I have a good friend who teases me often about my rigid adherence to Strunk and White and what is considered correct, if stuffy, punctuation (if I said grammar he’d slap me). I considered the question over months of good-natured ribbing and came to a conclusion regarding why I am so careful about how I write. Since the decision was largely made in my gut, it took me awhile to pull it apart and understand it, but the answer ended up far simpler than expected.
I am a professional writer, editor, and publisher. This means a lot to me, and in today’s world I have people scrutinizing my grammar and word choices everywhere I write. Friends pick on me about misspellings or typos in my social media posts (and I don’t mind), clients read my blogs and judge whether or not I am a good fit for them, and my editing is evaluated by readers who are often so jaded by the state of the publishing industry that they are looking for problems.
While I could, and often do in personal correspondence, loosen my grip on the rigid structure of “proper” punctuation, I feel I cannot do so anywhere more public for exactly the reasons I stated above. With so many hacks out there I could easily be lumped into that category if I were to loosen my stranglehold on what is known to be proper. We writers come under such intense scrutiny because these days any idiot with a word processor can call themselves an author. I don’t say that to belittle the strides toward fair treatment and personal control of one’s books, but with those victories come costs.
In this environment of critical eyes and minds, writers are under more scrutiny than I think we ever have been. Our audiences are bigger than ever, but with that comes a constant state of being audited for our ability to wield the language. We are weighed, judged, and if we are found wanting the court of public opinion is not gentle. Particularly for those of us who are publishers and editors because the expectation (and not wrongfully so) is that we should have a higher quality grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word choice than others when we write.
Overall, I recommend anyone who looks at writing as a vocation, or even just a pastime, consider the importance of presentation. Every blog or post on social media we make (yes, those count) is judged by our friends, our family, and potential readers. With that in mind, we must consider our use of language. It might make the difference between success and failure.