A monkey with a loaded typewriter

right margin typewriter A monkey with a loaded typewriter

I read this short post by Nathan Bransford about tinkering with e-books after they have been “published.” At first, I was deeply conflicted. On the one hand, being able to correct typos easily and make updates seems like you would be giving your readers a service they could not get in print books. On the other, my English degree (my old, tattered one) says that once a writer releases the work, it is no longer his; it belongs to his readers, warts and all.

But then my old newspaper background reared its ugly head and reminded me square on that in print, there are no do-overs. If you miss a typos or make some other mistake during the editing process, it will get replicated 200,000+ times and be forever archived AS IS in the Library of Congress, the Newseum and as clippings in scrapbooks for generations. If that kind of pressure does not force you to become very, very good at the craftsmanship of writing, you should perhaps look for another profession.

Endless tinkering does not force us to hone a craft. Imagine if a plumber could get your pipes done good enough to build the house and then come back in a few weeks and fix something he didn’t get right. Or a bricklayer can just fix that wall later.. or a concrete guy can pour that footer better next spring…

Why do we view writing in less earnest? Why is the “artistry” of writing celebrated more than the craft?

Good writers — like all good artists — are exceptional craftsmen first. Otherwise, they are just slinging words around hoping to make a few stick together into sentences. That is not writing; that is a monkey with a loaded typewriter.

The medium in which you are publishing should not dictate the level of craftsmanship you put into the work. Only the very best for which you are capable should be the starting line.

Measure twice, cut once. Move on.

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About Rufus Dogg

I'm a dog who writes a blog. It is not a pet blog. It is a real blog that talks about real ideas. No, really. I do my own writing, but I have a really, really cool editor who overlooks the fact that I can't really hit the space-bar key cause I don't have thumbs. I talk about everything from politics to social issues to just rambling about local problems. And, sometimes I just talk about nothing in particular. Google+
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8 Responses to A monkey with a loaded typewriter

  1. James Dibben says:

    I am so thankful for my English 101 teacher. I am eliminating so many bad habits in my writing because of her instruction. I hope my readers notice a difference. Once this semester is over I plan on sharing a lot of information with my readers. I have never had so much fun writing as I am now in this class.

    • Rufus Dogg says:

      You are lucky because most Eng101 teachers are graduate students who suffer through freshman more than guide, lead and instruct them! Most often, they just reinforce bad habits many students pick up from high school which do not serve them as they advance.

      Like any skill, the more you master it, the easier it is to perform. Reading prose by a skillful writer is akin to watching a master chef wield a knife. It looks easy, it looks like magic but it is just the result of a lot of practice.

      Stick with the writing, even when you don’t have a paper due. It is a skill that will never fail you.

      • James Dibben says:

        I love writing too much to ever give it up now!

        My English teacher is set on teaching us what she was not taught till graduate school. She claims there was a lot she did not learn until getting her advanced degree.

        She wants us to be better.

  2. Jane says:

    I enlisted the help of two editors for a 486 page book. When the book was printed, I found 21 errors. I corrected them and ordered another proof. I found 8 more. I corrected. A reader then found two I missed. I re-read the entire book with an eagle eye and found an additional three. That’s 34 errors that three people initially missed. I don’t regret correcting them and I would have been appalled if I had to leave the book as it was. Even now, I’m convinced that there are typos waiting to be found. (The last edit was done mid-September.)

    Part of the problem, at least for me, is that I find editing online to be less effective than an old-fashioned paper manuscript and red pen. I learned the lesson with this book that no matter how much it costs, it’s necessary for myself and all editors to have a hard copy.

    Salt to my wound was added today by a review that noted “COUNTLESS” typos by someone who ordered an earlier copy. I offered her a new book and my apologies, but my embarrassment is complete.

    • James Dibben says:

      I cannot imagine doing a book review and being even slightly concerned with typos, even if I were smart enough to find some.

      I am more of a fan of book ‘responses’ than book reviews. Most often I read a book for how it will change me, not so I can critique the thing.

      I can’t wait to read your book. When I do, I will give a response, not a review. And, I have no doubt that I will be a better person once I have finished it.

    • Rufus Dogg says:

      Firstly, I read the review. There was a typo in her review title (left off the “t” in Elephant) As a writer and editor, I would be taking a pen to her review for grammatical errors, especially superlatives and run-on sentences. Discriminating readers will take her review for what it is.

      Years back, a book was written by a writer, advised and guided by an editor, proofread by a copyeditor and set by a typesetter. At least four craftsmen were looking at the text, each with his own specialized skill set. Now, we shove books through this DIY engine where even if editors look at the text, they are mostly not reading for mechanical errors.

      Even the best craftsman will be unsatisfied with his latest work, mostly because he pushes himself to be better with each work. Your book is that kind of work as will your next and your next. We should correct the mechanical errors when we find them, but as long as we continue to hone the craft, these errors should be seen as evidence that we are pushing our craft beyond our the skills of our latest work; tool marks if you will. It is the lazy errors that I have issue with.

      Some people look for roses; others look for thorns. A well-written book with errors gives both audiences what they are looking for :-)

  3. Jane says:

    You are both diplomats and gentlemen. :-)