Monday, 3 March 2014

Hemantha Kalam - 15 "The Essence of Good Writing'

Hemantha Kalam - 15

The Essence of Good Writing

…Time and experience (however), developed our present art of writing, for which no price was great to pay.
(So) What have I got out of writing? (But) more than money or recognition, it is the sense of fulfillment that writing gives me. I did not get it practicing law, diplomacy or teaching. I get it in ample measure scribbling away every day.

                                                                                                 … Khushwant Singh

Desire to write is a blessing, for it taps some of our most creative resources, but can be a curse, particularly while writing prose, which is much harder, because, getting it right, or even close, can be agony. Yet, writing is an essential part of the human civilisation, particularly of the educated.

Writing, whether by hand or type or by computers, has become an essential part of human communications. Before embarking on an elaborate trip on the essence of good writing, let me address the primary question as to what writing is all about.

Writing, in my opinion, is “communication-in-absence”. In the days of yore, when telegraph was not discovered yet, a person who had to communicate with (an)other person(s) and yet who could not be physically present, had to resort to a medium of communication. And writing, as a medium, came in handy.

But before we can conclude that writing is chiefly a form of “communication-in-absence”, we have to tackle the question of the necessity for pictorial messages left by our ancestors, some thousands of years ago that are being discovered periodically. This gives the second and most important definition for writing. Writing for Posterity. Yes, writing in whichever form, has been, is and hopefully, will be a means for preserving information, for posterity.

Writing can be for personal pleasure, to give vent to one’s feelings, in one’s own style, which may or may not be comprehensible or to the liking of a reader. However, when writers have to indulge in technical writing, which essentially could be a key, to complex and sometimes complicated problems, they have to do so, keeping in mind the target reader(s), person(s) who are not present at the time of writing and the reader’(s)’ comprehensive levels and reading likes and dislikes. Such an endeavour requires special skills and a person, who is attempting to write for others, is expected to gauze the capabilities or rather the incapabilities of the person(s) who is/are likely to read and use the written.                 

As Mr. Gurudutt Kamath a Mumbai-based technical writer and a columnist of, maintains (in his column ‘The Art of Writing Technical Articles), Great writers are born, and professional writers are made”. It is in the making of professional writers, which this feature is attempting to assist in.

Understanding Writing

What is Writing?

  • The process of converting intangible thoughts into tangible form, through a group of pre-determined pictures and/or symbols called a language, onto another medium like papyrus (paper) or onto computer related accessories, can be called writing.
  • Depending on the language, the symbols could change and vice versa.       

Necessities for Writing

  • For Communicating and/or for Sharing with others
  • For Recording and for storing (for Posterity)

Process of Writing

  • Think
  • Speak
  • Write
  • Improve & Innovate
  • Store,
and in that order.

Having answered as to the bare concepts of writing, let us proceed on to the evolution, features and basic skills, achieving clear and concise writing and readability factors.

Evolution of Writing
It is difficult to credit the “Invention of Writing” to a single wo/man, since it gradually worked out its way by the contributions of numerous generations.

Writing probably began at least 3000 years B.C. (“The history of, by the Assyrians, the Chinese, the Egyptians and the people of Indus Valley Civilisation (all over a period of time). Most of the European Indologists are of the opinion that the non-Aryan Dravidian merchants who had maritime trade with Babylon and various ports on the coast of South Arabia introduced the alphabet to India.

An ancient Assyrian document, written during the reign of Sardanapalus-V says that the God Nebo revealed the Cuneiform characters of their language to the ancestors of the King.

The Assyrian writing has been divided into two classes--Ideographic and Phonetic.

The natural language of children and primitive men to express ideas by means of images or pictures is Ideographic. Examples of this writing have been found in Egypt, known as the Hieroglyphs, from which, developed four languages.

HIEROGLYPHIC, in which the pictorial element prevails to the largest extent, was in use more than 3000 years before the Christian era, but was confined to the priests, to be chiefly employed in religious services and in the rituals for the dead.

HIERATIC, in use twenty centuries before the close of the old era, was the medium of the best thought of Egyptian literature. This language became the source, of the nations of Europe, for principally deriving their letters. This language, though ideographic, was rather symbolical than pictorial. 

The other two languages were the DEMOTIC and COPTIC but their influence was    far less than hieratic.  

The characters, of the HIERATIC language, soon became the basis of another system called the Phonetic, in which the characters represent sounds.

There again are two classes of the phonetic languages.

The Syllabic, in which each character represents a combination of sounds, and

The alphabetic, in which each character is the symbol of a single sound, the writing, which is mostly being followed by us now.

Writing, over the transition of time

Having started as painting and etching on Cave walls, writing developed over the passage of time into:

  • Sculpting on Stones
  • Painting on Pottery
  • Engraving on Copper Plates
  • Inscribing on Palm Leaves
  • Writing on Papyrus/Paper (handwritten/typewritten)
  • Now on hard disks, floppies, CDs and DVDs
  • So, what next?

Forms of Writing

As time passed by, various forms of writing as mentioned below have evolved.

Mechanical writing, is where the writing has too much of structure. Structure is certainly important for good writing, but sometimes may kill the core nuances. Some of the plain News reports may be of this form.

Passionate writing, is where the writing is unstoppable and is just a continuous flow of expression with / without substance or significance. Some of the ramblings and modern poetry could be following this form of writing.

Weaving form of writing is embroidering with the language and has been mostly used in middle-aged dramatics. This form of writing may not be comprehensible for a majority of readers in the modern age.

Bland writing is where the substance of the writing is “to the point” and where no flowery embellishments are used. This form of writing, despite the adjective, probably, will be the right system for technical writing.

Characteristics of Good Writing

  • Conceptual innovation,
  • Methodological rigour and
  • Rich, substantive content, to capture the attention of the reader(s).

Hallmarks (ABCs) of Good Writing

  • Accuracy, Appropriateness, Attentiveness to the readers/audience and Avoiding Ambiguity
  • Brightness (Buoyancy)
  • Clarity, Conciseness, Consistency and Correctness                                

Steps to successful Writing

  • Identifying the necessity to write
  • Forming a Basis / Idea / Concept ( Moving on from Square Oneby Steven D. Katz
  • To get the right Inspiration (from creative space like ambience, day/night, places, seasons, comforts, company, conversations, dresses, weather etc.)
  • Preparing
    • Identifying your reader
    • Establishing your objective
    • Determining the scope of coverage
  • Research – including reading a lot
  • Organising - thoughts and material
  • Putting down a Synopsis
  • Writing (the Draft)
  • Checking (the draft) for
  • Accuracy and completeness
  • Unity, coherence and transition
  • Clarity
  • Style and
  • Any awkwardness in or departure from the appropriate tone
  • Proceeding on with Development / Treatment of the Basis / Idea / Concept
  • Reviewing (by self or by peers)
  • Revising (if needed)
  • Exposition ( Be a Story Weaver - NOT a Story Mechanic” by Melanie Anne Phillips - Once we complete the development stage, we will have an idea as to how the feature will take shape. Putting it onto a paper will be the exposition part.

A goal is to be spelt out right at the beginning and the writing should go on towards achieving the goal. Continuous Introspection while writing will help in identifying errors and pitfalls.

So now I know that my dear friend S. Narayan Moshai will question me as to why my writings are not so good. Will he or won't he is now the question before me.

What do you think? You tell me! :-)

Till then, 

Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Thanks (English), Dhonyabaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai) and Asante (Kiswahili).

Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy

Chennai, India

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