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Just Because You Can Type, It Doesn’t Mean You’re a Writer


Writers are easy to find.  

In the world of work-at-home-dom, freelance writing seems to be one of the first things people turn to when faced with bringing a paycheck in through the computer screen. For instance, just imagine poor Jack, sitting at home after a stressful day at work. His back hurts from his cheap office chair and his head is pounding after the verbal beating his boss gave him. He really wishes he could work at home, comfortably seated in his ergonomic chair with a little Bach playing in the background. “I know,” he thinks to himself in what he considers a stroke of genius, “I used to write memos every week. I have experience. I could be a writer.” 

Good writers are hard to find. 

Perhaps Lorna and I are a little picky, but we HATE it when we read a piece of writing with errors in it. I’m not saying that Jack sucks as a human being. I’m not saying that we never make errors. I’m not even saying that there are rules decreed in stone when it comes to the written word. What I am saying is that when we come across an article that has consistent errors—a misuse of semicolons, crazy commas all over the page, or just plain bad grammar—it hurts us both mentally and physically.    

I know I’m going out on a limb here and opening myself up to all sorts of critiques from people who love to tear grammarphiles limb from limb. But someone’s got to say it. 

Being a professional writer is hard work.  

Writing is not about putting words on a page and hoping that someone will buy them. Education, experience, and consistency are all necessary to stay at the top of this game. This is not something Lorna and I take lightly. We feel that our commitment to these three qualities is what makes us actual writers instead of freelancers with delusions of grandeur.   


Do I think that having a degree in Creative Writing or English is necessary to become a writer? Absolutely not. Some of the best writers I know are as removed from an English degree as I am from brain surgery. Do I think that the fact that I have a degree in English helps me out as a writer? Absolutely.  

Four years of English-intensive college classes taught me a few things. Grammar, for one. Punctuation, for another. Not to mention creative license in writing incomplete sentences. It also taught me to love and revere the Chicago Manual of Style, the APA writing guide, the MLA writing guide, and all other publications dedicated to instructing me on the different ways of conveying my message.  


Experience in the writing capacity can mean a lot of things. It can mean being a well-read individual who knows the ins and outs of writing a good sentence. It can mean knowing absolutely everything there is to know about a particularly difficult topic and being able to break that topic down into words that others can understand. It can mean having spent years perfecting your craft so that your style and voice cannot be duplicated. 

Experience is the one thing everyone can access. Even Jack, my poor office-slave friend, might have enough experience in his field to make him a successful, if grammatically-challenged, writer. The one thing I ask is that if you are great at writing, if you have something important to say—but you cannot convey that something without making errors in subject-verb agreement or even correct punctuation—hire yourself an editor. You’d be amazed what an expert and a fresh pair of eyes can do. (This is something just about everyone can benefit from. I always run everything I write through Lorna first. That second person makes all the difference.) 


Here’s where I think Lorna and I have an edge. Not because we have outstanding education or experience, but because we are committed to the craft. Between the two of us, we occasionally have conflicting ideas of what “correct” means. Personally, I have a strong aversion to serial commas in the AP style (found in most newspapers, journals and magazines). I love my commas in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style (found in many academic documents, books, and all things written by me). Lorna agreed to make the switch so that our work is consistent.  On the other hand, she recently asked me to please, please stop ending sentences with prepositions. Before, it was something I never really concerned myself with. (Yes, I was just being clever there.)    

These are just a few of the many examples we have decided are important to us and to our world of grammar. As such, we have created The List. The List contains all of our style guidelines. When we outsource our work, or if we simply need to remember our own rules, we can consult The List. It keeps us consistent with each other and with ourselves so that everything our company produces meets the same (read: excellent) standards. The List is a living organism that changes and grows with the dynamics of the English language, with updates cheerfully provided by the Chicago Manual of Style every year, with our own whims, and with the nature of the document we are writing. Because I would never start a sentence with a conjunction in a formal business document. 

Write, and Write Well! 

I’m not perfect, and I’m not a perfect writer. Some of you may carefully search the blogs of my past, present, and future in hopes of being able to gleefully point out my errors. That’s fine. Point away. I’ve been known to get petty satisfaction from the same actions myself from time to time (okay, as recently as yesterday).  

All I ask is that you take writing seriously. It’s a gift, an art, and a science. If you don’t know the hard-and-fast rules of writing, study them. And if you don’t want to study them, hire someone else to do it for you.

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    On November 27th, 2007 at 4:51 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    Well done and well called. This was a great post to read, and I agree wholeheartedly with much of what you’ve written.

    This doesn’t just happen on blogs, either. For examples of exactly what you’re voicing your opinion on, go to Elance and view some of the “professional writer” portfolios.

    Skilled writers are the Olympic athletes of the written word. Almost anyone can run. That doesn’t mean everyone who can run is going to make it to the Olympics.

    “Do I think that having a degree in Creative Writing or English is necessary to become a writer? Absolutely not. Some of the best writers I know are as removed from an English degree as I am from brain surgery”

    YES. Thank you.

    On November 27th, 2007 at 8:34 pm, Allena said:

    I feel that making your own list is a bit like recreating the wheel. How about just going with APA or CMS guidelines depending on the client/genre/field?

    I, too, am an English graduate and doing an MA in Professional Writing. It seems like it’s been a little popular lately to say “no degree needed!”- I even wrote the same thing on my About.com page. However, I do want to note that I’ve had several clients that specifically noted my education as a draw to them.

    On November 28th, 2007 at 3:52 am, Melissa Donovan said:

    Thank you for this! What a superbly written article on the craft and profession of writing.

    I’m subscribing!

    -Melissa Donovan
    Writing FORWARD

    On November 28th, 2007 at 3:52 am, Melissa Donovan said:

    Um, I was already subscribed. Heheh.

    On November 28th, 2007 at 9:02 am, Lis Garrett ~ a writer's woolgatherings said:

    Excellent, well-written post!

    I have to admit that I am somewhat reluctant to admit to others that I am pursuing freelance writing, as I feel that some may view it as the “popular” work-from-home career. Although I don’t have a degree in English, my intention is to go back to school and earn one when #3 enters elementary school. I have always had a love of grammar and punctuation, despite what I’m sure are obvious errors on my blog. I’m a huge fan of commas and semi-colons. And exclamation points. And fragmented sentences. I also end the occasional sentence with a preposition, although, like Lorna, that’s something that drives me crazy, too.

    On November 28th, 2007 at 11:14 am, IrreverentFreelancer said:

    Amen to that! Every single word of it (this coming from one of those professional writers who is far removed from an English degree).

    On November 28th, 2007 at 12:07 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    James - I like the Olympics analogy you had on your blog. Very appropriately put!

    Allena - While I agree that writing in whatever format the client requests is the only way to go, I see no harm in having our own guidelines and standards. It’s a quick and easy reference guide that keeps us looking good!

    Melissa - As always, thanks for the support.

    Lis and Irreverent - English degrees be damned–you’re both excellent writers!

    On November 28th, 2007 at 9:00 pm, Deb Ng said:

    Thank you for this and thank you for stopping by. Great minds and all that!

    On November 29th, 2007 at 12:22 pm, Laura said:

    Good post!

    Sadly, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to errors in online documents. I still hate to see them, though.

    What really bothers me is to see a book or newspaper with a grammar error or typo.

    On November 29th, 2007 at 4:27 pm, Eric said:

    Unfotunately I am of the same mindset as Laura. I have become too accustomed to written errors (either in print or online). What is worse is that I have found myself beginning to make many of those errors in my own writing (and on my blog I am sure). But, hey, that was why I started “Journey of Words” to force myself back into writing more seriously after too many years without putting “pen to paper”.

    On November 29th, 2007 at 7:41 pm, Eric said:

    See what I mean…I can’t even spell in a comment! It should say unfortunately…sheesh :)

    On November 30th, 2007 at 7:01 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    Eric - I never count errors in blog comments. :) If we all took time to edit every word we type in blog comments, nobody would ever get anything done!

    On December 4th, 2007 at 11:38 am, --Deb said:

    And, of course, let’s not forget reading. It might not help you become a better writer directly, but it sure does help you recognize the good stuff when you see it–whether it’s on your own computer screen or not!

    On December 4th, 2007 at 5:11 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Deb - Reading has got to be one of the most important prerequisites for writing. I’ve spent so much time lately doing only “research” reading that I finally broke down and devoured a couple of novels that were basically brain candy.

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