Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Writing Mechanics Change And So Must Writers Who Use Them

Change! It's a fact of life as well as a pain in the neck at times. We are comfortable just where we are. We don't like to change our ways, do we? Change means effort and hassle for writers. One of the changes in recent years popped up yesterday when I was doing a critique on a wonderful memoir piece for a member of my online group. I noticed that she used two spaces after each sentence instead of the one space suggested, or sometimes required, by editors 

I hesitated to point it out to her because she is close to my own age and I knew she'd been taught the two space rule way back in school. Just as I learned. I haven't heard from her regarding my critique yet and I'm hoping she won't tell me to mind my own business. She's a lovely person and I know she wouldn't do that, but she might feel like it. 

What's the big deal about whether you use one space or two after a sentence? You are probably thinking that you are interested in creating a good story and you don't want to be bothered by these nitpicky mechanics of writing things. Think again, O Good Writer, think again! Knowing and using the mechanics of writing in the best way can only aid in your quest for publication. An editor today doesn't want to spend time correcting those things which seem so small but can create space problems.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I was reading the monthly Chicken Soup for the Soul newsletter sent to those writers who have had stories in the Chicken Soup books. Under a section called "Editor's Tips," I found the very same topic--spaces after a sentence--addressed. It is good advice with a reason given. I like advice that also shows me the why. I've copied and pasted the advice below:

Did you take typing in high school? We did, and we were taught to add two spaces after a period. It turns out that is very “old school.” Everyone over 40 was taught to add two spaces; many people under 40 were taught to add only one space after a period. Here’s why: In the old days, we didn’t have word processors and fonts that automatically spaced themselves nicely, so it sometimes wasn’t clear that there was indeed a space after a period. Now, with most fonts it is crystal clear. And that extra space at the end of sentence wastes space, spaces that add up over the course of a newspaper article or a 400-page book. No matter what you were taught, and how diligently you put two spaces after every period, stop doing it! We have to go through all the stories and remove those extra spaces. AP style, Chicago style, and every other up-to-date source will tell you the same thing—put one space at the end of a sentence! Thank you

Note that the editor did not only suggest you stop using two spaces, she emphatically stated it. She even used an exclamation mark to be sure it caught your attention. The reasoning given for using only one space makes perfect sense, doesn't it? 

I was one of those who learned in typing class to use two spaces after a sentence. And I diligently used them for years and years. Then, one day it was pointed out in one of my submissions to the writing group. The person who was critiquing my work told me the new rule and suggested I adapt it. I had a hard time doing so at first. It might be a cliche, but old habits do die hard. What previously had been an automatic response--my thumb hitting the space bar twice--now became a task that needed my concentration. Hit that space bar once and no more. That's what I had to think each and every time I reached the end of a sentence. It didn't take long until I was doing it without even giving thought to doing so.

The mechanics of writing do change from time to time and writers must adapt to those changes. I read frequently that learning something new is good for an aging mind. Heck, it's got to be good for any age mind, don't you think? 


  1. This rule came into play nearly 20 years ago, while I was still working in a law office.

  2. Karilea, it takes some people a long time to catch up and make the change. :)