I get complaints about how my advice is insensitive to certain types of humans and living things.
I will not turn my advice into mush. I like it crunchy. Most of you do, too. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.
Here are my responses to the complaints people have made or may be planning to make.
They’re called weasel words because they make you sound sneaky and evasive. You know, like weasels.
It’s called bullshit because it stinks.
Weasels and bulls don’t care. And I wouldn’t give a crap if they did.
An outline with extra content is useful. If I call it a fat outline, you’ll visualize that and remember it.
Don’t call people fat, that’s mean. But outlines don’t mind if you say they are fat.
If you can add “by zombies” after the verb, it’s passive voice — and you probably ought to rewrite it.
Any undead people I’ve offended can go suck a rancid brain.
The curse of knowledge
When you know something well, it’s harder to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know it. This is the curse of knowledge, and it is a real problem. Stephen Pinker said so.
Any witches who take offense can stand down. Please don’t hex me.
Executives are short on time. They need good summaries. So does everyone else.
That doesn’t mean the executives are better than the rest of us.
Women face prejudices at work. Many have dealt with a pervasive set of social attitudes that make it more difficult to express themselves boldly, and they may pay a penalty for that.
That’s a shame. But my advice is for everyone. Gender doesn’t enter into it.
I use the singular “they.” That’s not a political statement. It’s just clearer and better.
Be paranoid early
If you’ve got a big writing project, get anxious at the start, when you can actually do something about it.
“Be paranoid early” is a great way to remember that. If that triggers you, please seek help from the appropriate mental health professionals.
Stuff your exclamation points and emojis
Every time you use an exclamation point or an emoji in email or business communication, you are telling people not to take you seriously. You look like a fool.
This has nothing to do with your rights and habits as a millennial or member of Gen Z. I don’t care what you write on your Instagram. Just don’t put it in your professional email.
Don’t shoot people.
Save your bullets for lists.
Don’t bury the lede
Put the most important part in the title and the first paragraph. Don’t bury it.
No undertakers were harmed in the creation of this advice.
If you don’t like “lede,” you can say “lead” — but don’t bury it either way.
Shorter is better when writing. Roy Peter Clark agrees.
That’s good advice, even if you’re six-foot-seven.
Don’t be passive
Passive voice is for wimps.
If you’re a wimp, that must be difficult for you. One of the best ways to be braver is to write in active voice.
I’m sure I’m now on the shit-list of wimps anonymous. Somehow, I think they’re unlikely to come after me.
I will tell you when you have written something that can be better, and how to fix it.
If you equate criticism of your writing with criticism of yourself as a person, you will never learn anything. You are not your words.
Prejudice is real. Spend time on real problems.
I spend time thinking about social justice. I work closely with writers of all races, genders, and ages. I do not treat them the same, because they have different problems.
I will not use slurs. I will watch my language. I will refrain from making generalizations based on people’s external characteristics. I will not perpetuate stereotypes if I can help it, and if I catch myself doing that, I will correct myself.
I also believe that while everyone has their own style, certain ways of expressing yourself are more effective, especially in business.
That doesn’t make me a bigot. It makes me an editor.