More tips from Kaiyum about writing.
In part 1, Just Write It, you could read about tapping into the creative reservoir that is available to everyone. Practical considerations like recognising what is the most conducive environment to support your writing energy are also discussed. In this section, you’ll get some more insights into the actual physical process of writing and how you can let ‘flow’ work in your favour.
Gather your material
- Get a folder or a shoebox, make a drawer available in your desk or open a file in your computer. In the preliminary phase, this is where you store all your random ideas, notes, illustrations and anecdotes.
- Whenever you take a walk or ride your bicycle, make it possible to note down the ideas that may pop into your awareness. (I keep a paper and pencil in all my jackets and coats for this purpose.) If recording works better for you, then use an MP3 player or your mobile phone. Just remember to transcribe the notes as soon as you get the chance!
- Keep a notepad near your bed and in the car – in fact everywhere you go – so that you never lose the precious pearls of creativity that pop up here and there in your mental ‘inbox’.
- Visiting a library and discussing your subject with a librarian may produce sources you hadn’t considered or had not appeared while searching the internet.
- Call or write to colleagues. Ask them specific questions including their practical experiences which you can later use as illustrative anecdotes.
Structure – or theme?
It’s certainly important to avoid having your text and the flow of topics come across as messy. However, it’s equally important to distinguish a logical structure from a logical argument and to distinguish this logic from the general theme or message of your story.
Some writers ruin their otherwise excellent text by taking steps – in minute detail – to ensure they will not be criticized for a lack of logic in the structure. You are the one who makes the sequence of chapters and the content of each chapter relevant. Yes, any arguments you propose should be logical, but those are only minor parts of the whole. Whatever you write and wherever it appears in the flow of the text, the reader should always be able to comprehend the essence or what I call the ‘message’ of your complete text.
How does this work? Imagine you’re reading a book or an article like this one. A colleague asks you about it. The first question he’ll ask is nearly always about the ‘packaging’, the impression it has made on you: “What’s it like?” Typical responses are: “Interesting. Yes, definitely worthwhile. Easy to read.” The second question is about the content: “What’s it about?” You’ll probably answer quite briefly (or say “Here, read it yourself!”) to sum up the text. This answer, this short sentence (on average 14 words in English) is what I call the ‘message’.
For example, the same or similar two questions are asked about the film you saw last night, the holiday you’ve just returned from or the new restaurant that’s just opened.
Be sure you know what take-away message you want your reader to absorb. This is then the theme which glues all elements of your text together.
The writing process itself
Let’s take the subject of brainstorm sessions a little further. Some of the game rules are: everyone may present his own ideas, everybody’s equally right, criticism of ideas is forbidden (in the initial stage at least; in a later stage it is permitted).
The same applies to writing. Let your words and ideas flow. As soon as you stop to consider and evaluate you will block the flow.
Of course you will select your words. You will clearly feel the difference between a particular word and a synonym. One expression describes perfectly what you think and feel while another choice of words would miss the connection to the specific impression you wish to communicate.
Some writers edit while they write, others review what they’ve written at the end of each session. I usually read the whole piece only when I’ve finished writing. I rarely change any word choices or sequence of paragraphs. I trust the flow that has been given to me to transfer from ‘non-manifest’ to ‘manifest’.
If you take a break while writing – when you’re in the flow – it can help to read a few lines before proceeding.
Most likely you had to struggle through some challenging textbooks while studying; you had to as part of the required curriculum. But now, as a ‘free’ individual, I bet you choose easily readable texts and mostly ignore those that are boring or hard work.
If you want others to read your book or article (let alone an important business-related report) it’s up to you to make it attractive and readable. Even scientific papers will benefit from these tips:
- Address your reader. Use the ‘you’ form. Avoid words like ‘one’, ‘people’ (or if necessary, be specific about which group of people you’re addressing: readers, writers, employees, research assistants).
- Watch out for filler words; in speech, common fillers are ‘you know’, ‘like’, ‘kind of’, ‘uh’. In writing, you may notice that you favour a specific adverb or adjective. When you become aware of such a word, look for interesting alternatives.
- Restrict the length of sentences. Vary the number of words in a sentence. Sentences that cover two or more lines are ripe for splitting up.
- Watch out for discontinuous grammar, that is, sentences within sentences within sentences.
- Ensure you use correct English with correct punctuation. If you are an American writing for an American audience then it’s correct to use American spelling and punctuation.
- Write as much as possible in the present tense. Think about jokes: the best jokes are told in the present tense – there’s a good reason for it! Even historical tales read best in the present tense.
- Where possible use the active form of the verb (“John kisses Mary”) instead of the passive form (“Mary is being kissed by John”).
- Keep your language as positive as possible. Turn negative sentences around. You’d be amazed how simple and direct the sentences become when you remove the word ‘not’.
Illustrations and more
The page design or layout contributes significantly to both the attractiveness and readability of the text, whether it’s a book or article. Varying the length of your paragraphs is an excellent way of influencing the appearance of a page.
Running headlines or titles (the words in bold preceding a section in this article) are increasingly important in facilitating the reader. No wonder newspapers make such use of them to attract attention! They are effective in all forms of written communication: books, articles, even business letters and, yes, e-mails. The flow of information reaching us every day has become so great that many of us seldom read in depth and have become superficial readers. The headers help us to quickly scan texts. An important note: the content of the header should always reflect the whole section and differ from the words of the first sentence.
Illustrations liven up virtually any text. That’s one of the reasons magazine editors often place amusing cartoons beside particular articles, and why – in this age of visual communication – so many photographs are used. As you write, note down any ideas that come to mind for illustrations.
Can you express yourself as succinctly?
Choosing a suitable title belongs in this section; it’s all about attracting your article’s reader, your book’s buyer. The marketing departments at major publishers are experts in selecting the most effective title. Have you ever noticed how the title – as well as the design and other details of presentation – attracts your attention? An attractive title is effective even in a literature list, let alone on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. So create a title that attracts, even intrigues, the potential reader. The title of this article could have been a dreary “How to Write a Book”, or “Just Write It! – Part II” – but by now you’ll understand why we have been more adventurous!
Read the final part: Go Ahead and Get it Written!
Kaiyum took sannyas at the Osho Academy in Sedona in 1998 and nowadays lives in Eefde, The Netherlands. His current work is based on three primary activities, connected by the common theme of doing things differently. He coaches and trains the art of presentation. He works as a therapist in complementary healing, where he emphasizes restoring the biochemical balance to support self-generation of the physical body. Most recently, together with his beloved Indra, he created ‘De Doorbraak’ (The Breakthrough), a heart-based approach to communication for children of all ages to help them change how they experience their world, putting an end to bullying at school. And then the man also cooks … perfectpresentation.nl – davidbloch.com
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