Tag Archives: Writing Skills

Are you writing for all the wrong reasons?

writing-regularly

This Medium article aptly says Cut the bullshit and make time to write.

John Grisham used to work 15 or 16 hour days as a lawyer, but he resolved to write one page a day of his first novel when he got home from work.

That novel became A Time To Kill, and it afforded him the time to work on his second novel, The Firm; the book that brought him mainstream success.

Making time to write starts with setting goals. How long does it take you to write 500 words, on average; an hour? Two hours?

Over all these years I have learned one thing, at least about myself: you don’t write because, well, you don’t write.

It’s been slightly more than 10 years that I’ve been providing professional content writing services. My clients pay me to write for their websites, their blogs, their email marketing campaigns and their landing pages. When they have paid an advance, I write, whether I feel like writing or not, whether I’m feeling “creative” or not, whether I’m getting into the groove or not. Once the client has paid, once he or she has decided to partner with me to achieve something that is critical for his or her business, he or she doesn’t care how I’m thinking and what is my frame of mind. If by Wednesday I have committed to deliver a particular document then I MUST deliver that document by Wednesday. I do that.

Why don’t I show the same degree of commitment when it comes to working on my own book or even a short story, or for that matter, even for this blog? For almost 2 years I have been thinking of writing an e-book on content writing, even that I haven’t worked on. What stops me? Don’t I get time? Don’t I have the resources and tools? Don’t I know how to write? Is my vocabulary limited? To all these questions there is just one answer, that is not the case.

When writing content for my clients the goal is very small. I know that if I deliver the document by Wednesday, the client is going to pay me on Wednesday, on Thursday or at the most, by next Monday. Minutes or hours after I have delivered the document he or she is going to send me a feedback and then accordingly I will be making changes. Everything is happening fast. There is nothing fuzzy. There is no ambiguity. There is not even a fear of failure (in the past 10 years I can remember just a couple of clients to whom I had to reimburse the advance because they found my work totally unacceptable with no scope for revisions).

I think an average person works under this pattern. You do something and the result is immediate. You feel safe working in a loop. This loop is physical, worldly and psychological. You go to your job, you do the assigned work, you get involved with all the nitty-gritty of managing your professional life, you come back home and you take care of all the nitty-gritty of your domestic life. There is a set pattern. Within this set pattern even if you experience a setback, you, and people around you, have empathy.

You may say that being an entrepreneur is also full of uncertainty and pitfalls. Yes, but even if you are an entrepreneur, and even if there is uncertainty (for instance I’m never sure how many clients I’m going to get in a particular month), since you’re working on a set pattern – trying to create wealth for your family and yourself – there is less mental pressure. While being an entrepreneur if you fail everybody will “understand”. When you run a business it doesn’t solely depend on you. It depends on lots of external factors like market conditions, the competence of people working with you, the infrastructure and even natural conditions. If you fail, you can blame any one of these, rightly or wrongly.

But when you pursue an art it is mostly considered an individualistic activity. If I write (not content, but literature) it’s because I like it, I enjoy it. If I get published, if I get successful, it will be a bonus. If I fail, it’s like, I spent all that precious time creating my sandcastles knowing quite well that people depended on me.

I’m not saying that I don’t write because I’m burdened with responsibility. This way I will not only be doing injustice to my family but also to myself. I’m writing all this to explain, this is through what an average person goes and this is the mentality that stops people from pursuing their art, their passion, in this particular case, writing.

Another problem is that people focus too much on the end result. They focus too much on success and the fame success brings. Like, if you become a successful writer, if you become a famous writer, you will be highly sought after, you will make lots of money, you will be invited to literary festivals and parties and whatnot. You begin to get into this dreamworld and then you get desperate to enter this world. This way you put a lot at stake. Your happiness depends on the sentence you are writing. Everything you have dreamt of depends on the paragraph you are writing. Just imagine, if you want to experience wealth and fame, do you want to experience them after 3-4 years or after 3-4 months?

There is something that has helped me cope with this psychological problem. Rather than focusing on completing a novel or short story, these days I’m focusing on maintaining a writing schedule, even if it involves just opening the document that contains my novel and having a look at it and trying to add a few words here and there. It’s about the activity, not the end result. If you worry about the end result, it will wear you down and then again you will end up totally disillusioned and disenchanted. Write just 500 words, as the above article suggests. Or just write for 20 minutes even if you write just 20 words during those 20 minutes. Most people don’t write not because they don’t have the ability, they don’t write because there writing muscles have atrophied due to disuse. My Guruji (my music teacher) has repeatedly told me that no matter how great a master you are, if you don’t practice for one day, you can feel the difference, if you don’t practice for two days the music critiques begin to feel the difference and if you don’t practice for three days your audience begins to feel the difference.

Persistent practice is not just relevant for arts. When famous football and cricket players skip their practice, it becomes news, that’s how important practice is.

When someone tells you to keep on writing it doesn’t mean you need to churn out great stuff every day, it basically means keep practicing. Keep practicing your art so that one day when you are visited upon by something really to write about, your muscles are already flexible and you’re already familiar with all those words and phrases you would like to use. Alienate them, and they will behave like aliens when you really need them.

So don’t write for becoming a famous writer, write because you want to write. Then someday, on your own you will start becoming a writer who has the potential of becoming a famous writer, if that’s what you want.

Talking about vocabulary

These days I am reading On Writing by Stephen King. Like any other contemporary writer he advises aspiring writers not to go overboard with difficult words and you don’t need a comprehensive vocabulary in order to write a great book. I totally agree with him despite the fact that I love reading and using words that are not used in day-to-day interactions.

But yes, you can easily make out if a writer is simply being superfluous or he or she actually means to use a particular word. It also depends on your general style and your audience. You don’t need to tone down your language just because some people won’t be able to understand it. If painters started worrying about whether people will be able to decipher their paintings or not, they won’t be able to paint at all, especially the exponents of modern art. The empty paper or the blank screen in front of you is your canvas, the words are your brush and paints, and your sentence formations are the strokes that you use to create your masterpiece. In case they complain that you are hard to read, you should either change the way you write, or you should target a different audience.

I have no problem if occasionally I have to use a dictionary in order to understand what a writer is trying to convey. I don’t hold this against him or her. In fact I love learning new words so much that I consider it my own drawback if, while reading a book, I have to refer to a dictionary repeatedly.

Language is a tool and you use this tool to make an impact. While writing you should keep this in mind. What is your objective? Is your message important or the words you use to convey your message? Of course a certain degree of erudition is important because when it comes to dumbing down, there is no stopping to it. The language you use for the college going audience, or even banking professionals, is going to be quite different than the language you use for 5th graders.

For me, and I’m sure there are many people like me, good literature is like classical music. In order to appreciate it, you have to spend some time to understand it. You cannot appreciate Dhrupad without knowing its intricacies. Similarly, simple text devoid of captivating words can be a drab experience.

Can you express complex thoughts in simple words? Yes, you definitely can. Read Milan Kundera to experience that.

There was a time when I used to use a thesaurus a lot. My main aim was to find alternative words, not necessarily difficult, but that sounded good to me. Even these days I occasionally use a thesaurus, but not in order to find words that I don’t know, but in order to find words I’m somehow unable to come up with. For instance, all of a sudden I cannot remember a word I would like to use to express something, but I know a similar, related word. So I start with that word – and thanks to hypertext thesaurus tools these days – I start drilling down until I come across the word I want to use.

Somewhere in the book Stephen King says, “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.”

While I totally agree, sometimes when you simply appear in your undergarments, it becomes a bit odd.