By Kevin Leland
The above title is what’s called “alliteration.” “Who gives a sh*t?” You ask.
“Not too many,” I answer, “but some.”
Did you notice how I put the punctuation marks inside the quotes? That is proper placement of punctuation. I also place one space, not two, between sentences. That rule has changed back and forth over the last few centuries, but as it stands in 2014, with one exception (if you’re using a ‘courier’ font) the standing rule is one space after a period.
*Note: If you are accustomed to two spaces, no biggie, I found a simple way to correct that in the editing process. Don’t try to change the habit.
I never realized, as an editor and a publisher, until our shipmate Denny Kemp called me out on it, that some people take offense to having their writing mistakes corrected. I should have learned this lesson years ago, when my Dad told the story about the letter he sent his older brother. He got his letter sent back, all corrected in red ink, as if my Uncle bled all over it.
My father wrote back –a two-word letter– all in capitals, without any punctuation, except maybe an exclamation point, and vowed not to communicate with his brother again until he came home from the Navy. I deserved to hear those same two words from Denny, and anyone else I offended with my grammar and syntax policing, especially because I didn’t cover my ass with a proper disclaimer about why it is, and why it is not important. That is what the rest of this post will do.
Why grammar and syntax is not important
For our purposes at “Sea Stories” it’s not important when we are relaying our history, and communicating our memories, to worry the slightest bit about language rules. Even professional writers are advised to just “get the story out of their heads” and down on (digital) paper in a rough draft or outline format. Editing comes later, and even when editors write, they should have their finished piece proof-read and edited by another set of eyes. Everyone makes mistakes, and, like seeing the nose on your face, it is more difficult to see your own boo-boos in work that you wrote yourself.
Our stated goal at “Sea Stories” is to document our history that isn’t found in the history books. We can’t begin that process until this history, one way or another, comes out of peoples’ memory banks and into the open air while they still have a pulse. So, if you despise putting pen to paper, or pecking at a keyboard, then make a digital recording, or simply boot up the scanner and digitize and share photos –a picture truly is worth 1,000 words. Just tell your story! Don’t worry about documenting it, leave that to your publisher, BCG.
Why grammar and syntax is important
Language rules, when it comes to the written word, need to be followed because sometimes the true meaning gets lost in translation from oral to written. This is because voice inflections and pauses and even facial expressions and hand gestures go missing when a story is written instead told verbally. One little comma can make a huge difference in the meaning of a sentence:
“Let’s eat, Grandma” compared to “Let’s eat Grandma” goes from a friendly invitation to a cannibalistic proposal. Of course it can usually be determined from context what the writer meant, but with less extreme examples, too many times it can not.
If we are going to be true to our important goal of documenting our history, then editing these rough drafts into publishable form is very important. We are writing the history that isn’t currently documented, or if it is, we are adding to it with our own eyewitness accounts and personal experiences.
The last article I published was inspired by Ron Burwell’s rough draft of his eyewitness account, then researched and edited by our Chief Editor, Martha Jette, then researched a little more by me, uncovering the unsettling fact that out of eight sailors that lost their lives in a collision while underway on American warships, serving our country –only one sailor was named in any easily “findable” documented history.
Our “team effort” at Sea Stories, corrected that disrespectful, historical ingratitude, and we should be proud of that. Like Ron said when he posted that rough draft about the deadly collision:
“While I am grateful to be a part of ‘Sea Stories,’ I hope you all agree that these stories cannot all portray the happy and fun events involved in Navy life. It just would not be realistic. What follows is one incident that haunts many a sailor to this day, including myself.” -Ron Burwell
This publication is going to quickly develop further, by the power of social networking, to also include biographies of these young, fallen shipmates, most of whom did not live long enough to have biological descendants, as told by their surviving shipmates. We need to be their “adopted” descendants, that keep their memory alive by documenting their tragic “Sea Stories” alongside our own.
The most important reason for good grammar and syntax, for our purposes, is because the robots demand it.
“What robots?!” You ask.
There are millions of them! Little invisible search engine spiders, and Internet traffic cops, and spelling and grammar and layout checkers that crawl around reading everything that is written on the web. Like digital librarians that make the Dewey decimal system obsolete, they decide what particular “book” to fetch you when you request to read a “Sea Story.” In a fraction of a second, they read and “grade” that published piece. All other things being equal, they will hand over the article they give an “A+” before one that gets a “C-” because of typos, and misspellings, bad grammar or even for the use of “passive voice.”
When we tell our stories, we need to write “the boy threw the ball.” Or, they need to be re-written by the editors to correct that. Passive voice is a good example of how even if a writer doesn’t break any language rules, there is still a “better way” to document the story. After all, I think it can be an “unstated” goal, that if we are going to go through the effort of documenting our history, we should want it to be dispersed and read as much as possible.
If this subject interests you, and you want to learn more about the technicalities of language rules, and why it’s important (beyond our purposes at “Sea Stories”) then I would like to recommend this book, written by a friend of mine, Laurie Thomas. It’s called “Not Trivial.” We promote it at BCG. Laurie was a medical journal editor. She “corrected” the writings of highly educated Doctors. She understands what I also knew, but failed to “disclaim” before I started correcting my shipmate’s English:
It doesn’t make anyone “stupid” if they make mistakes, even common ones, like many doctors do, when they write.
I apologize for making anyone feel that way. However, if an “apology” is an “I’m sorry” –with an explanation, then in my defense, and in defense of the other editors, it doesn’t make us condescending, or policing, when we do our jobs as editors, and clean up your rough drafts (that relay excellent stories) and turn them into search-engine-friendly, published content. It’s a lot of work –for not a lot of money. Which brings me to:
In fact, it typically takes more than two hours to turn a rough draft into a published piece that the robot librarians are going to hand over to thousands of readers. We are betting, as publishers, that this content is going to “sell” meaning, it will generate advertising revenue. Even when this content does “make money” it trickles in at about $1.50 per month, per piece. It can take us over three years to put $30 bucks in our pockets for those couple of hours of editing and publishing work, maybe longer or not at all, considering we pay out $1.00 per 1000 views to the contributor of the rough draft. We are “speculating.”
Mark Lovelace suggested that he and some of the other contributors at “Sea Stories” might want to speculate along with us, and by so doing, help grease the wheels a bit, so that we can take on some more editors and publishers, and get more content published faster, and devote some more time to soliciting advertisers in order to bring in more revenue to share from our “Sea Stories” content. I like that idea!
We are not changing the original deal, and we will still gladly edit and publish these rough drafts at no charge, and still pay the contributor $1.00 per 1,000 views. However, for any contributors that would like to advance us $12.50 per piece of content, to edit and publish it, then in turn, we will pay out an extra fifty cents per 1,000 views, for a total of $1.50 per 1,000 views on these pieces. This will also apply to any articles that have already been published, if anyone wants to make an advance on those, before the first, quarterly payout, at the end of March — it will be gladly accepted.
Here is a more detailed proposal for this “Pay to Publish” deal, for anyone interested: