Clif Notes: You Ain't Rid of Me Yet!

We are going to be making an announcement at the 2014 International Spectrum Conference during the "Writing for Professional Development" presentation.

I have decided to step aside as the Editor of International Spectrum Magazine.

Why? To put it simply, I have been doing this for eight years now. I have a number of irons in the fire, and a new endeavor I want to pursue. There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all of this and do all of it properly. So I have decided that I need to let go of some things to make room for other things.

Having said that, I want to take this opportunity to state emphatically that I am not leaving the International Spectrum family or MultiValue Community in any way, shape, or form! This is in no way a parting of the ways, difference of opinion, or any kind of acrimonious separation. I continue to support International Spectrum fully, its programs, publishing, and of course, the yearly conference. (Heck, if it weren't for that conference, I wouldn't see most of you eyeball-to eyeball. So much for "the Internet makes us all more connected.")

Another change is that starting with the January-February issue, the bi-monthly issues will be in digital form only. However, print is not being totally abandoned. There are plans in the works to print collections. How many, what format, etc. is still not finalized.

I will still be writing Clif Notes, though it won't be a regular "column" for the magazine anymore. I'll write when I see something I want to comment on. Some columns might be published in Spectrum, some might not. That's up to Nathan and depends on the content. They will always be available at for those who are interested.

And I'll be submitting technical articles as the mood strikes.

It has been an interesting eight years. I would like to share with you a couple of things that I've learned in that time. Hopefully this will encourage more of you to submit some articles or short Tech Note items.

Tell that English teacher in your past that scared the crap out of you and convinced you that you would be the laughing stock of the Universe if you EVER made a grammatical "error" or a punctuation "mistake" to go pound sand. They are typically non-published, do-nothings whose main claim to fame it that they muddled their way through an English degree and a teaching certificate and now kill the writing spirit in many aspiring, young, talented writers by spitting their red ink cobra venom all over your papers. Their typical, "if it's not perfect, it's illiterate," attitude has probably kept a lot of you from submitting articles or tech notes or Letters to the Editor.

Spectrum magazine is NOT like that!

We never have rejected articles based on grammar, spelling, sentence fragments, etc. We would just correct it and move on. Simple, right?

But time and again I would talk to people who thought they'd like to write an article, but never did. In many cases I suspect it was because of the intimidation factor, the fear of rejection, or fear of ridicule.

If you can write a coherent email, you can learn to write tech tips, and then larger articles. And the more you write, the easier it gets.

Let me share a personal story with you. In the 8th grade, my English teacher, Mr. Simmons, told me I was never going to amount to anything because I wouldn't pay attention in class and couldn't even diagram a sentence properly. (Do they still inflict Sentence Diagrams on kids?) He was trying to motivate me to learn sentence diagramming. Oh, he motivated me. But not in the way he intended.

The next year I was the only freshman in my High School to have a story published in the school's literary society magazine. (Stick that somewhere, Mr. Simmons!)

Later, in the 1980s, I went on to write Clif Note as a paid column in Infocus Magazine, Lee Leitner's magazine for Infocus, Inc. and the yearly Symposium Conference.

Paid, Mr. Simmons. That made me a (part-time) professional writer. And a Press Card carrying member of the Computer Press Association. Ha!

And I've also been a paid technical writer, a paid Technical Editor of the PICK Series for O'Reilly and Associates, and so forth.

Not too bad for a someone who can't diagram a sentence, eh, Mr. Simmons?

I know that sounds like bragging, but that's not the why I told you that. The point is, I wrote. Maybe not well. Maybe not so good. I no be no literary master. But if I can get published and even make part of my professional living from writing, you can!

And the saga continues…

When asked if I would assume the Editor role for International Spectrum, I accepted. Frankly, I was itching to learn something more. So when that learning bug hits you, you need to leave your comfort zone, take a risk, and just dive in. But it was scary! I'd never been the "final authority" on what went to print and what didn't. And I'm here to tell you, it was tough at first. For the first time in my life I began to wish I'd paid attention in English class. I could easily spend an hour or two editing a single article. I read more grammar and punctuation books than I even want to think about. I sweated bullets over this stuff. And then it hit me.

A lot of them contradicted themselves. It turns out that a lot of the "rules" the meh-ducation system taught us are arbitrary. Some two-bit grammar marm in the 1800s would write a grammar book that said something like, "you should never end a sentence with a preposition." Really? As Churchill is supposed to have said, "That is the kind of silliness up with which I shall not put."

And all the other drivel. Ending sentences with this or that. And not beginning sentences with a conjunction. They are all arbitrary rules. You can ignore them (well, unless you are writing a dissertation for a PhD. But then, you already know how ineffective your advisor is at communicating anything to a real human.)

So the other main thing I learned as an editor was, getting the point across is what is important. If you make a grammatical oopsie, that ain't all bad. It adds flavor. Don't sweat it.

After eight years of being an editor, I can't read a CNN story or in-flight magazine without noting several grammar "mistakes." And those are professional journalists and a staff of professional editors of various sorts. Oh well. We're all human. As long as we've communicated, that's all that really counts.

And no, Mr. Simmons. I still can't diagram a sentence, don't know what a gerund is (a herniated gerbil?), and I wouldn't recognize a participle if you dangled it in front of me.

So to summarize — if you want to write, just write. Don't worry about writing right. An editor will help you out. If they don't, find another editor.

Don't continue to let that prune-face from your past hold you back.

Spectrum Magazine REALLY needs people like YOU!

And when I said "prune-face," I wasn't talking about you, Mr. Simmons. You were actually very nice. Just wrong.

I'll see all of you on the interwebs.


Mar/Apr 2014