My frustration increases with ever-declining literacy levels. There’s no excuse for not getting it right: Word pulls you up when you make spelling mistakes or use wonky grammar or overloaded sentences. It takes seconds to google the meaning of a word. Many writers are so desperate to get their precious stories out there, they don’t care about whether or not they’ve used the tools of English correctly.
Why is this so important? Because if you’re expecting readers to spend their valuable time reading your writing, it should be easy for them to understand what you’ve written. Spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes impede clarity. They mean your readers need to pause and think to make sure they’re following. If I’m sufficiently interested to read your words, don’t make it necessary for me to hop out of the imaginary journey you’ve invited me on.
Recently I read a passage in a memoir where the writer mentions listening to the ‘bloodcurdling hot water system’. Does she mean the bloodcurdling sounds of the hot water system? I guess so, because she says she was ‘listening’. Even so, I had the briefest image of someone being scalded. It’s possible ‘the bloodcurdling hot water system’ means the hot water system produces water so hot that it’s bloodcurdling. How can a hot water system itself be ‘bloodcurdling’? Up to the point where I read this sentence, I was mentally enjoying the scene the writer had evoked. That pleasure’s part of the joy of reading. Then I was distracted and some of my delight in reading her words was diminished.
Well, it’s not all about you, I hear some people thinking. Yes, it is! It is always about your reader; your reader’s granting you their attention. In return, you give them your best, not a half-arsed first or second draft; you give them sentences you’ve developed and refined and made sure are correct so your reader enjoys the reading experience unhindered by confusion.
This isn’t about being old-fashioned or formal in your approach to writing: English changes every day. You can use unconventional language or unconventional spelling, as long as your meaning is clear. When you’re writing in English you have a vocabulary of half a million words at your disposal and conventions of grammar that allow for meticulous nuance in meaning. English is so powerful. Why not use the language to its fullest extent?
I’ve seen the phrase ‘bear witness’ written as ‘bare witness’ often lately, which tells me these writers don’t understand the meaning of the words they’re using. If you don’t know what you want to say, why should anyone bother to read you? It’s rude and self-indulgent to expect anyone to care.