The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

The Building Blocks of Writing

Scrabble tiles

Can you be a writer if you aren’t a good speller?

One upon a time, I would have said no. You can’t be a builder if you don’t know how to use a hammer and nails. Words are the building blocks of writing, so if you don’t know how to spell words, you can’t be a writer.

In my previous job, I worked in retail. When the store was quiet, we were allowed to talk to other stores (as long as our own stores were clean etc). I became good friends with the manager of another store, and we would email during our shifts. He was the worst speller I have come across; he spelled phonetically so I would have to say the word aloud in order to understand what he was writing.

As a self-proclaimed spelling Nazi, other people not knowing how to spell really irks me. I consider spelling a simple thing to learn… and here’s where hypocrisy creeps in. I am terrible at numbers. It’s a struggle for me to do simple addition or subtraction in my head. I am one of those cashiers whom you’ve glared at when you’ve given them coins and a note and they stare blankly at it, trying to work out how much change to give. In the course of my job, I became quite good at my 12 times tables, because I was constantly counting in dozens. I knew what change to give out of habit. Whenever we had a price change, it stumped me until I learned the change thanks to what the register was telling me.

It has taken me a lot of years to realise that some people can’t process spelling in their head the way I can’t process addition. And while I can’t see the difficulty in knowing which there/their/they’re to use, a lot of people do. My inability to mentally process numbers happens to others when it comes to words.

However, a writer isn’t just someone who writes. A writer needs to be a storyteller. This is true for all forms of writing: obviously creative writing but also academic writing, technical writing, copywriting. All the “technical” writing forms have to lead the reader to a conclusion, just the same as creative writing.

The uni degree I undertook was Bachelor of Communications. It now encompasses majors like PR and Business Communications, however it is best known for being a degree for journalists. In the very beginning of the Comms degree, budding journos are quickly disillusioned when they realise there’s more essay writing than news writing. Essays are difficult to wrap one’s head around: there is a certain style which needs to be adhered to. With creative writing, you can be, well, creative with style, however academic writing is quite a different beast.

But back to words. A storyteller is the soul of a writer. We desire to tell a story, and tell it well. A writer uses words to express meaning, convey a message, elicit a response from their reader. A writer will search synonyms of words, looking for just the right one to engage their reader into feeling something deep in their own soul.

But it does not matter how you spell that word. As long as you’re a storyteller, you can be a writer. There are people you can pay to fix the technical stuff for you. There are options available for people who want their stories available to the masses, other than traditional publishers. Yes, a writer needs words, but they do not need to know how to spell those words.

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February 11, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyone makes mistakes… right?

Several months ago, I criticised someone for a #spellingfail. Turns out, I was the one who was wrong, a fact the other person did not let me forget. I was criticised for it, then re-tweeted around the Twitterverse. Ouch. Suddenly the joke was on me, but I wasn’t laughing. I was actually quite hurt about it, that I could be so brain dead as to mix up one letter and change the meaning of a word (I got ‘complimentary’ and ‘complementary’ mixed up- it’s an easy mistake). It bothered me for a long time and I deleted my Twitter account for this and a few other reasons (such as, I still don’t quite get Twitter…)

Today, I read a quote from Joyce Carol Oates, from her memoir A Widow’s Story. She talks about the lonely life of a writer and the criticism they face; such is the nature of writing. I stepped back for a moment to think about that. She’s right, of course, we’re all criticised in myriad ways over the course of our lives. But when something is so close to us, so raw, so inherent plus we make a living from it, it hurts. Although writers pride themselves on having a good grasp of language, we’re only human. That’s why white-out and erasers were invented. And when something’s on the internet, it stays on the internet for everyone to see your mistake. So, how ’bout that criticism, hey?

FYI Twitterverse: thankyou, but I can tell the difference between affluent and effluent. If you need help in netiquette, let me know.

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confessions of a Copywriter

Dear world,

I am a copywriter.

With those few words, suddenly I’m in the spotlight. People look at my grammar and spelling and pounce when I make a mistake (they’re all typos, I swear!) Here’s a list of small confessions.

1. Wot’s grammar?
There are few people today who use exquisite grammar. There are fewer people who know what it is. In this day and age of internet and 140 character limits, grammar is a forgotten skill. I wonder if most people would recognise proper grammar if they read it? (Although I have several pedantic friends who definitely could…) The truth is, when a copywriter writes, they’re writing for the general public using everyday language that is easily understandable. There’s no point in writing exceptional English by the book if no one can understand it. By the way, I still have trouble remembering when to use its or it’s.

2. We make up Words
Oh noes! Who’s seen the latest ads for McDonalds’ M Selections menu? Here are two words that are used which aren’t actual words: Schmancy and Deluxier. Those were written by a copywriter who, presumably, knows they aren’t words in any dictionary. Personally, I’m not a fan of making up words and catering (ha!) to a nation of grammatical retards, but that’s an entirely different matter. (The “Schmancy” campaign recently won an advertising award in the UK).

3. Australian Spelling is Optional
This is something I’m trying very hard to come to terms with. Last week, my copywriting coach presented a piece of work she’s recently completed. I have no idea what the point of the presentation was because my attention was completely absorbed in one little word: personalize. I picked her up on it, asking why she’d used the American spelling. She explained that a few years ago, she was pedantic about using the UK/Australian spellings but only recently resigned herself to using American as well, and increasingly. She mused it was probably her software’s spell check that auto-corrected her S’s to Z’s to the point that she doesn’t even notice her spelling anymore. I’m not sure I will ever be that comfortable with using Z, but I’m certainly trying not to get so upset over it!

4. Breaking the Rules
In the first heading, you’ll see I’ve written “Wot’s”. Some words were meant to be played with. Recently, my sister asked if “agreeance” was a word, as in, “We’re all in agreeance”. Of course, the correct word is agreement but she argued agreeance sounds better. There are other silly words that I use regularly: bestest is probably the one that appears the most. I may even use that in a campaign at some point…

5. Everything is awesome, and don’t you forget it!
I got into trouble this week for saying what’s on my mind. Copywriting is all about making things sounding amazing and irresistible; you can’t possibly live without these products or services. A few months ago, I wrote a promotional piece about a diet shake. I’m not a fan of diet shakes and writing how amazing this one was proved to be a challenge. Earlier this week, someone asked what I thought about a new doughnut. I may have said something rather unflattering about it, likening it to something my dog may have done last week that is still un-picked up in the backyard. Unprofessional? Absolutely. Tactless? Certainly. True? I thought so. It’s not often people ask what I actually think about a product, so it’s refreshing to say something a little bit nasty occasionally.

Afterthought
I’m finishing an essay for uni today. It’s been a while since I wrote an essay. When I started, I really wanted to use bullet points to get my thoughts across (bullet points and white space are essential when writing web copy). It was interesting moving away from my copy writing into essay writing, felt like I was learning a new skill, using different parts of my brain.

Or is that brane?

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Copywriting | , , | 4 Comments

Y: It Matters

Some years ago, someone said every time you read a book, there’s always a detail you missed the first time. For a long time after that, whenever I re-read a book, I looked for the bits I’d missed. The same goes for movies- every time you watch it, there’s a detail you’ve missed before.

For example, today I watched The Wizard of Oz. I’ve seen that movie oh, about a thousand times. Today, I noticed Dorothy’s posy of flowers changes before she begins walking the Yellow Brick Road. The posy she’s handed has mostly purple flowers, then the posy changes to mostly yellow flowers, then back to purple. It’s a detail I’ve never noticed before.

Recently I wrote a piece for a client and for some reason, despite all my proofreading, I completely missed a blindingly obvious spelling mistake. Even worse- it was the client’s name that had been misspelled. Yes people, I committed the Cardinal Sin of Copywriting: misspelling the name of the client in a piece of copy. Luckily, it was picked up before the client saw it, but I beat myself up about it for days afterward. How could I miss that detail? How could I miss something right in front of my eyes? How could I miss it after all the time I’d spent reading and re-reading the piece?

Of course, the best thing about mistakes is that you always remember them. Hopefully, you never make them again. So while I can no longer claim my strength is ‘attention to detail’, I’m always going to check, re-check and check again the client’s name before I press Send.

(In case anyone was wondering, I left out the Y in their name, hence the title of the post.)

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Copywriting, Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment