Hone Your Craft to Own Your Craft

The conversation went a little something like this:

“OMG, are you reading a dictionary right now?”

After glancing up and trying NOT to roll my eyes irretrievably into their sockets, “No, Hon, I’m actually reading a professional guide for editors to refresh my knowledge and see what’s new in the field.”

It was NOT, in fact, a dictionary. It was an editing style guide, thank you very much!

“So, like a dictionary, but worse?” Laughter and mocking conversation followed as the rest of the family got in on the joke.

“Har, har. You guys are hilarious.” I pushed my reading glasses back onto my nose and once more wielded my highlighter like the weapon it is.

The Importance of Staying Current

You know how our kids mock us when we say things like “groovy” or “psychedelic”? As writers, we spend a LOT of time focusing on speech patterns, slang, and even everyday activities of the younger generations. Why? It’s not because we enjoy watching exotic species in their natural environment. It’s because we need our writing to stay relevant—and, also, we don’t want to be mocked into a permanent room at Shady Acres just yet.

Writers today have many options. We’ve all seen the movies about hermits who decide to become lighthouse keepers on remote islands. They end up writing brilliant novels, and they never have human contact—except for that one captain who arrives in a rickety boat that crashes toward shore once per year with the basic supplies needed for survival. And who among us isn’t clamoring for that option?!

But—and this is just me going out on a limb—there are those writers who want to live an existence in modern society and write about current topics. And that means staying up to date with what is going on around them.

Collectors of Knowledge

We’re collectors and learners and hoarders of facts. And when you think about it, observing new trends, behaviors, and speech patterns are all ways of learning and collecting knowledge.

The intuitive and empathetic nature most creative people possess drives them to not only study and recall behaviors, but also try to understand how they fit into the context of the world surrounding them. All the human emotions and behaviors we learn about add to the worlds and stories we create.

But Why Study Grammar & Editing & Stuff?

The mechanics of our jobs—whether you’re a writer, an editor, a proofreader, or all of the above—are the supporting framework of the creativity we put out there. Think of the inner structure of a building, the weight-bearing support.

Is it all about grammar? Absolutely not. Is it about rule-breaking? Nope, not that either.

It’s about how everything works together to form a balance. It used to be all about grammar, but today I read style guides and grammar books to learn about updates and accepted uses.

THEN, I use my professional judgement, based on the text I’m currently writing or editing. True, there are still a few dusty, by-the-book rule followers who are likely growing apoplectic at reading this, but they are few and far between. Most writers recognize they’ll capture a larger and more invested audience if they “speak their language.”

Yeah, I’d Totally Read a Dictionary

When it comes down to it, I suppose I should apologize to my husband for being so appalled that he mocked me for nerding out while reading an editing guide…because it could have just as easily been a dictionary or a thesaurus. (#Guilty)

Why? I want my writing to be the best it can be. Likewise, I want my clients to get the very best work I can give them when I’m editing. That means they deserve the extra time I put in to stay abreast of current style guide updates and even the latest additions to Merriam-Webster.

P.S. Did you guys know that, as of 2021, “hard pass,” “@,” and “cancel culture” have officially been added to the dictionary? Don’t blink! Things change daily.

Those writers: They always wanna write

I once had a boss in marketing who told me, “You know, I can always tell the writers in my group. Whenever I call them and leave a message, they respond back with an email.”

There’s truth in the words he spoke. We write for a lot of reasons—one of them being it gets us out of having to talk to people.

I’ve heard this observation multiple times since then, stated in a variety of ways. For the most part, however, the gist is always something about the preferred method of communication for writers being…well…writing. Go figure.

This isn’t an issue when working with other creative sorts. They just “get” it. Problems occasionally arise when trying to explain this particular phenomenon to more unilaterally-focused, one-way-to-do-things individuals.

Whether it’s a memo, a daily interaction, or a passing thought, I always gravitate toward the written word, and there are several reasons for that:

  • Peopleing is hard. I’m an introvert who has learned how to function in polite society where adults must occasionally speak to each other. But deep down, I’m more comfortable with a book (or a pen and paper).
  • Memory is tricky. Email is a nice way to CYA—and it’s also a great way to ensure that you’ve followed through on tasks. It can keep you out of a lot of potential pickles that can crop up if you forget to do things. You can easily look up past messages to ensure tasks are on track and everyone’s taking care of the things they committed to.
  • Email has an end point. If you don’t exactly gravitate toward extended conversation, email is a great way to gracefully dip your toe in, say what needs to be said, and then get the heck out. Say it and retreat: it’s that easy. For introverts, there’s EVERYTHING to love about that.
  • Talking is a workout. You know how you feel after a really intense workout? Energy zapped and muscles turned to jelly? That’s how introverts feel after talking and interacting for a long time. Afterward, they need to recover from their ordeal by hiding in a closet with a book and a blankie for the weekend. It’s so much better to just avoid all that and send an email.

Don’t get me wrong. Talkers are lovely. I have many of them in my family. Extroverts are wonderful, vivacious people with access to seemingly endless energy that’s constantly replenished with fairy dust and unicorn magic, and they spread that energy far and wide across the land in the hope of converting every quilt-covered bridge troll into a brilliant conversationalist. Their liveliness and positive attitudes are admirable; enviable even.

But it comes down to this. Introverts gonna introvert. And extroverts gonna extrovert.

We’ve heard for a whole long time that we need to embrace different work styles and personalities. Usually that is code for, “Hey, all you quiet people, it’s time to adapt and learn to do team projects with the rest of us while we trade stories about traffic jams and new coffee flavors.”

introverts and extroverts in the workplace

But maybe, just maybe, there’s another approach. Maybe there’s a way to combine the BEST of the INTROs with the BEST of the EXTROs. (Brilliant, right? Corporate America should have totally thought of this!) And if we did that, we’d end up with an alliance as powerful as that of Captain America and Iron Man. Can you even imagine?

C’mon, SpaceX is planning human spaceflight, yet we haven’t figured out how to combine the super powers of introverts and extroverts and use them for the good of all mankind? I feel like we’re missing out here.

Corporate America, you can do this. We’re counting on you. Do something more than trust falls and obstacle courses; you’re better than that. Think about your workforce as a whole and think about the talent that’s driving you. There’s a way to be inclusive of every work style…but we’re just not there yet.

How to break your toys and be glad you did it

I killed a character today. And it was hard because I sorta liked her a lot. I was digging what she stood for, how she carried herself, and how she had her shit together. But she took a turn…in my head and in my imagination. And suddenly, she just wasn’t the same girl anymore. She had to go.

All that was left was to figure out how to murder her.

It’s not easy to kill your darlings

But sometimes it must be done. Why? They no longer serve the purpose of your story. They’re no longer the people you thought they were. There are lots of important reasons, but first and foremost, they simply don’t fit into the story you’re telling anymore.

The corporate world has been my darling…

As a creative writer just starting out in the world, I constantly heard my mom’s words reverberating in my head, “You can’t make any money writing. Why would you want to major in Liberal Arts?”

I thank everything on this giant spinning globe that I didn’t listen. She tried to get me to shoot for an international business degree, and since checkbooks, banking, and generally anything dealing with finance sends me into a bout of hives, that would have been a disastrous decision.

So, when I landed my first corporate job as a proofreader / transcriber, I was elated. BOOM, Mom! See, there are jobs for those of us who prefer diagramming sentences to solving equations.

From that moment forward, I never left corporate. I’ve proofread, edited, written, marketed, planned, organized, branded, rebranded, and worked my way up as a pretty decent word nerd extrordinaire. But here’s what I just learned.

Writing in the corporate world

Writing for companies and large entities is a unique experience, and I believe all creatives should give it a shot. Why?

Because it gives you experience in learning to write to the voice, tone, and feel that another person is directing. It gives you the experience of working with a team to develop an overal concept that’s not your own. And it gives you the experience of not owning your work. It makes you tough. And resilient.

We’re all human

Writers are often portrayed as “too sensitive,” but that’s only the case because we HAVE to let our expressions, words, and feelings out in order to pour them onto paper (or a screen). Spreadsheety McNumbers doesn’t have to do that in order to get his job done, so a lot of the time, he doesn’t understand that. (That leaves it us to we sensitive sorts to be a little more understanding.)

Giving up control is hard

There’s nothing worse than feeling extremely protective over your work and then having to give up control over it. I’ve recently had to step back and learn this, both at my money-making job and at my creative-outlet job.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself, both in my personal writing and in writing for a corporate entity:

  • I will take on too much. I will continue to take on projects, work, writing, whatever you can throw at me until I break. And then I will keep going.
  • I won’t tell you. (#IntrovertProblems ?) Could be an introvert thing, but I don’t think just introverts suffer from this phenomenon. Maybe it’s more of a pride thing. If you keep handing me things, I’ll keep doing them. And I won’t stop until they complete and correct.
  • I won’t answer the phone. OMG don’t call me. I love you, but don’t call me. I have email and text, and I am exhausted from human interaction. I answer the phone for a very select few people, and if that’s you, then you know I would also throw myself in front of a bus for you because I love you that much.
  • If I’m backed into a corner, I will fight. And I won’t fight fair. I think that’s true of a lot of people, but I’ve learned that a lot of people won’t admit it. They just get nas’y. See how I let people know in advance? That’s the sensitive side of me!
  • I’ve worked hard, and it sucks when it feels like someone is downgrading that. So if I see that happening to you, I’ll fight for you, too.
  • I will respect you, but I want respect in return.
  • No company will ever value my family and my personal time as much as I do. That’s true for me. It’s true for you, and for everyone else on this planet. So if you’re working somewhere that you don’t feel valued, it’s time to re-think your situation.
  • I’ve been too hard on myself, but then again, who isn’t? Here’s a little secret about creatives: you don’t have to be tough on us or our work. We’re already WAY ahead of you there.
  • There are still a LOT of old thinkers in corporate America. They may throw around words like “innovative” or “bold,” but many of them will balk the first time you give them new-day, new-thinking ideas. Often, they don’t want to be the first ones to take chances.
  • I thought it would be easy to walk away from a corporate career. It’s not. We’ve been brought up with this mindset that a corporate title determines our success. You’ll finally feel free of that B.S. when you dip your toe into the slow lane…the one that chugs along outside the Rat Race.
  • I have more pride than I thought. Pride can be a good thing, but don’t forget, there’s also that old saying about it coming just before a fall. It’s all about balance. Don’t let your pride get too big to simply put it in your briefcase and walk away.
  • I’m underselling creative talent to please other people. And so are you. Your talent for creating, writing, editing, and imaging new worlds is phenomenal! (Honestly, you think that guy over there putting all your accomplishments on a spreadsheet can come up with next year’s kickass tagline? As my teenager would say, “Naw, fam.”)

Question for my writer friends: Are we selling our creative souls for the sake of funding our present comfort?

So what’s next? Here’s what I propose:

Take a look at your darlings. Do you still love them? If so, then they get to stay in the story for a while. If they are meaningful, add depth and intrigue to the plot, let them stay. (I loved being in the office for a long time! I loved the hustle and bustle and deadlines and watercooler meetings. And it’s ok to love that!)

But when it’s their time to go…when it’s time for a new chapter, don’t think twice about choosing your murder weopon and OFFING your darlings.

Also, I did just kill a fictional character, and it felt pretty good! But if anyone runs across my online search history, I expect you all to vouch for my “research” endeavors.)