A look at some obscure punctuation marks

Did I mention this would be a lazy month on the site? That’s how it’s turning out, though maybe my overwork at my job is contributing to that. I’m actually working on an anime review right now, though I’m still at a loss about how to finish it — I set it aside for months before returning to it and rewatching a few key parts, but I’m not sure my feelings have changed much about it. Maybe you’ll see what I mean when I finally do post that review.

That should be coming soon, anyway (I hope.) For now, here’s some talk about weird punctuation marks. Back in the day when typesetting was still a pretty new concept (in the West anyway; China already had it down) punctuation wasn’t quite standardized. Even the use of the comma and period wasn’t settled for a long while. Language in general being a pretty fluid thing, then, it’s only natural that new punctuation was invented by typesetters and scholars to better perform certain functions. Like say the semicolon, a mark that isn’t that necessary to use often but that I use too often because I am a pretentious jerk. Or the ampersand, &, existing more as a sort of very specialized letter than a mark, resulting from the natural combination of the Latin et (and) into a distinct character.

What about a star? Does that count as proper punctuation?

Not all of these newly proposed marks stuck, however. Some fell out of use after a while and more simply never stuck. Yet they still exist in a sort of semi-death, still floating around available to be used for those brave enough to not care whether they confuse their readers.

Interrobang

If you know any of these marks, it’s probably this one:

This is the interrobang, a ligature or combination of a question mark and an exclamation point, the latter also known as a bang hence the name. The purpose of the interrobang is just what it seems: to mark a question asked in a surprised, angry, or agitated way (ex: “You ate the reuben I was saving‽” Truly a crime worthy of a ‽.)

The interrobang is a newer mark, proposed in the 1960s, and despite its being pretty well known among nerds like me it’s never really caught on. I can’t remember a single time I’ve seen a ‽ used in print media, and it barely ever makes an appearance online either. In fact, the only times I remember ‽ ever being used is in articles about the interrobang itself. In that sense, it’s absolutely failed as a punctuation mark — people for whatever reason just decided they’d prefer to use a ?! (or a !?, which Stack Exchange claims is different, but don’t listen to those jerks. It might mean something different in chess terminology but not in general use.) And ?! is so rarely used anyway that there’s really no need at all for ‽. The interrobang is an interesting concept, but it’s just far too specialized to be of any real use to anyone except weirdos who want to make their writing stand out for the wrong reasons.

Irony mark

Man do I hate this one. I get why someone came up with it — in fact, the idea is a lot older than the interrobang concept. But it just so completely kills the point of what it’s supposed to be achieving that it’s amazing. Maybe even ironic? Maybe not (I’m not getting into that Alanis Morissette bullshit here.)

The irony mark is meant to mark an ironic statement. Seems pretty obvious from the name, and the reason for it is obvious too. It’s a well known problem that irony can be hard to distinguish in writing, especially if you’re not familiar with the writer, their character, and the unspoken context of a statement that may or may not be ironic depending.

The trouble is that marking an ironic statement as ironic is like putting the statement this is a joke at the end of every joke you make — it kills the effect. That might be part of why ⸮ never caught on in writing despite having a far longer life than ‽. Though maybe not, since the “sarcasm tag” /s serves pretty much the same purpose and I’ve seen that used fairly often online. And if anyone reading has ever been in or seen a Twitch stream, the same is true of the Kappa emote, which gets pulled out when chat wants to make some biting comments. Even Kappa on its own can be effective at teasing the streamer (hopefully in a friendly way, but knowing Twitch, that’s not always the case.)

So maybe the real problem with ⸮ isn’t its function but its look, because a backwards question mark doesn’t really scream “irony”, at least to me. I think I’d just read it as a question mark in text. It was a lazy choice anyway — imagine having an excuse to create a new punctuation mark and just reversing an existing mark. I’m happy this mark never caught on. (Note: I’ve seen ⸮ also called a “percontation point” meant to mark a rhetorical question, but the same criticisms apply here — a rhetorical question should be obvious from context. Though to the percontation point’s credit, at least it makes sense that it looks like a question mark. Edit: also note that the irony mark is sometimes cited as having a slightly different shape than the “reversed question mark”, but fuck, that is just what it looks like to me. It’s close enough that my brain still reads it as a reversed question mark anyway.

Any of the marks created by Hervé Bazin

Hervé Bazin was a French author who in the 60s proposed a set of new punctuation to express various feelings, like his “love mark”, two mirrored question marks over a single dot in the shape of a heart, or his “acclamation mark”, a similarly doubled exclamation point, or his own version of the irony mark. I’m not sure whether any of this ever caught on in French, but I doubt it, and I know it didn’t in English. Bazin’s punctuation marks are so rarely used that they don’t even exist in Unicode. Even the interrobang has a Unicode entry, meaning you can place it into your own text if you feel like it, but these don’t. Sorry, Mr. Bazin, though credit where it’s due for actually bothering to make up new marks instead of repurposing or reversing old ones.

Looking back, though, it’s pretty obvious why none of these caught on. In formal/published text, their functions were far too specific to establish new characters for them. You might ask why not just throw them in anyway, but for centuries, printers and typesetters were the ones who would have had to deal with that extra type, and if they didn’t deem new characters necessary, they sure as hell weren’t going to bother with them. They’ve exerted a surprising amount of influence on modern English for that reason, creating new letters and dropping old ones through decades and centuries of custom. So why mess around with a new mark like ‽ when the old ?! or !? do just as well?

And in casual text, we already have a far superior alternative (at least in terms of range of emotion and function): emojis. These might not be “formal” parts of our languages, but they’ve become actual parts of our written communication over the last few decades starting with the old 90s mostly sideways emoticons, and they’ve made any new punctuation that expresses particular emotions unnecessary. You might not like them — hell, I don’t really care for them myself and barely ever use them except when it feels absolutely necessary. But they’ve caught on, and if you can’t call these pictographs language because they don’t usually have sounds attached to them, then at least you can say they function as a kind of informal punctuation. Maybe. I’m not a linguist, I don’t know. What’s your opinion?

Finally, just a note on some of the articles I’ve seen about these marks while looking them up: almost all of them are titled “13 rarely used punctuation marks you should use/never knew you needed” or similar. I know that’s just how these titles are always written, but as long as words have meanings I can criticize them, so here: I’ve gotten along fine without interrobangs or irony marks, and even without emojis. I never knew I needed them because I don’t need them. None of this is to dump on their creators — they had some clever and interesting concepts, but again, there are good reasons those concepts never caught on. As for the authors of those articles, I get the game there too. I guess I’m playing it as well, though not quite as well as they do. Just adding my own commentary here if anyone cares.

Anyway that’s my nerd rant about language, and maybe not my only one. I guess this counts as talking shop for a writer, doesn’t it? Until next time‽⸮

Behind my lousy writing process

It’s Monday night as of this writing, and the week is already hell. Normally I’d be too exhausted at the end of a long day to write anything, but I’m feeling restless tonight. I’m having more of these restless nights than usual, too. Maybe there’s some intense dissatisfaction with my life boiling under the surface (well, that’s not a “maybe”, and it’s barely under the surface if I’m writing about it.)

The only healthy way I’ve found to deal with this dissatisfaction isn’t to actually address it properly but to keep writing more so that I can distract myself from my constant impending doom. So here’s a look behind the curtain at my terrible amateurish writing process! I’m not writing this post to instruct or educate, because I honestly don’t recommend that anyone follow this as a guide. It works for me (sort of) but might not work for anyone else.

Step 1: Fill up with coffee

Caffeine is a drug, and I’m undoubtedly addicted to it. You might say that’s unhealthy, and you might be right, but I don’t care. My heart is still fine, and even if it isn’t, the world seems well on its way to ending so it probably doesn’t matter very much.

To be more serious, I do keep my daily intake to a few cups of coffee, though they are strong ones. I do my best not to overindulge, anyway. Energy drinks are out — no interest in pouring that stuff into my body, whatever it is. And in any case, coffee is among the cheapest options for your fix if you know what to buy. I’m not a gourmet: I buy giant jars of Café Bustelo instant coffee, the least bad instant I’ve found, and I drink that. Six dollars for ten to fourteen days of coffee — not too bad, is it? True coffee enthusiasts might turn their noses up but I have a taste for that bitter black espresso style and this is the easiest way to get it. (And don’t bother with Starbucks’ instant brand. Seven dollars for six one-cup packets of coffee? It’s a terrible deal. Starbucks doesn’t even brew good coffee; you just go there to meet friends and get extravagant sugary drinks with whipped cream.)

I haven’t reviewed Super Cub yet, but it’s an anime that appreciates good coffee better than I can. Though I would drink good coffee if I had the time to bother. If I get rich I’ll buy one of those French presses and spend time picking the right beans and all that stuff.

As for the drink’s effects, I read an old translated poem from a Sufi mystic, one of the guys who first made coffee popular in the 15th century before it was exported from the Middle East to Europe. I don’t remember who wrote it (Rumi? I don’t even remember if he’s the right time period) but it pretty much praised the drink for energizing and opening up the mind, and that’s how I feel about it too. Here’s a relatively mild drug that promotes creativity and energy — that’s made for me. Live your totally clean life if that works for you, but I still need at least a little vice. Otherwise what’s the fucking point? And more importantly, I can’t write without it.

2) Write a post

Just write. No editing in this initial stage — it’s just a flow of words, though I usually have a general idea of what I want to say and where I want to end up, especially when it comes to my reviews. For those more structured sorts of posts, I make a sort of outline in my head. Other bloggers might prefer to write an actual outline with notes and will probably come up with better results than I do.

But sometimes I don’t even have any idea where I’m going with a post and it’s a near-total stream of consciousness. Like this post. As I write this sentence, I’m still coming up with what the hell I want to write in the next, like building a railroad as the train rolls along the tracks. At least there won’t be an actual derailment if I fuck up, which does happen — I have quite a few garbage drafts sitting around that I just can’t part with because I think I might be able to repurpose them someday.

3) Make one single quick, rough edit before posting

“Editing” for me consists of a read through for two purposes: 1) to make sure I didn’t make any obvious typos or grammatical errors (ignoring the formal errors I actually do make but ignore because I prefer to break those rules for whatever reason) and 2) to make sure what I wrote basically makes sense and that it’s more or less what I wanted to express.

This part of the process is part of what separates my amateur bullshit from professional work. I’ve done professional work before that’s been assessed and cut apart by editors, but I was always paid to put up with that. Here, I simply want to express myself as I like, and I’m happy with any way I can get that done so I can keep existing for another week without losing my mind completely.

Yeah, I get that

4) Edit the post after I’ve posted it because I missed stupid typos or actually said something ridiculous-sounding that I should clarify

Yeah, this happens a lot, partly because of how rough that third step is that I described above. That’s also part of why I can’t recommend my method of writing to anyone who doesn’t want to look like an idiot. I already know I’m one and have accepted that fact, so it’s fine for me. If I’m making a substantive edit, though, I will mark it clearly as an edit in the text for transparency’s sake. Not that anyone probably cares, but I do, and that’s enough.

And that’s it. I get the feeling my second step is similar to the last step from that “How to Draw an Owl” meme you’ve probably seen around — it doesn’t help for me to tell you to draw the rest of the fucking owl if you don’t know how to go about it. That’s part of why I quit teaching (and also because of how horribly teachers are treated in this country.)

So until next time! I can’t say what or when “next time” will be, but I’m shifting over from anime a bit to visual novels, which I have a whole pile of, and a few shorter ones on the top of that stack to get through finally. I’ve been meaning to return to the still underappreciated VN medium. See you then.

Writing in hiding

Okay, “in hiding” is way too dramatic. There have been writers who have actually had to hide out of fear of being harassed or even murdered (as we saw last week.) What I’m talking about here is far more mundane and less of an actual issue, but one that I still think a lot of people who write online have to deal with: the matter of who to let in on your writing in your offline life. For some people, I think this isn’t an issue at all — either you’re writing on subjects that you feel people won’t have any issues with, or your friends, colleagues, and family are cool to the point that nothing you write about will faze them, or alternatively you just don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of you and your interests.

None of the above is true for me, and I’m guessing it’s not for a lot of writers here. Most of us have to be at least a little selective about who we let in on that we write online, since those old questions can follow: what do you write about, do you have a site/blog, where is it so I can follow it. Sometimes all these might just be polite questions that the person asking will never follow up on, but you never know when you’re talking to that rare one who might actually look your work up.

Not quite my work. I wish I had this kind of talent.

This partly links back to a post I wrote a few days ago about getting more personal. One of the reasons I think I get personal about certain issues on this blog is that I can’t do so in real life. We all have matters we can and can’t talk about with certain people — some only with close friends, some only with family (or excluding family, another important point.) And some require a kind of partial anonymity at least to talk about.

I can find at least a few reasons why I can’t share this site with anyone I know in real life. I’ve recently brought up my past issues with drinking, for example. This was a matter I felt I had to get off my chest, especially since I was going through a rough spot a few weeks ago, but most of my “real-life” friends only have a faint idea of the problem, and my family has never had any idea about it since I’ve always hidden it from them — it’s not so easy admitting to issues with alcoholism when drinking alcohol is considered not just a bad idea but a sin, a breaking of God’s direct commands. Following up on that, I’ve questioned some forms of religious belief in a couple of posts where I felt my views on it were relevant, another reason to not let on to any of my family about this blog. And of course, worst of all, I’ve reviewed games like Nekopara. That last one is probably enough to get me raked across the coals on Twitter assuming anyone even knew who I was or gave a shit about me, but far worse for people I actually know to draw some uncharitable conclusions about me (baseless ones, of course, but you know how it is.)

This screenshot has never been so relevant.

All of the above is even more relevant to my fiction. I’m not exactly Mr. Grimdark — I find that kind of excess pretty embarrassing really, unless there’s a good reason for it. But my stories are also fairly weird as you might imagine. I don’t really need to hear people asking if I’m okay assuming, again, any of them were to read what I wrote instead of just feigning polite interest (the answer: no, I’m not really okay, but there’s nothing much either of us can do about that and this is part of how I’m coping with it. Best not even to open that door.)

For these reasons, I don’t tell anyone I know in my day-to-day offline life about this blog — even if I might trust one friend enough to “get it”, you know how this kind of shit can magically spread and suddenly you’re hearing your aunt ask about something you wrote and forgot about five years ago. And just for good measure, I’ve never posted my name or face here or on social media connected with this site either. Again, I don’t think I’m in a special situation here: I think doxxing is a concern partly for these reasons on top of the potential for harassment that comes along with it.

All that said, I’d like to reach a point in my life where I don’t feel the need to conceal my interests. Bisque Doll had the right idea about that, but in some ways it really feels like a fantasy to me. In the end, I don’t have it so bad, really, but I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never be able to live as openly as I like. Now I just wish I could convince my family that I actually have “real” hobbies and don’t simply work and sleep without getting into all of the above. To readers and fellow writers, I hope you’re having an easier time with this than I’ve had, or else that you truly just don’t give a fuck and can live your life the way you like.

The personal touch

Three years ago, I was agonizing over how much objectivity I should be going for in my reviews. I took the examples of old-school (at least now they would be old-school, I guess) independent internet music critics George Starostin and Mark Prindle, two guys whose work I equally admired but who had very different approaches. Even though I’d had this blog since 2013, I never really thought much about this question or about my own writing here until about 2019, and by that time I’d realized that a lot of what I had written previously wasn’t that great — I felt this kind of self-examination would help improve my work here.

Well now it’s three years later, and I don’t know whether I’ve improved at all. I “solved” the problem of how I should use ratings in my reviews by not using ratings anymore, and as for the Starostin/Prindle spectrum or whatever you’d call it, I think I’ve more or less fallen somewhere in the middle of it. Not exactly by choice — I write most of my posts in a nearly stream-of-consciousness style, usually all at once or maybe in two sittings and with barely any editing, which probably explains a lot of the mistakes and post-posting edits I end up having to make. So I can’t say I’m really thinking very consciously about how objective or subjective I’m being in a review, but I write in what I feel is a natural way.

One question I still wonder about, and that this Blaugust daily posting challenge raised for me, is how personal I should be in these posts. I’ve written about some personal matters this month, but the fact is this has always been partly a personal blog — I complain about my petty problems sometimes, but I also try to connect with readers on some personal level. I think the enjoyment of art, in a very broad sense what my site is all about, can’t be separated from the person talking about it. Our personalities affect how we see art, after all; it’s not just impossible to view art in an objective vacuum but would be useless even if it were possible.

But then I still want to keep readers’ interest, and I can’t pretend I’m someone anyone should give a flying fuck about. One of the things that annoys me about a few prominent anime YouTubers, for instance, is their tendency to let their personalities overshadow whatever anime they’re actually talking about. As much as I liked Mark Prindle’s reviews, he could also fall into this very occasionally, talking about family problems or his feelings about religion for three paragraphs in a totally unrelated album review. That was just his style and something you had to expect from him, and it was rare that he’d go into that kind of personal depth in a way that wasn’t actually connected to the music he was talking about from what I remember, but it was still noticeable.

Then again, I might have done the same on this site. I think it’s best to maintain a balance in these cases, anyway, and I’ll do my best to keep that balance. None of this is to say fully personal blogs are bad — they can be interesting, but that’s also not what I’m going for, and anyway I present this site as a game, anime, and sometimes music review/analysis blog, and presumably that’s what most people come here for. And that’s what I want to give readers: my feelings and opinions about art. But again, I don’t think it’s possible to talk about art without getting a little personal at least, unless you’re going for an extremely dry sort of “here’s what this work is composed of and when it was made” sort of wiki style that I have no interest in doing myself, because it would be personally boring for me to write and wouldn’t provide any value to readers.

As a side question to the writers reading: how personal do you like to get in your posts? We all have different styles, so it might be interesting to gauge that here.

Variations on a theme

It’s another short post today, but one for both the writers and readers out there, since I’m in both of those groups.

I’ve been trying to write fiction lately, digging back up my old dream of living off my art. I’m taking a different approach with that goal than I did before, however. I understand now that I’ll never be able to actually “live off my art” in the sense I used to think of it. I’m stuck as an attorney forever now. This might be a punishment for a crime I committed in a past life, but whatever it is, I’ve accepted it. Luckily it’s possible to do at least two things at once with your life, so I can still pursue my writing ambitions while being a lawyer.

Partly because of this changed approach, I’ve totally given up on the idea of a novel. It’s not that it’s impossible for someone to be a full-time working professional and write a novel, because people have done it before. It’s just impossible for me, since I seem to lack the energy and focus to do both, and if I lose energy and focus on the job I’ll lose the job, and then I won’t be able to eat or live.

But maybe that’s not so bad, because it’s pushed me towards a format that I’ve found pretty rewarding: the short story. I can actually find the time to dedicate to short story-writing since it’s so much less time-intensive — aside from the issue of length, a novel requires a lot of planning and outlining, editing and drafting, and that’s time I just don’t have. Short stories need some of that as well, but the scale of it all is so much smaller that I find it a lot more manageable. When you start to factor in all the tasks around writing fiction, putting together even a halfway decent novel looks like an exponentially more demanding task.

That’s not to say that writing short stories is easy. Writing of any kind takes real effort and an idea to drive it, and that’s why I’m writing this post today. I’ve “finished” three stories now — the quotes because I’ll never be really satisfied with them at this point, but they’re in their final forms anyway. Out of those three, two of these stories, together with all the rest of my still unwritten but outlined story ideas, deal with more or less the same themes expressed in different ways.

At first, I felt like this was a problem, like I was repeating myself too much, but I don’t feel that way anymore. Plenty of authors write on the same themes constantly. It’s the same with the visual arts: a few of my favorite artists do the same thing, using common elements in their work. Look through a catalog of work by Giorgio de Chirico or René Magritte and you’ll notice all those repeated elements.

Not that I’m comparing myself to these guys, really. Their work was monumentally great and mine is just some scribbling. But I do look up to these and other artists like them. Maybe I should be referring to authors who specialize in short stories instead of surrealist painters, but I’ve been a lot more affected and motivated somehow by that surrealist art than by a lot of modern short stories. I certainly don’t care for a lot of what I’ve read in modern journals — I’ve read through some literary fiction publications online and it seems like they have a strong emphasis on gritty realism. That’s fine, but I have no interest in gritty realism at all. I can get that by going outside.

I do want to take on some serious issues that I care about in my writing, but I’ll leave the realism to people who like it and are skilled in that style. I guess that makes me a genre fiction writer, but that’s fine with me (and more on that literary/genre division later maybe, because I have some god damn opinions about that too. I’m not even sure any of these professionals would be interested in my pet issues or my views on them, but then I’m not writing for them anyway. The traditional path feels like a dead end for someone like me.)

I’ll keep writing fiction off and on as I’m able and when I get the motivation. And tomorrow I’ll be back with a more typical sort of post, so until then!

Seven SAT words I’ll never use (except in this post)

More about me this month: before deciding to become a lawyer I worked a few odd jobs, and one of them was teaching the English sections of the infamous standardized college entry test the SAT (formerly the Standardized Aptitude Test when I was a kid, now just the SAT because fuck acronyms having meaning1) along with a few subject-specific SAT II and AP-related courses. I taught anything not related to the sciences or math — history, geography, literature, grammar, and yeah, writing in general. I enjoyed some aspects of teaching, and I even considered getting an advanced degree and going into that field.

Then I realized that I wasn’t a perfectly good person with the patience of a saint and also that I like money. I have massive respect for teachers in America considering just how put upon they are here, and I have no desire to sacrifice myself in that way (and see how supposedly shocked some of our state officials are at our current teacher shortage — we treat them like shit and pay them shit salaries, then we suggest they also double as federal marshals? And they have the nerve to quit? Truly, utterly shocking. There’s a special circle of Hell reserved for hypocritical politicians.)

School is extremely serious business and they’ve been fucking everything up for a long time now

Part of my job as a tutor was to teach high school students vocabulary that comes up on the SAT. Some of these words are commonly used but at more of a high school reading level, the sorts of words you probably wouldn’t use too often in everyday conversation but might use in a formal piece of writing. Some are rarely if ever used in everyday conversation but have scientific or other specialized meanings that are important for students to learn. But there are a few SAT words that should never be used in any context, except to make fun of their use as I’m doing here.

This last category is full of words that are good to know if you plan on reading a lot of old literature, say up through the early 20th century, but that since have fallen out of both everyday and literary use. They’re still legitimate and technically usable words, but they’ve either been made redundant by more commonly used words or were always too highfalutin and ostentatious for anything more than occasional drops in very particular circumstances. (No, “highfalutin” and “ostentatious” don’t fall into this category. Though I don’t think I’ve ever used either on the site before today. Run a search and prove me wrong.)

But since we’ve established both today and in every post I’ve made over the past nine years that I’m a nerd anyway, let’s just give up the act here and have a look at seven of the words off of this 6,000 word SAT study list. Many of the fancier words on this list are commonly known as “SAT words” for the very reason that you’ll never use them after learning their meanings as a high school student studying for the SAT English sections.2 Going alphabetically down the list, these are words such as:

antediluvian – Meaning very old, and literally “before the flood”, as in the Great Flood that Noah survived along with his family and all those animals, then he presumably had to help repopulate the Earth again or something. I don’t remember exactly how that story goes. But my opinion on antediluvian is that it’s fine to use if you’re referring to something that occurred in scripture before the Flood, but not otherwise. If you’re using it just to mean “old”, then say “old”. Or “ancient” works for something or someone especially old. Throwing around antediluvian otherwise just makes you look like kind of a jerk.

eleemosynary – Of or relating to charity. I’d never even heard of or seen this word before seeing it on this list — if I taught it as a tutor, I’ve long since forgotten it. It’s taken from Latin and is the root of the common word “alms”, but why we still have eleemosynary in English is beyond me. It certainly shouldn’t be tested for on the SAT. Because who the hell uses it anymore? Again, aside from people who just care about showing off their education, about which see antediluvian above, only this case is even worse.

masticate – To chew. The verb masticate and its noun form mastication are often used to refer to the constant chewing of animals like cows, but they can also be used in a more satirical or joking way to refer instead to people chewing their food in a similar way as using “to feed” as an intransitive verb instead of “to eat”.

Which of those words would you use when referring to a human pretending to be a cow in someone’s dream? That question is beyond me.

I actually think this word is fine to use in the right context, but it also sounds close enough to another common bodily function, both in its verb and noun forms, that it may cause you some problems with people who don’t know the term.

nonplussed – Taken from the Latin non plus, or no more, nonplussed is an adjective meaning confused or stunned into silence. Unlike most of the words on this list, it’s used fairly often even in modern writing. However, a lot of its users have no idea what it means and even use it in, if not quite its opposite sense, a very different sense from its actual meaning. The non- at the beginning looks like a negative prefix, which it isn’t (the non is sort of a negative, but you can’t remove it from the word and just be “plussed”) and the contexts the word is used in combined with that false prefix makes it look something like “unbothered” or “unfazed”, and it’s also sometimes used to mean “unimpressed” because who cares about meaning at this point if we’re just making shit up.

But do you think I’m going to go to war over nonplussed? No. In my view, if a word can no longer effectively communicate its own meaning in speech or writing, despite being in every English dictionary on Earth more advanced than a middle school level, it’s time to dump it. It’s broken and past fixing. That’s my opinion, anyway, but the people who write the SAT don’t share that opinion, so you’ll still have to know it if you’re taking the test. And beware, because nonplussed and other commonly misused words let them set up traps for unsuspecting students, and they love their fucking traps from what I remember.

perambulate – To walk around something, as in “after dinner I took a constitutional and perambulated the garden with my companion.” Unlike the last word, I don’t think this one needs to be dumped necessarily, but it’s a bit much when you can use “walk” or “stroll” for the same effect and have people actually understand what you mean. Sure, those don’t technically mean “to walk around“, but addition of the word “around” solves that problem.

puissant – Oh, here’s a good one. Puissant means powerful and/or influential, usually in reference to a person. It’s derived from Old French like so much of our vocabulary is, including a ton of commonly used words like beef and castle. Some of them are extra-literary archaic words like puissant, however. I can’t think of a single reason to use puissant, except that it has a completely coincidental resemblance to a slang term for a part of the female anatomy. A pretty funny one too, since that term is used in a vulgar way to refer to not strong but rather weak people (which I never understood. Just misogyny going on there? I’m no expert but it’s just a guess. Then again, we call difficult people dicks and pricks too, so maybe the matter goes beyond gender and just relates to our understandable obsession with genitals.)

pulchritude – Meaning physical beauty, from the Latin pulcher, or beautiful. It still occasionally shows up in journalistic and literary writing, but nobody knows what it means, and even if they do remember, they probably have to stop for a second to connect those wires in their brains because it doesn’t read or sound at all like its meaning. On top of all that, it’s a difficult word to say. Just try saying pulchritude clearly without having to spell out every syllable slowly — it takes some practice.

The master of the manor was enchanted by his maid’s beauty… no, by her pulchritude. That’s a lot better!

Like antediluvian and eleemosynary and the other couple of p-words on this list, you’ll come off like a jerk if you use this word. (Of course that didn’t stop someone at The Washington Post from using it early this year. I hope the editor at least made fun of the author for that word choice. That’s aside from the content of the article, which I have nothing to say about except that suits and ties haven’t gone out of fashion in my profession and likely never will. People forgetting about the lawyers as usual.)

There are more words I can go on about here, but I’ll keep this list at just seven, since I think I’ve made my point. A lot of my feelings about most of these and similar words are described in George Orwell’s six guidelines for English writing set out in Politics and the English Language. Wrapping your meaning up in self-consciously fancy language hurts it — at best it makes your writing and speech muddled and confusing and at worst might make people think you’re a self-aggrandizing asshole, which you probably aren’t aiming for. And if you’re writing fiction, you might just end up with something like The Eye of Argon, only probably without most of the unintentionally entertaining badness, which you also probably don’t want. Mixing up your vocabulary is a great way to add spice to your writing, but spice has to be used sparingly, or else it can ruin the dish.

But that’s no excuse for not studying, because you still have to know these god damn words for the SAT. If you still have to take it, good luck, and I know your pain. It only gets worse from here!

General edit — I don’t mean to suggest with any of this that you shouldn’t bother knowing these or similar words, just that it’s best to balance out your writing by not relying on obscure or complex words when common and simple ones will do. Of course, there are always exceptions, and you’ll know these exceptions when they show up, but only if you already have that large vocabulary and plenty of experience in reading and at least some in writing.

In fact, here’s some real advice for approaching the SAT or any other standardized language test: the best way to prepare for these is to read a lot, and over a broad range: journalism, nonfiction, and fiction of various genres all help. Read like crazy for several years on end and you’ll naturally pick up a large vocabulary that will help you not just for your tests but throughout your life (and an advanced tip here: read Herman Melville and you’ll pick up a lot of the more obscure/archaic words right away. Moby Dick is the classic, but also check out White Jacket, far more successful upon publication but now mostly forgotten except by avid readers. Throw in his short story series The Piazza Tales too. He’s still one of my favorites.)

I know that’s not much of an aid for students who have their exams coming up in a few months, though. If that’s your case, just cram as much into your head as you possibly can. Make flash cards or something.

Anyway, that’s my attempt at teaching something useful after several years. I’m not a real academic anyway, just a fraud: a law degree is basically just an extremely expensive trade school certificate without any of the need for writing theses or dissertations. And look, to the students again: if an idiot like me can put together sentences, you certainly can too, so I hope that’s some motivation for you.

 

1 I know not everyone agrees that a term that’s usually “spelled out” like the SAT (though I have occasionally heard it pronounced like the word “sat”) is classified as an acronym, but that’s what I’m calling it. If I’m going to have a nitpick-anticipating endnote in any post it should be this one.

2 Its informal name. The two “English” sections are broken into Reading and Writing & Language. The test has undergone some changes since I took it in the early 2000s and maybe even since I taught it several years later.

To scrap or not to scrap

It’s a short post today, but on a subject that I’ve been thinking about for a while: my old posts on this blog. I hate them.

Not so much the internet as me this time.

I started this blog in 2013 just a month before starting at law school. It was meant as a distraction from my studies when I needed it, and it worked for that purpose well enough, but that also meant I didn’t put much time or effort into my posts. I also didn’t bother to connect much with any other creators at the time, meaning my blog was practically an island as far as WordPress went aside from a few other bloggers I interacted with, most of whom have since retired/disappeared.

The site existed in this state until the beginning of 2019, when I decided for some reason to actually put serious work into it. I think the timing had to do with a change in my work situation — I’d recently quit a job that I hated so much I would have preferred going off the highway overpass into the river than to the office, and that’s almost not an exaggeration. Not exactly the best state to get motivation in.

Ever since, I’ve been pretty happy with my work here, both the volume and (far more importantly) the quality, but I still have those old game and anime reviews and some assorted bullshit posts clogging up the index pages up above the header image. That doesn’t make me happy, and even less so since a lot of people still find the site through those old posts according to my stats page.

The question is what to do about the situation, and despite how I feel about those old posts, my solution is to do nothing. That’s partly out of sheer laziness and lack of desire to go back and sift through old work by year, but I also hold out the hope that at least a few people who do find my site through those old posts check out my newest ones and realize I’m not a complete dumbass. If that’s the case, it’s worth keeping those old posts up. Or maybe I’m being too hard on my past self, that dumbass.

I might be more mature and thoughtful about what I write here now, but it’s still all relative.

Just a few idle thoughts today, anyway. Tomorrow I might post something more interesting. Until then!

Talking shop #3: Get in the pot

One day in the year 691, in Tang dynasty China, two men sat down to lunch. These two were Lai Junchen and Zhou Xing, the chiefs of Empress Wu Zetian’s widespread network of secret police and informants. Lai and Zhou were infamous and widely hated for heading up an officially sanctioned reign of terror against the empire’s bureaucratic and military elites, even having produced a book on “advanced interrogation techniques” that’s survived to the present day.

Over lunch, Lai asked Zhou his opinion on the most effective way to get a suspect to confess to a crime. Zhou replied that he would place his suspect in a large pot of water with a fire lit under it. At that point, he said, the man would spill everything.

Lai agreed with his colleague. Then he called for his servants, who brought out a massive pot full of water that they began heating up. Lai explained that Zhou had been placed under suspicion of plotting against Empress Wu and invited him into the pot. No need: Zhou immediately confessed to his plotting, knowing what was in store for him otherwise. This story is the origin of a Mandarin phrase that translates as “to invite the gentleman into the urn” — to trap someone using their own cruel method. Maybe a stronger version of our own English saying, to give someone a taste of their own medicine.

Why am I telling you this? It is one of my favorite historical anecdotes — whether it all happened in exactly that way or not, it makes for a good story — but there’s another reason I’m bringing it up that relates directly to writing, social media, and accountability. Writers have various tools we can use, some sharper than others. For as much as I harp here on the importance of preserving and respecting freedom of speech, it’s also important to recognize this simple fact: we have the power through our words to influence society for the better or the worse.1 Even if the effect of one person’s words is microscopic (like most of ours, including mine — I’m not going to pretend my basic as hell plan WordPress blog has that much impact on the world) I believe every writer has their part to play in this.

Which brings me to this dumbass tweet I saw a while back:

Name cut out partly because I’m not interested in calling particular people out and partly because I don’t want to give this person any more undeserved attention than they already received.

Now sure, some people might think: “Ah, AK is mad because he likes video game soundtracks.” But that’s not exactly the case here. I don’t even see the above tweet as a slap against me, since I listen to a lot of types of music, of which game soundtracks are just one. But calling a game soundtrack a “type of music” is inaccurate in itself, considering the amazing diversity of musical styles you can find in games. I can’t read this person’s mind, naturally, so I don’t know whether they have misconceptions about what “game music” consists of, whether they think it’s all either beeps and bloops or Sonic Adventure butt rock.

But even if that were the case, it doesn’t matter to me. The reason I’m highlighting this tweet is not what it might imply about the quality of video game music, but its nature as a personal attack over a matter of taste. Sure, maybe it was meant as a joke. But even then, looking at this statement in the most favorable light possible, it was a mean-spirited one, and not nearly a clever enough joke to come close to justifying such a tone.2

Anyone who’s spent a few minutes on Twitter will know that this tweet isn’t out of the ordinary. The platform hosts a constant flood of insults of this sort. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with all personal insults, though I think they should be avoided as much as possible — only that when I see insults lobbed at people who are actively and intentionally hurting others or making the world a measurably worse place (like say certain politicians and executives) I can’t blame those lobbing the insults, and sometimes I’m happy to see them posted.

Insults over disagreements in taste are another matter entirely. Even I, as bitter as I am, don’t have the energy for that level of constant negativity.

I also saw an unkind implication a few days back about the social skills and habits of people who like NagatoroUzaki, My Dress-Up Darling, and similar series, and that initial tweet in the thread got a hundred thousand likes or something, so maybe I’m just an idiot. But it also raises an actually interesting argument against these series that I want to take on in a later post.

Naturally, social media is set up to encourage this kind of inflammatory talk since it thrives on engagement, both positive and negative. This connection has been so well understood for so long that I don’t even need to bring it up, but it’s always worth talking about considering how much social media has been woven into all our lives. Even if we don’t think about it much ourselves — my own engagement with it is pretty minimal; I only use Twitter and then under my pseudonymous initials, nothing using my real name, yet I have almost 3,000 tweets a little over three years into my presence there, which is probably far too many.

And on occasion I do read some boneheaded shit someone wrote in retweets or replies to tweets from people I don’t know, and though I don’t do it, I might at least have the urge to get into it with them. Over those three years I’ve even joined in a couple of those common ratio pile-ons as I noted back in this self-flagellation post, though in these cases I make sure to address the contents of whatever was posted and not to attack the person making them, a distinction not everyone makes. But I’m still not happy about it afterwards.

Yeah, Udon-chan from Aquatope would love Twitter I bet.

Looking back on my now 25 years online, starting when we got our first dial-up connection at home, I’ve probably done about as much of this dumb shit as the average user has. I’ve always been not much more than a bystander in these situations, even when I frequented 4chan way back in the day (and really 95% or more of that site’s users are bystanders too, despite whatever nonsense the news back at the time would have had you believe about an elite team of megahackers — though good on those actual rogue expert types for taking on Mr. Putin’s criminal regime right now.)

So maybe I’m not the best person to address this matter, but even as a bystander, I’ve seen enough bad consequences happen to other people that I have at least a basic understanding of how things work. Which as I see it goes like this: if you make a habit of insulting people and gain a following for that, be prepared to take serious hits at some point yourself. At the very least, insult people who really do deserve it, like those aforementioned asshole politicians and executives. Otherwise, it takes a very special sort to insulate yourself from blowback: even a few famously untouchable internet personalities who got into drama talk ended up pulled off their pedestals. So sure, none of this bullshit comes anywhere close to the horrific antics of Lai and Zhou above, but it’s still worth remembering that story if only for instructive purposes.

And in our own game/anime/etc. circles here and on YouTube, it’s vital to keep in mind that you can express dislike and even hatred for certain works and types of works without insulting those who enjoy them. I don’t think I ever do that, and I also don’t follow anyone here on WordPress who does — there’s no quicker way to get me to hit “unfollow” than to jump into the mud like that.

And it’s generally just a bad idea to make a spectacle of yourself unless you’re at least as entertaining as Mr. Libido here. This guy also mainly minded his own business in spite of appearances. Yakuza 0 is full of great life lessons, isn’t it?

My intention here isn’t to shake my finger at anyone. I don’t think any of the excellent people reading this site need this lesson from me anyway. Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t care to tell people what to do, but merely to give a warning, and partly to myself. Plenty of us can dish it out, but how many of us can take it in return? Best to worry about yourself and leave others to their own business. God knows I have enough to worry about.

Anyway, I didn’t expect to write another one of these posts so soon, but that’s how it is sometimes: I’ll read something that sets me off (this time the anime Twitter scuffle) and I can’t rest until I’ve addressed it. As usual, I’m interested in hearing about how other writers and readers think of these situations. Next up will be the regular end-of-month post, I promise.

 

1 There’s an important distinction here between what I see as the social responsibility of the writer who takes on real-life issues and addresses real-life people, on one hand, and the contrasting lack of responsibility of a writer or any kind of artist who deals purely in fiction and fantasy on the other. I have far more respect for a writer who produces vile stories but acts respectfully and honorably towards others than for one who claims to be upstanding but uses their pen to recklessly destroy others’ lives and livelihoods, or even just to generally make the world a more miserable place to live. Life doesn’t need any help being miserable, does it? On the other hand, a vile story can just be critically torn up and ignored without further harm. At least that’s how I feel — again, I know a lot of people disagree with me on this point.

2 And following up on the above point, I don’t think it’s even justified to attack people based on objectionable contents of the artistic works they enjoy. What counts as “objectionable” is usually pretty subjective, but even setting that argument aside, even objectionable fiction is still just fiction. To use a fairly common example I’ve seen from anime, Monogatari is a divisive series, and while I completely understand why someone would have serious problems with it based on what I’ve watched so far (though I still think the first scene of Bakemonogatari should filter a lot of them out) I draw the line at insults directed at the fans. The same goes for fans of any other ethically and morally produced artistic work.

I’ve already addressed this subject a few times (you can see those in that “commentaries” tab above along with a link to this nonsense I’ve just written) so I won’t beat that particular dead horse again too much, but it does keep coming back up. I just don’t think I have anything else to say about it.

Talking shop #2: Two types of success in online writing

Go to Google and run a search with the terms “how to blog”, “blogging guide [fill in current year]” or similar, and you’ll find yourself tripping over ten thousand nearly identical blog posts about how to blog successfully. But what exactly does it mean to be a successful blogger?

If you’re new to the site and don’t know my style, then don’t worry — this post isn’t one of those “guides” that starts out pretending to criticize such courses and ends up trying to sell you on one of its very own, and one that mostly likely upsells you on a far more expensive one. There are so many of these interchangeable online courses available now that if they were put in box form like how they used to sell PC games, they’d likely reach beyond the orbit of fucking Jupiter.

No, this post is just the opposite: yet another opportunity for me to complain, this time about the often soulless approach you’ll find towards online writing (and crossing over into other forms of creative work, poking my nose into areas of art I might have no business talking about. But I’ll do it anyway. And if I ever end up trying to sell you an online course, please unfollow this site and cancel me from the internet forever.)

Also, to make it clear: I like money. Of course I do — I’m a good American capitalist after all. I’d also like to make a lot more money than I make right now, though naturally I have ethical and moral limits to what I’d do to get more, just as most of us do (aside from the ones selling bullshit courses, of course.)

As much as I’d like to afford the good meat, I still wouldn’t do that. Also yeah, I’m using unused anime and game screenshots I had lying around like I usually do in these kinds of posts; this is part of how I economize. (Also, watch Yuru Camp.)

I also recognize that writing, and more broadly speaking any creative/artistic pursuit, very often has a commercial element to it. Criticism of any kind of creation merely on the grounds that it’s “commercial” is meaningless, since almost everything exposed to a public audience has that commercial aspect — the creator and/or publishers trying to find said audience, to market the writing, painting, music, film, or whatever other medium you’re dealing with. And there’s plenty of great art out there that has a strong commercial element, however you’d measure that.

That said, there’s also plenty of creative work that can’t find an audience, maybe because it never gets noticed in the massive sea of similar-looking work, or because it’s too bizarre and obtuse or in too small a niche to have much appeal to most people. It is entirely possible to successfully market bizarre art and make massive amounts of money doing so (as two guys in particular have who I’ll bring up later, and not in the most favorable terms.) But generally speaking, the vast majority of both that and even of more “normal” work never finds much of an audience, beyond maybe the creator’s family and friends, if even that.

How is this connected to blogging? There are tons of experts out there ready to tell you what exactly you need to do to be a success at writing online, but without acknowledging that there are different kinds of success in online writing. You might be able to divide this form of “success” into several categories, but here I’ll stick to just two broad types.

I won’t let my obsessive nature entirely take over this post.

One type of success, and the only one that I believe many of these guides acknowledge, is what I’d call the business-oriented or profit-driven type. Monetize and go for the clicks by writing about only what’s hot and trending and optimize all your posts with search engine optimization tactics (and search engine meaning Google, because that’s the only one people use.) Don’t worry about the longevity of your posts or the fact that almost none of them will be relevant to anyone months or years from now — that’s not your goal anyway. It’s clicks now, money now.

This sort of writing is naturally appropriate for those writing online for marketing/commercial purposes. If you provide goods or services that you want to advertise, or more likely you’re a freelancer writing posts for someone else providing said goods/services, getting eyes on your work is your chief concern. There’s a reason requests for articles written purely with SEO in mind demand a bunch of very specific phrases and terms be used, typically frontloaded for maximum effect — the crawlers1 that scan sites for new information look for such phrases to match with what people are searching for in the present and recent past, and matching your posts with the relevant searches is one of your primary goals.

And of course, if you’re trying to get more eyes on your writing in general, it’s a good idea to use these tools. Mandatory, even, because this is how Google selects what sites and posts to put on page 1 of its search results. It doesn’t give a damn how much work you might have put into a post — arguably, aside from judging effort by word count which is not the only indicator of effort anyway, it can’t even tell how much you put into it. You simply have to learn how to game the system while still writing articles that people will actually want to read and that you actually care about writing. That’s the tightrope you have to walk if you want to make a real impact writing online for yourself without burning out on it.

And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Except there actually is; don’t let people say otherwise. This is an old cliché that I wish would die.

But there’s the rub: do you actually care about what you’re writing? If you’re writing purely for money, the likely answer is no. When I worked as a freelancer, I wrote for all sorts of small businesses, and most of the work I produced was on subjects I didn’t really give a damn about. Very occasionally I’d get a request for something touching on geography or history somehow, usually in connection with travel, but I never managed to get anywhere near writing about games, anime, or music as I do here. I knew that work was out there, but my path never took me in that direction. Yet as long as I was being paid, I didn’t care.

Now imagine you don’t have a profit motive in writing. Or maybe you do, but you’d like to balance that with your desire to write what you want (which as noted above can be a difficult balance to achieve.) Or maybe you just want to increase your visibility so you can get more people reading your short stories or your novel or playing your indie game or whatever you might have created. In these cases, I think the above monetization advice doesn’t work so well. Aside from the use of SEO tactics, which I’m too lazy to bother with on this site but I know can be very effective, I believe the conventional wisdom about online writing only takes you so far if your primary goal in writing is personal satisfaction.

Here I want to dump on two artists in particular, two who have made careers out of being flashy and extremely divisive: Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. These two have found great commercial success, selling their work at auction for insane amounts of money. They are both undoubtedly master marketers — if that’s your business, you’d do well to study how they operate.

Their artistic work also has absolutely no emotional effect on me. It’s all a complete dead end as far as I can tell. I don’t want to go so far as to call these guys talentless hacks as some people do, since they absolutely have some kind of talent; otherwise they wouldn’t have the art world by the balls. I just think their artistic work is pretty close to worthless from that emotional angle.2

Maybe they’re simply not going for that effect — both have emphasized the importance of profit in the art industry, and I’d be a hypocrite to argue with that, since as I’ve said I’m interested in making money too. But then, I’m not a professional artist. I’m an attorney, and I get my money by providing clients with legal services. You could say there’s maybe some art in that work, but it’s not the kind of art that anyone outside our niche would give a shit about (and I’m not the type of attorney who goes into court and makes dramatic speeches either, so that’s definitely not true of my work.)

It’s great if you can make massive amounts of money doing what you love, but that’s hard as hell to pull off.

There’s a reason I’m picking on Hirst and Koons in particular: I’ve seen online writers cite them as examples of how we should approach our craft. Granted, I have the luxury of keeping this blog purely as a hobby, so I can really write whatever the fuck I want here (and I can use as many fucks as I like without fear as well.) But unless your goal is to make Hirst or Koons money, which God bless you and good luck if it is, this seems to me like terrible advice. It’s the same sort of advice I see from people who take a completely cynical attitude towards artistic work, who harp on the importance of timely and trendy “content creation”3 above all else without regard to its emotional impact or its longevity, and who are probably also on the goddamn NFT train. It’s all money, all profit, all fucking soulless.

Now again, I have to emphasize that it is absolutely possible to be both commercially and artistically successful (however you’d define the latter — though technical skill is important, I also pin it on that “emotional impact” element that is admittedly going to vary from person to person.) There isn’t a starving artist dead or alive who actually wished to be starving, and I doubt any of those “died penniless and were discovered after their deaths” types like Van Gogh and Lovecraft and so many others wouldn’t have preferred success during their own lives.

I only question this purely profit-driven approach to creative endeavors. I write here because I like expressing my views on art I enjoy and occasionally on art-related legal matters.4 If I were a professional artist, I think I’d be working first to express myself as I wished and only then hoping to get recognition for it. Because of personal circumstances, I don’t have the ability to take that gamble, so to make sure money I became a lawyer. And sure, being a lawyer isn’t the most conducive thing to leading a happy and healthy life. But the alternative as I see it is worse. I’m not sure why I’d want to try to become a writer by only writing what I thought other people wanted to read, following trends without any regard to my own feelings. That sounds like a truly miserable life to me.

Honestly, I’d rather sit on this “power source” than do that — it’s probably more comfortable. Don’t tell me the people who made Ryza didn’t realize what this looked like; I’ll never believe it.

But then, I don’t know why people do a lot of things. I’m not the one to listen to about how to make money online. Go buy one of those bullshit courses if you want to know about that, or far better still, dig up some actually free advice on that. Maybe the good people at Automattic can provide some free advice as well; I think WordPress might provide some free seminars on SEO or whatever, though not having taken them I can’t speak to their quality.

As usual, it’s probably best to ignore my advice, since I’m not exactly the happiest person on Earth anyway. I can only speak for myself. I will probably be writing more utter bullshit about writing at some point, though, so please look forward to that.

 

1 Am I the only one who thinks of weird robotic spiders or squids feeling around websites when I hear about SEO crawlers? Like something designed by H. R. Giger.

2 I’d say I feel the same about stuff like the famed drip and color field paintings of Pollock and Rothko, but in their cases, I think there’s something there that hits other people emotionally but that just doesn’t hit me. By contrast, I don’t even see that in the work of Hirst and Koons. The fact that people have paid millions for their art says more about the quality of humanity in general than it does about the quality of their work in my opinion.

This isn’t an issue of my disliking “weird art” either, since a few of my favorite artists are early 20th century surrealists like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst, and they painted some weird as fuck stuff. Yet I always at least thought their paintings were fascinating, and often emotionally powerful even if they were more on the abstract side. Maybe this really is just another matter of taste that can’t be argued over.

3 The constant use of the term “content” for what we do is also something I have a problem with. It just feels to me like reducing all our work to the creation of something samey and bland. “Content” in this context makes me think of tasteless paste people 300 years in the future might eat out of tubes to sustain themselves, maybe on a colony ship flying to a new star because humanity has somehow managed to nuke the entire Solar System. I won’t push too hard on this, though, because there are plenty of excellent writers and video makers whose work I enjoy who also use the term.

4 And just in case — I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this site would disagree with me on this point, but yes, games and anime absolutely count as art. I might dump on Hirst and Koons above, but I also don’t like to draw a distinction between “fine art” and “popular art”, or between low and high art or any of that shit. Same with genre fiction like fantasy and sci-fi vs. “literary fiction” — there are good and bad examples of both, and one type is not inherently better than the other.

Talking shop #1: Grammar and style

Today I’m starting a series of posts on a subject I’ve never really brought up here, or at least not in a serious way: writing. As my fellow bloggers know, writing isn’t exactly easy work. A lot of care goes into the process, and though we all have our own approaches and methods, I think the effort we put into our work always comes through in the final result.

It’s enough work, anyway, that we probably wouldn’t be writing at all if we didn’t enjoy it, and that’s especially true considering that most of us don’t make a cent off of our amateur blogs. If I could afford to do so, this is what I’d try to make a living on. However, my obligations and my unfortunate lack of a massive pile of money both force me to work at a different profession.

And while legal work pays the bills, and I do take pride in that work in some sense, I’d be lying if I were to say I love being a lawyer. No, my real love is writing.

Okay, writing and my waifu, fine. (Original Holo by Juu Ayakura, another favorite artist)

But while I love writing, I don’t love following writing rules. I mean that in both the sense of strict English grammatical rules and looser but generally accepted (by English teachers and professors, at least) guidelines on style. Of course, there are a ton of rules I do follow — otherwise my writing would be a jumbled and unreadable mess of characters. So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m not a pedant or a stickler, except when I am. I follow the rules I like and ignore those I don’t.

This attitude is one of the reasons I think I started this blog. When I first logged onto WordPress in 2013 and came up with the dumb name for my site and the dumb first article I posted, I was still doing some freelance copywriting work, mostly for small business and lifestyle/travel sites. Certainly much less than I’d been doing the few years before — I was just starting at law school at the time, and as any 1L can tell you, that first year occupies nearly your entire schedule with reading cases and writing summaries, briefs, and outlines. But I kept working a bit on the side, as much as I could manage.

And that wasn’t much at all, because while copywriting work has some benefits (working from home being the greatest, and this at a time when working from home was not a standard situation as it is now) it also comes with serious annoyances, one of which is the prickly client and/or editor who puts your work through a rigorous grammar check and yells at you for having one comma out of place or for putting a preposition at the end of a sentence.

The life of a copywriter at least half the time

Of course, I understand having high standards for the writers you employ. Even when it came to my fluffiest, least substantial jobs, I would not forgive myself for producing crap. I always wanted the reader to be informed and/or entertained in whatever proportion seemed appropriate for the subject matter. In that sense, I didn’t mind the fact that some editors could be strict — but some of them were strict on those fixed rules of grammar and style guidelines, even when strictly following those rules made no sense at all.

But when wouldn’t it make sense to follow these rules? When you’re writing a piece with a casual tone, and that’s exactly what you’re doing as a copywriter most of the time, at least in my experience. Clients and editors hammer these points into your head — be friendly and conversational, put in a call to action at the end, and for God’s sake cram those SEO keywords in, especially at the top so Google-senpai notices your article enough to get it on page 1 when those keywords are searched.

When it comes to pieces like these, my approach was always to, big fucking surprise, write in a conversational and easy tone. To me, that means being a bit loose with grammar rules. My writing flows better that way, and people honestly, genuinely don’t give a shit if you don’t have your comma placement down — chances are most of your readers won’t even know those rules or remember them from their elementary and middle school English lessons. And in fact, outright breaking a few of the strict rules of grammar can give your writing exactly that conversational tone you’re going for.

But then, every so often, I’d run into someone ready to jump up my ass about my approach, perhaps thinking that my not following every rule in the Chicago Manual of Style or MLA Handbook or whatever reference they wanted me to follow meant I was a lousy writer. In almost every one of these instances, I wouldn’t be able to convince them of my reasoning, and I’d have to go back and hammer my draft into a different, and in my opinion less effective, form.

Typically poor copywriter-editor relations. Which side you think represents which depends on where you stand.

To be sure, I’m not saying students shouldn’t learn said rules — you have to know the rules before you know how and when to break them, after all. And I’ll bet some of those editors would have enough to say about uncooperative, temperamental writers like me anyway. But then, that’s partly why I left that field behind forever (also because the work was extremely uneven — it’s hard as hell to exist as a freelancer in America unless you don’t mind being uninsured for the rest of your life and living in an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, but that’s a different matter.)

No, I’m quite happy to keep writing as an amateur, getting most of my actual stress and headaches from the work I get a regular paycheck for. I’m sure my writing style on this blog would give any editor a fucking heart attack, but thankfully for both me and them, they don’t have to edit my writing here. And truly, absolutely, fuck Chicago style* and double-fuck MLA.** The only style guide I’ve ever read that wasn’t an irritating mess is The Elements of Style by our old friends Strunk & White, and even then, I don’t follow their rules religiously or even close to it, though I do appreciate their more casual approach in providing more tips than set-in-stone rules.

There’s only one “style guide” I pay attention to that much, and it’s not quite a style guide but more a short list of don’ts: George Orwell’s “six rules” in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”. While these six rules are directed at political and journalistic writing, they can easily be applied to other forms, including writing about anime or games or whatever else you like. I’ll admit that I don’t always follow all Orwell’s rules (especially the one about cutting out unnecessary words — I basically agree but am also too lazy to edit all that much.) But my favorite, one I try to always follow, is his final one: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

To me, that’s the real heart of writing for any kind of audience, even if it’s just an audience of one. Style is important, but if the substance is lacking in integrity and genuine sentiment, it may as well not exist. Anyone on Earth can create mere content — that’s simple enough. But the best style employed to create the worst kind of mindless drivel, provocative clickbait, or incendiary hate speech is wasted. There are different kinds of trash, but in the end, trash is trash.

Because I’m trash. Wait, this isn’t how I meant to end the post. Fuck.

I have more to write about writing once I sort my thoughts out, but for now, that’s all I’ve got. I’d like to say I hope I didn’t offend anyone with anything I wrote above, but if any offense was given, it was honestly meant. Especially if you’re an editor who yells at writers for not following the MLA Handbook 9th Edition to the letter.

 

* To be clear again, I mean the style guide, not the city. I’ve never been to Chicago but I’m sure it’s very nice.

** And triple-fuck the Bluebook, but that only applies for law students and law clerks who have to actually cite cases. Even law clerks don’t really use it, or at least I didn’t, since Westlaw and Lexis do all those pinpoint citations for you. Guess I’ve just gotten lazy.