to can learn how to do it, but it isn’t something that we necessarily just know how to do. It isn’t a ready-made skill that we have in a back pocket, picked up while we took a general communications certification or degree.

Job hunting is hard enough on its own, without all of the garbage job postings and unrealistic expectations these postings seem to be looking for. We are writers. We create content. That does not mean that we can also code a website, design branding, kill it on social media, and essentially run the entire marketing department for a company.

And for those of us who can, minimum wage isn’t going to cut it.

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work Experience

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work ExperienceWe are all aware of the vicious circle that new grads and professionals face—employers want you to have work experience before they will hire you, but you can’t get a job without having experience in your chosen industry.

So, how are you supposed to get work as a writer if you can’t get experience anywhere?

It’s time to use one of those writerly tools that you have hidden away in your back pocket—your creativity. If you can’t find work to put in your portfolio, you’re just going to have to make some for yourself. Because the writing industry is booming with non-fiction postings right now, I’ll focus on how to build your portfolio as an online content creator.

To start, you’re going to have to do some writing that will showcase your skills, whether you’re getting paid for it or not. As someone who has been part of the hiring process for a number of writers, I can tell you that we like to see a variety of pieces, but prefer when at least one is tailored to our industry.

So if you can’t find paid or volunteer work, or what you have done isn’t necessarily relevant or appropriate for the jobs you are applying for, you need to start creating content specifically for your portfolio. That means writing for the sole purpose of having pieces to show potential employers.

Based on what I would want to see, potential topics include:

  • Tech content related to new products, services, news, and more. Pick something that you want to know more about so that at least you are learning something new while writing.
  • Real estate content about landlords, renters, the housing market, DIY projects, selling and buying tips, and first-time buyer and credit information. This is stuff you’re going to have to know at some point anyway, why not start now?
  • Small business and entrepreneurship posts about startups, employment, marketing, and anything in between. You’re basically doing that now if you are trying to start a freelance career, so write about your personal experiences.
  • Industry news and changes related to the places you are hoping to be hired at. Don’t be so specific that you can only use one piece per application, make your content general enough that you can show it to a variety of employers.
  • Writing and editing advice and tips. Show off your skills by working your way towards becoming an influencer in the industry. You can cover things like the technical aspects or talk more about creating a company voice and language.
  • Digital marketing trends. Generally, employers hiring writers now want them to know about SEO and other content-based technicalities. Write about how SEO works, how to use it best, and why it is important.

Aside from writing about these topics, make sure that you showcase your abilities in being a versatile writer. Switch up the type of posts that you are making by writing in a variety of ways, such as:

  • List posts
  • Case studies
  • How-tos
  • Short-form posts
  • Whitepapers
  • Sales focused content
  • SEO heavy pieces

And make sure that you follow best online writing practices with your content, whether you are sending it as a digital attachment or printing it out. That means that you need to make sure that you:

  • Have titles and headers.
  • Break up big chunks of content.
  • Follow best linking practices (specifically regarding anchor text).
  • Use bullet lists.
  • Avoid multiple fonts and overusing bold and italics.
  • Cite sources.
  • Never, ever plagiarize.

Although you aren’t going to be able to say that you wrote this content for a popular website or other online publication, your desire to showcase your skills shows both initiative and determination.

It also shows that, regardless of your lack of experience in the industry, you are fully capable of creating quality content, and that you really do know what you are doing.

Just make sure that you edit carefully and that your samples really are well done. To get an idea of what your dream employer wants in terms of content, spend some time looking around their blog to get a feel for their style and tone before you apply. That will help you to figure out which pieces are best to send them.

And don’t forget to switch up your style between pieces. It’s nice to see versatile writers who can go from sleek, enticing copy, to informational guides, to casual blog posts.

Once you feel that you have enough content, create a digital or printed portfolio, and show recruiters and hiring managers that you have what it takes.

Do you have a portfolio? Do you find it hard to get work as a writer?

I’m on Facebook if you want more.

What Exactly is Poor Writing?

What Exactly is Poor Writing?Any of you who have editing experience can back me up when I say that it is a very tiring process, especially when the piece you are reviewing is poorly written. And while the perceived quality of writing is subjective, there are a few key indicators that it isn’t just you, that the writing itself is the problem.

Poor writing doesn’t necessarily mean bad spelling and questionable grammar. It can refer to the structure and style as well. When reviewing your work, or that of others, be sure to pay attention to the following things to see if the piece just doesn’t mesh with your preferred style, or if it really does need to be reworked.

Beginnings. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, or a paragraph of copy, every piece of writing needs to have an opening line at the very least, if not an entire paragraph or even page. How that beginning is crafted can tell you a lot about someone’s writing skills. Weak beginnings cause readers to lose interest immediately, and they act as one of the most important parts of content.

Transitions. Transitions are when you go from one thought to another. They are what leads the reader from the end of one idea to the beginning of another smoothly so that there is a consistent flow to the writing. Poorly written transitions are jarring and they throw the reader out of the content, causing confusion and backtracking.

Syntax. Syntax is a tricky little beast. It’s more of an ingrained skill than one that you can pick up from studying. It’s the proper structure of sentences and words within them, and while it can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone is using proper syntax, there’s no denying when it is being misused. Poor syntax is confusing, jarring, and hard to read. I relate it to trying to swim through molasses.

Vocabulary. Repetition, lack of variety, and a penchant for either over-complicated or under-complicated word choices are all indications that the content isn’t ready for publication. While every writer has a style (that’s how Rowling was found out when she wrote The Casual Vacancy“), refusing to add a little spice to your content by means of a new word once in awhile can give off a feeling of laziness and amateurism.

Reading level. Reading level doesn’t just mean whether your content should be rated R or not. It means what grade level would be able to read the piece without difficulty. If the content is for a YA audience, then the language should match that. Just as there would be a difference between a blog post and an article for a scholarly journal. If the reading level doesn’t suit the audience, they will either lose interest because the content is too simple, or they will become frustrated because it is too hard to understand.

Punctuation. Surprisingly, punctuation can have a slot all of its own. When you see content that is written like this: “the wind HOWLED!! they couldn’t decide whether: to run or to stay in the cave?”, you know it’s not ready. Poor use of punctuation is a good way to see that the writer doesn’t have a grasp on the basics and that they need to do some more learning before they send anything else to someone for review.

Conclusions. Just like beginnings, there are conclusions to everything. Emails, lines of copy, short stories, research papers, and books. They all have endings, and while endings are never the same, and can be crafted from many different styles, how they are written can leave a reader feeling like they wasted their time.


Any one of these on its own can be a small issue that just needs some polishing, but when you combine a few of them into a single writing sample, it’s fairly easy to see that whatever you are reviewing requires some heavy edits.

The good news is that all of these things can be fixed with healthy doses of reading and writing. Often, I find that the best advice to give when handing back poor writing is to tell the writer to read more. Read pieces similar to what you are trying to create and pay attention to how they handled problem areas.

If you have issues with transitions, look at how other writers navigate through them. Pick up tricks and tools from other content before you take to the keyboard again so that you will already know how to fix your bad habits when they rear their heads.

What’s one of your worst writing habits? How did you fix it? Do you find that reading helps to make better writers?

Find me on Facebook for the good stuff.

Typos: When Are They Acceptable?

Typos and ErrorsTypos. Everyone makes them. Editors, writers, communications professionals, teachers, and just about everyone else in between. They can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright awkward. But sometimes they can do more than cause you to flush and send a quick correction.

Sometimes, typos can make or break a job application, or cause a reader to leave you a negative review. But how do you know when you should do an extensive edit and when you’re OK to worry a little less about the technical side of things? I mean, coming from a writer and editor, it’s just about impossible to produce error-free content every time.

First, let’s start with the difference between a typo and amateur writing. A typo is when you make a mistake, like typing “dacning” instead of “dancing”, or missing a single letter in a word by accident, like “smeling” instead of “smelling”. Common mistakes are acceptable in casual writing, like texts, blog posts, or quick emails to friends.

Amateur writing is when you use “it’s” instead of “its”, or you have trouble figuring out the differences between “to”, “too”, and “two”, or “there”, “their”, and “they’re”. These are the kinds of mistakes that push you below the competition, and send readers off to leave two star reviews after reading a few pages.

If you read my post from a couple of weeks ago, you know that I’ve spent a lot of time over the last month or so reviewing writing samples and resumes to fill a junior writing position where I work. To be honest, we have received a couple of samples that had errors that we were willing to overlook, but only because the quality of the writing was so high and the errors so small.

Even so, if you’re sending out writing that will likely be reviewed by expert readers or writers, you had better make sure that your spelling and grammar skills are up to scratch. A small error or two between a resume, cover letter, and 2-3 samples is understandable. But sending along a sample where your first word is “It’s” instead of “Its” is a little too  much.

The same goes for any kind of creative writing. If you’re scribbling in your journal, typo away! But if you’re either self-publishing or submitting to publishers, you should be certain to take a very, very close look at your writing. Like I’ve said before, if you aren’t willing to put in the time with your writing, why should your readers?

To avoid mistakes and errors that make your writing look poor, try to:

  • Pay careful attention to the beginning and end of your piece, errors stuffed within the content are a bit more understandable and harder to find.
  • Re-read after every edit as making changes can leave behind unintentional errors.
  • Take time between edits and reads so that you don’t hurry through the content out of boredom.
  • Make sure that you take time to learn best spelling and grammar practices, even if it isn’t your thing.

And remember, everyone, even pros, make mistakes. It happens. But if it’s something important, take the time to make the piece shine instead of risking a job offer over a silly typo.

What’s your editing process like? How do you make sure your content has no errors? Have you tried to learn about spelling and grammar from a professional standpoint?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

A Writer’s Notebook

 

A Writer's NotebookWhen I was younger, I would fill journals with poetry. Page after page, in different colors of ink, from well-formed letters to passionately scrawled lines. Then, I used writing as an outlet. It was personal, never meant for anyone else but me. It was the voice that had to stay silent, the one that spoke my truths.

Now, after passing through the teen angst and parting ways with my childhood demons, I write for others. It’s not about letting go of emotions or feelings anymore, it’s about creating something worth sharing with others. I used to be that person that would carry around a notebook and pen everywhere: to work, to school, at home, even to the bar. But that’s when it was for me.

And it isn’t just that I matured, or that I changed, it was also the type of writing that moved on. Poetry called to me less and less, and longer, more complex pieces started to pull at my thoughts and ingrain themselves into mind.

And as my writing matured along with me, pouring my soul into a notebook no longer seemed necessary. Instead of only having a voice on paper, I started to exercise my thoughts in speaking, which gradually changed how important I felt writing tools were to me.

I only use my notebook now to jot down things that I know will take me a long time to get to, or minute details that I want to remember for a future story. I save my laptop for when I am actively immersed in writing a story or a post.

I rely on my memory to keep all of the thoughts and ideas and possibilities stored in folders and files and bins, lightly covered in dust, in the corners of my mind. Of course, this is probably a highly irresponsible way to keep things, but when I have an idea, it has to reach a certain point before it deserves to go on paper, just having the thought isn’t enough for it to deserve a physical form.

What was once something that I couldn’t be parted with no matter the cause, is now something that I use on occasion to keep track of long pieces. The tools that I use are no longer as important to me compared to the value of the idea and the purpose of the content. Though I won’t say no to a nice moleskine, and I did receive a feather quill and ink pot as a gift once (though, as far as I can tell, their only use is in creating Shakespearean-style signatures that banks do not appreciate).

Do you go everywhere with a notebook? What kinds of things do you put in it?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

 

The Feeling of Finishing

The Feeling of FinishingAbout a week ago, I finished a story that I had been working on for close to a year. Though it is one of my longer fiction pieces, it’s still only about 7000 words. To some of you who have written novels, that might not seem like much, but for someone who enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories it’s quite a feat.

Whenever I finish a story, I feel a rather nauseating flood of emotions: relief in having brought a story full-circle, confidence that it is brilliant, fear that it is not, a sense of empty-nest syndrome in having it finally be over, excitement to set it free, and an urge to dispose of it immediately. All of this doused in a ridiculous amount of reticence.

While I may have no qualms about publishing non-fiction content to the masses, both using my blog and at work, it’s a whole different story when it comes to fiction. Writing creatively, to me, is to allow another to gaze into your mind and explore the most private and personal corners of your thoughts. And I don’t mean secrets or the like. I mean writing shows how you think, what you believe, and how you process information and emotions on a personal level.

To share those aspects of yourself with other people can take a great deal of strength, and even more guts. The act of creation, whatever art form it is, is one of the only things that we do inside of ourselves. To write a story is to take the thread of an idea from your head and to weave it into a tapestry of words completely independent of the influence or support of anyone else. It is to make something from nothing but your own self.

And, if I am being honest, the internet has contributed to the fear and anxiety that many writers feel when placing their work in the public eye. With the ability to comment on, critique, and abuse writers while maintaining anonymity, honesty and quality feedback can be lost in a sea of useless, negative garbage.

And it isn’t only the aspiring writers who experience these poisonous comments, the vampire queen Anne Rice herself is leading a battle against these online trolls, specifically in relation to Amazon reviews.

But the feeling of finishing, whether positive or terrifying, should never keep you from giving your art to the world. Polish it, smooth it, spend as much time as you need making it the best it can be, then set it free. Your craft, your words, are not meant to die quietly on a page in some corner in your spare room.

Give them the wings they need to fly and then push them off the branch. Sometimes it will be a rocky start, sometimes it won’t go quite as you planned, but no author ever became successful by publishing the first word they ever wrote. Take the good criticism and use it. Leave the trash behind.

How do you feel when you finish a story? Do you prefer to publish one kind of content over another? What has been your biggest audience?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Self-Editing Tips

Self-Editing TipsA lot of us edit our own work. Sometimes we are the only ones who edit it, and other times, we edit it ourselves over and over before sending it out to someone else for review. The problem with self-editing is that not many who do it are actually trained in editing, so knowing what to look for can be difficult and time consuming.

So, as an editor and writer, I’d like to share some tips and tricks with you so that you can edit more efficiently, or even create a better product.

    1. Become familiar with “Track Changes” in Microsoft Word. This is an editing function that allows for inline edits, inserted comments, and formatting changes. When going over a draft, or having someone else go over one for you, use it. You won’t regret it.
    2. Use “ctrl f”. When you press ctrl and then f, it opens up a search box that will search the text on your page for whatever you’d like. This is especially helpful if you change a name, consistently spell something incorrectly, or know that you made a mistake somewhere. Find it, fix it, and move on.
    3. Use a standard format. That means stick with a regular sized font, double space, and ad page numbers from the very start. It makes editing easier, and whoever you send it to afterwards will love you for it.
    4. Read it out loud. Hearing things can really help you to figure out where there’s any awkward wording or jumpy transitions. If it sounds strange to you when you say it, it needs to be reworked. It can also help in catching small spelling and grammar errors because your eyes won’t just move over them.
    5. Be hard on yourself. If you feel deep down that a passage isn’t working, don’t leave it as is. Work on it until you are satisfied. Spend as much time as you need to make each word fit together.
    6. Don’t expect other people to fix your work. Before you send your work to someone else, it should be the best you think it can be. Don’t send something knowing there are errors or weak sections in it. Polish and smooth your work before handing it off.
    7. If, when editing, you find an issue that you don’t know how to fix, but don’t have time to look into it, mark it with a comment. Go back to it when you have time instead of putting a band-aid on it.

Editing is hard. Whether you are doing it yourself, or having someone else do it for you, it hurts. It’s a long process that can make you feel self-conscious and vulnerable, but ultimately it makes your story better.

It’s important to stick with clarity and consistency while you are writing, so that the editing process is easier later on. Remember to use a thesaurus, avoid repetition, and acknowledge your faults and weaknesses as a writer. Doing so will help you to create a strong piece of writing that comes through the editing process with a lot less red.

What are your self-editing tips? How did you learn to self-edit effectively? Are you comfortable with editing your own work or that of others?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

The Act of Writing

The Act of WritingThe other day, I was discussing different pieces that I have written with my manager. He asked me if some of the content I had written before (print articles for a bridal magazine) wasn’t more exciting than what I am writing now (law, real estate, business, finance, etc.). I had to think about it for a few moments.

Neither topic is really all that interesting to me, to be honest. I’ve never been much for flowers and dresses and so on, and my own wedding was quite a quiet affair. And law is more interesting to me in a way, but I am not writing about law for my own country. I generally write about US law. So, that doesn’t really teach me anything except that US law is terribly confusing.

While considering his question, I came to the conclusion that it isn’t the genre or topic that I enjoy when writing. It is the act of writing in and of itself. I don’t care as much for what the words are saying as how they are put together. I absolutely love reconstructing sentences and paragraphs to shape them into something that makes more sense or that flows more freely.

I suppose this is what happens when you take the skills of a writer and an editor and mash them together. For me, it doesn’t really matter what I am writing, or even if I am the one writing at all, I see shaping the piece as a challenge, as something that I can really delve into.

And oddly enough, it’s often small bits of copy that cause the most trouble. For example, even what will be used for a call-to-action on a business website, such as “Ready to start your free trial?”, or “Know anyone who could benefit from free _____ resources? Pass this along!” can take a lot of time and effort to get right.

It doesn’t matter to me if I am writing or editing fiction, non-fiction, for work, for pleasure; it’s all alike to me. Good writing is good writing in anything. It doesn’t differ between genres or topics. It is the same whether you are writing an informational article about how to purchase business assets or a flash fiction horror story.

Writing well is something that should be built into you as a writer, and it should be ingrained so deeply that even when you leave a note for your significant other, or you write out a grocery list, you should at least entertain the idea of doing it properly. And I don’t just mean the grammatical and spelling parts of writing. I mean knowing how to construct a beautiful sentence. How to arrange one word after the other, like a bouquet of flowers. And then, knowing how to piece many of them together to make a beautiful paragraph, a beautiful story.

This is what I love the most about writing. Not the ideas, not the thrill of someone liking your story, not a compliment or a review. I love building something great. It’s almost like working with something tangible, like puzzle pieces or building blocks that you fit together. The same satisfaction comes when you have produced quality work. You can look at it and know that it is well done. It is smoother than a polished stone. It is the best that it can be.

That feeling is the best part of writing. The act of doing it well is precisely what excites me and what drives me. It allows me to be a versatile and tactical writer, and it keeps me interested and engaged throughout any topic, no matter how boring.

Are you the same, or do you abhor the act of writing? If not the act, what part of writing makes you tick?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.