The Internet Can Be Disastrous For Your Writing Career

writing career

The Internet brings unprecedented opportunity, but it can also kill your writing career if you’re not careful! Don’t let DomainNameInfluence erase the grammar rules you learned in school.

I recently read a grammar and editing column in my local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press. In June Casagrande’s “A Word, Please,” she groused about the problems so many writers have with hyphens. She noted the sad (or not so sad) influence of the Internet (and texting, Twitter, and email, etc.) on our grammar, punctuation, and style choices. There’s enough out there to give the average author who scored As in English a huge headache!

Casagrande mentioned the disappearing hyphen as one of the things we authors must contend with. But that is just the beginning: the Internet encourages us to push all kinds of words together. Let’s call it the “domain name influence,” or the DomainNameInfluence, or maybe #hashtaginfluence. Do we write “book cover” or “bookcover?” “Backmatter” or “back matter?” “Hard copy” or “hardcopy?” We may never know, because the trusted Chicago Manual of Style generally doesn’t weigh in on these trends and dictionaries haven’t caught up with the quickly changing domainnameinfluence/#hashtaginfluence movement either. And the spell checker in Word? Well, it doesn’t put a red squiggle under either “Hard copy” or “hardcopy.” That leaves the writer — whether you’re writing fiction, a blog post, or a cover letter — in a style-choice pickle.

In The Frugal Editor, I suggest a zero-tolerance approach to creative grammar to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers (in an effort to increase the chances you’ll get published). Still, I admit I love to stick words together. It isn’t really a new thing. I mean, word-bonding is a time-honored tradition in English. The word “therefore” is an example. We’ve been using words like this for eons. Word-gluing goes back to the English language’s Germanic roots. German is a creative language. The Deutsch do things like push the words for “finger” and “hat” together to make the word for “thimble” (“fingerhut”).

Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, unless I am trying to get something like a pitch, query, or book proposal past a gatekeeper, I make combined-word style choices for myself and let the so-called rules be damned. We authors can have it our way — we just need to be careful where we choose to exercise our independence!

Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress a literary agent or prospective boss, don’t put hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one way. If you think your contact believes it’s nonfiction, not non-fiction, there is no point flaunting your style choice. You won’t get a red squiggle with either version from your Word spell checker (or spellchecker), but that doesn’t mean your run-of-the-mill agent or future employer won’t be more judgmental.

I could go on and on about the way the Internet has misled us. It coaxes us to overuse ampersands. We see question marks, exclamation points, caps, and titles overused. There is improperly punctuated dialogue. What happens when we emulate those affectations because they start to become so familiar we think they’re being used correctly? Agents and publishers will hate it, that’s what. And that can be disastrous for your writing career.

There are many other grammar idiosyncrasies your English teacher never taught you that are sure to annoy the feature editor at The New York Times or the powerful agent you want to impress.

The list is endless. Luckily, there are grammar books like June Casagrande’s Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies (and my Frugal Editor!) to help get us through the grammar and syntax swamps.

Want a quick grammar lesson? “Weird Al” Yankovic attacks dangling participles, misused contractions, and more in “Word Crimes,” a sendup (send-up?) of Robin Thicke’s hit, “Blurred Lines.”


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    • Part of what you appear to be saying, Carolyn, is that writers need to be aware, and remain attentive to the intended prospective audience. That umbrella would then apply to the syntactic errors that have become everyday in our now omnipresent text messaging society.

  1. Thank you for this article, Carolyn!!! This is so timely for me as I am completing the corrections my new top-notch editor, who is helping Indie Authors, made when she offered to straighten out the mess I made out of my initial fiction mystery, suspense thriller. I had been following a few sites on the internet to edit my own work because the initial person I hired ‘as an editor’ turned out to be a ‘proofreader’ and barely that!

    The eye-opening discovery that came from having to do a Second Edition to my book is that everything I deleted and/or changed in my story based on the information on the internet, my professional, well-educated and worked as an editor for many years, put back in PLUS! She did way more than that also, but all my hours and months of editing it according to the internet sites cost me lots more money and definitely a lot more time and stress. So please continue to pass your information on over-and-over, and feel free to share my experience as well if you wish! Bottom line: Get a good, well-established, professional editor!!!

  2. As you say, Carolyn, given the extremely fluid situation, in most cases it’s better to stick to traditional spelling rules.
    However you can never be sure about who is going to read your book, or query, or whatever else. For example, an editor working for a company enforcing a certain house style may well find some rules pretty idiotic nonetheless…
    It’s probably way better to resort to some voodoo spell =)

  3. We live in times when the Microsoft company cannot spell “trash” in their Outlook application (apparently we discard our e-mails into “thrash”). See for yourself if you do not believe me. So anything is possible. Things will get worse when Hungarians rule the world: We shall have to make do without prepositions!

  4. China Mieville replaced every ‘and’ in his novel ‘RAILSEA’ with an ampersand. The result looked odd to me at first but I soon got used to it and it must have shortened the book significantly.

    • I finally quit reading one memoir that didn’t use quotation marks around the dialogue. The author had a very good reason for not doing so, but I found it annoying. This is an example of the risk you take when you choose to ignore the rules. It’s important to weigh” “originality” for keeping your reader interested or at least immersed in your story.

  5. I blame that A.A.Milne for his use of capitals midstream like saying that Pooh is a Really Important Bear or something to that effect.
    For some reason I’ve started to use a programming convention for some of my names like Brian MyDuck. I suppose it would be okay if it was McDuck. I can’t blame the internet for it though.

    • I think that is brilliant use of what we call style choice! I have to suppose that was Milne’s reason for using caps, too, but it seems a little bit more intrusive to me. You probably know that the German language capitalizes all their nouns and that English is a Germanic language.

  6. The Internet can be very useful for research though.
    One of the things that one will find after a little bit of research is that although the English language is a Germanic language, that does NOT mean it is descended from German. Rather, German and English (and a host of other living languages such as Icelandic, Swedish, Dutch and Frisian and extinct languages such as Lombardic, Burgundian, Vandalic and Gothic) are descended from a common language known as Proto-Germanic, which was spoken in Scandinavia in the first millennium BC. German and English are long-lost cousins, not parent and child.


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