Tag Archives: twitter

Miscommunication Is the Root of All Evil – Take Pride in 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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Twitter Etiquette and Marketing

Etiquette. I’m big on etiquette.

Not the kind of etiquette that says things such as, in relation to tea:
‘After stirring, place your spoon quietly on the saucer, behind the cup, on the right hand side under the handle.’

I don’t see the point in this. Why does it matter where on the saucer you put the spoon? Putting it down may have value – I’m thinking about the person at the next table who taps their cutlery in a repetitive and annoying fashion. But am I likely to be offended or inconvenienced by where on their saucer they put their spoon? I doubt it.

No, I mean the kind of etiquette that helps us manage relationships, usually with people we don’t know well, and avoid conflict.

Allow me to explain further. Some of you may have seen the #stabbylove hashtag going around on Twitter. A few people have asked me about it. I explained it (in a non-writing context, as not everyone who asked is a writer) as:

‘#Stabbylove is when you tell your best friend that, yes, her dress does make her butt look big. Because she needs to know, and you love her’.

Someone then asked me (tongue in cheek, I’m sure) why that doesn’t apply to strangers.

Well, the real answer is ‘etiquette’. We can say something like to this to our best friend because she knows we mean well and we’re trying to help her not to embarrass herself. If we didn’t tell our friend, and she found out later, she’d be mortified.

The stranger on the street, on the other hand, will probably just think we’re being nasty and be offended. Because they are likely to be offended, it’s simply rude to say so. It’s bad etiquette, even if you meant well. Such is the oil that greases the wheels of civilisation.

Etiquette should be easy. It’s common-sense, and it doesn’t take much effort. Unfortunately common-sense isn’t all that common and too many people are lazy, which breeds a culture of rudeness and selfishness.

Etiquette also runs into problems when we develop new technologies. It’s commonly accepted now that to write LIKE THIS in an email is to shout at the recipient, but when email was new, we didn’t have those kinds of accepted practices.

So what about Twitter etiquette? Although there is no written rule that says I must, I routinely welcome my new followers. It takes nothing except a little time on my part, and I think it’s a nice courtesy. Nice enough that more than a few people have commented on it. With fairly minimal effort on my part, I have made someone feel good. Not sure there is a downside to that! There may come the day when this is no longer sustainable, but I haven’t reached that point yet.

But there are many things on Twitter that annoy me and other people I know. I think they are discourteous, but if you are a writer who is marketing yourself on Twitter, you should also consider the effectiveness of the techniques you are using. Will you sell more books by doing something that annoys someone? Probably not.

So here is a list of the things that personally annoy me:

• Repeated spamming of my timeline with promotional tweets about your book or blog and nothing else. I don’t mind promotional tweets here and there, but when I can go through the timeline of a list that has one hundred people in it and see nothing but a long list of promotional tweets for your book or blog, you are tweeting it too much. Once every few hours would be my maximum guideline, but if you must insist, once an hour might be acceptable. And please, try to tweet something else in between. I am more likely to read your book or blog after I have gotten to know you personally – if I like you. In the case of blogs, I know some people who won’t follow you until after they have read your blog, in which case you don’t need to promotional tweet them. In either case, your tweets are either ineffective or unnecessary;

• Sending a direct message to welcome a new follower. If you want to welcome someone, do it publicly. Is there any reason you can’t? Your new follower gets a mention, and if you’re going to be nice enough to welcome someone, why would you want to hide it away? Of all the things in this list, this one probably annoys me the least. It’s only a minor irk. But hey, if you are marketing yourself, don’t you want to show everyone how fabulous you are?

• Sending a direct message to a new follower – and you’re not following back! Don’t get me wrong, I do not subscribe to an auto-follow or follow for follow policy (more on that later). But it’s just rude to send someone a direct message they can’t reply to. Few things on Twitter annoy me as much as this one, and after I’ve tried and failed to send you a direct message, I’m unlikely to bother tweeting you. If you are going to contact someone, do so in a format that gives them the opportunity to respond. As well as being courteous, this also helps you to connect more meaningfully with your followers.

• Sending a direct message to a new follower – and it’s spam. The last thing I want from someone I just followed is spam. I don’t know you yet. Sending me a spam direct message does not help me to know you, but it helps me to dislike you. Get to know people before you encourage them to read your blog or your book – especially a book you expect them to pay for. People are more likely to respond positively if they know you and like you. Spam is not likeable. I know people who will automatically unfollow someone who sends them a direct message that is spam. Think about that before you decide to use this to market yourself.

• Repeated requests to F4F (follow for follow). I do not F4F or auto-follow. When someone follows me, I will check their profile, and if they look interesting, I will follow them. But I may later unfollow them if they don’t prove interesting. I don’t expect people to follow me back just because I follow them, although now that Twitter is imposing rationing on the people I can follow, I may from time to time unfollow people who are not following me. I may find them interesting, but if I have to choose between two interesting people, and one likes me and interacts with me and one doesn’t… Well, I don’t think the choice is too hard, do you?

• Auto-response – I only just came across this one in time for this blog, so maybe it’s not very common – or maybe I just hadn’t noticed. I received an ‘automated’ direct message from someone I just followed. Now it’s entirely possible some of the tweets I’ve complained about above are also automated, but this one had some kind of tag that drew my attention to this fact. I was unimpressed. I did not feel welcomed by an auto-response. It was like the recording you get when on hold to a call centre – ‘Your call is important to us’. No it’s bloody not. This person had ‘welcomed’ me and probably didn’t even know I was following.

Now I’m not suggesting these things annoy everyone, or that this is a universal list of unacceptable Twitter behaviour. But they annoy me. They annoy some people I know. If you’re doing any of these things, you are not marketing effectively to us. There’s a reasonable chance you’re not marketing effectively to other people.

Stop and think when you devise your marketing strategy. Think about what annoys you, and people you know. If the things that annoy you are not Twitter related (e.g. unsolicited telemarketing calls) think about what might be a Twitter equivalent (e.g. unsolicited spam direct messages). And don’t do them.

Think clever, be courteous, and above all – be effective.

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