Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Lennon Faris Benchmark!

Lennon Faris made a comment on Sunday's blog post that made me laugh, and then made me think:
The first several times I came across this blog, it happened to be one of the Sunday conglomerations you used to do.

I didn't pick up on the fact that it was a once-a-week thing, or that I was there on Sunday again, or that all the people quoted were blog readers' quotes from that week (I will never be a detective). I thought, this is the most random blog I've ever stumbled across.

Here's an example of the blog post Lennon is referencing.
I miss doing the Week in Review, but the amount of time it took became prohibitive.

But Lennon's comment also made me realize that without context those blog posts are insane.
I'm just glad she kept coming back long enough to suss out what the hell it all meant.

Which brings me to the thinking portion of today's post.

I recently received a 379 word email from a writer.
I know she was a writer cause she said so.
After that, things are a bit murky.

Was it a query?
I don't know. It did not have the word query in it.

Was it a question for the blog?
I don't know. It seemed to have a lot of personal info for a general blog question.

Was it a request for advice?
I don't  know.

The one thing I do know is that it didn't have a question in the entire email.
I read it twice to make sure, and then, just cause I wanted to be extra-sure, I ran a search.
No ?marks.

And I am reminded of the many times someone has said "well, I emailed so and so, but didn't get a reply."

Now when I hear that, the first thing I'm going to ask is "did you say what you wanted?"

If you're writing to me with a question (and I like hearing from blog readers!) , make sure you're clear about what the question is.  If you're sending a query, make sure to include query (in the subject line.)

I'm going to call this the new  Lennon Faris Benchmark.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh my, I hope it wasn't me crying in my beer. I don't drink.
If it was me I hope I wasn't ranting about agents. I don't have one. And I pray it wasn't me making some kind of lame attempt to make a profound comment regarding writing. I sometimes am in awe of my own brilliance. That was a joke.
Oh, I know, because I always think everything is about me...
like my slip, my paranoia is showing. I don't wear dresses.

Pericula Ludus said...

Ahh, I tell my students that very thing all the time (to absolutely no avail). So many emails are vague slice of life stories and I lack both divination and deduction skills to figure out what some people want. State what you are referring to (in my case less like to be "Query" and more likely to be "World Domination 101 class"), ask a clear question or tell me what you would like me to do. I too have scouted for question marks in my vain attempts to be helpful.

AJ Blythe said...

I did enjoy those Sunday wrap-ups, but I can understand how they were a time-suck.

Nothing like hamster wheel paranoia. I immediately had to go and check the lat blog Q email I sent to see if that was me (it wasn't), and that made me think about the recent discussion on writer's paranoia that everytime an agent makes a comment about a writer it is about them. Bingo!!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do miss those weekly wrap-ups. However, I love LOVE hearing the latest DoY misadventure. Ok, back to battling pollen. I am loosing.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

It very difficult for some people to write a clear e-mail, especially when the subject matter is consequential or emotional for them. It's a surprisingly tricky medium.

Lennon Faris said...

Well, that sure gave me an adrenaline rush. Felt like I opened up CNN and saw my name in the headlines. Haha!

I'm glad I stuck around, too. Otherwise I would miss things like 2Ns' comment above. And I understand why those posts went away. I am banning myself from Twitter (and all Britain's Got Talent vids) today. Good stuff, but sometimes you just gotta buckle down on your own passion.

Thanks for making my day, Janet.

Ashes said...

I wonder if the emailer just wanted to unload a little on you, Janet. It reminds me of this webcomic:
Girls with Slingshots #745
For people who are natural problem-solvers (particularly people who's job it is to problem-solve), a natural response to a problem is to try and suss out an answer. But sometimes the person coming to you might not be looking for an answer.

At such times, it is enormously helpful to be clear: Advice, or sympathy?

RosannaM said...

Email seems to just be another form of how human beings can get the art of communication all wrong. It's always about what you think you said vs what you actually said, and what you think they heard vs what they actually heard. (or read)

In this case, I suspect there is a person out there only now smacking their forehead and wailing, "I forgot to ask the question! I got all the set up for it and then I forgot! Now what am I going to do? Do I email back a ha, ha silly me? No, she'll think I'm a right idiot. Do I wait a few days and try again? Do I..."

Kitty said...

People used to write letters, real letters. Charlotte Bronte wrote beautiful love letters "of unrequited affection." She wrote them longhand on paper without benefit of Microsoft's editing capabilities.

I grew up having to write thank you notes for presents. Then email came along, and people discarded everything they learned about writing and peppered their emails with BTWs and LOLs. People no longer bothered with emails when they could text. Correction: txt. With texting came more abbreviations like tmr and idk. It's all gibberish. It’s been years since my USPS mailbox out front has contained an actual letter or note or postcard – an actual communication with someone I actually know. Instead, the art of communication has been reduced to TTYL.

julie.weathers said...

It reminds me of my late father-in-law and I've told this story before, but there may be a new audience. Vickie, my mother-in-law went to the store and left Bill home alone. He was nearly blind, so it was a chore getting him out. He was ninety years old and didn't get around well, but his mind was still sharp as a tack.

So here is Bill, watching the soaps and waiting for Vick because it always took her too long to get home no matter how long she was gone. When lo, the phone rings.

"Mr. Weathers, this is John Smith from ABC Insurance. Could I stop by and visit with you?"


John Smith is thrilled. He's got a live one.

Bill loved to talk. Vickie decided to stop by the beauty shop and get her hair done before she went grocery shopping, so there was plenty of time to talk. Bill told John about bring the last cattle drive into Odessa. He told him about riding the cattle train to Arkansas as a young cowboy in 1906 and asking someone what all that green was.

"Why those are the green hills of Arkansas."

Bill sat on top of the cattle car and just watched those green hills all the way in.

He talked about working for some of the biggest cow outfits in Texas. He had lots of stories. Finally, John Smith got a word in edgewise and said, "Mr. Weathers, I'd like to talk to you about life insurance."

"Life insurance? I don't need any life insurance. Already got all I need. You said you wanted to come by and visit with me."

Bill was rather perturbed that the idiot wanted to talk about life insurance as he related later, but he did enjoy "visiting" about the old days.

It's always a good thing to let people know first rattle out of the box what you're after. Kind of like a query letter. You can't dance around and hope someone will guess what you're trying to say or what the stakes are.

It's not enough to say, "January 13 was the worst day of Anna's life." That could mean anything. Anna dropped her ice cream cone she'd been saving up for or the hangman dropped Anna.

Anyway, I should do something productive.

CED said...

We have a similar rule at work when talking to executives. Since they're so busy, and so good at compartmentalizing, if you get a slice of time with them, that's exactly (and only) when you'll have their attention. So if you don't have an explicit "This is what I need to to do"/"This is what I'm asking of you", nothing will happen. Note that "This is what I want you to get out of our talk" is not good enough. Give 'em an action.

Emma said...

I think every person who had emailed Janet in the past six months is now counting the words in their eimail to see if there were 379.

The Noise In Space said...

*Cue the flurry of action as we all frantically click over to our "sent" folder to make sure it wasn't us*

Ashes said...

Sorry, Kitty, but I have to take offense to that sentiment.

I have read letters from the 1800s and while I would concede they are more artistic than emails and IMs, I refuse to believe they were better forms of communication.

First of all, they tended to be very one-sided. Updating people on your own life, while penning a couple inconsequential questions for them (nothing pressing) and remembering to answer anything they may have asked of you. After than you had to wait weeks for a reply.

And if modern texters and emailers are using abbreviations: so what? I don't think BTW is lesser-than 'by the way', as long as the receiver knows what the letters mean, you have communicated effectively. Also, in my experience, it is moreover a phase a lot of internet users go through, often before they've gotten their type-speed up to a decent rate. If it is taking someone ages to hunt-and-peck each letter on their keyboard/phone, then why not save the time? IDK. Doesn't bother me. I'm not going to judge them for it.

And language is constantly evolving. It's the beautiful thing about language! Or, as Stephen Fry says, "It's only ugly because it's new and you don't like it."

He also goes on to say, "You slip into a suit for an interview, and you dress your language up too... But that's an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness."

I don't think people discarded everything they learned about writing. I think they pepper their emails with BTWs and LOLs in appropriate settings for the most part and that the people doing that are saving time.

Texting isn't perfectly analogous with letter writing because it is meant to be quick. And I LOVE that. I love that my writing group, who are spread across three timezone, woke me up this morning with anxiety about a parent visiting and exciting news about a trip to Japan and I can have a real time conversation about that. And if that conversation ends with TTYL and not 'Most Sincerely,' it means just as much to me. So please do be careful what you dismiss as jibberish.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I love it! Context matters.

(and yay @Ashes for the GWS reference ;) )

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Ashes: as a linguist, I agree with everything you've said.

I believe that one function of the long, eloquent letters of times past was to show off your cleverness and to impress, delight & entertain the recipient. Texts of course serve the same function, but the form is shorter, more like an Abbot and Costello routine.

I do think the short form can cause problems when context is lacking, e.g. on Twitter. But when texting with friends, the relationship itself provides the context.

julie.weathers said...

I wonder how many people would want to hold out texts, emails, twitter posts as something worthy of collecting into books for people to appreciate somewhere down the road for their beauty or even worth?

LOL I had McDonald's 4 lunch and they frgt the cheese!

(Posts obligatory picture of food because no one can eat anymore without first taking a picture of it with their phone.)

I'm sorry, but as one who does study letters from the past, I believe it's becoming a lost art and we are not the richer for it.

I'll keep my Sullivan Ballou letters and you can keep your "Hey, babe. Just wanted to say hi. LOL Miss u. <3"

Lennon Faris said...

OK, I have to say, seeing Julie Weathers use "LOL" and "u" is about as jarring and hilarious as those Bad Lip Reading segments on the 2016 USA presidential debates.

I can't join this debate. In college, for a wildlife class my dissertation was on the different calls of cardinals. I spent so many hours sitting in the cold and listening, I can still hear those lovely birds and know if they're mad, happy, anxious, or interested in something. Knowing their 'language' still thrills me.

In college, I also taught (low-key) ESL. Because of the language barrier, we used a lot of quick sketches to convey what we meant. Some sketches resulted in lots of giggles.

I love all forms of communication.

Janet Reid said...

I'm stealing this:

It's not enough to say, "January 13 was the worst day of Anna's life." That could mean anything. Anna dropped the ice cream cone she'd been saving up for or the hangman dropped Anna.

Katja said...

Oh, I've only come here late today and read the post just now.

Lennon, SO glad you've made the news - and GOOD news! Yes, I can imagine your initial shock very well!

And I'm so glad to have read that Janet likes to hear from blog readers, what a coincidence... I have emailed you earlier today. And because my self-confidence isn't the strongest in the world, I started my email off with "I'm super ashamed to email you..."

Yes, I emailed for advice and I DID put ? into the text, phew. Just checked, no not 379 words but 304.

AJ Blythe said...

Janet, you just beat me. I love that closing statement from our Queen of Tales.

My problem with the communication of today has nothing to do with spelling, speed or any of the things mentioned above, it's the fact that people don't speak to one another like they used to, even when face to face (and yes, I appreciate there are exceptions and that is a very general statement).

There are lots of studies starting to come out about how today's teens are losing the ability to read body language - a form of language that is as important in today's texting world as it would have been in days gone by.

John Davis Frain said...

Oh, Lennon, to have a benchmark named after you.

I started thinking of the various benchmarks I could have named after me and, Cassie douse the fires, my mind went to all sorts of nefarious places. You should be honored where you landed, Lennon. Well done!

I don't advise this exercise for most people. If you thought your nightmares were scary, you're in for a whole other experience. Time to turn over the hourglass, I'm pulling out the WIP for 500 words minimum...

Megan V said...

Kitty Should you ever want a handwritten letter—I am happy to oblige. Mine come with wax seals and horrid penmanship (truly illegible).

As to the debate—I have, in fact, held onto and filed away emails, text messages and more over the years, many of which have meaning to me. They may not be the most poetic, but the simple joy of


is no less meaningful to me than pages worth of prose. And anyways, I hate the thought that our day to day lives could be irretrievable for historians in the future.

julie.weathers said...

Janet, steal away.

Lennon, congratulations!

John Davis, you're in the blog post today.

Megan, I've saved some emails. Will from Iraq. "Mom, I'm OK. Don't worry."

The next day pictures of two bombed Mraps and the short message. "They did their job. No serious injuries. Talk soon."

From the mother of a writer friend who had died. I wrote and obituary blog post about him and Mary found it. We corresponded for a while. It meant a lot to her to know her son had this other life with friends.

Mostly, I don't keep emails, but I do keep letters and cards.

Lin said...

As someone who grew up and went to high school during the time of texting, I also want to point out that we don't just use "lol" and "brb" when we text, nor when we email. I mean, we do, but it depends on context, tone, and who we're writing to. I would NEVER write to my professors the way I write to my friends. I would NEVER write to my grandmothers the way I would write to my friends.

Likewise, when my friends and I are having a serious conversation, we use proper writing. Long, elegant sentences with excellent vocab and so on. If we're joking around, or just having a quick, "you here?" "Yup" conversation, it's entirely different. There's nuance to the way we communicate. "LOL" and "haha" mean very different things to us. It's hard to convey things like emphasis, or sarcasm, or a joking tone when writing beautiful letters. It can be done, but there are shortcuts for when we're having an every day conversation over text.

Also, I want to point out that letter writing isn't dead. Many of my friends and I wrote letters to each other during our undergrad, and I still have those. I also write long emails to my grandmothers. Language changes. Communication changes. Would I keep all of my texts? No. I also wouldn't record all of my daily conversations. Letter writing is passive. It takes a long time to write, to deliver, to read, and to respond. Emails and texts are instantaneous. That changes the way we use language.