One Space or Two? That is the Question….


Recently, I made a submission and for the first time I can recall seeing, the submission guidelines explicitly called for the submission to only have a single space between sentences.  There was a blurb in the guidelines about the two-space paradigm being put in the grave, and then the guidelines move on to other issues.

But that got me thinking.

As I write this entry this morning, almost every writing article or grammar guide I can find on the subject says that single-spacing is the way to go.  Most of the articles I can find on the subject have a light condescending touch to them (such as this article from Writer’s Digest, which says, “Sorry two-spaces, it’s time to make the switch.”)  As if the information is something that is so obvious it can be seen from space.

(Muse:  I see what you did there.)

Some of the argument comes down to improvements in typography.  I concur that with realistically-spaced fonts (pretty much all of them these days) replacing old-style typewriter fonts (like Courier), where each letter took the same amount of room in a line, make the two-spacing less of a necessity than it used to be.  That is a more compelling argument than any other.  Some of the arguments also seem to come down to aesthetics or time-saving, in the effort of reducing keystrokes.

Let me go ahead and say this:  to any writers or typists out there that are still engaged in the double-spacing habit, I fully recommend that you break the habit and get used to one space.  It will make your lives easier when dealing with the rest of the publishing world.  If nothing else, make friends with the Find & Replace commands (CTL-H in Word) and replace your double-taps with single spaces before you submit.  (Example on how to do so found here.)

But now I say precisely why I am not going to do that.

First of all, I find the aesthetics argument unconvincing.  I have been to museums of modern art and witnessed what has been labeled “fine art.”  This is stuff I would have labeled as offenses against nature.  Modern home decor is, to my eyes, bland, unappealing, and soulless.  Not interested in sterile living; my cozy country decor is much more comfortable.  Facial piercings have wide appeal but I am not interested in seeing them or having my own.  Aesthetics are a purely personal decision.  So who the heck are they to tell me what’s visually appealing and what isn’t?  I can read single-spaced text well enough but I find it cramped and jumbled, especially in a small font.  Two spaces feels more regimented and natural to me.  The “rightness” of this is based on the opinion of people and as I have said many times, people can and usually do fail.  They are wrong.  They are arrogant about the rightness of their beliefs.  Millions of people watch reality television.  Does its popularity make it “right” and “good”  Trends come and go; what is proper today is passe tomorrow and the rules, like most fad rules, are capricious and unpredictable.  So I am bucking the “popular” trend and going with what is comfortable and appealing to my eyes.

Second, all of the articles I read provided themselves an escape hatch by saying that two spaces is acceptable for those uniformly-space fonts, like Courier.   Standard Manuscript Format (SMF, also known as Shunn format in  many spec-fiction circles) is still considered the standard for formatting submission to many magazines, including a good portion of the professional market.  Well, guess what?  Shunn format recommends submissions be in Times New Roman …. or COURIER!  In other words, one of the two acceptable fonts for a sizable chunk of the market is of that dreaded type that needs a double-spacing.  Granted, many markets that take online submissions are moving away from rigid formatting guidelines.  It’s pretty easy to reformat a lot of packages and if they are having trouble, mags can always send it back to the author and ask for formatting changes.  Even so, pretty telling that the standard for submissions retains the old way of doing business.

But that brings me to my third point.  If an editor really likes a story, how hard is it to do the copy-n-replace I mentioned above?  It isn’t.

(Muse:  But what if-)

Yes, it is possible that the editor may not elect to read through the story because of a double-spacing format.  That is the risk one takes by persisting with the old ways, which is why I recommended above that nobody do that.  I think a writer wants to be in the business of minimizing risk and giving their story every possible break.  At the same time, if editors are really hard over on this, it will be in their submission guidelines.  I think when you start trying to second-guess an editor’s intentions, you don’t improve your odds.  For every time you guess right, you also put yourself out of the running.  So it is best to follow the guidelines explicitly.  If it says SMF or Shunn format, then the editor gets my double-spaced Courier submission.

Last – and this is more of a meta-argument than a direct rebuke to the single-space mafia – what is the point of communication, really?  Is it to be beholden to a set of rules?  Or is to beam a message the recipient?  Now, I agree, we do need a some uniformity to prevent the Balkanization of the language (where every sub group splinters their dialect away further and further until they no longer resemble the original or each other).  But where is that line?  Language is constantly evolving with society.  “Email” did not exist as a an acceptable word thirty years ago.  “Automobile” did not 130 years ago.  Saying the two-space rule is right and that’s final is as ridiculous as the rule about the salad fork being on the left.  As far as concrete tangible effects on the world, what the hell difference does it make?  Seriously?  The text is still readable.  You can argue that people used to double-space can be trained to read single-space easier.  Well, the inverse works too, so I find few convincing reasons to abandon the double-space, short of an editor’s guidelines.   Besides, the way the semi-sneering attitude taken by many who hold this position ruffles my feathers to no end, as if it’s a moral imperative on the order of “Thou shalt not kill.”  One person quoted in the Slate article above referred to double-spacers as “amateur typists.”  (I had a vision of this woman in black cocktail dress, gently swirling a glass of wine as she circled her debutante ball and sneered about poor people in her nasal Martha’s Vineyard voice.)  Holier-than-thou folks, inside writing circles or out, make my fingers curl into fists.  If they are for something, I automatically lean the other way.

Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts.  Feel free to pipe in and disagree.  I the meantime, I am sticking with my two spaces.  Where necessary, I will change my format to one.  As for the rest?  Oft-quoted philosopher Henry David Thoreau exhorted his readers to seek justice and rebuke the government as a matter of conscience but to also be prepared for the consequences of doing so.  I might cost myself a sale with my intransigence.

But it is my position and I will stand with it as long as I can.

(Muse:  You would have bought yourself less trouble arguing about the Oxford comma.)

Maybe next time.


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