The ultimate writing debate
Does grammar really matter?
This week, we’ve been working on a lot of different copywriting projects for our clients. As a two-person business, we’ve fallen into a natural groove of sometimes working alone on our own tasks, or sharing larger jobs. Whether we’ve worked alone or as a team, we always share our drafts with each other to be checked before they go to the client.
In one respect, it’s great to have a proofreader on-hand to make sure work is always up-to-scratch… but on the other hand, there’s a lesson to be had in giving and receiving criticism - and we both had one this week.
Last week, I saw this funny anonymous tweet from a copywriter who said they don’t know some of the most common syntactic terms.
Fesshole 🧻 @fessholeI have been a professional copywriter for nearly 15 years. I know what verbs and nouns are but I couldn't tell you what an adverb, adjective, conjunction or preposition is. Not much point learning this now.
This is a regular discussion in my house, as we’re both copywriters, but I studied Modern Languages followed by Translation in post-grad, so this was my bread and butter for years. Whereas Craig studied English Literature, writes poetry and is an all-around creative, free-thinker. He’s an excellent writer but hasn’t got a clue about past participles or the subjunctive tense. (Note from Craig: and I’ll willingly keep it that way!)
Perhaps neither approach is the right way to think. I know copywriters who were teachers in a past life, who adhere to a similar strict system when writing. As a result, we see language in a completely different way to those who followed another path into copywriting.
In fact, one of my favourite things about copywriting is the huge variety of people you meet. No two copywriters have the same educational or professional experience, so their work is always going to vary widely, even when there’s a fixed brief. It’s a popular career path for those of us who love writing but have bills to pay.
So, going back to our recent experiences, I thought it might be interesting to share what it’s really like having your husband proofread your work (and vice versa.)
Last week, I was reading a page of copy that Craig had written and he’d finished a sentence with “about”. Immediately, this sets off my grammar twitch and I start blathering on about how you can’t end a sentence on a preposition. When, in reality, you can do whatever you like - I’ve probably split infinitives in this very newsletter. Language is evolving and copywriting is at the forefront of that, we are the ones mixing the paints to find new colours.
After a bit of back and forth, and some deep breaths from me, I came to terms with the fact that not everything I was taught in undergraduate French grammar is necessarily relevant today.
Another bit from Craig: I’d go so far as to say that my approach to copywriting is practically anti-grammar. I find that the more I consciously ‘unlearn’ academic styles, the more my copy becomes human, relatable and, dare I say it, unique. There are no rules that can’t be broken in the name of great writing.
Remember: you’re talking to a human being and likely trying to make them do something — so why not break the mould and ditch that semi-colon. Nobody likes ‘em anyway.
In another situation, I sent Craig some services pages I was particularly proud of. I watched horrified as his little cursor chopped away at the sentences in the live Google Doc, cutting out words and even partial sentences to rewrite in a more chatty Craig-esque tone.
Of course, it’s worth noting that some clients provide a style guide, making it a lot easier for us to settle these disputes about whether it’s appropriate to include a contraction or even a cheeky exclamation mark. But, more often than not, the client just wants something “friendly but professional” and this is where we often butt heads.
Thankfully, it’s all in good humour and we usually come to a middle ground. In fact, I think that’s what makes the work we do so good, it’s a special combination of Craig and Ellen that you just don’t get elsewhere.
How do you feel about criticism? For me, it’s never easy but usually, after a minute or two of cooling off, I can see where Craig’s coming from and we find a happy medium that incorporates my attention to detail and his creative flair.
And, if you’re a fellow writer, how important is grammar to you? Do you stick to it religiously or find yourself flouting the rules? 'I’d love to know! Let me know over on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a chat.
This “it” book of the moment, this literary fiction novel is Mellors’ debut and it’s really bloody impressive. Set in NYC, a young struggling artist meets a much older advertising executive and they begin what can only be described as a very tumultuous relationship. Worth a read if you like contemporary books with complex (and often dislikable) characters.
Last month I mentioned I’d read Convenience Store Woman by Murata and loved it, so I took her first novel out of the library. I was aware going into it that this was going to be a crazy book (it requires just about every trigger warning under the sun), but another great read. If you like shocking reads then this one’s for you.
Not quite as good as Smith’s Just Kids but still an engrossing audiobook. Let’s be honest Patti Smith could read the Shipping Forecast and we’d all listen.
Probably a little late to this party but we started the show everyone’s talking about on Apple TV and it definitely lives up to the hype. If you like five-minutes-in-the-future-syle sci-fi (think Ex Machina, Black Mirror, Her) then you’ll enjoy this.
That’s all from me this week.
See you next Wednesday with more musings on topics that are important to me, including but not limited to: mental health, work/life balance, internet culture, and much more.
P.S. If someone forwarded you this or you arrived via Twitter, please consider subscribing!
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Not Controversial by Nia Carnelio is a weekly newsletter that talks about things that aren't supposed to be controversial but still are. We're all thinking about these topics, but don't talk about them out loud.
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