Over the years, I’ve written for a number of different websites and publications. Some have been more formal or more specific about how they want their content formatted. They may have very specific instructions about the size and dimensions of images, for instance, or about how they want sources to be cited. This is all in addition to the more academic style writing I did during my university days, which is decidedly quite different from the more casual web content I largely write today.
Even though I’ve been doing this professionally for over a decade, it may surprise some of you to learn that I don’t really have much in terms of formal training. I never went to journalism school, I haven’t taken any creative writing courses (though I’d like to take a couple at some point), and I don’t have a diploma in marketing and communications. It’s all just stuff I’ve picked up along the way and my “writing voice” has evolved accordingly.
A lot of people have this ill-conceived notion that “good writing” is defined as writing with perfect spelling, grammar and syntax. They believe that you must have these components absolutely correct and you should stick strictly to the guidelines outlined by the powers-that-be. But you’ll also find that much of the best writing breaks a lot of rules. Like how the preceding sentence is really just a sentence fragment, much like this one too. Is that bad?
If you’ve been following me and my blog for some time, particularly the Grammar 101 series, then you might also believe that I am a stickler for proper spelling and grammar. Many years ago, I wrote that poor grammar and spelling mistakes are like a chipped coffee mug at a restaurant. The chipped mug doesn’t matter too much; it’s more about what else it represents. If the cafe doesn’t care about the condition of its cups, where else are they throwing caution to the wind? Where else do you they let things slide?
To some extent, it’s true. I think spelling and grammar matter. On another level, I’m not really an authority in this space either, as I’ve never really been formally trained on the matter anyhow. There are many instances where I’m not entirely sure what is the “right” way to write something, so I usually just end up reworking the sentence to avoid the issue.
Pablo Picasso once said that you should “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” The Dalai Lama echoes this sentiment, saying that you should “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” And there is definitely some weight to those statements… but what if you don’t know the rules or you’re unsure about them?
Sometimes, avoiding your problems is the simplest solution available. I could spend hours or even days pouring over how to format a sentence such that it adheres perfectly to the rules outlined in the Associated Press Stylebook, but even those rules can be ambiguous or incomplete. This could lead me down an incredibly deep and potentially bottomless rabbit hole, all to determine whether I should be calling it a six-quart pot or a 6-quart pot or a 6qt pot or a…. you get the idea.
Unless sticking perfectly to AP style is of critical importance for the publication and you don’t have a resident expert who can help you, wasting too much time on such a minuscule concern is indeed wasteful.
But, as you might have been able to guess from the title of this blog post, avoiding problems is oftentimes not the best approach to take. If you have a problem with debt, simply throwing your bills in the trash is not going to make that problem go away; it’s only going to make it worse. If you have relationship problems, avoiding your partner altogether is not going to make that problem go away; you need to talk about it to resolve it, one way or the other.
Sometimes, you might think that you are solving a problem in your life when all you’re really doing is trying to sweep it under the rug and make it go away for a little while. Just don’t be surprised when that little problem develops into a much larger and more pressing problem down the road. Solve it. Fix it. And then you can move on to the next thing.