The Writing Meme

Nita has kindly tagged me for listing strengths of a writer that I aspire to have. I read a few excellent writers who’ve contributed to this before, like Suburban Life, The Individual Voice, Joe Felso, MariaCristina, and of course, Rambodoc. I liked MariaCristina’s way of listing each strength along with an example. All these writers excel at their craft, leaving me dumbfounded. So as Nita suggested, I will start by blanking out previous insights and starting afresh.

  • English is my second-language. I couldn’t write basic, decent English till I was 17 years old. The Wren and Martin grammar they taught us in school was an insipid, laborious, meaningless exercise. It was several years later that I discovered The Elements of Style, and entered the world of English writing. If anyone asks me which is the one book to read about English writing, that is it. This "little book" can be read here for free.
  • Be intimately knowledgeable of William Safire’s Rules for Writers.
  • Read. After you’ve read, study it as a writer. Reading as a reader is different from reading as a writer. You cannot write unless you read. You cannot write well unless you study writing as a writer. Over time, you won’t need to read twice.
    I learnt the above by applying film appreciation skills to the art of writing. Watching movies doesn’t make anyone a better actor or director or script-writer. Only if you watch the movie from a script-writer’s perspective will you learn about the art of script-writing.
  • Honesty, passion, sincerity, and practice. I need not say more.
  • Voltaire said "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms". We may not want to be as unreasonable as that in our daily lives, so let’s just say "If you wish me to read your writing, you better be able to back up your words with definitions". There is a difference between ‘knowing’ the meaning of words to be able to make good conversation, and knowing the meaning of words you use to write.
  • I meet two kinds of people. On one hand are passionate lovers of words and language. They are finicky about whether they prefer Oxford or Merriam Webster. On the other hand are those who respond "whatever", when you painstakingly explain the precise meaning of your interpretation of a word. If you wish to improve vocabulary, subscribe to A.Word.A.Day – I joined in 1995.
    If you wish to write well, overcome inertia and proactively refer the dictionary and thesaurus. In the pre-Internet era, we used to have these huge reference books by our side to refer when we were writing. Now, it’s so simple!
  • Writing is 99% thinking and 1% typing (or penning). What this means is that you can engage in the act of ‘writing’ when your commuting, or having a shower, or lying in bed. I often think of topics, structure, elements of the content, and the key message, while I’m away from the computer. When I do get a chance to type, it is just a matter of crystallizing what you’ve already thought through.
  • If the 1% typing takes 99% of the time, you need to learn typing. I learnt typing on a physical typewriter in my 10th grade, when I decided on IT as my career. Then I improved my speed using typing tutor software. It has paid handsome rewards. I’ve met people who fumble at the keyboard and proudly talk about how their hands can’t keep pace with their fast-thinking minds. I wondered why their smart minds never gave priority to improving their typing skills.
    Improving your typing speed helps you write faster and better, since you are not distracted with typing and can let your mind flow freely, while your hands automatically type it for you.
  • Be comfortable. Do not confuse external environmental factors with your ability to write. Have you slept well? Is the background noise or lack of sufficient light hampering you? Don’t get frustrated and give up. The negativity may be an external influence, not an innate inability.
  • I initially used to have trouble imagining my reader while I was writing. Then I learnt to write ‘to myself’. I no longer visualize or imagine a reader, I write as if it is for me to read.
  • Use the right tools to improve your efficiency. Choose the chair, keyboard, mouse, and screen according to your ergonomics. I use the Opera browser as its inbuilt shortcuts help me tremendously in referencing and researching while writing. Select your tools as per your convenience and use them efficiently.
  • If you’re Indian, you might want to check this presentation I’d made about avoiding common English errors. People from the same culture where English is a second language tend to make similar mistakes. This essentially works like a meme. A typical Indian example is ‘updation’, which can be commonly found in Indian English, but is not an English word.

The above are factors that help me to write better. It is a never-ending road, so I too need to revisit each of the above regularly. As Nita correctly and graciously pointed out, I’ve a desire to learn about the craft of writing and am still learning.

To take this further, I’ll tag Asuph, hoping that his blog gets well soon!

(Image Credits: Details of a Waterman 42 Safety Pen, public domain.)

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  • Now that all the tagged writers have written up all the wisdom, I shall have to write something redundant, repetitive or entirely unrelated 🙁

  • That came out straight from your heart! It evident in your every word. And you have a realised the basic truth about writers…when they are not writing, they are thinking about writing!
    Shefaly, I am sure you have a lot to give…and so what if its repetitive! Its the new angle you give to it.

  • Shefaly: I’ve just shared experience; wisdom is too big a word. I felt exactly like you but followed Nita’s advice. I know you’re itching to take up this meme – so, like Nike says – Just Do It! 🙂

    Nita: See how faithfully I obeyed your advice? 🙂 Thanks for the tag again. It helped.

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  • Excellent advice! Thank you!

    By the way, Mahendra, it’s almost impossible to believe English is your second language given how well you’ve mastered it. I’m in awe!

  • This is an excellent list that I will print out and share with my writing group on our first meeting of this Fall. You so obviously put mind and heart into this thoughtful response to the meme question. I am ever grateful fur any and all opportunity to continue learning, and thus am grateful for your post. Thanks. G

  • You have surpassed most native speakers of English. This post is smooth, elegant, and very practical. I’m honored to be included in a list with your name on it.

    I need to learn how to type without looking at the keyboard. Now that I’ve rad your post, I intend to go software shopping. No more excuses!

  • Paul, Suburbanlife, Mariacristina:

    You folks really humble me. I am very deeply touched and honored by your kind comments.

    Yes, I did put my mind and heart into it, and unless we do so, our writing will never excel, right? I believe if one does something one should do it well, or else not do it at all.

    If anyone really learns something from this list, I’ll be very happy!

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. (Now, I need to start reading more of your works!)

  • //If anyone really learns something from this list, I’ll be very happy!//

    Mahendra, I’m going to absolutely study your list — brief as it is, I can benefit greatly by taking it to heart.

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  • wishtobeanon…

    The presentation about errors in English for Indians is a nice one.

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  • Inspirational article! This advice can be applied by bloggers as well. It is important to keep up with productivity. I don’t complain too much if my writing is not on the level where I expect it to be. Because my lower quality writing is on the level of my old superior writing.

    I am glad I’ve chosen writing as a keyword for my Zite newspaper, lots of interesting reads…