Good writing habits for youth, adults

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Major Source of intellectual growth, professional advancement

Motivating students at Delhi Private School (DPS), Tema

Good writing is a most important communications tool. It defines one’s clarity of mind, direction and purpose. Whether we know it or not, we are judged by how well we write. Equally true, we are assessed by how soundly we understand what we read. So writing and reading are benevolent bedfellows.

Additionally, the ability to write well and read with clear understanding have positive bearings for every subject or discipline under study, and particularly so for professional advancement.

Whenever I do seminars for teachers and organisations, and where I use my books or selected articles as aids for understanding, the question about how I devote the time to write comes up. My message to the youth, teachers and audience is simply this: Good writing and reading are synonymous, and I fervently implore young people to devote the time to acquire those essential skills as early as possible. There’s nothing under the sun that one cannot do if we put our minds and effort to it.

Keep journals

My emails often contain requests from both young and adult readers requesting tips to improve their writing. The spirited energy of a host of teenagers, especially, all wanting to know how to become good writers were blessings indeed – not only for themselves, but for our beloved Ghana.

Good writers are good readers. As I often suggest to our youngsters, build your own library from scratch. Carry a backpack, or a bag with you that contains one or two books and a journal or exercise book every day. Never waste your time merely sitting and waiting for anything or anyone. Use the waiting period productively – reading or writing. I call that “productive waiting”.

Time is precious. Get your mind’s worth from it. Be ever in a state of readiness to read, and write down your ideas, feelings, or concerns! Identify the issues that are of interest to you. Write your comments about them in journals – whether paper or digital. Give a title to each work. Once the seed title is planted in the subconscious mind, other complementary designs will float and gravitate towards it.

Remember: if you were to write only a measly half page a day, at the end of the year, you’d own 365 half pages to your credit. The more one writes, the better one gets; the energy feeds more materials into the mind for the next time around.

Even the simplest dialogue between people – including personal intimations – are worth the attention. For the discerning writer, active listening is a skill laden with value. Pay particular attention to what is not said, but implied, in conversations. Watch for the slips of tongue. Sometimes the slips (what psychoanalysts call “The Freudian Slips”) carry weight in meaning in understanding other people’s state of mind or hidden motives.

To each their own, but for me, the early mornings – including the weekends – are some of the most refreshing and productive periods. There’s a hidden glory in the creator’s rising dawns. I crave the sunrise like that tide, in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to opportunity.

Avoid gossip, rumours, lies

In your writing, avoid gossips and rumours. Remember the following (from William Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV): “Rumour is a pipe / Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures, / And of so easy and so plain a stop / That the blunt monster with uncounted heads, / The still-discordant wav’ring multitude, / Can play upon it.”

Gossip and rumours can only be useful if you intend to turn those flighty things into a short story or novel, for the fun of writing fiction.

In your passion to become a writer, develop the compassion also: empathise with those you see suffer. Believe in something useful and help out whenever possible. Like Mahatma Gandhi used to say: “Be the change you want to see.” Again, Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s dictum, “Today I helped somebody” is a most refreshing reminder of our basic humanity.

Praise good people

It pays to recognise good people and to praise them often for the good they do today or have done in the past. The world needs exemplary feats: those admirable deeds that make a difference and improve people’s lives. It is worth looking out for such people and shine light on their achievements. Such endeavours are most worthy topics in themselves for writers.

Positive re-enforcements are therapeutic in the wider sphere of life for everybody. The world can’t have enough of them. Glowing in other people’s achievements nourishes the soul, and once shared, others emulate similar thinking processes and actions. Biographies and autobiographies provide windows into past achievements of thinkers and doers and are a great source of inspiration.

Matters of style

It helps to bring some excitement to any type of work, including writing. People read for information, opinions, education, etc. They invariably want to be uplifted with figures of speech – the tools of imagery, metaphors, hyperboles, etc. make refreshing reading and at the same serve as guides for clearer understanding.

Refrain from the use of old metaphors though similes tend to appear in examinations a lot. Experiment and create new ones; or fashion the old ones in a new mould, or situate an old idea in a new imagery: For example, as busy as a storm, as wet as a monsoon rain. The appropriate similes add subtle touches always: As charming as natural grace; as sober as a morning dew; as irreparable as a bad habit; as distasteful as a lie; as true as a mother’s love.

Good writing and reading are synonymous, and I fervently implore young people, particularly, to devote the time and energy to acquire those essential skills.

  • Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

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