“Paperback writer…,” is a lovely Beatles number, a song that more than brings home the essentialities of “softback,” or “all-purpose,” writers — a competitive breed that’s only too willing to cater to popular taste. This is not all. The sweetly tuned lyric was — and, is — nothing short of a laudatory song-like poem for vocational wordsmiths who have made it big.
That’s the rosy side, which is not open to just anybody. In reality, however, we’d all do ourselves a favour by sticking to ground rules — to doing well in the field… in the long run… and, maybe, outlasting the “swanky” in their own game.
First things, first. To be a writer, you need not always be uptight with magical, flowing prose, grandiloquent phrases, metaphors, or stylistic connotations. If you’ve them all in your bag — great. However this maybe, you’d need to be cautious and also know —
Practice, of course, is most essential for a satisfactory, consistent outcome. Because, without persistent practice and/or “grounding,” not only will you have problems communicating — you may, unwittingly, produce side-splitting results. Also, the fundamental rules of grammar and syntax are critically important; but, given time, and better/improved skills, you’d show them the door… Not so easy, though. Because, to communicate what you really mean, you must first know what rules could be skilfully “cracked.”
The best way to learn them is by reading the sort of writing you want to cultivate. To get going, thereafter, you must, again, primarily pay great attention to detail — and, to what you read. And, most importantly, allocate quality time for it — with devotion and passion. Well, if you don’t do that, it’s like doing an activity without zest, love, or fun. In which case, you won’t also know yourself. Like any other wordsmith, who is too busy keeping an eye on the novel or commercial, mundane, “show-off,” or just got-to-do-the-job, element.
The first thing a writer should be is — excited. And, enthusiastic about their work. Above and beyond, you’d need to read a wide range of works by a number of writers and authors. In so doing, you’d get the opportunity to watchfully notice their spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Gradually, you’d find out the ways and means of determining which one is “right” — especially in opposition to a given usage.
Most important: you ought to “understand” who you are writing for — the publication, be it newspaper, magazine, the Web, or book, and its readers.
A copy of the good, old Wren & Martin High School English Grammar & Composition, read carefully, and put to practice, will sure help you avoid the most common errors. Sandwiched between Wren…, and a handful of your chosen favourite novels, books, magazines/newspapers etc., you’d also have the foundation of a good education in traditional usage. You’d, down the line, get hooked to Malcolm Beazley and Grahame Marr’s The Writer’s Handbook, too. A useful “toolkit” for using clear, accessible language, recognising problems, and gaining control over your writing, The Writer’s… is, in actuality, a practical workbook for writing tasks in all subjects.
You also know it, quite well — don’t you? That most experts often agree to disagree on certain usage. This may not sound naïve at all, albeit you’d realise when you’ve learned the rules yourself that the intelligent, or discerning, reader would be able to spot the dissimilarity between rules wrecked by choice and those conked out primarily because of lack of knowledge… Not that you’d need great lingual understanding at a conscious level, or you must memorise parts of speech and rules of usage and punctuation as most kids do in school. All the same, it’s mandatory that you pay attention, and know precisely what you’re doing. However, there’s always one exception to the rule: you’d “change direction” from the conventional model, with good effect.
No matter what you wish to achieve with your usage of words, language is your only real “gizmo” — as a writer. You have to be the plumber, the carpenter, the engineer, the doctor etc., of its application too — no more, no less. Also, you should not expect to successfully construct a work of fiction, or non-fiction, journalistic, technical, Web, or any other, writing, without first learning the written language that will be your tool. Additionally, you’d need to take into context the various differences between the spoken and the written language. Remember — that you should also, aside from being able to sculpt good, decent “copy,” be proficient to write marketable prose.
All written language with skilled usage can work wonders, build the cosmos, as it were, originate champions, and hold the attention of the reader, without ado. However, when it’s bereft of adequate comprehension, eagerness, or true enthusiasm, you may still continue to amuse, yes — perhaps, more by way of happenstance, rather than by pure, or cultivated, intent.
Just remember, the purpose of — all good — writing is to affect the soul.
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