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Miscommunication Is the Root of All Evil – Take Pride in Pedantry!

Pedantry

A writer’s job is communication. We traffic in conveying meaning, using words. Our job is not to use the fanciest word available, or the most obscure, or to use a technically correct but little understood definition of a word. 

Short and simple, our job is to get the reader to understand our meaning. 

If a writer means one thing, and the reader interprets another, the writer has failed at their job. 

There is, of course, some flexibility – we do allow the reader some latitude to use their own imagination to fill in the detail of a scene, but the details you do mention, the elements critical to the plot, must be understood as intended or events may not make sense. If you’re writing non-fiction, getting this right may be even more critical! As a lawyer, I know the finest nuance can mean a big difference in the end result!

Why is it, then, that I get so much push-back from people when I am particular about the meaning of words? I expect this from non-writers, but not from other writers, who should understand the critical difference in meaning that may be conveyed by choosing one word over another. 

Yes, you got me, I wrote this post because someone annoyed me. Again.

I was having a conversation on Twitter when someone suggested I could ‘ask Hemingway’. Now of course, he is dead, so I took it as a joke, and replied in a humorous vein with something to the effect of I’d like to if only he wasn’t dead (because, let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t want to sit down and pick Hemingway’s brain?). 

Well, apparently this person wasn’t joking, because they replied with the very snarky comment ‘And it’s too hard to read his books’.
 
I was a bit put out, because I never said I wouldn’t read his books, or that I didn’t respect his work. But talking to the man, and reading his books, are two totally different things. Sure, you can learn a bit by reading an author’s books, but what that author can tell you may be something very different. 

As an example, I very much admire Brandon Sanderson’s prose, especially in The Way of Kings where it is spare, elegant and efficient. And yet, when I met Brandon Sanderson, he said prose doesn’t come easily to him. So from his books I may learn technically good prose. From the man, I can learn that even if it doesn’t come naturally, you can still learn to do it, and how. Two very different lessons.

So what this person on Twitter said to me, and what they meant, were two very different things. So I pointed this out, gently I thought (or as gently as one can in 140 characters).  In return, I was called a pedant. 

Yes, yes I am. Are you? Are you a writer? Then you should be a pedant. 

How much would it affect your story if something you said in earnest was taken by your reader to be a joke? It would depend on the moment I expect, and could range from puzzling to downright shocking. What about if a critical plot element was misunderstood? It may cripple your story, rendering it nonsensical. 

Writers are wordsmiths, expert in words. Make sure you choose the most appropriate words to convey your meaning. Aim to be as clear as possible. Avoid obscure words. Avoid obscure definitions of common words. Be aware of ‘perception’. Does a word have a colloquial or slang meaning more predominant than its technical definition meaning?  An example is ‘author’. 

Technically if you have authored a piece of writing, you are an author, but tell someone outside the writing community you are an author and they will think you are published with a Big 6 publisher and living off your royalties – I almost guarantee it. Be aware of these types of issues and, yes, cater to them! 

Your purpose is to convey your intended meaning, not to look ultra-sexy or secret-spy smart while doing it. And if you write something that can be misread in some fabulous fashion, the only thing you will look is stupid. 

And don’t even get me started on the problems caused within families, friendships and marriages by miscommunications. 

Writers, you should know better. Get it right. Take pride in your pedantry.

Or woman…

If you missed it, check out my review of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson here.

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Triberr Etiquette Or How Not To Piss Off Your Tribemates

Triberr Etiquette

For those who don’t know, Triberr is a platform that allows bloggers to band together to support each other by semi-automating the tweeting of each other’s blog posts. 

When Triberr was first conceived by its founders, users were urged to ‘tribe up’ with Tweeps they knew and trusted because the idea and expectation was everyone would tweet out everything their tribemates posted to their blog and funnelled through Triberr. Since the loss of fully automated tweeting, this idea has fallen more and more by the wayside. Navigating the politics of any given tribe can be treacherous. Tempers flare. Insults are exchanged. 

Some tribes have rules. Everyone must tweet everyone else’s tweets. Tribemates must not post more than once a day. Tribemates must post more than three times a day. There is no obligation on tweeting at all.
And some tribes don’t have rules. 

Where there are no rules, or the rules are quite relaxed with no expectation of tweeting, then tribemates can clash. 

Sure, you may not be obligated to tweet me, but if you don’t tweet me, why should I feel obliged to tweet you? Triberr is and always has been an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back’ arrangement. 

So in the absence of strict tribe rules, I suggest the following common sense guidelines may help to manage the politics:
  • Sure, if you really feel someone posts nothing but crap, don’t tweet them. But if you are tweeting less than half your tribemates for quality reasons, you are probably in the wrong tribe;
  • If you don’t tweet someone, don’t expect them to tweet you back. Definitely don’t think Triberr is a place you can funnel your RSS feed through, set and forget, and never login in to approve tribemates posts. If you do, eventually no one will tweet your post. Why should people make an effort for someone unprepared to return the favour?
  • Don’t tell me you don’t tweet posts because of your ‘brand’. If you have real ‘brand’ issues, tribe up with bloggers who are all about your brand. There is no point tribing up with people you know from the get go that you will never tweet. And incidentally, don’t assume your followers are one dimensional. Fantasy readers, for example, come from all walks of life, and they have varied jobs. One of my readers enjoyed a post I tweeted about big rigs and dams, even though there’s not much in that I personally relate to.
  • If you do make a decision not to tweet a particular person, I personally think it’s courteous to notify them and let them know you don’t expect them to tweet you, but that one may just be me;
  • Tribe leaders, I do think you should encourage tribe members to bring disputes to you, rather than have them back-stabbing each other in the schoolyard as it were. Also, if someone really isn’t pulling their weight in a tribe (or is posting offensive drivel as happened in one of my tribes), you need to know about it because that person is dead weight (or downright dangerous) and isn’t adding any value to your tribe. There is little point having statistics on your tribal reach if in fact half your members are not tweeting to their followers, as that number is then just misleading. I have a few tribes where tribal leaders have removed people who were either not tweeting anyone at all, or were posting really offensive, discriminatory posts.
  • Unless you’re in a tribe that requires multiple postings per day, it’s unreasonable to expect your tribemates to tweet you more than once a day, especially if you are in a large tribe, and especially if the tribe contains a lot of daily bloggers;
If in doubt, you can always ask your tribe leader what the rules are, if any. Tribes of people you know well and really trust dowork best. I have three of these, and they are my absolute favourites! But practically speaking, I recognise that’s not always possible. 

And a word to the wise – Triberr stats have lately been unreliable, so don’t assume someone who shows as tweeting ‘0’ of your posts really is. Check your Twitter stream before you give them the kiss of death!

I’m entered in the Best Australian Blogs 2012 Competition for both Flight of the Dragon and Somebody Has To Say It. If you like this blog, or Flight of the Dragon, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d be so good as to stop by and vote for me here.

This is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge Series. If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here – A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P , Q, R and S.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.


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