On Language and the Possibility of Prescriptivism

I consider blogging part of my job now. When you want to become a professional writer, you have to take every opportunity you can to write and to learn… and to have your grammar ripped apart. I admit, I haven’t been a saint when it comes to pleasing the grammar gods, but I haven’t been intentionally naughty, either.

I consider myself a writer with the best intentions; I’m just not always sure how to use them.

That is why I use every resource I can to learn about what’s considered “proper.”

I think human beings should take speaking as seriously as they take walking or listening to music. If someone was bad at walking, wouldn’t they do what they could to improve? Wouldn’t they have a natural inclination to want to walk like everyone else? As people, we’ve been given the gift of walking and we expect to be able to use it. If someone was poor regarding their use of grammar (and speaking in my humble opinion) wouldn’t they want to improve their English so that they could speak properly and be able to converse with the majority of society?

These days, there are so many different vernaculars, which are a close off-shoot of English, that deeming one particular version as “correct” is impossible these days, even for the experts. When writing professionally, you must decide between using the MLA, AP, or Chicago style.

Using abbreviations such as “IMO” or “lol” is typical of Internet-Speak, or geek-speak if you prefer. People who frequent online communities like Facebook, and especially online games like World of Warcraft and Fortnight, use their own language filled with internet slang like the above examples.

I believe that there exists, floating somewhere out in the fibers of space and our minds, THE manual for correct grammar, even if we’ll never know it. Call me a prescriptivist about language, but having to decide amongst three different styles in which to write seems to defeat the purpose of having a “style guide.” How can it be called a “guide!” They should simply be called “suggestions, that are usually wrong.”

Granted, I’ll only be using one style per article or paper, so it’s not as though I’m balancing multiple style guides in my head while I write. The point is just that the linguistic prescriptivist in me believes there is only one correct language, that’s used universally. To elaborate a bit more: it’s kind of like math equations, where language is an equation. But, it’s all Wishful Thinking. Too many classes in The Philosophy of Language!

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I found some comics from my favorite site, along with an interesting debate on prescriptivism with Harry Potter as the example!

Link: Prescriptivism vs Descriptivism: A Very English Affair

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Stretching myself too thin~

I know that I’ve been blogging way more than I have in the past two months, but I’d rather over-blog then under-blog (oh, how I love poetic license!)

I’ve got too many writing and work commitments right now and I’m not sure what to do. This is what happens when I get a majority of my work for a site where you submit proposals and bids for jobs. I place more bids than I’ll expect to get accepted, and when one gets accepted, I feel obliged to accept. If anyone was wondering, I use the site Elance. I find that the jobs on there pay much better than the competing sites, like Odesk and Freelancer.

On top of my writing work for the week (A LOT), I’m also working on two tutoring projects and two data entry projects. How am I supposed to find time to think, let alone time to write for myself? I guess I shouldn’t complain, because I could be on the opposite end of the spectrum, without ANY work, but it’s still a lot. I get I could start sourcing some of it out, but I hate to do that.

I also want to redesign my blog this week. I may go to Fiverr.com and commission someone to draw some anime for me. If you’ve never been to that site, it’s great; you can hire people to do an assortment of jobs for you for only $5! Since my only talent other than writing is making up songs about cats, I’m going to see if I can catch any fish with that one.

On a happy note, I’ve been accepted as a contributor for the websites SlumpedOver (which pays!) and The Union Times, so that’s exciting. Hopefully I’ll have time to write some articles to be published this week.

My 10 tips for new freelance writers

1. Start a website or blog. A lot of potential clients that you find on Craigslist will ask to see links to your personal website. You don’t have to think of it as a personal journal; instead, write on current events and topics that interest you. If you read an interesting news article, write a blog post about it. Something going on in the news that bothers you? Write an opinion piece about it. You can get away with only updating your blog on a weekly basis, so you don’t have to contribute too much time to it.

2. Get your feet wet with content mills. Freelance writers can learn a lot by writing for content mills and it’s the way that most of us got our start. Taking on assignments through these sites lets you try your hand at various types of articles. Clients and editors can provide you with valuable feedback. Freelance writers will also be able to get a feel for what you should charge clients (x cents/word) once you decide to branch out. While the earnings won’t be stellar, the experience gained is worth it. These sites can also help you figure out what your niche is, which leads me to…

3. Find your niche. Have a way with words? Try writing sales copy. Are you able to use descriptive and colorful language? Try your hand at product reviews. Good at explaining things in precise detail? See how you fare with writing technical documents. All of these “genres” of writing have their place in the world of Internet freelance writing. Once you find the areas you enjoy and in which you are talented, you can start looking for sites who employ this type of freelance writer. You can also start tailoring your blog to match your nice, as this will help you to gain a following more easily.

4. Having a solid portfolio goes a long way in securing work. Potential employers will also ask for writing samples. Every freelance writer should try to have one of the following categories: Health, Technology, Product Reviews, Press Releases, Sales Copy, General Blog… and that’s all I can think of for now. Those are the big ones. Freelance writers should also have a few SEO-centric articles in your repertoire, since most clients will want SEO articles

5. If you can find a site that will let you be a contributing author, this is great for a freelance writer’s resume. You can actually point to your work on the web, and that goes a long way. Plus, it’s very rewarding to see your name next to a published article!

6. Join a discussion group or forum. There is a lot of value in becoming a member of such a community. You can find a lot of great advice from people who went through the same struggles starting out as a freelance writer. And they got through it, so they can offer you advice that’s priceless.

7. Become familiar with several writing styles. Make sure that you’re familiar with AP style. This is the most popular style on the Internet, and is found on most of the web’s news sites. However, clients will not only be looking for freelance writers well-versed in AP style, but will want writers knowledgeable in Chicago style and APA formatting.

8. Keep a good record of your articles and earnings. This is more of a practical tip then anything else (and vital for tax purposes). When it comes to tracking your freelance writing earnings, you can buy a ledger or create an excel spreadsheet. Also, try looking at your earnings on a weekly basis as opposed to a day-to-day basis; some days you won’t make that much, while you’ll rake in a fortune on other days. This prevents you from becoming discouraged when you have a bad day. Regarding your articles, you should save everything on your computer. One advantage of keeping your work is that you can go back to older writings to see how much you’ve improved over a period. You can also rewrite your previous articles for writing samples; this way you’ve already researched the topic, and you can concentrate on the writing aspect of the article.

9. Practice your writing skills. Just because you write well now doesn’t mean that you can’t improve. There is always room to learn, whether it’s stylistically or creatively. “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White should be in every freelance writer’s library. If you can, ask fellow writers to critique your work, as they may find ways to reword things that you didn’t see. You can also practice writing different type of articles, such as learning how to effectively write press releases and product reviews, thus expanding your freelance writing portfolio.

10. Always make time to write for pleasure. Internet freelance writers didn’t start their careers writing web copy. If you started as a creative writer, then devote some time each week to writing creative pieces. It’s important to go back to your roots. Taking time out to write for yourself also guarantees that you are enjoying your job, which always lends itself to good work. If you don’t make time to joy-write, you’ll find yourself becoming burnt out much more quickly. I try to take a few minutes at the start of each day to warm up with some writing for myself; as soon as I started skipping this practice to jump into the work day, I quickly found myself struggling. Writing should be fun and pleasurable!