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Location: Northern California

Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Thursday, August 25, 2005


My thoughts about good writers

Has this ever happened to you? You write an almost complete and superbly verbose blog entry in your head at some ungodly time of the night, usually 3 AM or whenever your chubby muffin (and I'm referring to your baby not your, ahem, significant other) woke you up, but you decide not to get up and write it at the computer because it's so good that OF COURSE you won't forget it. It's so good that you can barely fall asleep with thinking about it. But then you do fall asleep and when you wake up you can't even remember your own name let alone the topic of the worlds most profound and enlightening blog entry.

Last night I was contemplating my future as a writer when suddenly something very important starting making sense to me. Like a phoenix wobbling upwards from the jumbled mess in my sleep-deprived brain, I had an epiphany so great that it could grace an inspirational poster.

I wish I could remember it.

But as I sit here pounding away at the keyboard, some of it is coming back to me. The gist of what I was thinking last night is this:
  • A good writer writes for her audience
  • A good writer edits her work (or has an editor)

  • When I was employed as a technical writer, the first thing I thought about when I contemplated a new manual was “Who is my audience?" What was the level of their expertise with the software? What was it safe for me to assume about their knowledge, therefore, what could--or should--I omit from my manual in order to keep word count to a minimum and my reader's interest at a maximum?

    As a technical writer, I did not have much freedom for word play. There are certain styles and guidelines technical writers follow--some industry-specific, some company- or department-specific. Software manuals are reference manuals and as witty a writer as you may be, Joe User does not want to wade through your insidious prose to find out that he needs to click Ctrl-Shift-T to move from the wacky screen to the wicky screen. And that if he does want to move from the wacky screen to the wicky screen, he first should save his work to avoid losing it.

    As a creative writer, I consider myself lucky that there is this wonderful writing medium called blogs free to anybody with a computer and an Internet connection. In my blog I can write and write and write and not give a hoot about word count or rules or audience or pleasing people.

    Except that's not true.

    Because blogs are personal and are sometimes read by people in my family like my mother and my mother-in-law, and it wouldn't be appropriate or nice for me to reveal certain things about the people in my life. I would love to insert an example of what I mean here, but I can't think of anything that wouldn't automatically break the rule I just mentioned. Use your imagination.

    The point is that my blog has an audience and although I may not always know who that audience is, in the paraphrased words of Koan Bremner, I should assume that the worst person to read any given post is the person who will. [Note: She mentioned this in the BlogHer '05 session, "How to Get Naked" a complete recording of which can be found here.]

    When I was employed as a technical writer, I worked with an editor. Nothing I wrote was ever made public without first being edited. I am no stranger to the red pen. Also, editors have handwriting as crappy as any doctor's. I didn't always like working with an editor but (a)I had no choice, and (b)my work was better because it was reviewed and critiqued by somebody else. That's the simple truth.

    My blog also has an editor--me. Before publishing any blog entry, I edit for grammar, spelling, clarity, and that worse-case-scenario audience member that Bremner warned about. Not everybody does this. Some might argue it flies in the face of blogging freedom, but I have an agenda with my blog. I want my blog to showcase and highlight my writing skills and it won't do that if i writ lk ths.

    When I wrote the post about writing a column for my local mothers' club newsletter, some of you let me know that you like the piece I originally submitted. I like it, too! If I had my own newsletter I might just print it on the front page. And I guess that's what I did when I posted it to my blog. Unfortunately or fortunately, when I agreed to write for the moms' club newsletter, I agreed to take into consideration their audience. I also agreed to take into consideration the mission of the club's newsletter as well as the professional opinion of the newsletter's editor.

    Interestingly enough, I used to be the editor of this newsletter. Therefore, any editorial decisions used to be mine to make. Would I have printed this piece if I was the editor? I don't know, maybe. Perhaps I would have done a two-page spread on the camping trip (which was sponsored by the moms' club) and included my story as well as pictures and quotes from other parents and kids who went. In other words, I would have balanced out the funny negative--my article--with some equally humorous positives.

    It might be obvious to you at this point why I no longer am the editor of the newspaper; I used to spend an insane number of hours producing a professional-quality rag for a circulation of 250. I had no time to write pieces like the one I wrote about Thomas or the one I'm writing now. Most of my creative free time was spent on the newsletter.

    Now that Rosa comes in to help with the kids, I have more creative free time and I'd rather spend some of it writing for--rather than editing--the newsletter. But the trade-off is that I no longer control the content. Therefore, when the editor thinks something isn't right for the newsletter--for whatever reason--I have to acknowledge her authority. It's in my interest to do this with grace and aplomb. The alternative is to decide that it's not worth it to me to write for the newsletter. But because I enjoy seeing my words in print, I'll write for their audience and I'll understand why some articles are appropriate and some are not.

    In the future I hope to write for other publications with other audiences and different editors. These publications have their own standards, their own guidelines for me to follow. And follow them I will if I'm serious about getting published. Any publication with any audience other than the writer has guidelines. My blog has guidelines--unwritten and flexible--but guidelines nonetheless. And as I wade through the pages and pages of submission guidelines for various online literary journals (none of which pay, by the way), I am realizing that the mothers' club newsletter actually has very few guidelines and also a very nice non-demanding editor as well as a captive audience who wants a chuckle but not necessarily a challenge.

    I am grateful that I have time to write. I am grateful that I have an audience. I am grateful that you care enough about my writing to have an opinion about it--good or bad. Don't stop the comments! And if you'd like to edit my work for any reason, feel free. I wrote it for you.