Writing Advice for Non-Writers

Last week I received a lovely comment from reader Lady Di on my Lost Love and the Art of Editing post. Work and family obligations ate up my time that day, and I wasn’t able to reply to it then, but today I want rectify that situation with this post. Why take up a whole post replying to one comment? Two reasons.

First, Lady Di offhandedly brought up one of my favourite pet peeves: the difference between English and American spellings. Because, really, what is the deal with that? Do we really need to spell words differently over here in America? Is it some kind of linguistic chest beating over the fact that we won the revolutionary war? Because if it is, I have news for my fellow Americans. Linguistic chest beating is the worst kind of chest beating ever.

It woudn’t be so bad if our spellings were better, but they’re not. There is a tiny part of me that dies when I see the word “harbour” spelled “harbor.” Was it really necessary for us to kill off that poor little innocent “u”? What did it ever do to us?

But second, and more importantly, Lady Di mentioned that she reads my blog even though she’s not a writer. Why? I’ll let her own words answer that question.

I’m not a writer, but I enjoy your perspective and the observations are applicable across a broad range of endeavours.

This is something I’ve been mulling over in one form or another for a while now, and Lady Di’s comment gave me the perspective I needed to finally condense it down into it’s basic parts.

We writers tend to think that we’re different from other people, creatures of the aether, magical souls that inhabit the realm of the story where mere mortals dare not tread. Well maybe we don’t all go that far with it, but we do tend to think of ourselves as different. Only we’re not as unique as we like to think.

The truth is this: the keys to good writing are basically the same as the keys to good living. The “advice” I give on this blog is aimed at writers, but for the most part almost anyone can put it into practice in their everyday lives. Work hard; don’t let your feelings stop you from doing what you need to do; practice practice practice; make your passion your habit; strengthen the places where you’re the weakest; good things take time to grow. These are the kinds of things I talk about on a daily basis, and they’re not just good for writers. I don’t care if your life’s calling is to be a plumber these same principles are going to help you excel.

Now please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the process of transforming myself into a self-help guru, but I do think it’s important that we realize that at some core level we writers are not so different from from the rest of the world. If we want to succeed we’re going to have to do what everyone else does to succeed. We’re going to have to work hard and study and be willing to learn.

And who knows? Maybe we could learn as much about achieving our dreams from a plumber as a plumber could learn from us.

18 responses to “Writing Advice for Non-Writers

  1. Yes, very true. 🙂 But isn’t it nice that, as writers, we get a chance to share what helps us, so it can help other folks, too? 🙂

    Also, thank you for acknowledging the superiority of British spelling! 😀

    Also, you need a Facebook “like” button. I sought one, but I found it not. 🙂

    Thanks for a great post. 🙂

  2. Great post, Albert. I chuckled reading your take on American spellings. I don’t know why there are two versions of spelling words, but I too favour the u’s in my words.

    Yes, your advice is good for anyone who has a passion and wants to go after it. And we all need constant motivation. So thanks for providing that.

  3. I didn’t mean to nudge you, but I’m delighted to have helped you coalesce some thoughts.

    I laughed at the British/American spelling thread. I am married to a Brit and these are common conversations in our household. I do agree the added (or more appropriately, not deleted) “u” makes for a lovely spelling, but our enchantment with British English leads inevitably to the housing tract named “Ye Olde Countrie Englishe Village on Goulden Pond.”

  4. Peter Saint-Clair

    Guru Albert – come on now…you know you like the sound of that. It has a certain air to it.

    Great post. I’ve never given much thought to British vs. American spelling, but now that I think of it, the British spelling of most words seems more sensible.

  5. I read a great book for word nerds (like me)(and probably a lot of people reading this blog) that has a really interesting chapter on British/American English – Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O’Conner. She goes into the difference between spellings and even our accents.

    And totally agreed – we all can learn a lot from anyone who knows their calling and is pursuing it with commitment and excellence.

  6. The plumbing in my basement looks about whats in that picture after I worked on it. Son is a pipe fitter, so he kinda keeps me aimed in a direction in that realm….
    Well, hell, Al….
    I struggle with all words written, ‘cept the 4 letter variety.
    Ok, ok, maybe I’m being a bit facetious.
    As usual, you are right on target, and “Lady Di” sounds like she would be a good read.
    Used to spell “color” as “colour” as a youngster, busted for it regular by the teacher.

  7. By the way, I’m married to a Canuck; they have their own language up there and I ain’t talkin’ about the French.

  8. Well, I *am* in the process of transforming myself into a self-improvement guru (unconnected to my MT persona cos that would be scary). I’ve got a FB page and everything.

    Anyway, I wanted to post about the Br vs Am spellings cos they’ve been a major hurdle in my life.

    I was taught to read and write before Kindergarten.

    My mother grew up on the border with Canada and considered herself “Canadian-lite.” She gave me far more than I needed to know about the British Royals and…British spelling.

    When I attended uni, I converted (erm, this was before spell-checker, when we TYPED on typewriters and had to search for our own spelling “errors”) to American spelling to get better grades PLUS: it didn’t take long to grow tired of professors bitching about my spelling when I thought they should be looking at CONTENT. If I can sit here and read American spelling, although raised spelling British? Fairplay, right? No.

    Some words never stuck in my head right. It didn’t really matter after uni; however, when I started writing fiction (to support a friend’s attempt at NaNoWriMo), I went back to American spelling (trying to be consistent and HEY NOW! we have spell-check).

    My aim is Am now but sometimes those Br spellings sneak back in.

  9. Actually, your blog is quite reflective and encouraging so it could be thought of as an encouraging blog for writers. Yes, other people can apply this in other areas of their lives, too.

  10. Ok, so I don’t get the deal with the different British & American spellings either and it annoys me even further when they embed those separate dictionaries into MS Word and then I end up adding to different spelling that have the same use n meaning.

    What u say is so true. The things discussed here can be used and applied in every aspect of life to achieve success.

  11. If you check your facts your will see the REAL English language came into being on July 4, 1776. A peeve of mine is that the news programs seem to have a spate of English from England commentators and I do not want these foreigners assessing the daily history of the United States in this foreign socialist excuse for REAL English that was introduced to the world on July 4, 1776. I see the plumbers work atop. This maze of pipes is and example of a compound-complex sentence of the nth degree from a plumbing conjugational perspective. I will make one concession. As an old Yankee Presbyterian I accept the King James version of the Bible as permissible English because God wrote it but not all the other contemporary foreign socialist excuse for English which has no connection with the REAL English that was created on July 4, 1776. Ahem.

  12. Everything I write is tongue- in- cheek pure nonsense and silly sarcasm and self deprecating humor. Do you think it is easy appearing so absolutely foolish? Righto. Spot on, ol chap.

  13. I don’t understand why there are spelling differences between British English and all the other Englishes in the world. I can understand WORD differences, though, since we’re so far flung.

    The British spellings make sense when you look at it linguistically because English is only 1/5 English/Anglo-Saxon/Norse…many, many words are from Greek and Latin but filtered through French, plus we have a lot of French words.

    French spells words we spell “-or”/”-our” or “-er” as “-eur” and “-ize”/”-ise” as “-ise”, just to name 2 examples.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language#Word_origins and scroll down to the lists of French, Dutch, etc. origin lists.

    Sorry if I got too OT.

  14. Great post Albert, I am currently writing a post for tonight which explains my absense the past several days.

    You are correct that all of us need to work hard to learn and be better, become the best we can be at what we love doing whether a writer, plummer, parent, etc.

    I totally agree about the spelling issue.


  15. Pingback: Dealing With Negativity as a Writer « Perfectly Prompted!

  16. Thank you for this post. It’s great to learn my new writing career can be boiled down so easily. Makes it doable. “Work hard; don’t let your feelings stop you from doing what you need to do; practice, practice, practice; make your passion your habit; strengthen the places you’re weakest; good things take time to grow.” Excellent advice.

  17. I’m a proofreader, living in Canada, where we are supposed to use English spelling. I’ve noticed a lot of Canadians seem to have been trained to spell the American way (major pet-peeve). I’m learning to just let it be, but it’s difficult!

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