As I continue my journey into the world of writing and publishing, I come across unique individuals whom I admire and take special care to listen to their opinions. Debs McCrary is one of those people. Debs is in a writers’ critique class that I take every Wednesday. More than a dozen of us gather to read and critique each others’ current works in progress.
One day Debs brought in a particularly inspiring essay that I felt needed to be shared with you. It reveals much about her knowledge and love of the written word, (and a little about what my pages look like after she gets hold of them). So please meet my friend Debs.
Debs McCrary has 25 years of experience as an op-ed columnist, editor and freelance writer. In addition to her work in the newspaper industry, she is published in “The Aladdin Factor,” Reader’s Digest, Essence, Newsweek, Our Heritage, Legacy, travel magazines and several multi-industry promotional pieces. Debs aspires to pen a riveting stay-up-all-night-to-read novel but, so far, the Muse of Tantalizing Fiction has yet to pay her a visit. She currently writes for and edits a weekly community newspaper in San Antonio and hones her skills by reading any- and everything, and by frequenting writing critique groups.
Now that you know a little more about Debs, I’m sure you’ll appreciate her wonderful essay about accuracy and exactness concerning the written word.
Please enjoy Debs McCrary’s version of being…
It’s what I am, at least when it comes to editing and printing accuracy. Incorrect spelling, grammar and punctuation, to say nothing of poor usage and factual inaccuracy, all set my teeth on edge. I guess it just comes from years of technical writing and editing where typos can mean catastrophic monetary loss and untold hours of rework. Mark Twain warned of typos, suggesting their existence in health books may result in a reader’s death.
So, I try to put myself in the position of the intended audience, a reader in search of good information. Are the thoughts and directions clear? Does the piece flow properly and make sense?
Give me something as simple as a restaurant’s menu that contains spelling errors and I’ll spot them before you’ve had a chance to read through the appetizers. Marketing brochures and websites with misspellings make me wonder how business owners expect to make sales if they can’t advertise their products properly. Even the most rudimentary word processing software has spellchecking these days.
The nuns at my high school taught me well, or at least I became a quick study because of my own faux pas. For example, I learned that “alot” is not one word, but two. Y-o-u-r and y-o-u-‘-r-e are not interchangeable. The phonetic sound “TŪ” has three spellings; four if you count Spanish. And double negatives are never tolerated – which explains why “irregardless” is not a word. My right eye shuts and quivers every time I hear it spoken, let alone see it written.
I spot errors on billboards, advertisements, even in professional letters from multimillion-dollar companies. Noticing several instances of incorrect subject and verb agreement on a local business’ website, I once offered to provide proofreading services — free of charge, since the owner was a former colleague – and was told they already had a staff to handle that function. Really? Was it in place when your website was created? I wondered.
My obsession sometimes drives my daughter crazy. “Mom, just pretend the church bulletin says to pray for Deacon Jones who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and not prostrate cancer. We know what they meant – and nobody else will catch it except you.”
Just recently, a non-profit organization asked me to edit a letter for a massive fundraising campaign. I agreed, only to find the letter so poorly structured that it required a total rewrite. It began by saying the organization wanted to begin the new century by upgrading its facilities. Begin? When did the new millennium start? Personally, I’d be reluctant to donate one crying dime to an entity that doesn’t know it’s more than a decade behind the times. Check your calendar, people! You don’t need an editor; you need a timekeeper.
Once, while waiting in line to return a rental car, I noticed a sign that said “Se Habla Español,” a familiar phrase in Texas to let customers know they are free to transact business in Spanish. But directly underneath the sign sat an oblong flipchart listing company policies. Each page was written in a different language. The one displayed was Portuguese. When it was my turn to be waited on, I asked the man behind the counter, who happened to be Hispanic, if the company had a large number of Portuguese customers. He said, “No. Why do you ask?”
“Because you’ve got this sign flipped to the Portuguese page.”
“No we don’t.” He turned the sign to see for himself. “That’s Spanish,” he said, and resumed completing my rental form, shaking his head, as if implying, “What a dummy she is.”
“No, it isn’t,” I insisted, pointing out that Spanish didn’t contain the same vowel clusters as Portuguese. I flipped a couple pages until I found the one written in Spanish and turned it towards him. “This is Spanish.”
He looked at it, realized I was correct and sheepishly said, “Well, I’ll be damned. We’ve had this sign on that page since we opened this office a few years ago and no one ever said a thing about it.”
My editing bible has become the Associated Press Stylebook that, unfortunately, gets updated all too frequently for my taste. In an attempt to be politically correct, entries like “alright” are now acceptable as a single word, though a few editions ago it wasn’t. And a comma, once a staple before the word “and” in the last item listed in a sequence of three or more, is no longer required or desired. Sister Audrey would have conniptions.
Yes, I’m an anal-retentive editor and I know it. However (comma), I’m trying to expand my horizon to include the worlds of fiction, memoir and poetry where creativity and the unrestricted flow of thought have free rein. Mostly, I just need to keep my opinions to myself about the writings of people who don’t know how to spell, put a comma in the right place, or conjugate verbs properly, especially businesses. Besides, they probably already have a staff that handles that.
Thanks, Debs, for this entertaining piece. I swear I proofed everything three (3) times before pressing that “publish” button, but I take full responsibility for any misspelled words or inappropriate punctuation that might be present (smile!).
Debs will be starting her own blog soon and I’ll be posting a link to her site when she does. I know she’ll make you a better, more precise writer little by little with each of her postings.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Thanks for providing Debs words. This stuff is important. Every time someone pauses because something does not look or sound right, you have at least momentarily lost your reader. Even if the error generates a smile, you have still interrupted the flow in the reader’s mind and diminished the impact of your work.
What a thoroughly entertaining piece by your friend Debs. Thank you for sharing it, James. Looking forward to her blog.
Thanks, James and Walt. Debs will be so pleased that you liked her post.
My high school English teacher, Miss Parsons, must have been friends with Sister Audrey. We learned grammar and punctuation for life in her class. And we had to stand up and apologize to the class if we sneezed. Or wore a baseball uniform to class because the team was leaving immediately after school. She was strict, and we thrived under her. There was was day I will never forget. Miss Parsons was dressed all in black, and a single photograph was pinned to the bulletin board, surrounded with black crepe paper. The news that Robert Frost had died had just been announced. His picture remained on the bulletin board for a month, as we mourned the loss of a great soul.
What a great story. Thanks for sharing!
Owing to a great deluge of paid writing work (nice problem to have!), I have only just read Debs’ article. I thought I was reading about myself! As someone who has to write accurately in both US and UK English, I am forever noticing the slip-ups that Debs highlights. My real worry is not that people don’t care any more (anymore?), but that they don’t realize that what they’re looking at is incorrect English. Maybe the idea of correct spelling, punctuation etc. has had its day, to be overtaken (as it was before Dr. Samuel Johnson) by individuals righting according to what they think looks write 😦
Ha – thanks for your comments, Charles, and congrats on being such a busy writer. All the best to
you and your work!