A friend and former PR colleague informed me yesterday that January 9 is designated as Word Nerd Day. How this glorious day dedicated to my brethren escaped my notice before now is a mystery, but I had to write today in its honor.
As a self-described Word Nerd, I do have a bit of a reputation. Friends post grammar-related humor to my Facebook page, and I have been known to carry a red pen in my purse (ok, I almost always carry one). I can’t read signs and restaurant menus without mentally correcting them, and I would love to banish the oft-misused apostrophe from any word resembling a plural. Don’t even get me started on its vs. it’s.
That said, I also don’t consider myself a hard-core grammar nazi, and I generally prefer simple, clear words to the five-dollar variety.
For me, the written word is the most perfect form of expression and communication. I can’t paint or draw – or do more than plunk out an easy tune on the piano – so writing for me is the most straightforward way to organize my thoughts, which tend to tumble over each other in my brain faster than I can speak. It’s a way to put a bit of me out into the world.
Most of the writing I do is for business clients. Plenty of professionals dread writing for business and find it dry, but I love the challenge of choosing just the right words to convey a business’ brand and tone. It’s a never-ending game to me as a lover of words and communication.
This year, however, I also intend to make good on a promise to myself to finish writing my first novel. I started it during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this past November, but work and other commitments distracted me and pulled me away. Word Nerd Day is the perfect time to put that promise in writing and to hold myself accountable.
I look forward to the tens of thousands of words I will write this year, both for clients and for my novel, and I wish all you fellow Word Nerds happy writing.
by Amy J.V. Atwell
I attended a Local Food Think Tank yesterday, hosted by the Mile High Business Alliance. A half-day session about food might seem to have little to do with writing, but when the first presenter asked the group to help him define the word “food,” this writer’s heart did a little leap.
Food, a simple four-letter word whose definition could be brushed off as obvious, generated a 20-minute brainstorm and some debate among participants. Should food be defined as only edible items that provide some nutritional value? What about beer, milk or juice? Do processing additives render an item as non-food? The group, of course, did not settle on any one answer, and the discussion easily could have gone on for hours.
This anecdote highlights that, as a business writer or communicator, you should never assume that your definition or interpretation of a word or phrase matches your audience’s. You must think about the nuances of language and how they can be interpreted by various individuals or groups.
Of course, you must settle on something eventually and choose your words, but good writing should begin well before pen hits paper or fingers hit keyboard. Good writing always begins with a clear objective: What message are you trying to convey and to whom? Taking the time to assess your communication goals can help lead you to the right format, the right word choices and the right channels. Lack of planning could mean you end up trying to sell a Moon Pie to someone who wants a carrot.
Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”― Mark Twain
One of my favorite journalism professors drummed this rule into my head. Anyone who has worked with me as an editor knows that I instantly delete these things, among others:
– Exclamation marks (unless someone is actually screaming)
– & (not a word, folks)
– Double spaces between sentences (I don’t care what your 5th grade Language Arts teacher taught you; it’s one space)
In regard to avoiding “very”: You should choose a word that is strong enough to convey the full impact of your meaning. If your subject is “very tired,” swap exhausted for tired and drop the very.