Writing is an activity which is at once, both a science and an art. While it requires the mastery of certain techniques and ground rules, great writing comes about when one is able to push the standard boundaries. With the amount of written word that is being churned out these days, one would imagine writing to be a process that comes natural to us. However, this is not the case. Grammatical mistakes and bad writing are far more common than one would think. Many people who are seemingly articulate while speaking, do not possess good writing skills. However, it is something that can be improved with adequate practise and patience. Here are some points to keep in mind while producing a written work:
1. Follow a structure
Writing is, at its core, a means of communication, which means it is primarily undertaken to share your thoughts or experiences, or to get the reader to see your perspective. Human mind has a funny way of functioning. During the process of thinking, ideas tend to jump in from all directions in our heads. However, for someone who hasn’t seen the thought process evolve in your head, absorbing the idea is going to be a difficult process. This means that you have to take the reader on a path towards understanding your viewpoint. Thus, this ‘path’ or the structure is extremely important for any kind of writing.
Be it technical or creative, any piece of writing can be seen as a story, which evolves during its course. Structure and flow are essential aspects of a story. However, this does not necessarily mean that it has to follow a linear pattern. The famous film maker Jean-Luc Godard once said, “A story should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order.” A good piece of writing should have discernible arguments or points, which flow from each other seamlessly. Visualise or put down on paper, a skeleton of what your piece is going to look like, and then proceed to write. Unless you are able to see your work in its simplest form, your work will not have clarity of thought. This would lead you to ramble unnecessarily, instead of sticking to the point. Writing is ultimately an extension of thought. If the thought is not refined, the writing will never be refined. Structure helps in refining the thought.
2. Avoid jargons
Nobody likes to read a pompous-sounding and pretentious article. If there is anything that can be said, it can be said easily. Even the most complex philosophical arguments can be put in a way that a lay person can understand it. This does not mean an over-simplification of an insightful thought. It simply means that with proper use of language, a thought can be expressed in a lucid manner without compromising on its intensity and depth.
Using jargons or difficult words in an article that is meant for a general readership does not improve the quality of the work. Instead, it ends up repelling many readers. Jargons and technical words should be used only when the writing is meant for a narrow and specialised audience who is well-versed in the terminologies. Many people are under the impression that flowery or extremely technical language can make the writing seem important. However the truth is, many important thinkers too use bad language. Most importantly, the fact is that their ideas are credible despite it, and not because of it!
Understanding the audience helps in choosing the tone and language for your writing. Always keep the readers’ point of view in mind while writing, and ensure that your writing invites them to see your worldview.
3. Avoid grammatical mistakes
The gravity of this point cannot be stressed enough. There is nothing that puts off readers than essays that use improper grammar and poor punctuation. No matter how good the content of the piece, poor grammar has the potential to overshadow it and put the writer in bad light. In the world of serious writing, bad grammar is almost unforgivable.
Proofread your articles thoroughly. If possible, edit at a time when your mind is free, instead of editing immediately after finishing the write-up. If you are weak in the grammar department, make someone else proofread it for you. Be welcoming of suggestions and criticisms, and try improving on them.
Writing is only secondary to thinking. Read voraciously and extensively to cultivate your mind. Simply knowing the technicalities of a language is not good enough. Writing is nothing without ideas. Ideas will be generated only when the mind is exposed to different ways of thinking and expressing. Read all kinds of literature—novels, editorial columns, blogs, academic essays, classics, autobiographies, etc. This will not only ensure that your knowledge base is expanded and your language improved, but also familiarise you with different styles, processes and tones of sharing knowledge, thoughts or experiences. This will help you in choosing the appropriate style and tone for your piece, with regards to the purpose of the article.
There is only so much that a guide can teach you about writing. It is ultimately not a mechanised, scientific process, but a more intuitive one. Every individual has to find his voice, and this will come only with practise. Share your write-ups with your friends, colleagues and teachers, until you are comfortable sharing it with a general public. Getting your articles reviewed by different people will help you see your writing from a broader perspective. Join writing groups online, and share tips and each other’s works. Many of them have writing prompts which are a good way to practice. Try writing something every day. Include it in your daily schedule. Maintain a blog if you want.
All the aforementioned points will end up being moot if writing is not seen as a continuous activity. It is not about following a few instructions; it is about cultivating a worldview. The process of writing, which is an extension of your thoughts, will evolve only when you evolve. It may take a long time to improve, but in the end it will definitely be a fruitful endeavour.