Finally, my writing is my work

If not here, where?

If not here, where?

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been writing forever and have little to show for it. And that’s mostly true. Three decades of professional writing, editing, and publishing have provided me with a plaque for my wall (which is stored in a box), a file of clippings and samples, and an unwavering commitment to the Oxford comma.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy with how my writing career unfolded. As a journalist, business, and technical writer, I’ve had opportunities to write in many different styles and situations, and meet and work with people from all over this country, and beyond this continent. As an instructor, editor, and mentor, I’ve helped new writers of all ages (including children, teens, and retirees) discover the joy of impacting others with words. I’m blessed to be able to say I’ve made a living doing what I love.

But that income has exclusively come from writing other people’s stories. Or helping them learn to write their own.

My writing…short stories and full manuscripts, some factual and others fictional…has always been an after hours activity. What I did during my time off. For the fun of it.

There was always the plan to publish my writing eventually. But I didn’t have much sense of urgency for it. I’ve been content to keep my writing on the side while I earned steady money writing for others. I would get serious about publishing later. When I was older. Someday.

The problem with putting my writing off until later was the risk someday would never arrive. The problem with putting it off for decades was finding myself middle-aged and unable to provide an adequate answer when asked “what have you written that I might have read?”

“Probably nothing” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

For the past few years, as my illness forced a slow down, and then a full stop to my career of writing for others, my writing stayed right where it had always been…on the side. I’ve been focused on, actually obsessed with, getting back to work. Work, for me, continued to mean writing for others to provide me income.

Over the holidays I finally realized that my definition of work must change. Life has revised my plan and is waiting for me to notice.

I have two choices. I can continue to fight for the way I thought things would be at this time in my life. Or I can choose to see this new plan not as a limitation of what I previously wanted, but as a liberation. Freedom. Opportunity.

Joseph Campbell said “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

With that mantra I’m officially declaring that I have ceased writing for others (Janda Writing and Consulting is closed as of January 1, 2016) and I will be focusing solely on my own projects. I’ll continue with plans to mentor other writers and offer advice and instruction, but those will be on the side. My writing is now my primary work.

I’ll be revamping this website to reflect that change and, hopefully, this shift in focus will provide me more time to blog. My writing goals for 2016 include completIng the final revision of my current work in progress and readying it for publication, offering a couple of writing classes, and reviewing older manuscripts.

Someday starts today.

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There’s a reason why they’re called The Basics

I frequently read ridiculously funny things on professional writing forums, most of which, sadly, weren’t intended as a joke. Since I live in a creative household, I tend to share these little gems with my husband and adult offspring so that we can all enjoy. But sometimes I read and share something so outrageous that we skip the laughter and land on righteous indignation.

“Seriously? Somebody posted a question asking How important is grammar and punctuation (i.e., subject verb agreement, conditonl clause, etc.) for a technical writer? Unbelievable!”

Believe it. The bold portion is word for word, complete with the misspelling of conditional.

Call me a snob. Call me an elitist. But I simply don’t understand how someone can call themselves a writer, or worse a professional writer, if they can’t or don’t understand and follow the most basic grammar and spelling rules.

To sign or not to sign

They got it right the first time, and then failed to duplicate their efforts on the second line

That’s like getting paid to be a plumber and not being able to tighten a sink faucet. It’s like calling yourself an artist, a painter, but not knowing the difference between watercolors and acrylics. It’s akin to claiming to be a mechanic without knowing how to open the hood of a car, or how to jump-start the battery. Or it’s the same as getting paid to run a multi-billion dollar corporation without understanding that failing to serve your largest customers will erode your profits and eventually cost you your job.

Ok, wait, that does happen an awful lot lately. But it doesn’t make it right. And it isn’t right to call yourself a writer, personally or professionally, if you don’t know the basics.

By basics, I mean [bey-siks], the fundamentals of using the language (English for our purposes) to communicate information to a reader.

I’m not going to teach a grammar lesson with this entry. I’m not even going to provide links to those who do, although I likely will add those on a resources page here eventually. What I am going to do, however, is indulge my desire to list my personal basic pet peeves.

These are the tools I expect professional writers using the English language to have mastered.

  • The fact that every sentence requires a subject and a verb. The subject can be implied. The verb cannot.
  • Punctuation–what it is and why it’s necessary, even in a text message, or a Facebook or Twitter post
  • The difference between and appropriate use of:

its and it’s
there, their and they’re
to and too
your and you’re
effect and affect
except and accept

  • Subject verb agreement–what it is and why it should be second nature if you make your living, or hope to make your mark with words

It’s ok if you can’t explain what a gerund phrase is or diagram a sentence. But you should have an ear, or an eye, for sentence structure and paragraph flow. And you MUST know the basics.

If you don’t, you’re not a professional, regardless of how long you’ve been writing or how much you get paid.

In a timely manner, the sequel

Right after posting yesterday’s blog entry, as I was making my rounds through business article sites, I found two articles talking about the persistent problem of poor business writing.

The first, from Forbes, reminds us that words matter. The second, from a website for HR personnel, focuses on workers feeling that their colleagues don’t communicate well.

Although these articles vary in perspective, they have a couple of things in common. One is the overuse and misuse of the word “cascade” in the business world. And two, that there definitely is a problem.

I wrote yesterday that poor business writing was so common that it rarely prompted comment anymore. I am happy to be wrong about that!

In a timely manner?

In my former career lives I have been a newspaper reporter, editor, and publisher. From my earliest reporter days I learned that a deadline is just what it says, the line you must not cross or you’ll be dead.

As a reporter you’ll be figuratively dead. As an editor it gets more serious and as a publisher, missing deadlines means missing the checks from all those advertisers or readers, and therefore, being career dead.

The definition of deadline, per Dictionary.com, is “the time by which something must be finished or submitted; the latest time for finishing something…”

MUST be finished. The LATEST time for finishing.

Why am I harping on something so basic? Because it apparently isn’t basic.

I cruise online job postings each morning, not because I am looking but because I like to keep up with the terminology used when hiring others who do what I do. This is usually a rather sleepy task that doesn’t require a lot of thought on my part and therefore goes well with my first dose of caffeine for the day. But this morning was different.

This morning I read something that set off my inner Grammar Queen and woke up my former journalistic self.

In a posting for a Documentation Consultant, under the heading “Desired skills we seek” was this…

Ability to meet deadlines in a timely manner

Are they being redundant? Judging by the heading, that was my first guess, given that “desired skills” implies they are the skills the company is seeking, rendering “we seek” useless extra.

Or are they truly unaware that a deadline is a firm, unwavering thing? Adding “in a timely manner” implies that deadline in that company means suggested completion date. It’s now a wish list. A plea?

Poor writing leads to confusion, questions, and, in my home, an early morning rant about the lack of knowledge and professionalism in the business world. Of course, it’s nothing new. Grammatical errors, jargon, and business-speak litter not just job postings but also business web pages, corporate publications and now social media. It’s so commonplace that it rarely draws comment anymore.

But that doesn’t mean that readers and consumers of their information don’t notice the apparent disregard for professional writing and clear communication. It’s difficult to quantify how that affects business. Do companies lose sales? Potential employees?

I think they do.

That’s why companies should hire professional writers.