Tag: On Writing

Write when you have to!

Write when you have to!

In the classic Hollywood western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Eli Wallach, one of Hollywood’s finest actors, plays the money hungry bandit “Tuco”. In one of the scenes, there is a one-armed man who wants to kill Tuco and has finally found him when he’s in his bath tub. The conversation proceeds something like this:

One Armed Man: I’ve been looking for you for eight months. Whenever I had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.
[Just then Tuco shoots him with the pistol he has hidden in the foam]
Tuco: When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.

Writing is somewhat like that. When you wanna write, write, don’t talk! Writing is about doing. If you want to write, remember Nike. Don’t think. Don’t plan. Just do it!

Granted that when you stare at a blank page (or a blank screen), it can be intimidating. The only way to overcome this fear is to forget that you’re writing to be read. When you become independent of other people’s opinions, you will find it much easier to write.

Also remember not to set high standards in the beginning. All first drafts are supposed to be garbage…that includes first drafts of even the most celebrated and revered authors. So be gentle and allow yourself to write “ordinary” stuff.

In the beginning, what you write is not important…that you write something, anything, is!

For you, a thousand times over

For you, a thousand times over

Today, after a long time — and heavens know it has been really long! — I spent the whole day reading. The book was The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini.

Set for most part in Afghanistan, it gives us a sneak preview into the forgotten days of this once beautiful and peaceful country before the Russian invasion.

The writing style is absorbing. The liberal use of Afghani words such as Baksheish, tanhaii, mareez, jaan, noor and many others adds a fresh flavour. Khalid’s description of life in peacetime and war-torn Afghanistan is vivid without being dreary. The protagonist Amir’s self-effacing first person account makes the story much more believable and poignant. The character of Amir’s father and Hassan are well-crafted and do not waver with time.

I don’t want to comment on the actual story because it’s more a matter of personal preference, less of subjective evaluation. Many may like the story, some may not. All I can say is that it kept me hooked on for seven hours at a stretch…

Be careful of using adverbs

Be careful of using adverbs

Many writers employ adverbs (and sometimes adjectives too) in their attempt to add emphasis to their writing. What they don’t understand is that, more often than not, the use of these words weaken the effect of their writing. Take for instance the following sentence:

“Your draft is really appalling.”

In the above construction, the adverb “really”, instead of adding emphasis, is subtracting it. Think about it. Would you add “really” if you were sure of yourself? Now read the same sentence minus “really”.

“Your draft is appalling.”

How does it sound? Better? More emphatic? You bet! Why so? Because when you make an assertive statement like the one above, it reflects confidence.

Let’s take another example.

“I can’t believe it!”, said John surprisingly.

Is the adverb surprisingly needed?

“I can’t believe it!”, said John.

Is “surprise” not implied in the words “I can ‘t believe it!”?

So be careful of using adverbs. Rely on stronger verbs and nouns instead. Follow this advice and you minimise your chances of someone saying to you that “Your draft is appalling.”

Don’t try to impress

Don’t try to impress

As a writer, I often fail to understand why people tend to use difficult words where easy ones can do the job just as effectively. Similarly, many writers construct rather long and complicated sentences, making it difficult for the reader to hold the thought without getting lost. Perhaps in trying to impress, writers often forget the purpose behind writing, which is to communicate.

Yes, we write to communicate our thoughts, ideas, feelings, concepts, and a multitude of other things. And simple words can be very potent if used properly. These simple statistics should make it amply clear that the most accomplished writers depend largely on simple words to communicate. An analysis of William Shakespeare’s works reveals the following statistics

  • The top 10 most frequently occurring words make up 21.4% of all words.
  • The top 100 most frequently occurring words make up 53.9% of all words.
  • The top 1% most frequently occurring words make up 66.7% of all words.

Top 15 word forms, by frequency of occurrence:

  1. the – 28,944
  2. and – 27,317
  3. i – 21,120
  4. to – 20,136
  5. of – 17,181
  6. a – 14,945
  7. you – 13,989
  8. my – 12,950
  9. in – 11,513
  10. that – 11,487
  11. is – 9,545
  12. not – 8,856
  13. with – 8,293
  14. me – 8,043
  15. it – 8,003

So the next time you’re tempted to use a difficult word, think again and use a simpler one instead – you will have William Shakespeare for company!