The case of the cat and the bicycle

A good editor is like a good detective. Both take note of the obvious, and both notice the things that slip by others.

Here are two examples to think about.

One

Some guy tweeted this the other day:

Two

The same guy put a bicycle in the header of his new Twitter page.

Go ahead. Take a look. Be curious.

Why a cat and why a bicycle?

A casual reader or distracted digital passerby might not ask why. It’s just a cat and just a bicycle. An experienced editor, like a good detective, wonders about the choices and the writer’s or the suspect’s reasoning.

Are the cat and the bicycle just eye-catching visuals or is there some deeper significance? Were the selections deliberate or careless?

Why those images?

In this case, a reader familiar with the writer’s work might recall the fate and symbolism of a yellow-eyed cat. The reader might also begin to wonder if the bicycle foreshadows something not yet revealed.

A skilled detective might begin to poke around.

What do you think?

B.J.

Critical word for writers and editors: Why?

As an editor, I like to know that writers use their words deliberately.

If I know that the writer picked her words intentionally rather than carelessly, I can do a better job of editing.

question-mark-2123969_1280Many sentences that I encounter employ words in a way that my high school English teachers would have considered incorrect, ungrammatical or even immoral (I’m not kidding).

A stickler by nature and training, I revise or suggest improvements to stuff that other people write. More and more frequently, I ask a question that other editors and writers might find useful: Why?

Why did you choose present tense rather than past?

Why did you spell “colour” that way?

Why can’t I find a verb in what you’re trying to pass off as a sentence?

Did you really mean “their pronouns” or should it be “my pronouns”?

Present tense might be the preferred style, depending on the context. “Colour” may or may not be a typo. The missing verb? A quirk, maybe, or a simple mistake.

Pronouns are more complicated than you might think, as I’ve learned in recent years. My pronouns, for example: he/his/him. Few of my readers need to know that, but the concept of gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language can be critical in some writing and conversation.

“Why?” can help the writer improve. The answers can be surprising and even educational, for writer and editor.

Takeaways

  • Writers: Choose your words carefully.
  • Editors: Ask why.

Creating content vs. writing with intent

Creating content is a fuzzy, buzzy phrase that means writing and editing stuff.

backlit keyboardThat stuff might take any number of forms, including news, entertainment, commentary, analysis, scientific papers, technical instructions, training, even clickbait.

Some stuff is still delivered on paper, with ink. Much is delivered digitally in some form: text, video, audio or some combination of those.

Creating content is so easy that we’re awash in the stuff. Just look around.

The more rare good content is different, and the best of that is created with intent.

Creating content with intent is akin to what I call writing with intent. Writing with intent — with a solid grasp of your purpose for writing and disseminating your work — inevitably improves the end result.

Whether your purpose is to inform, instruct, train, sell products, sway votes, incite a riot, make people laugh, or just get clicks, be able to state that purpose clearly before you write a word.

You can’t meet an objective if you can’t articulate it.

Keep his gun: Shooting the computer was just stupid

It’s hard to not laugh about the Colorado Springs man who shot his computer in an alley a few days ago, but let me apply the wet blanket.

Sure, computers can be frustrating. We joke about throwing them out a window, taking a baseball bat to them, even shooting them.

Browning 9mm
Wikimedia image

But actually taking one out to an alley in town and letting the bullets fly?

That’s one kind of guy who should not be allowed to own a firearm — one who proudly and openly demonstrated a dangerous lack of responsibility and good judgment, and says he has no regrets.

Don’t give the gun back.

P.S. To the headline writers and others who so gleefully wrote about the guy who “killed” the computer: Save that word for when actual lives are taken by such idiocy.