Everyone dreams of writing well. No wonder then that we see so many books that call you through book store show windows, so many websites that beckon you demurely and sometimes in a crass and gross manner… there are e-mailers wanting you just click and become a writer and then even SMSes aren’t so far behind now.

There are courses and teachers and tutors
The websites and emails on computers
Yet there are those who sputter and stutter
‘Writing is difficult,’ they just mutter
And all of them want some quick solution
No work, no labour – just resolution.

This is the sordid truth that is only too obvious the moment you ask someone, ‘What is it that you want to be able to do well?’

The answer nearly always is, ‘Write well.’

‘Well, what are doing about it?’ As you slowly probe deeper you realise that people are actually doing nothing about it. They wait for some magic to happen and they begin writing wonderful articles, posts, blogs, poems, stories… and, in many cases, even novels. Everyone wants to become a premium blogger or a Chetan Bhagat today. But do they realise that writing is much more than just wanting to become a writer?

Just a couple of days back I posed this question on my Facebook account: ‘Can writing really be confined to rules, however good & practical they may sound?’ I added there that I personally felt that writing is all about freedom of creativity! There were some rather interesting responses there and I reproduce them here without much editing.

Manjushree Abhinav: ‘Yup, none thinks of ‘lift one leg, then another’ to walk, but we do it all the same. If you lift one leg and then lift the same one again, it is dance. When you dance, you break the rules of walking knowingly.’

Rickie Khosla: ‘People can find creative ways to murder – obviously, one can’t condone that in any way. So, my only plea to creative souls is that they apply as much creativity as they wish to without murdering the language. That’s all.’

At this stage I decided to add my bit to the discussion: Well, there are those who believe that all good writing needs to be short and to-the-point and must have images and illustrations. And here I find people talking of good writing being synonymous to breaking rules. Is good writing all about rules, formulas, and defined systems? I don’t think so. Writing is all about touching a reader’s heart.

Obviously then, a lot depends on what sort of writing we’re talking about. If it is examination questions that need answers to be written you may need to be short and to-the point. You can also go ahead and add illustrations and drawings too. You can add pictures too if it is a project writing that is to be done. Creative writing, on the other hand, is an enigma that cannot be captured in such a simplistic terminology. Creative writing is all about the freedom of expressing a thought whichever way a person chooses to. He may choose a format that may dilly-dally or go along a long-winding uphill trudge or simply hit a short-cut and be home fast!

Neelima Vinod: ‘I think it (good writing) is a way to find your heart and so great writing must be about honesty, about writing things as you see them as Godimer reminds us.’

Meghna Aggarwal: ‘I agree writing is about being honest with yourself… to shed all the layers and masks that we wear and discover ourselves over and over again… so yes, it makes me wonder, when we talk about crisp writing, or editing our raw thoughts… sometimes don’t we just end up losing our entire thought or idea to begin with when we change it?

Parmita Borah: ‘Exactly! That’s why I never care about grammar.’

Luciferhouseinc Fool: ‘Anything that can be defined by rules leaves the realm of art and enters the realm of commodities and mass production.’

This online discussion was now gathering speed. There were more people contributing to the initial question and I thought it was time for me to see if all these diverse but interesting thoughts can be consolidated or not. So wrote: Quite right, following some pattern and calling it a rule will simply be cloned writing, as good as an almost similar pile of soap bars in any store – all looking and smelling similar. Well, they seem familiar to some… so no wonder a cloned style is preferred by many.

However, one needs to learn to differentiate between rule-oriented writing and formula-ridden writing. Following a format of rules to create a defined output is one thing and sticking to a formula that calls for certain elements to be introduced to create a complete offering is quite another thing. Formula writing can be called cloned writing… something that is commonly seen in Bollywood films, for instance. Rules, however, are different… and writing without rules is also a rule, so to say.

Luciferhouseinc Fool: ‘They are 2 different things. One is a rule, the other a constraint. Rules are a recipe for success telling you how to write a good post. Constraints basically put hurdles and push you into a corner forcing you to think creatively.’

Well, I thought to myself, people are quite clear about the difference between rules and formulas. Let me explain this concept with an illustration here. If it is a poem in iambic pentameter that you wish to write, then the poem has to follow rules… but you can also write a poem with a similar thought or idea or theme that does not follow any existing rule, and still get applauded. The only rule that applies to a poem well written is that it needs to touch a person’s heart! The best thing about creative writing is that there are a lot of rules… and there are no rules! You are free to follow any path… and change path any number of times.

Well, the Facebook discussion did not yield any more gems on the question that I had posed. However, what matters in matters of writing is that one first tries to understand a subject first. How can you write on, for instance, a laptop, unless you know enough about it? I chose a laptop as an example to make one more distinction clear. A laptop can be viewed as a technical complexity, an aesthetic enigma, a user’s delight, and interpretations can connect to either one of these facets or more than one. Obviously, if it is the aesthetics of a laptop that you choose to write about, you don’t have to bother much about the technical specifications and all the engineering and computational technology that surrounds it.

Before I wind up this article let me mention here that blog posts are no different from any other form of creative writing. They need adequate background information, a ripe imagination, and a way with words! Even a poem needs these three factors. The only other thing that you need to decide now is if you wish to follow a rule, a convention, or you just want to surge ahead into an unknown world where there are no paths… and you do not have a defined destination? You are the only one to decide.

Published in 'The Education Post'_Rules, Formulas, and writing well_27 August 2012

Published in ‘The Education Post’_Rules, Formulas, and writing well_27 August 2012


Arvind Passey
Written on 24 August 2012
Published in ‘The Education Post’ of 27 August 2012