It is hilarious to me when an aspiring writer sends me an email that starts with the word, “so,” as if we are in the middle of a conversation! On the one hand, it’s comical to believe that someone has been thinking of nothing other than whatever our last conversation entailed ever since we had it, but let’s face it: people have lives. They’ve had thousands, if not millions, of things occur to them in the interim, most probably.
There’s something fun and familiar about jumping back in, as if the conversation is picking up where it left off — but that’s fun for ME, not for the person receiving a totally out-of-context email! Introducing one’s message with “So…,” borders on self-important, and it’s not particularly great grammar, either. I’m definitely one to break the rules in order to make one’s point, but starting statements (let alone entire pieces of correspondence!) with “So,” is just an overly used, currently popular social trend, in my opinion.
Anyway, a lot of people I love do this. And, I’ll probably go back through my blog now and find a dozen or more instances of me using “So,” to start a sentence, although I hope I at least use it as the segue it is meant to be more often than not. In other words, this isn’t a criticism or diatribe on what not to do. Rather, I wanted to use it as a jumping off point as a suggestion for something writers could do instead.
Think of the word “So,” as a read flag that you are unsure where to start. Don’t just throw the word in there. What is it you want to say? Also, remember that you are talking to someone! This isn’t Purge-a-thon 2014! If you want to purge, grab a journal, or even the “notes” function on your phone, and have at it. But if you are messaging someone, you need to remember that they are on the other end of the communication.
Many times I’ve read the suggestion that if you can identify your ideal reader and then write as if you are speaking only to them, you will develop your voice more clearly. Hello?? Every email you send is a chance to practice exactly this! Think of how you will need to say what you want to say, in order for them to truly get your point. Yep, it’s that simple. Effective Communication, 101.
Frequently, I get the sense that someone is starting a message with “so,” because they don’t want to tell me what led up to the thought that prompted them to message me. It’s like they’re uncomfortable in some way with asking for input. If you’re that uncomfortable, don’t message people about it! Don’t give yourself a heart attack! But if you are at least comfortable enough to send it to someone, consider asking for the support you’re looking for upfront in a clear way, instead of saying “So…,” as if you’re texting a mind-reader. Besides, you know you aren’t hiding your insecurities behind that word — all you’re doing is adding confusion to the communication.
I can’t decide whether it is funny or alarming how often I get emails, from people who consider themselves writers, which are not at all clear in their points. Isn’t writing an email writing? Is writing some weird special thing you have to go get in the mood for, and only then will you consider conveying your point clearly and with truth to your personality? Why can’t emails and text messages be practice grounds for deliberate expression? How can you expect to evolve as a writer if you’re not even mindful of how often you’re doing it, and what bad habits you might be employing?
Tweeting has been one of the most useful mechanisms of expression for me in terms of articulance. (Articulance is a word I made up. You get it, right? Might as well be a word.) I have 140 characters to state my purpose. Do you know what that means? It means, I need to be pretty darn sure I know what my purpose is! At first, I would type in the thought as it occurred to me, and then remove vowels, add ampersands, and carefully take out words until I whittled it down to size. I had to decide which words were truly needed to get what I thought was important across. Twitter’s super helpful with this, because it gives you a little countdown (for example, you have -57 characters to go). After doing this a bunch of times, I started to be able to do it in my head.
And, as more and more of my correspondence is being accomplished on the go, and entered into a small device using my clumsy thumbs, the practice of being short and sweet — and yet CLEAR — has been a godsend. Maybe twitter can make a Hemingway out of any of us! One thing is for sure, I can’t think of a single time the word “so,” could not be eliminated from a tweet. It simply doesn’t mean much of anything. If you want to be a better writer, don’t rely on it!
The point is, if you’re working on developing your voice as a writer, opportunities are everywhere. You don’t need to sit down and carve out time every day, although I think you should. If you were super mindful about writing clear correspondence that says things as true to how you mean them as possible, keeping your audience in mind the entire time, you would be getting quite a lot of good writing practice, just going about your day. Mindfulness is everything, isn’t it?
(P.S. Pictured above is a whasp’s nest I thought was very beautiful.)