“Blogging is a medium of words,” says Fandango to introduce this week’s Provocative Question. “All of us who blog are wordsmiths. We use words almost exclusively to express ourselves, to tell our stories, to weave our tales, to write our poems, to help others to understand and possibly even appreciate our perspectives.
In the real world, words can take on different meanings depending on context, inflection, facial expressions, body language, and other countless factors. But in blogging, such visual cues are, for the most part, absent. Thus, the challenge of conveying your intended tone and the underlying meaning of what you write can be daunting. It gets down to the age old writer’s dilemma. Is the content what matters, or how the content is portrayed or presented?
So, as we are all writers who use words to paint pictures, my provocative question is simply this:
In the context of blogging and writing, what do you think is more important: what you say or how you say it?”
First I want to say that I straddle two blogging worlds: writing and photography. Writing and photography (art in general) are two consuming interests of mine, so I do some of both on my blog. I always intersperse written posts with pictures (even if they’re not my own*), which I explain below.
I didn’t think this question was particularly controversial until I started formulating a response. To me, writing is a lot easier than speaking, because (even though I do talk a lot, I admit) when speaking, I tend to blurt out what I want to say without thinking about it too much first. I know that is correctable by thinking carefully before I speak, but then whatever my thoughts were, I’ve forgotten parts of them and I don’t end up sounding as brilliant when I voice them as they sounded in my mind! My husband says writing doesn’t allow for nuance (such as tone and inflection) but I think it does. My husband is not a writer, although he reads a lot.
I think WHAT one says is ultimately the most important thing, but if it is not conveyed properly in words, its proper meaning may be lost on some readers. And there is something to be said for beautifully written pieces. Fine literature certainly is enhanced by the author’s style and some readers will gravitate toward certain writers for that reason. On the other hand, a poorly written book will turn me off to that writer even if I enjoy the story. Lots of times that means using very standard phraseology and clichés, making the story sound simplistic. The worst thing to me is bad grammar. I have read books in which it appears no editing was done. There are lots of misplaced apostrophes, one of my pet peeves, or commonly misspelled words are misspelled. Or things like “I got used of it” is wrong – it should be used TO it, but this is a common mistake. I accept such things if the author is writing the dialogue of a character that speaks that way, but not in the general narrative. Bad grammar and wording can so detract from the text that one can lose track of what the author is trying to say.
However, the meaning IS most important. I don’t want to read the elegantly written screed of a right-wing fanatic. If I don’t like the message of a particular writer, I will ultimately stop reading his/her work. People inject their writing with all kinds of hidden messages and subtext. Good writers do this. But in daily life, the words one uses matter. Then there is the general written message of most people out there – the stuff we read on signs and instructions in our every day life.
Someone made a serious blunder when coining the phrase “Defund the police.” I don’t think that is what they really meant. Yes, it’s concise and fits well on a protester’s sign, but its message is a real turn-off. Because my political beliefs are slanted to the left, I have heard the entire dialogue of the meaning behind this phrase. It should be “Reform.” It is the idea of taking some of the money that is poured into police departments with the expectation that the police can and should respond to, and appropriately handle, every conflict that might arise, born out of any number of society’s ills. The idea is really about how to use state and local funds to alleviate poverty, homelessness, drug use, etc.
Other written slogans are imbued with a particular subtext that the slogan’s originators want us to believe. “Pro-life,” for example, is used by people who oppose legal abortion. They are more accurately called “anti-choice.” I say this with no political agenda – I respect and understand their position, but anti-choice is more accurate. What they want is for women who get pregnant not to have the choice to abort the unwanted fetus, or at least for no public funding to be used for abortion. If they are truly pro-life, do they care about what happens to unwanted children after they are born, who may suffer poverty, neglect or abuse? I am not convinced that they do, because their sole focus seems to be on abortion. Many of them are right wing politically, who want smaller government, which usual means fewer public social services. Would pro-life people support transferring a good chunk of the defense budget to public education? That would save lives on both sides of the equation. Does that pro-life protester support the death penalty? If so, how can (s)he claim to be pro-life?
I know that I have deviated from the topic and injected even more controversy into it, but though I am using public slogans as an example to talk about meaning and subtext in writing, inaccuracies – deliberate or accidental – in writing are important. If one is writing a persuasive essay, it is necessary to provide reasons with as little bias as possible, if the writer is to convince readers of their point.
Sometimes the topic is good but the author rambles and repeats. No one is going to want to read past the first few paragraphs. I took a writing class once that was about writing for an online audience. The instructor advised us to break up our essays with photos because otherwise we will lose an audience that is used to a quick read, especially online. I myself am guilty of that, but if the writing is absorbing enough, I will continue reading. And to do that, the writer must draw me in and keep me interested – so although meaning is important, how one writes about it is important also because if you lose your readers, you will never convey your meaning.
So, bloggers (note to self)…
Write what you mean.
Mean what you write.
Use visual images.
Show off your writing skills.
Remember, writing is a balance between WHAT and HOW.
*All images in this post were downloaded from Google.
**I plead guilty!!