A long while back, in two parts, I published a post titled Safeguard Your Credibility. Here’s the Original Post and Here’s Part Two.
Both posts were all about not displaying ignorance. Yet the only way to avoid displaying ignorance is to eradicate it. And the only way to eradicate it is to learn and continue learning.
Of course, all of us are ignorant of some things. Nobody can be aware of everything.
But I suspect we can all agree that a professional should have an intimate knowledge of the tools of his/her trade.
Would you hire a carpenter who isn’t quite sure of the difference between a “nail” and a “screw”? Would you have confidence in a mechanic who thought maybe the engine on your fuel-injected car is running erratically because of a problem with the carburetor?
Okay, how about buying a book from a writer who believes that section at the beginning of some books is a “forward”? That’s tantamount to the aforementioned mechanic smiling smugly and saying your flat tire will be fine if you only jack up the car and roll the tire over so the air-filled part is on the bottom.
As professional writers (or professed writers or even aspiring writers) we cannot afford to be ignorant of our number one tool: the language.
And lest you think I’m being a bit snobbish about this, I do know whereof I speak.
A few years ago, Stefan Kanfer, a very well known and accomplished professional writer, pointed out to me (while I was copyediting a novel for him!) that when a person is searching through a file folder full of papers he’s “riffling,” not “rifling.”
I’d been saying and writing it wrong for around 62 years.
Thank goodness it was at least a somewhat obscure word and one that isn’t a direct, intimate part of the writing profession itself. But the bottom line is, I Should Have Known. Barring that, I should have at least known enough to look it up.
Today, in preparation for this Journal entry, I read a post at Kill Zone blog. The post was written by a traditionally published professional writer.
It’s an interesting post, but about one-third of the way through, the author wrote this attribution: “he recalls in the booklet’s forward.”
Wait. FORWARD? Seriously? And my next immediate thought was Is that just a typo or does this PROFESSIONAL FICTION WRITER not understand the difference between “forward” and “foreword”?
It can’t really be a typo. The two words are too different. And it can’t really be a slip-of-the-thought, wrong-word usage because the two words SOUND too different. It isn’t like a to/too or waste/waist thing. It’s more like the if/whether thing.
As you can probably tell, the error jerked me directly out of the post.
I DID go back and finish reading it. The post was too important to just let it go. But I was still annoyed that as a reader I was picked up and thrown out of a potential learning experience.
Fortunately for the author, I’d already bought one of her fiction books to read. For various reasons, it wasn’t to my personal taste as a reader, so I’d already decided I won’t be buying anymore.
But this is a whole other level. Often you can still learn valuable lessons about writing even from a writer whose fiction doesn’t appeal to you personally.
That is not the case with a writer who professes to be a professional but doesn’t know the difference between two such basic words. Now, unfortunately, I guarantee I’ll take any writerly advice this author shares with a massive grain of salt.
And that’s too bad.
‘Til next time, happy writing!
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