Friday, 18 February 2011

"Since brevity is the soul of wit..."

I feel a bit too much like Polonius when I write my blog posts sometimes. I go on a lot. And while this blog is kind of primarily for me to get my thoughts out and so it's not such a big deal if I'm occasionally a bit long winded for other people's taste, I feel like I have failed my unknown number of possible readers with my post about Iolanthe yesterday. Not because it was long, but because I didn't really say that much. This is supposed to be me getting my thoughts out, but I wasn't, I ended up just summarising the show. Now, there were some important thoughts in there, which definitely needed to be mentioned; like the innuendos, and the fact that the two lords are clearly gay for each other. But I didn't need to go through every single scene.
I realised that I was having this problem, while writing the post, but for some reason I didn't do anything about it. When I realised, I should have then gone back and edited the post. Cut out the superfluous bits to make more room for me to be weird at people. Which brings me neatly to the subject of editing.

Sticking to staged shows, I've heard the opinion voiced (Or possibly read it, I don't remember) that writers should not be allowed to direct their own shows, because they're bad at cutting things, and sometimes things need to be cut. This is a general thing, it may well take an outside observer to see what needs to be changed. Not necessarily, but often. Certainly self-editing is more difficult than editing something by someone else.
I myself find I'm both good and bad at self-editing. I self-edit quite a lot while I'm writing something, I'll go back and repeatedly rewrite a sentence, rearrange a paragraph, whatever, until I feel happy with it. But once I have a finished work, I find it hard to change anything. I'll look through it in an attempt to edit it, but tend to just leave it as it is.
Although, that said, if I leave it for maybe a month, then look over it, I find it easier, probably because I'm not so close to it. Certainly I've found this when arranging songs for choir - I'll put together an arrangement and be pretty happy with it. Then about a month later I'll look through it and think "Why did I do this? How did I ever think this was a good idea? OK, clearly I just got a bit carried away there..." and so on. Sometimes this happens with an unfinished arrangement as well. If I've gotten stuck with an arrangement, I may leave it for a while, then when I want to continue it I'll listen to what I've already done to get myself back in the right frame of mind, and find that it's not as good as I thought it was.
I'm pretty sure I've done that with every vocal arrangement I've ever done. Oh, except for A Short Song About Shoes.

Some people seem not to have any ability to self-edit at times. Maybe not consistently, all the time, but sometimes. There's a problem which I've observed in a few things I've read, where it seems the writer has had a decent, interesting idea, but then not put any additional effort in. So the idea ends up being irrelevant, and therefore superfluous; or it ends up evoking the wrong reaction for some reason, or a myriad other possible problems. Because just shoving an idea directly into something is fine for a first draft, say, but then before you reach the final version which you're going to publish, however you're going to publish it, you should've then worked more on the idea to ensure it works as you intended.
Of course, this problem is more common in works published on the internet, since there's no editing process to go through, and often they have a fairly rapid schedule. This is not necessarily an excuse, however, because the whole point is that it's all under the control of the writer, and if they have such problems, they should take steps to avoid them. Of course, some internet content may also lack direct feedback, reviews and the like, so they may not necessarily realise the issues, and so the problems get institutionalised.

If anyone's wondering, I do have a particular work in mind. However I'm not going to tell you what it is, because if you don't know it, you should count yourself lucky. The only followers of this comic I know follow it purely to mock its failings and sometimes indulge in collaborative efforts to try and make the canonical events make sense (A daunting task). Also possibly out of a sense of morbid curiosity. Decent ideas, terrible execution most of the time. It has occasionally been theorised that actually the writer is just trolling us all by deliberately making it this bad, but that's probably not the case.

Onto more cheerful subjects! Related to editing is proofreading. They're both part of the whole process that ensures a work will be properly readable. I feel the world suffers at times from having insufficient proofreaders. Now while my self-editting may be variable, my self-proofreading is very good. A handy side effect of the fact I can take a while to get my thoughts in order before writing something is that while I'm thinking I may look at what I've already written, and then I notice the typos. Of which there are annoyingly many, but not actually that many. Especially annoying is that I have actually on occasion caught myself typing the wrong homophone, like their/they're. I have no idea why! I know the difference perfectly well, and it's something which really annoys me when other people do it wrong, and possibly don't even care that they're doing it wrong. But sometimes I do it wrong for no readily apparent reason. Fortunately I'm pretty sure every time that's happened I've caught it before hitting the 'submit post' button.
I can get a bit worked up, even mildly obsessive, about proper SPG. To the point that on the Playground, I tend to correct other people's SPG when I quote their posts. I don't point out the errors usually, I just fix them in the quote. I have also been known to change American spelling to British spelling, which I really shouldn't do, but if I'm already altering the quote I can't help it because it just bothers me. Especially when people leave the s off the end of 'maths'.
Anyway, like I said. World suffers from lack of proofreaders. An obvious example of this is, as observed by Professor Sir Terry Pratchett, is the Ven'erable S'ociety of Gre'engr'ocers, who are bound by oath never to put their punctuation in the right place. But it crops up all over. I'm pretty sure there's a website specifically devoted to documenting these sorts of failures. I know I personally have discarded a few job adverts on the grounds that they had spelling mistakes in them. Also one which apparently offered a salary of £0 - £1/annum. I hope that was a typo.
I've never really been able to understand why people have difficulty with this. I remember having an English lesson, in year 10, explaining how to properly use apostrophes. I learned nothing in that lesson which I hadn't already learned 4 years previously, so why was it necessary?

People should care more about their language.
Well, this post is shorter than my others, but given my issues with the last one, that may well be a good thing.


  1. I have an issue with typing. I type too fast for my words to come out correctly all the time. The words word is JUST that normally comes you jsut. I typo a lot so I use the spell checker on here before posting.
    But then I have appauling spelling anyway. Well ok not that bad but I don't know how to spell some words and I just have to cope with that (as do my readers).
    I'm 80-90% good though =)

    I get more annoyed by SPG mistakes for things that are published or like for signs or shop names. That is bothersome because it's really out there. If you name your shop something you should take time to get it right. But blogs or things by us little people isn't such a crime in my eyes because... idk... stuff... yeah
    Lost the words, nm =)


  2. This makes me feel a little bad for commenting on this post and not the previous ones, but spelling and grammar are a lot easier to form coherent thoughts on than love or shows.

    Anyway, yes, like liffy I have typing issues, mostly for some reason words with 'r' in, like Thursday comes out as Thrusday, friend as firend etc. I also do the homophone thing a lot, and due to the speed at which I type when I'm blogging I don't always catch them, and feel very ashamed. It really is an odd thing. It's like my fingers aren't aware of the content of what I'm typing at all, like when you are writing from someone's dictation and you let your mind wander to the point where the words hold no meaning. It's still rubbish though.

    I am still considering copyediting/proofing as an actual job, but even if I go into something more sensible I sometimes want to just travel around the english-speaking world offering my services for free to fix some of the most cringey mistakes. I say English-speaking world because living in Japan makes me think translated signs, instruction books etc are a lost cause.

    I think nanowrimo made me a bit less fastidious about fixing everything in my work before I move on. I do thank my lucky stars sometimes that I don't have trouble with spelling, or my blog would probably make people's eyes bleed given how little proofing it gets. That is not to say I don't care about my language. I'm just testing the limits of how fast I can go and retain quality :P

    I agree with all of your words :)
    PS. One amusing thing that does come out of the lack of editing on the internet is eggcorns, the name of which phenomenon I have only just learned but I have loved them for a long time.

    PPS That's because short song about shoes is bloody brilliant

    PPPS I made a startling number of mistakes in this comment :/ I think I prefer typing in a space where you can see your previous few paragraphs rather than a sentence or two (word, when typing blog itself etc.)

  3. At least you seem to have been able to keep yours up. The mood must strike me with mine, though I do in fact have many ideas for posts written down. Don't regret expatiation when others haven't updated theirs with even brief contributions for a fortnight. :P

  4. Just typed 'Jack guesses he should be greatful'
    For goodness' sake, that's not even a word! and I know it isn't a word! But at least spellcheck catches invented homophones, unlike actual homophones used in the wrong place.

  5. @Anna: As soon as I realised I was about to start talking about proofreading I thought "OK, so Anna's going to be commenting on this one..."
    On NaNoWriMo, well, that's kind of the point, isn't it? Just getting the words down on paper/computer. But if someone was being properly serious about that novel, trying to get it published or whatever, I would expect them to then go back and proofread/edit it.
    I've been meaning to do NaNoWriMo some time... though possibly in the wrong month, because I may not want to wait until November.
    (@PPS:) Also because it's short and simple. Most arrangements a couple of ideas come to me naturally but I then have to work to fill in the rest. With Shoes, a couple of ideas pretty much took care of the whole song.

  6. Haha glad I've made my devotion to the subject so clear :P

    Well, it's the point *during* nanowrimo, but then I expected to snap back to caring more afterwards and it never really happened. I did go back and proofread it before anyone got to see it though, unlike my blogs. Nano is great fun! And it would totally work any time of year, it's just good doing it with everyone else because of the sense of community and there's much more impetus to actually finish it because you have a little graph and a worldwide deadline and stuff. But I don't know how motivated you are by little graphs and worldwide deadlines. And there are other nanowrimos that happen in other months too, actually, they are just not as massive.

  7. the tin aboot propper spellin'. Puntuation: or Grramah; iz dat whiel ev1 shood no it noone cairs ...

    urrgh, i feel all dirty now.