About once a month, someone will comment here about my use of language or some typo/misspelling I missed. In some cases, I just fix the typo and move on. I post these jeremiads from all sorts of devices, and I read them once before posting. That means some hilarious spellcheck issues from time to time, which I often leave in place, just for yuks. But the spelling and punctuation are sometimes out of whack.
From time to time, I reply and explain why I left “gorilla war” in the text rather than fixing it. C’mon, that’s comedy gold people. I’ll briefly go over my casual writing versus formal writing stance. I guess the readership has grown to the point where most readers simply don’t know my style guide so I thought it might make a worthwhile post. I actually have a strong interest in writing styles, and I have strong opinions on the matter.
My first rule of writing is that it has to be readable and clear. I get that the grammar police struggle to read and understand anything with a typo or misspelling, but most people, I think, appreciate clarity and simplicity in their choice of reading material. If you can punch up the copy with some zingers, then all the better. Who among us does not enjoy a good dick joke now and then?
The reason anyone writes anything is to communicate information to the reader. That assumes the reader is there to receive the messages you’re sending him. If the reader is here to grade my penmanship or fidelity to the rules of grammar, then that person will enjoy the coded message embedded in this post I cooked up just for him. The key for that is chrysanthemum.
As an aside, the reason academic work is never read is because it is deliberately made unreadable. The ridiculous neologisms and insider jargon are a deliberate barrier to entry. It’s a good way to get published in a “peer reviewed” journal without ever stating anything that can be held against you when the fads change. “Compellingly develop functionalized methodologies” will never get you in trouble, since no one knows what that means.
The second rule for me is that grammar is optional. The purpose of commas, spaces, hyphens, sentence structure and so on is in support of the first rule. The flow of the text should relax the reader, so they are more willing to engage the writer through the text. Throwing a comma in that stops the reader’s eye, simply because the style guide says you are required to set off subordinate clauses with commas, strikes me as a violation of rule one.
Just as important, in this sort of writing, is the need for deliberate ambiguity in order to get the reader thinking about the topic. The loosey-goosey use of language to create some confusion, followed by a few well defined points of clarification can really drive your point home, without beating the reader over the head. As with most things in life, form follows function in expository writing, blogging, fiction, signal intelligence, etc.
My third and final rule is that you write for the purpose of the writing. No one wants dick jokes in their how-to books. At the same time, a dry recitation of facts makes for terrible fiction. A blog should be close to being a stream of consciousness thing. I write these posts in about 30 minutes, read over them for obvious mistakes and then post them. I keep a running list of crackpot ideas that came to me on previous trips to the opium den, so I pick one and go at it.
No one is coming to my blog for answers to life’s tough questions. I’m not compiling research data on the Zika Virus. More important, it’s free. That means you get what you pay for here. I do this for fun. When I finish my book, I promise I’ll spend more time proofing it than writing it. That’s a different medium with different rules. If you want the Queen’s English, buy her book. Here, it’s whatever pops out of my head at the moment, naked and raw baby!
Finally, there’s the issue of formatting. People read off tablets, phones, desktops and who knows what else. Paragraph and sentence structure needs to respect that fact. That’s why I write some of these on tablets. If I can write it on a tablet, I think it can be read on a tablet. But that’s something I don’t think anyone has quite unriddled. Writing was much easier when it was printed on paper in a standard format.
What I have developed for my use is a couple of formatting guides. I stick to 800 -1000 word rants. Those Ron Unz 10,000 word essays are too long to read on-line. The other thing I do is try to keep the paragraphs around five lines. Standard length paragraphs that you see in magazines are somewhat dizzying on a tablet. I don’t know if it works, but it forces brevity, at the minimum.
So, there you have it, the Z Blog Style Guide.