Writing Techniques

I love to write and read. They are manna to my existence besides pet dogs, family, gardening, travelling, watching movies, a good Riesling and cooking of course. So I invariably, unconsciously end up doing a lot of both. Now I’m no expert while it comes to writing but I seem to communicate better in the written word than the spoken. So oftentimes I have people with great ideas who would love to write but are inhibited by themselves asking me: “How can I write more, how can I write Better?”

Well I don’t claim to know much of both, but, for starters, here is what I have learnt over the years as a journalist and a communications professional.

1. The first trick I was taught was to consider writing like a work of art. If you are given a canvas to paint what would you do first. Sketch an outline and then fill in the colors, right? (Correct me if I’m wrong here or if there are better techniques I’m always wanting to learn). Well writing is the same. So whether it is an essay, a term paper, an email, a case study, a marketing brochure, an article, an interview or a short story ALWAYS have an outline.

This outline could be a story idea where you know how it ends and begins so connect the dots. The plot is your canvass to paint as you please. Same with an essay or a term paper or  a case study and here you are luckier since you already have a theme.

2. Always write your thoughts down on paper before you start tap-tapping on your keyboard. This will help you Structure your thoughts better. Help see if there is a logical flow.

3. Write what you believe in else it ends up a farce. Now this could be difficult with writing a piece of marketing collateral, say a brochure for an underwear company that wants you to claim they make undies that give you the power of superman/woman ;0. Hehe, get creative.

4. Writing is all about letting your creativity flow. Don’t let others judge your creativity or tell you how bad or good you are. If you are willing to read what you have written once, twice and several times more than my friend there is someone/people out there willing to read you. Of course this doesn’t mean you malign another’s character or spew vitriol brandishing your pen. Writing gives you artistic license but it also means being responsible for what you write.

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously as a writer, that is where you falter. Writing is about having fun. Whether you write about yourself, some one else, a product or a theme but always inject humor (if possible).

6. Write and write and then write some more. The more you write the better you get at it. This dated NYT article is worth a read  if nothing but to understand the world’s most prolific writer Mr James Patterson. He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most number of NYT Best Sellers. Of course, he uses co-authors now to write novels published in his name but this also gives him more time to concentrate on books he wants to focus on, so he says. But the point is the prolific nature of his writing. So write now, today, this instance.

7. KISS still holds true. Sigh, and this was one of the most difficult things I learnt since early in my career as a writer I was given a subtle message that more is beautiful and only much later did I realise ’tis not. . You don’t need to write long-winded sentences or obfuscated text. Simplicity is key to all things good, and this is especially true in writing. Writing is after all a means of communication and if you keep it simple it is easier to get your message to your reader.  

For those who don’t know (huh anyone there?!), KISS = Keep It Simple Silly/Stupid 😀

8. PROOF READ. It has become a fashionable trend these days to write in sms lingo, use atrocious grammar, unintended bloopers because a busy writer forgot to do a basic spell check or even write without periods and other punctuation. STOP! If you plan to become the next blockbuster author pay heed to what you write.

9. At some point in time all of us deal with the Writer’s Block. Simple way out. Get back to basics. Writing is an exercise and that is why our grade school teachers pushed us to fill up reams of paper with our thoughts, ideas and purpose. Some times the best way to beat the Writer’s Block is to write, even if its is nonsensical!

10. Develop your own unique style. While injecting humor is a good idea, it is easier said than done. All of us have our own unique style of writing. Some of us are staid and old fashioned, while some dashing, some irreverent, some humorous, some wield a poison pen but coat with irresistible doses of sugar, some are bitter, some are sweet, sometimes cloyingly so. So what’s yours?!

 

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This chapter in my life is called…making new beginnings

Reading The Last Lecture from Randy Pausch has me engaged on a subliminal level.

As I turn pages stopping at times to have a aha moment, I realised I’m in a chapter of my life I call..New beginnings.

I have dealt with whatever cards life offered and tried coming up trumps. Most of the times I have and some times I haven’t for a self-defeatist self-fulfilling prophecy that I wreak on myself !!

Starting afresh on a new chapter, here are a few truisms that  held me in good stead thus far……..

Believe in yourself: There will be times when the world is dark and bleak, when circumstances conspire to defeat all your good intentions, when your loved ones push you to the brink, when nothing goes right……………stay calm. Look deep inside, there is a reservoir buried that only you can unleash (good memories, good times, skills that have earned you a job, anything at all that will keep you hoping and living for another day). Hold on steady, hold strong.

There is an angel waiting to give you wings.

(I found two when I was all alone in a dark hole, where I had no self confidence and sense of self; when I was suffering with physical, mental and emotional hurt with no respite in sight. Unbeknownst to me they gave me shelter and hope to hold on to till I found my inner self, strength and belief).

Never be obnoxious, mean or cruel: From a selfish perspective remember those who you trod on or hurt along the way will be those you meet sometime, somewhere in the not-so-distant future. They call it schadenfreude, and boy are people these or what.  So if you don’t have anything nice to say, shut up. Better to be boring than vile; better to be a good heart than Cruela De Ville!!

Sell yourself: Plenty and more cliches out there about not blowing your own horn. But every once in a while, and more blow your horn. Make your virtues, merits, uniqueness heard and felt. Whether it is in personal life or professional world, build your network, make it work for you and sell yourself. You never know where the next opportunity awaits. You never know when your other half or that loved one has taken you for granted. This also means that you will never let yourself go aka Keanu Reaves. Not all of us are born with diamond studs and tiaras, so make the most of what you got.

Build a strong network: Though a few of us would love to stay in a deserted island with a dog for company and a few books or mayhap Henry Cavill or Megan Fox..sigh, life isn’t as easy. We need to interact, and while we are about it what say we build a strong support system. This could be your professional or personal network. Give more than you get and a trusting relationship is sure to follow. I hate it when folks reach out only when they have work in hand, but then I realised I do the same thing. With the social media taking over live human interaction it is easy to make excuses. STOP!!

Call that friend you haven’t spoken to since you left school or college. Reach out to your family member whom you vehemently avoid meeting. Life is short, but yay yay why make it miserable.

Upskill: Easy to turn 40 and think you been there, done that. Even easier to turn 25 and think the whole world is waiting at your beck and call. Wake up friend. Competition is a killer. With the world’s population crossing 6 billion and counting, there are plenty of folks out there willing to do more to get that job you want, that boy/girl you crave, live that life you dream. Upskill, if you mean to thwart competition. Join a web building course, teach yourself Mandarin, visit all the places on your bucket list, do something, anything but live your life acquiring new skills that will enable you to live life more completely.

GIVE: Give of yourself without being asked. Not only will your house remain more livable, uncluttered and manageable but giving things is the start of a life long journey of giving. Give of your time, give of yourself, give your skills. All of us live to die some day. What if we give little of something to that child, that old man down the road, the morose colleague at the office, the stranger on the bus……something as simple as a smile or a hello to start with.

START LIVING. STOP BEING!!

What you say stays!!

It isn’t for anything that we have proverbs and fables!!

Ever heard of, Words flung from mouth and arrows from a bow can never be taken back.

WHY this proverb and now??

Well, for the past hour and a half I have been browsing my entire stack of posts to laboriously trace comments made by a regular reader and friend to delete all of it permanently.

Now this gentleman is a regular reader of this blog and held forth his opinions quite strong and loud.

Imagine to his surprise when he was quizzed about his opinions on certain topics expressed in this blog during an interview. And he actually fared poorly despite the right qualifications due to his views.

What does this mean and why does it give me a strange foreboding??

Not only do we have moral policing but we now have social policing as well?!

Tell me dear readers, is this right or do we fight???

 

Too late to learn?!

That was the chorus playing in my head after a luncheon session.

Context – I was complimenting a colleague on her ability to handle people and stay unruffled despite frayed tempers while getting her point across. You could have been a professor the way you explain with such patience and wit, I said. No, you need to have a higher degree, she said. Why don’t you study now and get that degree, I said in a ra-ra mood. And before I could continue with the ra-ra-ing I heard another voice chip in and say, “No, it’s too late now.”

I turned around to see my colleague nod vigorously in agreement to the statement that had chimed in (from another female colleague).

Now, all of us were middle aged, middle class women with responsibilities; some with kids and some otherwise.

I turned around to address the larger group (women mostly) on whether they would pursue studies, given a chance. And the resounding chorus.

Yes, you guessed right.

“It’s too late now.”

Got me thinking, is it really?!

Without getting into gender stereotypes male colleagues pursue studies (most often an MBA) while their family and work life continue in joyous abandon. Got me thinking again, huh, why?

Yes, yes we know. Women take the brunt of marital/familial responsibilities and often have to play an award-worthy role of balancing priorities of husbands, kids, parents, in-laws, families at large, pets, friends, etc, etc… so their ambition & aspirations gets buried somewhere or lost in the long journey of playing life.

But there are women out there who actually manage to win that award and pursue studies as well. It may not be an extended MBA, it might be something simple as a foreign language course or a baking program or a web designing course or what-have-you. What gives?

US

We forget to ‘listen’ to what we want and need.

We forget that we are individuals (too).

We forget we are ‘gifted’ individuals and not mere responsibility-driven women.

We have bought the dumbing down, stereotyped cliches that society (for the most part) feeds us.

We have bought into ‘pre-defined’ roles assigned to us.

Good for everyone, but what about you? Where do you go once all those entities exist from your zone and you are alone?

Continuing Adult Education is important. For women, perhaps, more than men. Equip yourself with skills that will support you and keep you agile.

 

 

 

Neoexistential crisis…huh, what?!

This is truly a first for me.

How much is too much? and When is too much ENOUGH…

I didn’t mean to be cryptic but thought of letting these questions buzzing in my head out there in the open! Now what’s the deal, eh??

Here goes: I finally found a job that I like working in a place I like for a boss I respect with people I share a good rapport with, the usual stuff notwithstanding, and I get paid a decent sum, which maybe indecent by some standards but heh, whose complaining.

So what’s my gripe you ask..

The problem, and don’t laugh here, is I like my job so much that the world outside has ceased to exist. I wake up at 1 in the morning to check my mails. I respond to mails in such a jiffy that at times I do not read the mail through and end up sending addendums. I’m trying to be the go-to person. I alert my boss to whatever I think is important, even if it means calling him at 10 in the evening (yea yea it is night but in my work-filled haze it is but the start of a pleasant evening when I start working on documents and organising my mail).

I volunteer for work outside my defined profile and JD, and at times end up taking on more than I can chew..and boy, believe me, never knew leather was that tuff…ugh!!

Now I find myself unconsciously donning the role of admin assistant (nowhere near my JD), fairy godmother (you get my drift :-(( ), one-woman army (huh, since when) and doormat.

Yes, and before I forget there are a team of similar drones all over the organisation whom I found ludicrously endearing and leg-stomping hilarious but now…..

HELP….

 

Is it Me

or has the world changed while I was semi-comatose at the work station?

I find myself surrounded by teens who are rotund and getting rotunder with all the McDz and chicken snackers they are snacking on

I find more people older than I’m at the gym than finding young ‘uns

I find 50-year olds playing volleyball and planning their next trek to the Himalayas

while the 15-year old is glued to the blinking cursor

I find self control easily enough in the online dictionary along with all of its doppelganger but nothing within

I find I have a belly where once there was a waist

I find enough excuses to stay put at home on a weekend even attacking that huge pile of laundry instead of hopping out to meet friends

I find it easier to tolerate my folks and even appreciate their quirks and laugh as well

I find it easier to open my heart, close my ears and see the world with wonder

I find work is no longer a DIRTY 4-letter word

I find the thought of living life without the other half terrifying though I lived happily enough with my whole earlier

I find it easier to let go than hold on

I find the battle more exciting than the outcome

I find my mother is not my friend but the soul within, irritating in its righteousness but always there wherever you are

ahhhhh what is it…with me?!!

How do you hit the jackpot

After more than a decade of working, mostly being part of the print media I have come across less than a handful of people who I look up to. While one was a great mentor the other two were great managers who knew when to pull the leash in and when to leave it loose.

Most of the people who were in the supervisory or higher-up roles were routinely bad, pathetic in fact. Reasons varied from:

  • Indifference to creating a motivational environment for the team to work with
  • Lack of mentoring skills
  • Scheming to serve one’s own ends; even using subordinates/co-workers as pawn
  • Inability to foster a spirit of bonding & build team work
  • Discouraging youngsters/co-workers from trying new ideas/methods
  • Having a MY WAY or THE HIGHWAY attitude
  • Defeatist when confronted with a problem/new situation/challenge

and so on and so forth…While I’m trying to understand what makes a person stay on with the same organisation for reasons other than job security & not wanting to get out of a comfort zone; what I’m also trying to understand is why do people, especially youngsters job hop. Surely, monetary benefits can’t be the only reason since a pay hike of 1000-2500 rupees really doesn’t matter. Would be great to get your thoughts on both counts.

Meanwhile, here is my pick of the lot for being a REALLY COOL boss.

  • Give your employee the end-goal and allow them to navigate their way towards that goal
  • Create a sense of working towards a purpose as a TEAM
  • Make each member of the TEAM accountable for their responsibilities, actions and achievements
  • Applaud good work in public and reprimand bad moves in private
  • Mentor the team or put a buddy system in place
  • Be a friend but only when asked for
  • The Boss is the (wo)man with a vision so be CLEAR in all communications & set expectations

I’m working with one such……

 

Be True to Thine Own Self

I walked into the workplace today wearing dungarees, a kurta, floaters and a jola. Smiles and smirks greeted me along with raised eyebrows and nudges.

While I’m not a self-conscious person naturally, I was forced to introspect. This attire that had  been a part of my writer’s garb for so long was suddenly alien in a corporate set up, even in a geeky corporate set up where it was OK to wear Croc loafers, tattered Levis and CK Ts.

When in Rome wear a Toga. That is my grandpa’s fav adage and still holds good as he prepares to turn 94 this coming year. You will never catch my grandpa go wrong with his sense of style and dressing. A formal occasion deserves nothing better than a crinkle-free trouser/shirt & pressed suit and if it is an Indian formal do than his best silk dhotis and kurtas are out along with the Rajasthani chadawas. His shoes have to sparkle till he can see his own reflection while his handkerchief stays unsoiled even after he has mopped his brow on a hot, sweaty day.

A walk to the neighborhood barber means wearing his old shirt and pants on since he still believes going to a barber is Ashudh. While I understand the hygienic connotation behind this belief what I’m yet to understand is the elaborate ritual that goes with a visit to the barber!!

While I have tried to emulate my grandpa’s immaculate dressing sense I have utterly failed in meeting his exacting standard. He cannot fathom how any grand daughter of his can go dressed in dungarees to a corporate meeting, and not even my by-now-standard line of  “Be true to thine ownself” helps!!!

So does this mean being a career journalist = sloppy, lazy & indisciplined or is it a mere excuse for having a straight-out-of-bed look & making it look smart 😉

Hold On

Most of us go through life chasing that elusive dream, the pot at the end of a never-ending rainbow, the will-o-the-wisp, the genie of the lamp and what-have-you. Sometimes we find it within our grasp and poof it’s gone before you can say Buddha hoga tera baap.

I have done the same as well. Whether it was in a personal relationship or in the professional sphere I have chased a non-existent ideal state of being. After a handful of jobs and more than a handful of relationships I realised it is better to accept life the way it is and make it ideal at least for that point in time till time passed for another set of circumstances and another phase of life to set in.

Too much philosophy. But Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha explains this the best.He finds his nirvana with Vasudeva, the boatman, who listens to the silence and speech of the river.

And all this introspection was brought on by a newly married friend who said, “I always keep everyone happy but no one recognises me when I’m alone.”

Further prompted when an acquaintance reflected that it was difficult to work for a demanding boss and the constant pressure to perform, to excel, to multitask, to take responsibility and be accountable was making resignation a  recurring thought.

In both cases the frustration was understandable but the other side to this story. Both these people were not willing to reach out and ask for help or support or understanding. They had erected a self-imposed barricade.

The newly wed: Why should I have to tell them I feel lonely? Can’t they understand that when a usually boisterous person clams up? Why can’t they come and ask me what is wrong? Whether I need a hug or a shoulder to lean on? Don’t I understand their needs?”

The troubled-at-work acquaintance: “I constantly feel they are comparing my performance to their predecessor. I have not received any negative feedback but all the same I feel like an outsider. I don’t want to ask for help since it will prove what they think of me, that I’m incompetent.”

What’s the solution??

Angst

A pow-wow over breakfast is healthy and stimulates you to be sharper on your feet, more than breakfast itself. Now I’m sure most people would disagree with this and argue the merits of having a healthy breakfast for healthy living. But that is not the topic of this post. And perhaps this post won’t really strike a chord with male readers, but here it is.

This particular morning our pow-wow digressed from corporate life and gossip to women and the lack of support there of in every aspect of living the day-to-day. Whether it was middle age angst or .. leave it for you to decide.

“All I want at times is for some one to get me a cup of coffee when I go home. I do not want someone telling me you – don’t need to work- I’m here for you- or take up all my burdens for me- just that thoughtful gesture will give me the strength to wake up to another day of struggle,” said this lady.

Feisty, driven, caring mother of a teen, considerate and duti-bound daughter of two aging parents (80+) this lady is the one we look to for support and direction when we get lost in the corporate quagmire of processes/politics/what-have-you. To have her voice such a thought seemed ludicrous. After all wasn’t she a super-woman?

Before anyone could react another lady chipped in, “I know what you mean. Every day I wake up to a day of chores and I have no complaints coz this is what I have been doing every since I can remember. But there are times when all I want is for someone to say thank you or just show they care or appreciate my efforts.”

And these thoughts found an echo in all of the women. Which brings me to this post?

None of the women are whiners. They shoulder more than their fare share of responsibilities. Each one is accomplished and successful, both on the professional and personal front. Their wants to be appreciated was not directed at the male sex but were generic.

Leading me to wonder :

  • Why women are not as quick to claim credit for anything they do
  • Why are uncomfortable at praise or complments showered on them
  • Why societal approval is still important
  • Why aren’t women as good at vocalising concerns compared with men
  • Why women are still hesitant in reaching out