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