Enviable craft of writing | Sunday Observer

Enviable craft of writing

30 July, 2023

Many young people who wish to be writers follow the trial and error method because there are no writing schools in Sri Lanka. Even at universities there are no courses in English writing. However, there are writing courses in developed countries including Singapore. Until someone starts a writing school in Sri Lanka, young aspirants have to keep on writing and reading some of the books written on the craft of writing.

Writing is a diversified process which includes prewriting, free writing and editing your own manuscript. Many budding writers have some difficulty in putting words on the page. Free writing is the best way to get the flow. Anyone can do free writing by keeping a journal. All your thoughts can be recorded in a journal on a daily basis. After some time you will get over the initial problem of putting words on the page.

If you are writing to a newspaper or magazine, first study what type of articles are published in them. Then pick a suitable topic, collect relevant materials and prepare the first draft. Leave it for a day or two and revisit it. Thereafter you can improve your own writing effectively.

If you have someone to help with your writing, show what you write to them before sending your article to a newspaper or magazine. Drafts and revisions will help you to concentrate on one level of language at a time. The ability to get ideas tightens the logic and refines your writing. Always remember that your writing moves from the privacy of the writer’s workshop out into the social world.

Command of the language

Essays will not pop into your head fully developed as they appear in the final draft. Unlike speech which flows spontaneously, writing needs time to move from your first conception to a public document. Beginners usually complain that writing becomes extremely frustrating at the beginning. Unless you have a command of the language, it will be difficult for you to proceed.

You cannot become a writer without becoming a good reader. Just as we write to touch other people’s minds through writing, our own minds have been deeply influenced by the writing of others. Will Roger’s famous quip, “All I know is what I read in the newspaper” has great value. Most of us learn about the world through written communication. Have you ever met an erudite person who has never read any book? Even when we learn things directly, we perceive and interpret them through attitudes influenced by the words of others.

In the good old days we began writing paragraphs in school. After years of training, we were trained to school essays. Sometimes teachers selected material to discuss with the students. Some teachers gave us books to read and paraphrase some stories or to summarise them. We read out our essays in the class and the teacher pointed out the mistakes we had made. We were encouraged to write more when teachers returned our essays with their comments and ratings. Teachers always encouraged us to send our essays to newspapers and magazines. As a result, we learned the basics of writing quite early in life.

Marginal comments

Even if you have not been trained to write, you can react to what you read profitably. When you do so you make a link between ideas suggested by an author and what happens in your mind. The link is essential for any kind of intellectual work. If you buy a book and begin to read it, write marginal comments. Martin Wickramasinghe used to annotate most of the books he had read. Marginal comments are necessary because you may not have a friend available to exchange ideas. After reading a book, you can write down your thoughts about in a journal. Marginal comments also help us to engage the author in a dialogue.

When you read great authors you will realise that there is a writer’s technique present in every word or sentence. Technique is present in every choice made by the writer at every stage of creation.

One effective way to understand the writer’s technique is to analyse his writing carefully. Another way is to read the reviews written about the book. In developed countries there are professional book reviewers. Reading them will help you to understand the writer’s technique. If you are not going to be a professional writer, write for pleasure and profit. Professional writers write mainly for profit. If you write a book that sells, it will be a fortune. In developed countries royalties are paid to authors, although the situation in Sri Lanka is pathetic.

Sri Lankan authors have to go behind the publishers to get their royalties. Even freelance journalists are paid well in developed countries. However, rewards for poetry are very poor. Even in Sri Lanka authors get awards and cash prizes. The most famous and prestigious of the British awards is the Booker Prize which goes to a novel of high literary merit. A few Sri Lankan authors too have won the prestigious Booker Prize.

Lonely business

Writing is a lonely business. Although there are writers’ circles, the real writing has to be done by a single individual. Another problem is that writing is difficult to teach and learn. However, if you are really keen on becoming writer, nothing can hold you back. As writing is a craft, it improves with regular exercises, skills and technique. I personally believe that everyone has a book in them. The problem is that most people do not know how to get the book out of them.

You are lucky if you are born with writing skills. You will note that some people write freely and naturally with little effort.

And there are others who labour to produce a piece of writing. Even if you follow a writing course, you may not be able to write effectively because writing is something you have to learn by yourself. A teacher can only suggest, advise or encourage you to become a writer. Although writing is hard work, it can be rewarding and enjoyable. Your dream should be to become an accomplished writer.

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