Monday, July 19, 2010

How do you feel about your writing skills?

I recently had the dreaded “performance” talk with my boss, where we discussed goals and whether I was meeting them or not, and then my competencies in certain areas. One of the areas was written communication.

“Ha ha,” said I. “I have that one in the bag.”

But it turned out that I hadn’t, really. I’ve blogged about this before. You can never assume you’re perfect or even great at something just because you do it a lot, or blog, or are in a writing group--or even published a book! And writing is one of those strange beasts where there are a ton of different ways to do it, no “right” way, and always room for improvement.

My boss knows I’m pretty good--but there were times when I'd been sloppy. I certainly don’t have problems with grammar or style. Word choice? Always a challenge because in marketing, word choice is key. And time also plays a part. You need to be able to take the time to edit, proofread, and rewrite-- and as writers of fiction, we all know this. We know that the largest chunk of time we spend on our novels is in the revision stage. (It should be. If it isn’t, ask yourself why.)

I tried to explain myself. I said, “We must all build time in for editing. That must be part of the writing cycle.” My boss couldn’t disagree with that, but he suspiciously failed to say, “Yes, Sierra, that is true, and apart from that, you are a superb writer.” That didn’t happen. I don’t know why. Probably he meant to say it and forgot. Probably a Tweet popped up on Tweetdeck and he was distracted for a second. Oh wait, that was me.

Where were we?

We were here: you must be careful about judging your own writing skills. Just because you can string words together and make them sound coherent, and even sometimes please people with your arrangement, does not an artist make you. For myself, I could say that I have a master’s in English, plus have been paid for my writing for many years, plus people do not scurry to the nearest toilet and let loose with their lunch after reading what I write, so perhaps it is okay. On the flip side, I am continually wowed by others who are far cleverer than I with their words. And I am never above improvement.

In fact, I will tell you a secret. One of my first bosses in my professional life sometimes looks at this very blog. Yes. And this boss, who is a very smart writer, once vomited over my writing. Or at least choked it back. I particularly remember an instance once where I clearly demonstrated a complete failure to grasp a grammatical element. He said nothing, which was kind, but I know now that he really threw up in his mouth. And it is slightly embarrassing that now I call myself a writer, and that he knows it. (Although it pleases me to defy that long-ago opinion that was no doubt formed.) There is no way for him to know that after I left my employment with his company, I studied every grammar, style, and writing book I could get my hands on. I ate the Chicago Manual of Style for brekkers, and then after that I ate the AP stylebook for lunch, and the the APA stylebook for dinner. I did everything I could to get serious. I had to because I was working as a technical writer.

In all seriousness, I try really hard not to think too highly of my writing skills, because I am afraid of being deluded.

How about you? Where and how do you rate your writing skills? Are you like me, and judge your level of competence based on whether people vomit or not? What do you use as your measure?


Tabitha Bird said...

Um.... I try not to rate my writing skills. I am sure I will get it wrong. and it makes me nervous just thinking about it. It is tough to live up to my own expectations.

Christine H said...

I have learned that bosses try not to praise you too much because then they would have to promote you or give you a raise. So, um, take that review with a grain of salt.

And I totally agree about having time for editing. In my last job, we didn't have much of that time so we passed everything around for others to review and catch our mistakes.

I think you are fabulous, darling, so don't worry too much. It will cause wrinkles and we can't have that, now can we?

Jen said...

I have never thought about rating my writing skills but I will say that looking at my blog from where I started in January to where I am now is leaps and bounds. I still don't watch my grammer (which I should) or watch run-on sentences (again I know I should) but the blog is fun for me, a learning experience while writing and gaining knowledge.

Though I'm not thinking I should spend time at least checking to make sure I've spelled everything correctly!

Happy Monday! :)

Anne R. Allen said...

I find newbies usually rate their skills very high. Once they start studying how to write well, they lose confidence. Then they slowly build it back again as they acquire real skills. This is why I no longer take editing jobs for newbies. They are always in love with their own purple prose, adverb-infested sentences, pompous word choices and Tom Swiftly dialog tags. They need somebody to be mean to them and I don't like playing the bad guy.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Tabitha, too true.

Christine, you're right about the boss rating. And thanks for saying I'm fabulous! You are too! Mwah!

Jen - Looking at our blogs is a good way of gauging this, good idea. Also looking at prior stories.

Anne - And sometime, that newbie purple hue never fades:

Travener said...

I am a very good writer. An excellent writer, in fact. (I'm being objective here.) Always have been. I do, however, have a singular failing: too much passive voice. I have to red-pencil myself for that all the time.

Simon C. Larter said...

If people vomit over my writing, it's because I wanted them to. And yeah, I'm always just on the edge of a gag reflex when I read your blog.

(On the serious tip--and because this is in parentheses, I'm going to assume no one else can see it--I know I'm a pretty good writer. But occasionally I worry if I have the chops to write a full novel, and if I do manage to complete one, whether it's going to be any good. Then I have a vodka and get back to writing, since I really don't have a better option. Okay. Aside is done. Back on the record I go....)

I must break you, O nemesis. You and your Master's in English. *shakes fist*

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