fellowship word geek

Guest Post: NobodysReadingMe on Subbing

I have a treat for my readers– guest posts scattered from today till the end of the month! They are all awesome writers who I missed in the last run.

It’s fitting that the first post belongs to Duncan, because he is the first person I asked.  You might know Duncan already from his blog, NobodysReadingMe, which is a misnomer because I am in fact reading him– and you should, too! 

http://nobodysreadingme.wordpress.com/

With no further ado, here he is with some advice for writers!

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I must have been very wicked in a past life, I think. Very naughty indeed, despite my current blameless existence as a paragon of virtue and clean living. I’ve been forced to this conclusion by some of the events of this past week. In particular, I have been asked to do some sub-editing for a new local magazine where I live. I agreed with a light heart and a gentle smile. How hard can it be, I thought? I used to make my living editing scientific documents, often with some very very obscure and clever concepts involved. A few hundred words about a local fete or such couldn’t be that hard, surely?

I’m here to tell you that it can be very hard work indeed. It’s close to an extreme sport. The reason is quite straightforward. Lots of people are incapable of writing a coherent sentence. When I was at Dotheboys Hall, back when dinosaurs were still waiting to evolve, I was taught the basics of writing a sentence. A sentence requires a subject and a predicate. The predicate consists of a verb, so the subject actually does something, and may involve an object, to which the subject does something. Easypeasy lemon squeezy eh? Cinch. The cat sat on the mat. There you go.

Unfortunately, it seems as if these simple skills have now passed into obscurity. With some of the items I was editing I genuinely didn’t have a clue what the authors were attempting to impart. A relatively simple article about the local racecourse became impenetrable. I just had to wing it and hope for the best.

There was an additional problem. Nobody seems to realise that the use of multiple exclamation marks does not increase the emphasis on a particular point. A row of them simply makes you look like a moron. This also applies to the use of BLOCK CAPITALS IN BOLD ITALIC!!!!!!!!! You simply come across as a tyro if you pull that stunt.

It helps also if you can spell. I’m a bit fat thumbed myself, and am prone to the odd typo. However, I have found the spell-check function key (F7 if you don’t know,) and I use it assiduously. It’s still possible to miss things, or get it wrong, but at least I make the effort. I don’t see it’s that hard to do. But what do I know? It’s also possible to check for double word spaces. Everybody can do it with a word processing program. Anybody can, but most of the people I’ve been editing this week didn’t bother.

What else? I’m a bit old fashioned I suppose, but I’m a believer in punctuation. It’s useful. However, it’s not useful if you try to write sentences that are an entire paragraph in length. The reader will lose the will to live well before the end, however many commas and dashes and parentheses you use.

One last whinge. If you use more than one typeface, then you run the risk of your lovingly crafted piece of writing looking like a scrap metal merchant’s handbill. Just say no.

That’s a sound piece of advice, come to think of it. If someone asks you to do some subbing for a local magazine, just say no. It’s a thankless task.

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Let Duncan know how impressed you are by him– because I only asked him for this guest post 12 hours ago!  Stop by and check out his writings, too- be generous with your rawr LOVE!

What other skills have passed to obscurity? Do you agree or disagree with any of Duncan’s thoughts here?

47 comments

    1. Not a fair comparison. Facebook is intended to be an informal forum. Yes i do get irritated by the exclamation marks over there, and by the fact that people see fit to tell me they had scrambled eggs for breakfast, but that is the nature of the beast.

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  1. I have never been first, this is a first, to comment first. Did I just use the word first too many times?
    Subbing is difficult, no matter where you are stepping in. It takes the ability to take skills you know you have and have them tried by fire. This is because everything that you think you know goes straight out the window in another environment.
    I ought to know, I am a substitute teacher. I sub from babies all the way up to high school students. Some days are great. Others, well, I come home and wonder, “what was I thinking saying yes to that?” But I have been doing this for many, many years now.
    What I like about it is the ability to say YES or NO, depending upon my schedule of other stuff and my mood. What I love about it are the non tangible rewards; a drawing from a preschooler, a older child telling me I have a pretty name and a hug from anyone.
    Please be kind and don’t take a big, fat red pen to my sentences; I think they are okay.

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      1. No worries, first is just an arbitrary and necessary placement. 🙂 You are the finest second comment I’ve ever seen. 😀

        You’re right about subbing! I do web design and marketing such, and one of my big rules is that I never do “footprint design”… which is my word for subbing. It does offer a luxury, but it can be a maddening experience, as well! I have a lot of respect for those who sub professionally!

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  2. I am far from perfect but I do appreciate good grammar and some semblance of punctuation. I have a habit of making corrections as I read and have had to put a stop to that.
    Finally, someone who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.

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  3. Books may be a part of those objects that have fallen into obscurity. Do you remember books? Those paper things with words written on them? Weird, huh? This was WAY before the internet and computers and even spell-checker. Books are so obscure now they have joined the nostalgia fashion trend of many a hipster and are being reused as furniture and other recycled things. Yes, the book. The BOOK! I know many of us who like to humor ourselves by deeming what we do writing, never though this would happen; but did anyone ever think the book would become obscure? They’re are as strange now (to the newer and upcoming generations) as those places where they used to warehouse books. . . ? What were they called? Oh YEA!!!!! (multiple exclamation use just to illustrate the emotive point). They were called Libraries. 😀

    Off to click the links to make a liar out of Duncan and his nobody reads me claim. 😀

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    1. Hi. I only just picked up this comment. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of books have been greatly exaggerated. Book sales are currently at an all time high.. Yes there are lots of Kindles and other e-readers in use (for which I’m grateful since I publish a lot of fiction online) but good old paper and ink retains a place in readers’s hearts

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  4. No excess exclamations? Oh, oh. I fail. A lot. See I fail in more than one way. Short sentences that have no verbs. What was I thinking?!

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  5. But, but, but… without my odd punctuation, and my run-on sentences how can I adequately express the stream of consciousness flow of my thoughts as they tumble from my head onto the page?!?!?!
    Also, spelling is for the weak. Who has time in our fast paced life to worry about such trivial matters?
    Finally, sentence structure? Really? What does that have to do with anything? Our world is filled with twitter speak, 4 real. Y u no know that? Srsly!

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  6. I love what you did with the Hopper painting nice touch. And superb choice for a guest writer. Sir Duncan you rock 🙂

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  7. Were they using an old fashioned typewriter or something? Most software programs will alert you if your sentence structure is not correct and automatically highlight spelling errors. How can someone turn in a document in this day and age that doesn’t at least have these easily identifiable issues resolved?

    To some degree I understand if a person is writing to illustrate their personality in the piece, then maybe sentence structure and punctuation could be understandable, but spelling errors?

    I feel your pain.

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  8. I absolutely agree with Duncan on every point. I was the Life Styles editor for my college paper and I still remember how shocked I was at the number of undergrads who hadn’t mastered basic English skills. And sadly, most of the major editing I did was on work put out by English and journalism majors.
    Manners, manners have gone by the wayside. Here is one instance: I ride the bus occasionally and I have seen the disabled and elderly standing while young, healthy people sit without an ounce of decent guilt. Makes one wonder what their mothers taught them.

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    1. Manners have gone by the wayside! I’m a bit of an etiquette nut myself and I’m constantly surprised at the stuff that people don’t even know. It’s one thing to choose not to practice it… it’s another to be totally flummoxed by the idea of standing up to give a seat to those less able to stand.

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    1. Haha, well, he’s gentle with my posts, so I’m sure he’s gentle with others. I think there’s a mild difference between something written for friends, and something written for a magazine! 🙂

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    2. I take some colossal liberties with the English language. However, i can only do that it I know how it works in the first place. Writing as you speak? That’s fine and dandy. I think one of the secrets of writing effective dialogue is to listen carefully to how people speak and then emulate it. It may not look much like formal English, but conversations don’t follw the rules in the same way that written English does.

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  9. Great choice for a guest post. I’m sure you may offend some who might protest in the name of creative freedom. It has taken me a few years to change my mindset about good grammar and punctuation. I figured, if people are able to publish and have such wide readership in spite of the run-on sentences, verb-less and/or subject-less sentences, the “novel” usage of punctuation, well, maybe the trend is towards more informal or relaxed speech. You have suddenly called upon all these to a screeching sobering halt, Duncan. And yes, damn auto-correct! If only I could correct comments I’ve posted without my eyeglasses on…

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