Louis Stevenson once said that “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.”
This might not be a long or complex sentence but it probably took Stevenson many years to realise this. The ability to write may be covered in conventional academic teaching but the second half of the statement depends on our own determination to push ourselves harder to improve and more importantly, to develop our own writing style as a form of self-expression. Our writing style is our own and more interestingly, this is something that we draw out from within ourselves, with or without the help of our teachers. Unlike learning how to write (which will probably take a few years), learning how we want to write usually takes a lifetime to develop. Using a metaphoric representation, learning how to write is akin to running a 100m sprint competition once a month. Developing our own writing style is running a full 42km marathon every day.
Writing is not easy.
This might not sound like an encouraging statement but I have meant for this statement to be encouraging. It is because that writing is not easy that one must persevere to perfect the art of writing. Yes, the art of writing. Some writings such as technical writing, scientific periodicals and academic journals may look dull and boring but to me, all forms of writing can be polished to the point of perfection based on the “tonal” feel of the writing. During my course of study as a postgraduate student, I am required to do tons of reading in order to complete my assignment. Preparing and completing my assignment was pure joy, but the arduous task of having to plough through pages and pages of academic journals is somewhat stifling for me. No offence to the writers, but I have found that academic journals can be further simplified to the point of being readable to the common masses. Many of the ideas in such writings are simple to understand and useful to the readers but regrettably, these interesting and profound thoughts have been buried under piles of complex jargons and sophisticated sentences.
To me, there are three levels of writing, as follows:
1. Building blocks of writing (grammatical syntax, vocabulary, punctuation, sentence structure, comprehension, summary writing etc)
2. Developing your writing style (formal, semi-formal, informal, humourous, technical, journalistic etc)
3. Turning your writing style into an art (tempo, metaphoric, questioning, introspective, illustrative etc)
Let’s discuss the building blocks of writing first.
Building blocks of writing: This infancy stage is probably the easiest part of learning writing, primarily due to the fact that we are usually guided by educators in this part of our learning phase. The flip side of this phase is that this learning process probably the most technical and boring part as well! This is also the portion where many students falter in their attempts and waver in their decision to master the language. In some countries, this problem may be compounded by the fact that there are numerous other subjects that the students have to juggle, alongside learning English (an endeavour which is often time-consuming on its own. Then again, learning any languages is time-consuming).
But having a dedicated English teacher devoted to teaching his/her students the English language changes everything. If the English teacher masters the art of teaching languages in a lively way, then the students will all be on the road to not only mastering the language but using the language on a long-term basis. Remembering that this is the learning phase where students are learning the basics of the language, the students stand to gain from having an educator who is able to both guide them in their learning and bringing the joys of writing to them early in life. It is interesting to note that at this point in time, almost all the students’ writing will be somewhat generic in nature. While it can be observed that they are beginning to pen their writings based on their interest in different genres, their ways of self-expression are still very much steeped in what they have learnt from their teachers, not on what they have developed on their own. At least not yet.
Developing your writing style: This brings us to the second learning phase: developing one’s writing style. This is the point where the students embark on their own individualistic exploratory journey to discover their own writing style. Their educators now become more of a travel guide than their trainers, facilitating their learning journeys rather than directing them in a specific direction. In a word, educators are now facilitators, using self-reflective and analytical questions to enable students to exit from their shell and explore a world they will soon call their own. Like a full-grown butterfly exiting from the now defunct shell, the students are now entering a phase of self-discovery in the world of writing. It is possible to know the students’ writing style preference in advance if their educators have taken note of their reading interests for the past years. A person’s writing style is usually closely associated with the type of reading materials that one reads over a sustained period of time. If he/she loves readings newspapers and news magazines, their writings will tend to gravitate towards the more journalistic style. If the students love reading novels and watching conventional movies, then their writings will tend to be more narrative in nature – with the use of emotional dialogues to push the storyline forward. If their interest is in comedies and love reading works of such nature, their writing will often have a humourous touch to it. In a nutshell, what one reads or watches, one writes.
Unfortunately for many writers, they often feel that they have reached the peak of their writing endeavour when they have reached this phase. This is a misconception. Developing and mastering one’s writing style is not the end of the journey. Rather, it’s only half the journey. For these writers, they have only managed to write in a way that is satisfactory for them to express themselves. But it might not be the case for the readers. Readers come in various temperaments and with different expectations. Therefore, to increase one’s readership, writers need to expand their existing writing tools. They will now need more than a pen and paper (Oh well, in this time and age, maybe a laptop with internet access and printer will suffice).
Turning your writing style into an art :They will need to understand the personalities and expectations of their readers. They will need to know how to build up or break the writing pace (tempo, like dancing). They will need to know how to visualise and animate things and processes (metaphoric). They will need to know how to ask the right questions which are on the reader’s mind (questioning) and answering them in an interesting and comprehensive manner. They will need to know how to enable readers to self-reflect after reading their writings (introspective). They will need to know how to use correct and appropriate examples to show the readers what they mean – especially when it comes to abstract theories or concepts (illustrative). And last for not least, they will need to mix the different styles in a right blend such that it engages their readers and keeps them reading – and this will take a writer a lifetime to master. But then again, this is the joy of writing – to know that there is always more to learn. And keep pushing oneself to perfection.
So, for those writing enthusiasts out there, this article is dedicated to every one of you.
Use your writing to make this world a better place, be it environmental conservation, pollution reduction, emotional stories to touch one’s heart or academic writings to widen one’s horizons.
When you finally begin to love the process of learning writing more than the satisfaction of completing your writings, that’s when the real fun of writing begins.
And you will then realise that writing IS easy.