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…