Permission to be Sloppy

One of the guys, Kristian, pointed out a number of egregious grammatical errors I made in yesterday’s Razorwise Report. Through the power of the internet, he sent them via instant messaging to which my answer was pretty much “blah blah blah”. Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m supposed to be putting my best foot forward when I’m communicating with you here, but if I have to watch every, little detail, it’s going to feel an awful lot like work (which isn’t a bad thing, I love my work), but it’s going to become a huge time sink. For those of you just tuning in, I want to let you know if I make a mistake, please know it’s not reflective of our finished work, and think of them as an endearing “um” or “uh” you might hear in casual conversation. We’re hanging out here and we’re talking shop. Sometimes I’m really tired when I get an opportunity to write this missives, but usually I’m in a rush.

You may ask why I’m so hurried. What do I have that’s so important I cannot scrub up each and every word before you ever see them? It’s called work. Just like you, I have to work.  I’ve got to get words down, and I’ve got to get on with the program. The thrust of what I’m sharing is honest and open, and I’m not always rushed, but I seem to be more tired of late.

However, there is something good and pure about using this method of writing without thinking which can serve you in your own pursuits.

If you don’t give yourself time to think, you don’t realize how stupid you’re being. This is not a bad thing, even though you could interpret it as such. In the past, I’ve talked with you about ideas versus execution? This is the proof making up that very thick pudding. There have been a lot of ridiculous ideas which have been executed to perfection (or as close as we mere mortals may achieve). Think of some of your favorite movies. I’ll name one. Back to the Future. A DeLorean as a time machine sounds pretty ridiculous, and the whole premise sounds weak on the surface, but everybody working on that flick brought it altogether in what is one of the best time travel movies out there. If the screenwriter paused to think about how silly he was, it probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

I’m not saying being sloppy or writing in a rush is the secret to Nirvana and lasting peace, but it sure gets the words down. Once they’re down, you’ve got something to work from, and the slow grind of refining the words begins. I do a lot of research and reading and watching of shows and exploring various types of media to inform my works. By doing this, I can sit down and crank out a lot of words. Learn to give yourself a blind eye to typos. Don’t second guess sentence fragments. Don’t worry about character names. Slap in an appropriate placeholder (I start with the letter ‘A’ and work from there.) Come back later. Remember, you can nearly always come back later. Don’t give your words much of a second thought. Frame out the thrust of the work. Get on with the writing. Come back and tune it up.

The tuning up can take quite awhile and there can be a lot of back and forth. Don’t think just because you’ve finished your first draft you’re out of the woods. The first draft is known as such for a reason. The only guy I can think of who wrote a book which was supposed to be one of the cleanest manuscripts of all time is John Berendt, the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You probably didn’t even know his name. Did you? I admit I had to look him up. The reason is he took a really long time to write that book. You know. That’s what editors are for. And that’s in NO way diminishing the role of editorial staff. They are very important to the whole process and, if not for them, a lot of works would probably look like the Razorwise Report does on occasion–a fluffy, puppy dog that’s not particularly obedient, but well intended. Fluffy, puppy dog manuscripts equal sad pandas. When we get the puppy, we give him firm discipline. We work him hard. We feed him red meat and Wheaties. We teach him how to kill. We tell him to go for the throat and to drag his prey from page one right through the end of the work. Sloppy is okay. Without the cute puppies, we’ll never, ever get the vicious bull dogs of prose. Lean, muscular beasts with the clear intention of dismantling any who cross their path. When it’s time to write, be the puppy.

Oh, I should add one other thing. Strict, grammatical prose doesn’t equate to style. When you read my words, you get a certain rhythm and sense of what I’m about. You’re used to the ebb and flow and the crazy, chaotic maelstrom of my imagination pouring across the printed page. Do I break some rules? Certainly. Is it okay? Absolutely. As long as you have a firm grasp of what you’re doing to begin with. The advice I give you is intended to let you free yourself from the shackles of creative limitation and to extend your vision beyond the horizon and the bounds of convention. Just make sure you know where you’re coming from. Even Picasso had a firm understanding of anatomical structure and could create masterful replications of traditional paintings before he pushed the borders into his own, definitive style of cubism. Learn the basics. Move on. Keep writing as you go.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!


5 Notes on, Permission to be Sloppy

  1. There shouldn’t be a comma between “egregious” and “grammatical” …

    *runs* …

  2. To be fair, he did ask me for feedback about the post. ;)

    Evan, multiple adjectives modifying a noun are separated by a comma. For example, “The beautiful, talented woman turned out to be an award-winning, well respected actor.”

  3. I’ll be honest. I’m a PhD student who grades papers for a living and I’m never 100% sure on some of the grammatical mistakes I see.

  4. Kristian:

    That’s not quite what’s going on there. “Egregious” is modifying the whole of “grammatical errors.” They are _egregious_ grammatical errors as opposed to (for example) _minor_ grammatical errors.

    The test is whether you can swap the adjectives around without changing the meaning. “The talented, beautiful woman turned out to be a well respected, award-winning actor” means the exact same thing as your original example. In contrast, “grammatical egregious errors” doesn’t mean the same thing as “egregious grammatical errors” (the former would be something that is grammatically correct, but involves errors of some other kind, perhaps of factual accuracy).


  5. And I say again, “Blah, blah, blah!” :D

    The question is: do you want me to spend time constantly editing the Razorwise Report or would you rather I move the dialogue forward? ;)

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