“In the beginning was the word…”
That was what the Holy Bible told us. It all started with a word, then words, then a sentence, then sentences, then a paragraph, and finally lots of paragraphs. If guns are to soldiers, words are to writers.
Words are our tools when it comes to writing. Without words, we cannot write anything. And since words are our tools, we need to be equipped with thousands if not millions of them. “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything,” Aldous Huxley once pointed out.
To be a good writer – people like journalists, fictionists, poets, and the like – you must have words you can use anytime. And to have good command of words, you have to collect words by reading. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that,” Stephen King once pointed out.
Don’t simply read but jot down those new words you encounter. Use them in a sentence. Before you know it, they become part of your life. “A word after a word after a word is power,” said Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and literary critic.
Genuises are born but writers can be made, someone once remarked. Yes, a writer can be created – as long as he or she persevere and learn the basic techniques. Along the way, he or she must discover his or her own style. By then, you have come.
But some people can have their cake and eat it, too. Fiction novelist Robert Benchley, the man who wrote Jaws, said it best. “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing,” he said, “but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
Another writer that comes to mind is Ernest Hemingway, a Pulitzer-prize winning literary icon. “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write,” he said. “Let them think you were born that way.”
People like Benchley and Hemingway could say those words. But as one saying puts it: “Every rule has an exception.” And Benchley is definitely an exception. So, let’s go for the rule rather an exception. Discover your talent for writing and never rest on your laurels.
Perhaps the words of Ray Bradbury, widely known for his dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, can give a bit of inspiration. “Any man who keeps working is not a failure,” he said. “He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
Writing is both easy and hard. Easy because all you have to do is write, write some more, and write again. But at the same time, writing because you have to write ideas in a way that it could be understood, write information that would sharpen the mind of the readers, and write facts and figures that could sift technicalities to something more common so that people can relate to them.
Writing is easy because all you have to do is interview someone and then write what that someone has spoken. With a good angle, a body that explains the angle, and a thought-provoking conclusion, you have now a piece that would make an editor happy.
But wait, that’s not all. Good writing is not only writing. It is also asking the right questions. It takes courage to ask the right questions to someone you don’t know. But it’s your job to ask those questions. No other person can ask them for you – except of course if you are competing with other writers.
Asking the right questions accomplishes 50% of the task of good writing. Those answers shape the news report or feature you are thinking of writing about. Once you have done the questioning, the remaining task is writing, which is another 50%.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” I didn’t say those words. It was Louis L’Amour, an American novelist and short story writer who said those.
But how should I start, you may ask. Don’t worry, you are not the first person to ask that question. Even veteran writers like Stephen King admitted it. “The scariest moment is always just before you start,” he wrote in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
But then again, without even thinking about writing, Lewis Carroll has given us the best advice ever written for tyros in writing. In Alice in Wonderland, the leading character asked the King how?
Here’s that piece of advice: “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
That’s how basic writing is. Start from the beginning (which is the angle), and go on (referring to the body) till you come to the end (the conclusion of course): then stop.”
Doing interviews is great and listening to speeches and lectures is another. Press releases from various agencies and corporations can also be a good start. But good writing goes beyond those.
You just don’t rely on what you hear. You have to verify some of those statements, facts and figures, and what seem to be controversial quotes. Not doing so might be dismissed as fake news. And you don’t want that to happen.
For one, don’t rely your source all the time. When I was writing for Reader’s Digest, my editor usually tells me: “Just because he is a doctor, it doesn’t mean he is a reliable person. He may be a doctor but his expertise is oncology and so he can never be a good source for your story on dengue fever.”
Doing research these days is easy and fun. All you have to do is google and there you have the information you want. But in the olden days, we had to go to the library or borrow books from someone just to get the information needed for our story.
Although information is very accessible these days, it has also its liabilities. You cannot be assured that what you have gathered are real. They may be bogus information. Be sure your sources are reliable and factual. Check and counter check!
For instance, when I am writing my health stories and doing some research, I usually go for those published by World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic and our very own, Department of Health.
To end this piece, allow me to quote the words of Jane Yolen, who has been hailed as the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the Twentieth Century: “Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”