Saturday, March 29, 2008

Read the fucking manual

When programmers see message-board postings with questions that could easily have been answered by a few minutes of research on the part of the person posting, they'll sometimes reply with RTF (read the fucking manual).

Perhaps that strikes some people as a tad aggressive. I think it points to a terrific ethic: Take some responsibility for your own learning and show respect for the value of others' time.

And a funny thing happens when you do a bit of hunting around, a bit of reading, a bit of thinking: You internalize what you learn.

Now, we all make mistakes. I have no tolerance for editors who like to play "gotcha" and trot out a writer’s errors in a way that is supposed to inflate the editor's sense of superiority. (Watch closely: Those editors are often the ones who end up making pretty heinous errors themselves.)

But some writers don't bother checking with the style guide or the dictionary before sending their material off to be edited. They'll sniff that these details are beneath their great craft.

This obviously makes life harder on the editors. But here's the other thing: When you discipline yourself to turn in clean copy, you become a stronger writer because you're thinking about how your work should come together in both big-picture and small-picture terms. You develop a command of grammar that heightens your sentences. And you learn enough to avoid embarrassing spelling errors (altar/alter, coulee/coolie) that just might slip by the editing desk on a hectic night.

The writers I edit who routinely turn in clean copy are usually the most interesting folks to read. I don't think that's a coincidence.