HOW to say WHAT you want to say

There is no doubt that content is one of the most important aspects of writing. That is the WHAT you want to say. But as important is another aspect, HOW you say it. And to do that one needs to master the language one writes in.

We need to communicate in an effective language that allows the reader not to be distracted. One of the most annoying distractions is poor language which, to me, is the wrong usage of phrases and word meanings, wrong grammar and spelling mistakes.

This article is an attempt for us to walk through common mistakes we tend to make while writing.

Structuring Sentences – Grammar

The structuring of sentences is the basic building block of writing. Making a good sentence needs your grammar to be perfect. It vastly improves the quality of your writing. One of the most important aspects is the correct usage of tenses, gender and punctuation. As the famous sentence used to illustrate this. “woman without her man is incomplete”

Punctuation 1: “Woman. Without her, man is incomplete. “

Punctuation 2: “Woman, without her man, is incomplete. “

That illustrates the power of the common comma.

Another pitfall is the use of tenses and the use of prepositions and forms of a word. When one uses words, one should be sure of the preposition that it can be used with, in both the noun form and verb form.

Very often we find tenses being used without a thought to the timeline being followed in a story.

Articles are another grey area especially in Indian writing for some unfathomable reason. They are used where they should not be and omitted in places they need to be used.

Good Vocabulary

The necessity of a good vocabulary is essential while writing. It cannot be overemphasized. To prevent your content from looking mediocre and to hold the interest of your audience, one has to have a writing style that sets you apart from others and yet not appear overwhelming or condescending to your audience. It’s a tightrope one has to walk. So, while learning new words is enriching and empowering, one needs to be fully conversant with its usage and context in which it should be used.

It is a good idea to deliberately practice the use of a new word. Once we use it, we need to ask ourselves once again whether it is the appropriate word and whether it looks out of sorts in the sentence, we have used it in.

It is recommended to collect favourite new words and keep them in a separate folder or file for future use.

The language should be easily identifiable by your reader to develop a commonality with your readers. Even so, they should take away some word or usage from your writing as well. This can come only with practice. As does everything else in life, obviously.

Spelling – Homonyms and Synonyms

Spellcheck has dispelled most of this bugbear, yet with the advent of smartphones and with many of us using mobiles to write articles and stories,  a few mistakes do creep in. It is important to remember that using spell check does not negate mistakes. When we use homonyms inadvertently, it escapes the spellcheck. Prime examples being ‘discrete’ for ‘discreet’, ‘there’ for ‘their’, ‘bear’ for ‘bare’, ‘from’ and ‘form’. Even MSWord may find the spelling and grammar correct while they may covey an entirely different meaning than you meant it to.

Technology has other drawbacks too.  A prime problem being AutoCorrect which sometimes changes the entire meaning of the sentence and changes the context of the article. Indian names and expressions are often used by us which need to be checked and rechecked by us before submitting the final article.

Wrong spelling can be a great put off even if it is inadvertent and the correct spelling is an “unavoidable” requirement for good writing.

HOW TO AVOID PITFALLS

There are no shortcuts – nothing can transform one into an amazing writer overnight. Even the most talented and successful writers have had to learn their craft over a period even a lifetime.

To quote Anders Ericson author of “How All of US can Achieve Extraordinary Things”,  

“We can all improve our performance, provided we train in the right way.”

For writing, there is no better way to train than “writing regularly”. Even if you manage to only write a paragraph a day, it is fine. Just Do it. Even if no one reads your writing, Do it. Even if it does not sound as great as it did in your head, Do it.

The other ways one can avoid common pitfalls are:

READ. READ. READ. And then? READ some more.

It has been said that to write 5 words, one needs to read at least 500. So reading is a vital tool. It familiarizes you with writing, the language and the usage of idioms and phrases, proverbs and unusual words. It also helps you to recognize mistakes in one’s own writing faster.

If one does not really have the time, audiobooks are a great help. They can be listened to while walking, travelling, commuting or just lying in bed. Reading is one of the most inexhaustible resources of words, ideas, styles and usage of good / correct language. There is nothing to beat reading in improving all aspects of your writing. Expand your horizon from blog posts and online reading to more challenging material and you will also see a drastic change in the way you write. Even think. And when you are reading, pay attention to structuring sentences, word choice and flow.

Think before you write

Just as you plan an event, have an outline ready in your mind or jot it down. A powerful headline or a catchy title draws the reader’s attention immediately. Have a captivating opening. The main body, of course, should have the meat of your story, but a powerful or inspiring closing is as important.

Once you have this outline, sit down to flesh out your piece of writing.

Transitions

These are what gives a logical flow to a story or writing from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. Jumping from one idea to another without completing or closing the first confuses the reader and lose the thread of the story.  And that’s a sure way to lose a reader’s interest. Words like moreover, in fact, indeed, another reason why help to connect two seemingly disjointed sentences.

Example:  I am staying in Kerala for a few days more to attend a conference. I am staying in Kerala longer to attend a wedding.

Transition; I am staying in Kerala for a few days longer to attend a conference. Another reason I am staying longer is to attend a wedding.

Transitions not only embellish one’s writing to make it sound better, but they also help the readers see the logical sequence of ideas within sections or between paragraphs.

LET IT PERCOLATE

The first draft should always be written from the heart. It should be spontaneous and genuine. It may appear jumbled, there may be spelling mistakes even grammatical mistakes, but the content should be allowed to flow unhindered and freely. Once you have your ideas on paper/screen, pay attention to everything we have discussed so far and improve on every aspect.

In addition, always add your own reactions, even your own metaphors to it which make you own the article/story. Adding fresh metaphors always makes it sound more spontaneous and original.

Once your final draft is ready, it is a good idea to get instant feedback from your friends or family. I often ask my daughter to read it out to me and as I listen to her, I mentally or physically jot down the areas requiring improvement.

Moreover, look at what one has written dispassionately and edit whatever does not sound coherent and logical. Once that is done, meticulously pay attention to the grammar, spelling, structuring of sentences and word usage.

Now let it percolate. Let it sit for a few hours, even a day or two if possible. Get back to it with a fresh perspective and invariably you will tweak it a little here and there.

The language you use is HOW you say WHAT you want to say that is the most powerful tool you have. Hone it, sharpen it, practice it till you are convinced you cannot better it.

Happy Quilling, everyone!!

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Aruna Menon

Aruna Menon is a Gynecologist working in the Central Government. Relationships and words fascinate her. She writes both prose and verse. She loves weaving stories and has a blog called Ripples and Reflections on WordPress. She loves her job and often writes on work life balance. She's always a romantic at heart.

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