In an interview, the celebrated writer Christopher Hitchens once made an interesting addition to the famous saying, “everyone has a book inside them”. His addition – and I’ll quote his entire phrase – was as follows, “everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly [where], it should in most cases, remain”. I refer to his rather cynical remark here because its humour masks a truth that applies to life in general, which is the value of perseverance during hardship. Should yours happen to be the book that others believe is best kept inside and yet you are moved by a compulsion to write that will not let you go, the following elements of writing might come in handy no matter what anyone else says about you.
In my observation, writing is a combination of three very subjective elements. I say subjective because the success of any writing depends on so many factors – timing, connections, location, world events and the context they cast on each person’s life- that cannot be predicted in advance. How then, can you increase your chances of connecting with an audience or readership? For starters, you need to write. Facing an empty page can be very daunting because of the pressure to write something great. Element one is Habit. Develop a habit of writing your thoughts routinely at the same time each day. Julia Cameron in her book the “Artist’s Way” calls this “morning pages”, random outpouring of whatever comes to your mind until you fill 3 pages every morning before you start your day.
After following through with the morning pages, I realised that the second element of writing develops out of a self awareness that comes from pouring your thoughts onto the pages over months and years and this element is called Voice. A good example of Voice is the author, John Grisham whose “name has become synonymous with the modern legal thriller*”. It is not a surprise then that John Grisham had the habit of writing in his spare time while he worked as a lawyer in Southaven, Mississippi and served in the state’s House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990. The Law and politics are his voice that he shares through his stories
Another demonstration of voice is Tracy Chapman. If you follow ‘the man’ in her songs you will identify him as being down and out, a dreamer and most often abusive and self destructive and yet she always demonstrates a great love for him. Could this be a mirror of our own societies where women are most likely to be abused or assaulted by a partner? She is a great social commentator and her music cuts across cultures because of its simple truths. Maybe she just practices her anthropology through her beautiful music, watch her video for the song “Fast car” released in 1988.
The final element to writing is Craft. Whatever you want to write – articles, blogs, books, songs, plays, screenplays, reports etc – will have rules and prescribed formats and language within which you will have to work. The rules and formats are there to guide your creativity and not to stifle it. For example to write words meant to be spoken like a play or screenplay, you will need to learn how each format uses words or else you might find challenges when your actors are not able to act out your words in the ways you intended.
Your voice will develop as you practice writing out of habit and it will in turn determine your choice of writing format and style. We can’t all be John Grisham or Tracy Chapman and should not try to be.
Till the next time,