Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Error or Not to Error...

I am a reader of blogs.

Surely, in this day and age of blogginess, I am not alone in my love for them.

Currently, I am enamored with Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen blog.

It speaks to me.

Each week Mr. Reynolds comes up with an interesting and enlightening post that immediately shakes me up - in a good way. His posts remind me that, much like my writing, I am a work in progress.

And we all need a swift kick/reminder of that once in awhile.

A lot of the scholarly work that I do is centered in Performance Theory. Having been an actor for many years of my life, I cannot help but notice performances in all aspects of day-to-day living.

So, naturally, when I came across Reynolds' blogpost entitled "Lessons in Engagement from the Flight of the Conchords," I was hooked. First of all, that group is hilarious. Second, "engagement" is quite possibly my most favorite word ever. And I'll tell you why:

Performers engage their audience. Having been a performer, I know this and feel qualified to tell you this.

Engagement is not an easy trick. However, for some people it comes naturally, and for others it is a struggle.

How does one accomplish the task of being engaging?

According to Reynolds, this is done by being human and he argues that being human means being imperfect.

Reynolds writes: "What makes some of the best speeches or presentations so memorable is not that they are perfect or slick, or overly polished, but that they are human. And to be human is to be imperfect. This is why so many of us are attracted to live musical performances. Studio recordings are fine, but there is a visceral human element that one gets from a live performnce."

My favorite part of that quote? He spelled performance wrong.

I'm not quite sure if he did it on purpose or not, but I cannot imagine a more perfect moment to do it.
Admittedly, many of my own papers are full of spelling errors - that I catch most of the time. However, once in awhile they slip by me.

And you know what? I think this is ok.

I admit that I'm a bit of an anti-grammarian. A statement that makes the ears of many of my most favorite professors bleed. And I'm okay with that (well, kind of. Ear bleeding sounds AWFUL).

My errors are what make my writing mine.

There is a pattern to my errors. For example, commas are going to kill me. I'm pretty sure of it.
I also have a tendency to commit run-on sentence crimes.

Do these errors make my writing any less engaging? No, if anything they make me appear more human, thus imperfect.  However, my errors can be distracting to those versed in the ways of grammar, and then the solid points I'm making run the risk of getting ignored.

It just comes down to the fact that I am faulty. And I'm pretty sure everyone else is too.
But how do I reconcile this in my writing? Because although I'm okay with my errors, many people reading my work are not.

Fact: I do not spend the amount of time that I probably should editing my work for grammatical errors. I have paid the price for this lack of editing many times.

 It's just that I am more concerned with my writing being clear and engaging - and I want to make sure that it sounds like ME.

After all, people are ultimately attracted to and want to learn about what you have to say and your particular point.

Also, it seems that when people read they want two things: to be entertained and to be educated.

I would like to think that educated would come first - but it seems that entertainment is what grabs a reader.

And if you can grab your reader and keep them engaged, then you have the opportunity to educate them.

If an article or essay is dry and appears as if a computer produced it, I won't read it. Simple as that.
It's sad and possibly a very telling fact about my personality.

But I don't think I'm the only person out there who thinks this way.

If a paper has grammatical errors but is engaging, will I read it? Yep. I might snicker a bit, but I'll read it.

Do I think that people should be out there writing papers loaded with grammatical errors and typos?

Absolutely not.

Why? Well, because in order for your work to be has to appear as if it is worthy of being read.

Academia prefers the language and writing of white-upper middle class people. Some people don't recognize this, or they possibly don't want to admit it. Sadly, if you don't write this way, you better figure out how to ... or you will not make it through school nor will your work be read.

This is a disappointing fact and a fact that I do not agree with.

So, my advice to people working to write in their own way while adhering to grammatical guidelines and institutional rules is this: think of your writing as drama. In drama there usually are many different characters or people with different identities. Your identity is not singular or fixed, so why should your writing be that way?

According to screenwriter Syd Fields: "All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay."

Think of your paper as drama. Your little drama is going to experience conflict -- either with a professor or peer reviewer. If you did not have this conflict, you would have no action ... meaning no revision or acceptance. Revision gives you the opportunity to develop your writing, thus develop your character. And no revision means you have no or have an underdeveloped character. Without character your writing is without a strong message ... and if you don't have a strong message, you don't have a good paper.

If you do not have a strong message, there is no way that your paper is engaging.
If your paper isn't engaging, it probably won't be read. And guess what else?
If your paper has grammatical errors, it might suffer the same fate.

Goodness. This is getting tragic.

Well, does anyone out there think that errors are okay?

Yes! According to Mike Rose, who is AMAZING, "...we should welcome certain kinds of errors, make allowance for them in the curricula we develop, analyze rather than simply criticize them. Error marks the place where education begins" (189).

Our errors, painful and annoying (and sometimes ignored) as they may be, are important.

Don't be afraid of your errors! Embrace them! They provide you with moments to improve your already mad skilz.  Fixing your error does not mean that you are losing your voice or becoming any less engaging. It means that you are taking the time to make sure that you are functioning on all cylinders.

Fixing your errors also means that you are aware that you are imperfect - and by acknowledging your imperfection you embrace your humanity.

You should probably listen to this while doing all of that error embracing.

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