Writers! Know Your Worth, Then Add Tax

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is an ongoing struggle for so many of us in this here writing life.  You can be on a winning streak, with so many happy clients and then one comment will send you spinning out of control.

I’m the worst.  No one deserves to have me inflicted upon them.  I knew eventually they’d figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing.  The Doubting Man echos nad amplifies these sentiments because it’s his duty to ensure that you don’t reach your potential.  He’s a manifestation of Imposter Syndrome, with one solitary focus: to make you quit.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

It’s one thing to have a panic attack when you get an unmerciful edit sent your way and quite another to slip into a sneaky self-hate spiral that destroys everything else around you.  I think most writers panic a little when they get any sort of comments.  I can’t blame them, you put yourself into those words, so a criticism of them feels a bit like a criticism of the writer on a personal level.

Let me make this clear:  That’s not actually what’s happening.

In fact, many of these kinds of comments are made to help you improve your copy on the next go, or to educate you about something the client really wants you to stress.  Comments and constructive criticism are tools you can use to build your work up.

They make you better.

Even if they feel awful.

Never give up, hold on to yourself as the overwhelm sets in.  Let the fear pour over you like so much water off a duck.  Remind yourself that you are enough.  Tell yourself that surrender isn’t an option.  Eat the elephant one bite at a time.  Remember your worth and then add sales tax.

Five Things That Are Worse Than Extensive Edits

Sometimes it also helps me to reframe the situation.  So a client sent a document over with a lot of suggestions.  So what?  It’s not the end of the world, you knew this was going to happen.  It’s part of the process.  Let’s pick out five things that are much worse than a lot of red pen.

#1. Oranges that are hard to peel.

Look.  It’s the most important meal of the day and you should be eating more fruit.  But when them bastards won’t shed their skin, it’s just… it’s like the universe, or at least the part that belongs to Citrus, is against you.  No breakfast oranges, no early morning vitamin C boost.

#2.  Overly catchy songs that you despise.

I’m never gonna Rickroll you, but I know when I get a song stuck in my head that’s mortifying to admit to, there’s no good way out.  Recently, I managed to get Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass stuck in my husband’s head.  This is because of Just Dance 2018.  It has a bee dance set to this song and I do it a lot.  Because I’m all about that bass, that bass — no treble.

#3.  Running out of toner.

I have one stinking set of mailers left to send out and BAM.  It happens every time.  I run out of black or blue or yellow or magenta toner.  Amazon’s got lots of cheap(ish) toners, but they’re slow.  UGH.  Cannot bear the wait for new toners, cannot bear the cost of buying them in person.  It’s a rough call.

#4.  Decluttering my office.

Dude, you should see this fucking mess.

#5.  Running out of desk candy.

It’s that important.  Running out of sugar at my desk is career suicide.  That’s why I keep a backup bag of candy in the set of plastic drawers behind me.


Edits Happen, They’re a New Beginning

We’re none perfect, no matter how much we may want to believe we are.  Our work is highly subjective, which is why it’s sometimes difficult for clients and writers to communicate effectively enough.  If only we could do a Vulcan mind meld, we’d not need to mess with edits because we’d have the full picture of what the client wants the very first time.

And it’s not the client’s fault.  And it’s not your fault.  It’s the fault of this language we have.  This inefficient, confusing, maze-like shitty language.  English is cobbled together from spare parts, making mastering it one of the greatest challenges you may ever face in your life.

English is awful.  I should go back to writing that series.  Because it is.

Take your pen into battle with The Doubting Man.  Stab that bastard in the eye.




Harness Your Darkness

I don’t generally share a lot of personal stuff here, but since I’ve been away and I can’t think of ANYTHING else, I’m going to share something with you that’s from my real fucking life.  I was diagnosed with an incredibly rare and life-threatening condition on Monday.  Yes, yesterday, on Canadian Thanksgiving.  What fucking irony.

I don’t know if I should scream or punch the wall or fucking curse out the mailman for wearing those little blue shorts.  I want to grab a checker at Wal-Mart and throttle the life out of them.  I want to smash all the beautiful things into impossibly small pieces.

These aren’t normal thoughts.  Hell, they’re not even healthy thoughts.  But, as writers, we’re often filled with very uncomfortable feelings and notions that we should really never tell anybody else.  Not our spouses, certainly not our family, but other writers get it.  Every day is an exercise in sorting out the inappropriateness.

Every fucking day you probably wonder what would happen if you set the neighbor’s fucking nasty house on fire or planted a bomb under that car with the unholy booming base.  You don’t, because you’re still hanging onto some semblance of sanity, but we’re the ones… we’re the ones that when we slip, we fall all the fucking way down.

We imagine evil.  We’re not all peace and calm inside.  As copywriters, we have to shove that aside and work with another part of our brain, the one that doesn’t want to break and burn.  But some days… some days…. there’s simply nothing else.

What do we do?  How do we overcome these urges?

I vote that we don’t.  Let’s use those days to bring fucking maniacs to life and birth the kind of darkness that keeps normal people awake for a full week.  Let’s learn how to dig out that black stuff and ride it to the end.  Why the fuck not?  Why should we be forced to always write the happy, punchy stuff?

Every copywriter has a dark, evil novelist in them.  Every one.  We reject our nasty side too much — we need to grab that guy and chain him to the keyboard.  Because he’s the evil maniac we need sometimes.

I have to write copy today.  But I have to spew out all my darkness.  I need to blow something up on the page.

English is Awful: A Brief History of Modern English Punctuation

ancient Greek writing chiseled on stoneAs with other confusing bits of our language and culture, punctuation got its start with the ancient Greeks.  Those bastards took a language that was once written without a single break (see that photo on the left) and started complicating things.  Instead of leaving language simple, they had to go and accidentally invent punctuation.

See, these guys were really into writing and giving speeches — it was, in fact, the mark of a gentleman and a scholar.  If you weren’t a decent orator, you were a failure as a man.  So, no pressure there.  This obsession with giving the perfect speech led these guys to begin using a series of dots to indicate where a speaker should pause in the speech and for how long.  Thanks to these ancient jerks, we got the period, comma and colon.  Written as a single, double or quadruple set of dots, these eventually evolved into the forms we know today.  That was about all you got in Ancient Greek… so what about the other major players?

Great Exclamations!

Until the invention of moveable type (thank you Johannes Gutenberg), all these Greek dots were mutating and evolving, but not in any consistent way.  Because of the rise of handwritten Bibles and their need to be read out loud with some passion, new indicators started to circulate as early as the seventh century, when Irish and Anglo-Saxon scribes added their own touches to ancient Scripture.

Some time during this dark period, the exclamation point was born, the legend goes.  At first, it was written as “io” at the end of sentences, meant to indicate that the sentence was to be read with great admiration or joy (“io” is literally Latin for “joy”).  Over time, the two letters combined to create something similar to the exclamation point we know today, but it wasn’t introduced formally into printing until the 15th century.

Apparently early typewriter manufacturers didn’t think you’d need to show much joy while using their products, though, since they waited until the 1970s to add this key to the standard keyboard.  That probably explains why it’s the only useful piece of punctuation stranded up there with the numbers.

Wait, I Have a Question

The primitive question mark appears in handwritten Bibles at about the same time as the ancient exclamation point, io.  Like io, the question mark is believed to have started out as two letters: qo.  This is Middle Ages shorthand for the Latin quaestio, to question.  Also like with io, qo was originally written side by side, but eventually the q began its ascent up atop the o and the rest was just sloppy handwriting.

By the 13th century, you’d recognize the ancient qo as the question mark we know today, thanks to the efforts of scholars across Western Europe to standardize punctuation usage.  It drove them buggy that there were multiple punctuation systems in use, so they developed a cannon explaining how to do it properly, officially beginning a massive effort to bring punctuation systems into a single style.

Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s Nemesis

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” you’ll know the name Ben Jonson.  Those of you who have never seen that movie have to stop reading right now and go watch it.  Ben was ol’ Will’s nemesis, according to the movie, and there’s some proof that this might have been sort of true in real life.  Ben was a scholar, a poet and a working playwright, just like Willy, but unlike the roguish whore-monger Shakespeare, he held his profession in the highest esteem.  Writing wasn’t just a way for Ben to get girls.

Because of the complicated feelings he had for English, Ben wrote a pompous book attempting to formalize some components of the language in 1640, called “The English Grammar.”  There’s lots of good stuff in this book, actually, but for our purposes, we’re going to skip to the end where he discusses punctuation.  Ben rightfully calls this chapter “Of the Distinction of Sentences,” which is what any good punctuation does, at least in part.

He covers the basics — commas, semi-colons, parenthesis, the colon (“marked with two pricks”), the period (“one full prick”), the question mark and the exclamation point.  In 1640, that was good enough for pretty much everybody.  And for now, it’s good enough for us.  Hash tags and whatnot are covered much more completely in Keith Houston’s book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks.

You can check out Houston’s blog here, though I don’t recommend it unless you want to go down a rabbit hole of punctuation history you can’t really unsee.

Full disclosure:  I bought this book for my Kindle, I’ve not read it, but I’m sure it’s fucking lovely.  How could it not be?

English is Awful: Apostrophe Anarchy

There are few things that make me want to rend my clothing and rip out my eyeballs like the overuse of apostrophes.  I used to believe that people did this out of sheer ignorance, but when I was researching this blog post I discovered something quite different — and alarming.

ApostrophesEnglish is awful.  I think I told you that before.  As it turns out, all this use of apostrophes to pluralize words actually is rooted in correct English usage (I’ll pause so you can gasp dramatically).  This type of over-use, called the greengrocers’ apostrophe, was considered proper use prior to the 19th century and so it continued in secluded pockets of civilization who weren’t aware of the updates to the rules of the language.

How Greengrocers’ Apostrophes Came to Be

As early as the 16th century, when apostrophes first came into our language from French, these sneaky little marks were used to indicate areas where letters were purposefully left out in the spelling of words, as well as to stand in for letters that were not generally pronounced.

This resulted in a lot of plurals that dropped their final E’s and replaced them with an apostrophe.  Even if the pluralized word shouldn’t end in “es”, but was a foreign-sounding loan word from another language, the apostrophe was often used (correctly) with an “s”.  Thus, pastas became pasta’s and bananas became banana’s.

I know.  It hurts me, too.

During the 18th century, changes to the use of the apostrophe were proposed to match what we expect to find in modern English.  It took until the 1850s before apostrophe use even began to standardized, though.  By this time, English speakers were often broken into isolated enclaves scattered across the American frontier and throughout the British Empire.

Very little news about the proper use of English came into these areas because, frankly, very little news got in at all.  When you’ve got limited bandwidth, you’re probably more likely to want to know about things like the status of the Civil War or who was the new President than what suggestions some snobby shits have for the proper use of your ink.

Since delving into the frontier almost guaranteed near-time capsule style cultural preservation, the language was taught in isolation until an era of easy to access written communication came back around.

By then, some of these habits were tightly ingrained, so even though the information was out there, it was probably hard to stop writing things like “banana’s” when you meant “bananas.”  Since everybody mostly understood you anyway, why bother to change?

That last bit’s my theory as to why greengrocers’ apostrophes are still around.  I’m just a writer, so what the Hell do I really know?

Proper Use of the Apostrophe

Grammar Nazis, relax.  I’m not about to let people off the hook here.  So, here’s the deal, guys.  We know the why, we know the who and we understand — but it’s time to get up to speed on this deal.  I’m really serious, because I will be forced to kick a bitch if I keep seeing these greengrocers’ apostrophes.

So, for future reference:

If you’ve got a plural word (more than one thing of a thing), just use an “s” at the end.  Snake becomes snakes, apple becomes apples, etc.  There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but none that result in the use of an apostrophe.  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO PLURALIZE WITH THE HELP OF AN APOSTROPHE.

You can use an apostrophe to indicate ownership by a single entity by adding that apostrophe and an s to the owner in the sentence.  Those are Anthony’s snakes and they ate Maggie’s apples. 

When you’ve got multiple owners, you can use your apostrophe as you will, as long as you’re consistent.  The apples actually came from the Jones’ tree, so Maggie was turned over to the authorities’ custody.

A word that’s plural but doesn’t end in “s” can be treated like a single owner.  The Children’s Division will be punishing Maggie accordingly for her crimes.

You can also use an apostrophe to indicate that you’ve got a lot of symbols for whatever reason.  We’ve got an excess of &’s and E’s, can you find someone to take these things?

Or, you can use apostrophes to indicate missing letters, as in a contraction.  We’ve got a basic understanding of English, can’t you tell?

I’m sure there are some other obscure uses that you’re going to email me about… so I’m just going to go ahead and tell you to go fuck yourselves now to save myself some time.

Learning About Greengrocers’ Apostrophes

I admit it, when I decided on this topic, I thought I knew all there was to know about the lowly apostrophe and that those people who overused it were deserving of a good pummeling.  Now, I have to eat a little crow (or 27 blackbirds, baked in a pie) and admit that I can actually understand why a person would make this mistake.

I understand it, but please stop doing it, ok?  If you’ve read this far, you definitely know better now.  For the love of all things holy, stop….

English is Awful: The Filthy Secret of the Dictionary

Oh, when we were kids and the world was a simple place, we’d go to the one dictionary in the house to look up swear words with glee, knowing that this simple tome contained all the words that were legal in our language.  Our absolute belief in that dictionary in our homes has led to a lot of fucking confusion about what’s right and what’s wrong in the language.  Dictionaries are living beings capable of mad actions — never turn your back on one.

A stack of books on a white background.You see, English is an ever-evolving language, which means that dictionaries are ever-evolving containers of knowledge.  They’re the revolving doors of words, if you will.  So, if you’re one of those smarty pants that gets all upset when new words like “twerk” are added to the dictionary, get over yourself and give a thought to the words that were dropped that same year because no one used them.

There’s No Such Thing as “The” Dictionary

I’m sorry to drop that one on you.  I know you wish it were true.  There are, in fact, 10 major publishers of dictionaries.  These works themselves are further sorted into three categories: full-size, collegiate and learner’s.

Full-sized dictionaries are the ones that you probably had in your school library — they’re gigantic books that attempt to chronicle all the words of English, ever.  Depending on the edition you’ve got, that means somewhere between 70,000 and 355,000 entries, give or take.  If you want the most words possible in one book, choose the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary — it goes all the way back to the 7th century.

Collegiate dictionaries contain fewer entries, but each entry has more to offer, like biographical or geopolitical background that would be useful for college students.  They’re updated more often than full-sized dictionaries, but still contain a good bit of stuff no one ever uses.  They’re still great for general use and the dictionaries that many professional writers use as reference because we had to pay a fucking fortune for them in college.

Learner’s dictionaries are designed for people who are actively learning the language (God save them), and contain only core vocabulary that is widely used among native speakers.  They’ll contain more extensive notes on usage, as well as example sentences and phrases to promote learning.  These little guys are lifesavers if you’re an ESL that’s trying to sort out things like idioms.

It Gets Worse…

Brace yourself for the worst news.  These three different types of dictionaries from 10 different publishers may well disagree from time to time.  That’s when English gets tricky… and knowing who to trust is even worse — because you can’t!  They’re all right, at least by their own reckoning.

Yes, you self-proclaimed English Nazis (you do know what a fucking Nazi is, don’t you?  Choose some kind of title with a little more tact, would you, you uninventive cunts?) might well be wrong when you think you’re right.  Oh, I can see you with your smarmy little squashed noses proclaiming that I’m the devil, but there’s no way around it — dictionaries are going to disagree.  It’s no reason to end a friendship, fight with a fellow online or generally be a twat.

If you MUST be a twat, if your inner cuntiness cannot be contained, at least reference the dictionary you’re using to try to make someone else look like an illiterate.  You’ve got plenty to choose from, so pick your poison.  As a point of note, though, the pros (at least in my experience) don’t discriminate and will use whatever dictionary happens to be handy.  Same for the thesaurus, in case you were wondering.

English is Awful: The Introduction

comical poetry cannot stand youEnglish is the language we speak, the language we write and the language that, presumably, is still dominant on the Internet (I couldn’t actually verify that fact, but it was as of 2013).  So, that being said, you gotta stop sometimes and wonder — why the Hell are we still using a language that’s so fucked up?

For most of us, it’s the default language of our country, our families, our communities and because of this, we’ve just sort of gotten used to it and all its idiosyncrasies.  As a professional writer and armchair giver of advice, I decided it was high time that someone addressed some of these things about English that are just awful — so starting next Thursday, March 20, I’ll be running a special piece called “English is Awful.”

Modern English speakers mostly have the British Empire to blame for these nonsensical language rules, since British English started absorbing all sorts of bits of other languages as it slowly crept across the globe.  By 1755, when Samuel Johnson wrote the first formal dictionary, the language was already such a mess that it’d never recover properly.

In fact, part of the reason we needed a dictionary in the first place was to finally formalize and standardize the language.  When there are twelve ways to spell potato, communication can get tricky.  As English-speakers became more literate, it was vital that there was a central authority to govern spelling and meaning of words… so there’s that, too.

… I think that’s why we freak out when words like “twerk” and “LOL” are added to the dictionary.  It means they’re official.  They’re *words*!  English is a messed up language, to be sure, so let me be your guide through the rougher parts of it and maybe, just maybe, we can sort out all the reasons that English is awful.