Writing well, Part 1

I’ve been asked many times before – how do you improve your writing?

Often, people hear the lousy and quick answer : “Read more books.”

Yeah, that’s true only to a certain extent. The most important thing is to actually write more and continually reflect on what you’ve written.

Writing is an art, and all artists know that the only way to get better is to never be satisfied with what you have done before. As a photographer, I look back and think most of my published work is crap. I also grieve because I think to myself : “I took that lousy photo?”

But another reality looms with the explosion in the number of blogs out there -the horrifying realisation that most people really don’t know the fundamentals of good writing. They may have a strong command of grammar and vocabulary, but writing itself requires a firm understanding of structure, flow and form.

Did our SG education system mess up? I don’t think so, it’s simply that the young people are more tolerant of poor English because everyone speaks poorly these days.

I shall attempt to pen down what I’ve learnt to be the several important pillars of good prose. A lot of it comes from working in a demanding newsroom. Some people criticise TNP for having many grammar or spelling mistakes, but they don’t realise typo errors often crop up when you’re fighting to beat the clock.

1. Clarity of thought

Good writing requires a clear mind and plenty of rest. Just yesterday, I was suffering from a severe lack of sleep and yet was trying to write an article on a local celeb. I struggled for about an hour, gave up, went home to nap and spent the rest of the night fixing the lousy copy I did in the afternoon.

But even with sufficient rest, some people may not be able to think clearly. With all the talk about creativity these days, there is an alarming lack of emphasis on logical processes.

For example, you may write well, but if A+B does not equal C, then people struggle to understand your point. Poor writers often obfuscate this weakness by using heavy words and long sentence structures.

Clarity of thought is demonstrated when you have one strong theme/concept/idea/objective and you are able to carry it throughout your piece of writing without dropping the ball.

For example, some people write about the problem of elitism in SG, but their train of thought derails when they start confusing elitism with something unrelated…like meritocracy (surprised?).

The concept of true meritocracy is untenable in any human situation, because rich people will always have a better headstart in life, hence their kids are always able to study with better tools and get that scholarship more easily. The awful truth is – less children of taxi drivers going up the ladder, simply because many taxi drivers simply cannot provide the same measure of resources (expensive tuition, money for guide books etc) to their kids compared to the richer folk.

To weigh an idealistic social concept against an established societal fact (ie. elitism) is like trying to compare apples and oranges. Elitism in its essence simply helps to separate the haves and have-nots. And elites have little need to care for their fellow man, unless they happen to be really philanthropic, are religiously compelled to do so, or need to do it to maintain a certain public image.

For example, how many ministers in the world do you know actually takes regular time out from his meetings to do volunteer work? Should he do such work to begin with? How can he find the time to do it? Is it worth his time?

When you ask such questions, you’ll naturally find that you will be able to sort out what’s plausible and what’s fluff/hype.

Hence, to have clarity of thought demands first of all – that you ask the right questions. If you can’t ask and get answers, then what are you writing about?

To be continued….

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