IWSG Question o’ the Month: Pet Peeves

The first Wednesday of the month brings another blog-hop from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a valuable resource for all of us hacking our way through the jungle of writing advice. Check it out here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Thanks to this month’s IWSG hosts: Christine Rains, Dolarah @ Book Lover, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Yvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner!

This month’s question: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Hoo boy, I can’t wait to read this month’s replies. I love a good rant. Warning: there’s strong language below.

I have learned so much from reading and critiquing the works-in-progress of other writers, both in face-to-face critique groups and in online manuscript swaps. Despite my extensive experience in written expression, a few boo-boos will always escape my notice. My readers help me catch those, along with areas where I was unclear or missed an opportunity for greater impact. I’m grateful for their help.

That said, I carefully proofread my submissions before asking anyone else to read them. The main purpose of writing is clarity, whether the writer is trying to convey a scene, a character, a theme, an emotion, or an explanation.

I wish all my critique partners would take care to proofread before asking me to read their work. (My WFWA partners do.) It’s not like we weren’t taught this stuff in school. It’s not like this information is difficult to find if we need a refresher on, say, comma usage.

I run into two scenarios:

#1: The writer shrugs. “I’m not good at punctuation. I hope you’ll help me.”

#2: “Who cares about commas? You know what I mean. Why are you being such a pedantic jerk about spelling and punctuation?”

In response to #1: Extensive line editing is time-consuming, and it’s not a service I offer for free. Sure, we’ll all miss a few errors, but when I have to wade through a jungle of superfluous punctuation, gaping holes where punctuation ought to be, tangles of vagueness, and steaming pits of confusing word choice, I get frustrated and tired before I ever reach the story.

And isn’t the story what it’s all about?

As to #2: Imagine this attitude translated to other scenarios—for example, talking to your tax accountant.

“Okay, yearly income. Let’s say 50K.”

“But your W2 form says you make $68,732.”

“Whatever! They’ll know what I mean. Precision’s not important here.”

“Actually, it is. If you enter the wrong amount, the IRS will come after you for back taxes, plus penalties—”

“I hate the IRS, and I hate picky assholes like you.” (Gathers papers and stomps off.)

Or at band practice:

“Wait, someone’s playing the wrong note. We’re in the key of D.”

“Why is it important that I play in D? I’m really feeling it in C minor. Sounds good to me.”

“That’s not how the song goes, man. It’s D minor, then B sharp, then—”

“Whatever, man. You’re always criticizing me. You’re a picky, pedantic asshole.”

“And you’re out of the band.”

Precision is vital in written communication. Words and punctuation marks are the tools we use to convey meaning. Maybe you didn’t like English class. Maybe your teacher smelled funny. Maybe she was mean, and you really wanted to be fixing your makeup or playing a computer game instead of learning how to use apostrophes.

Tough shit. Clear communication is important.

8 thoughts on “IWSG Question o’ the Month: Pet Peeves

  1. Olga Godim

    Oh, yes! I recognize that one. I had a gig as an editor of a small press some time ago, and I got manuscripts that were clearly first drafts. It was painful to edit them.

  2. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor

    Hi – I’m co-hosting this month and popped over to say hi.

    Love the tax scenario! If only it worked that way 🙂 I try to proofread very carefully before I send anything off to beta readers, but I always miss things which I never see until after the email has been sent. So embarrassing.

  3. M Pepper Langlinais

    I used to work as an editor before deciding to write full time (and I still freelance as an editor sometimes), so I definitely feel your pain. Just recently someone asked me to help them with their work, then sent a second pass, and they hadn’t even made most of the corrections I’d marked the first time! I’m like, “These aren’t suggestions. This is a matter of correct or not correct. If you don’t want corrections, I’m not going to spend time and energy on this.”

  4. Stephanie Faris

    I mean–if you’re a writer, you need to know punctuation. It’s what you do. Everyone needs to know it for professional emails and such, but if grammar isn’t “your thing,” writing might not be the best choice of a career for you!

  5. C.D. Gallant-King

    Fortunately I’m a slow reader and oblivious to most errors, so no one ever asks me to edit/proofread anything for them.

    But I am learning to edit my own work and it’s a goddamn sonnovabith.

  6. Lee

    I am also a pedantic jerk about spelling and punctuation when I do beta reads, and frankly, appreciate the same. I have friends who will stroke my ego and tell me I’m a brilliant writer – I don’t need that when I’m trying to get a real critique. Words are our tools. For the “gammar isn’t my thing” bunch, I agree with Stephanie that perhaps writing isn’t the right career path for them.


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