The Most Neglected Writing Tip

I was at a restaurant the other night. Naturally, I was reading the menu. I was trying to decide if I wanted to eat a second dinner that evening. (Yes, that’s right, second dinner. Don’t judge.)

That’s when I saw it. It hit me hard — like a squirt of lemon juice to the eye.

It was a typo. A misused apostrophe, to be more precise. Instead of simply adding an “s” to make a word plural (as in “tostadas”), the menu writer added an apostrophe and an “s” (as in, “tostada’s”).  I sighed. Not again.

As I scanned over the menu, I noticed a number of other typos and blatant errors. These would have easily been caught if someone had taken the time to proofread. And this really bothered me.

If this sounds like a minor issue, it’s not. This matters — more than you may realize, in fact. And not just for writing. Whether you’re a woodworker or a business executive, you need to learn your craft.

Learn Your Craft
Photo credit: US Army Corps of Engineers (Creative Commons)

Now, everyone is picky

Would you feel good about a doctor’s visit if the physician’s credentials came from a website? If she didn’t know the word for stethoscope?

What if you were buying a house and the realtor arrived late to your showing?

Wouldn’t you expect them to be ready to do the work? And wouldn’t you expect excellence?

Some people care more about one thing than another. Maybe it’s customer service, maybe interior design. For me, it’s grammar. For you, it’s probably something else.

The point is we all now have the privilege of being picky. And we expect the very best. If you’re going to create something you want the world to see, you’ll need to acknowledge one simple fact:

Presentation matters

Your lawyer probably doesn’t wear flip-flops. And she probably doesn’t go before a judge in a T-shirt. But does that affect how she does her job? Of course not.

On the other hand, my mechanic doesn’t need to have a clean garage (maybe yours does, though). But his waiting room better be comfortable. Otherwise, I’ll take my business elsewhere, thank-you-very-much.

These days, quality is not optional; it’s a prerequisite. If you want to compete in today’s marketplace of ideas and services, you had better go above and beyond.

But what does this have to do with craft, with doing what you do the best you can? Quite a bit, actually.

Although the food at the restaurant was great (I opted for dessert), the bad grammar hurt my trust in the brand. It disappointed me. Why did I care? Because somebody was paid to write that menu. And somebody did a bad job at it.

Learn your craft

If you’re a writer, you need to spend time learning how to write well. You need to practice and take your work seriously.

This is not optional.

Whether you like it or not, you need to learn about the less-exciting aspects of what you do, such as grammar and punctuation. (Well, those are fun and exciting for me, but not most people.)

This includes other aspects of what you do. For example, if you’re a freelancer, you need to learn about running a business and marketing. You may need to brush up on networking and connecting with people.

There’s no way around it. If you want to be good at something (anything), you have to learn your craft.

Either you do it or pay somebody else. But the job needs to get done. And it had better be done well.

Otherwise, what’s the point in doing it?

This is not license to be a perfectionist

As you know, I’m not a fan of perfectionism. It kills art and prevents us from shipping.

And if you read this blog regularly, you know that I sometimes let a typo slip (which is easily remedied after publishing). I’m not perfect, and neither should you be.

What you should do is be obsessed with quality — doing the best work you can with the time you have. You shouldn’t be lazy; you should always be learning. And always getting better.

Many writers get the first part of this right — the presentation — but neglect the second part. You need to do both. Because now, everything is craft.

You need to do quality work, and you need to present it well. Doing one without the other is like putting a cherry on top of a meatball sundae. It just doesn’t work.

What bothers you when it’s not done well?

*Photo credit: US Army Corps of Engineers (Creative Commons)

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