International Writers Magazine:
On Writing - From Our Archives
Writing is a very exciting
business, putting pen to paper is an exhilarating experience, you feel
your thoughts are being carried away by the strikes you make on the keyboard.
After a while the finger tips become numb, but the ideas, thoughts and
concepts have a way finding themselves on the computer screen.
and sentences take a life of their own, dancing in front of you,
picking themselves up from the gray lines and pages and appealing
to your senses and thoughts.'
Worldwide, writing has long been a captivating phenomenon, a mysterious
creation that crosses borders and territories. Despite films, computers,
DVDs, the written word stands supreme in the world of creativity, unbeaten
Every time writers sit behind the screen, there is inspired reverence
for the printed word that stands almost magisterial to the images that
we are bombarded by. A sense of awe captivates us as the "mental
adrenalin" surges forward in a format expression of thought, and
belief with words, short ones, long ones, hyphenated-ones almost outdoing
each other for the heart and mind of the reader.
Words, sentences, paragraphs dont come easy for there is much mental
anguish involved in the process of writing. Writers dont just sit
down and write as if it ware notes on a piano, although what comes out
in the end could very well be a concerto.
Besides the methodology, the collection of ideas and experiences and then
the ordering of them, writing is innate, of many "quirk" habits,
attitudes and mannerisms. Many writers are eccentric, they have to be
to come out with the intellectual threads of ideas.
Paul Theroux, an American testifies, writers pace up and down, go for
long walks, and stare vacuously into the unknown with many talking to
themselves. "Many writers I have known talk to themselves. I have
this mumbling habit, [and] it has served me well as an imaginative rehearsal
for writing," he was quoted to have said once.
And there is the eccentric-like behavior that has also served well. Ideas
seem to come in the funniest of places, and whilst doing different things.
Some writers get an idea in bed just before going to sleep and quickly
get up to write it down so as not to forget it the next morning. I have
not got to the point of carrying a notebook, but many others do. Its
essential because ideas and words have a habit of moving in and out of
your brain as fast as a whisper!
Others go in a mantle dazzle while standing with ideas gushing into their
heads. Take James Thurber, another American humorist. He says he never
knows when he is writing. "Sometimes my wife catches me at a party
and says damn it, Thurber, stop writing, she usually catches
me in a middle of a paragraph."
These traits suggest that while writing is pliable, it is a split between
the writing hand and the moving brain, both move together in linear form,
but at times the brain outpaces the hand.
But besides that, there is a systematic process of mental "reworking",
"cajoling", of thinking of which piece goes where, the kind
of words that are to be used, are they crisp or flabby and then start
building the first few bricks.
The very idea of writing conjures up different images by the writers themselves.
The way they talk about the process is different from one writer to another.
Take Virginia Woolf for instance. She puts it thus: "As for my next
book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending
in me, grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear, [and] pendent gravid,
asking to be cut or it will fall."
Ideas have to be developed in the mind. They first start as mere scattered
words, jumbled up and chaotic and only latter take on some kind of order.
From generalities and chaos, an intellectual process starts to develop
where ideas start to fall into place and the bricks start to go up slowly
and fit into place.
Writing is much like "carpentry" with saws, chisels, hammers,
nails and screws, nuts and bolts being the implements of the carpenter's
work. The wood is the main body of the text, while the pencils and protractors
are on hand to measure widths, lengths, corners and angles to produce
the final product to perfection.
These represent also the writers stock-in-trade. There is an uncanny
similarity between forming an article and a piece of narrative with making
a decorative piece as expressed by Earnest Hemingway when he once said
"prose is architecture not interior decoration," to express
not only the delicate artwork involved in writing prose but its higher
In words, the chipping away at the wood means coming up with a solid systematic
narrative, of ideas methodically following one another, of a beginning,
middle and an ending with a sense of anticipation that keeps your heart
palpitating. This is what makes a good writer and storey-teller; it is
the suspense and dexterity.
A writer keeps hammering the keyboard until he gets his craft in the right
order. In the olden days, even now, there used to be a tremendous amount
of spilled ink not only on paper, but the fingers would be smudged with
blue, black and sometimes red ink to emphasize the complex relationship
between the writer and his novel or prose. The chopping and changing is
essential improve the stream of consciousness that develops slowly and
through endless revisions and drafts. Frequently writers keep at it till
ideas are formed into narrative and a coherent package designed to inform,
educate and entertain. The chisels and hammers of the writer are his tools
to create characters, plots, themes and develop them whilst in journalism
it is more or less the same except here you are talking about shorter
themes and stories involving leads, subjects,
angles, quotes and sources.
As in all narrative writing it is like talking to somebody on paper. The
more quotes and characters talking on paper, the more alive your story
becomes. Words and sentences take a life of their own, dancing in front
of you, picking themselves up from the gray lines and pages and appealing
to your senses and thoughts.
The voice of the text as Donald Murrey calls it in his book,
Writing for Your Readers, is illuminating. He says
voice means "talking with the reader and not at the reader or to
"The quality of voice is central to lively writing. Readers hear
the stories they read, they like the heard quality of writing, the sense
of a personal conversation with the writer," is portrayed time and
again. This may have increasingly developed in the 20th century and today,
simply because the lines of communications have become fiercer and because
our lifestyles have changed as people no longer have the time and energy
to think about complex sentences and grammatical structures.
Chipping at the words, trimming them down, sharpening them, replacing
phrases when one word will do, turning dull narrative into interesting
lively prose with the right quotes require skill and writing flare especially
when you need to weigh different point of views.
The idea of balance and fairness has to go into the text although with
some writers these tend to serve as guises for subjectivity and prejudice
and skewed and lop-sided arguments. "They are biased but they dont
look it," a phrase that might be especially heard with journalistic
On the whole however, many see writing as artwork, informing readers,
sharpening their knowledge about current affairs, providing a platform
for forming their opinion, structures thought, educate and entertain them.
After much polishing, writing comes to have grace and elegance, a "torchlight
procession" as Mark Twain once described it. Sentences, phrases and
words come to have appeal and impact on the readers. An "air of mysteriousness"
develops around the process of writing. Writing is like magic but it needs
practice, tenacity and lots of research. The more you research your subject
or the more sources you have, the better the final product turns out.
Rather than scratching your head, and writing an article, which becomes
the case with more experienced word hands, researching what you want to
write about, is always best, so that the final piece maintains its originality
and liveliness, while avoiding the clichés that become worn out
Writers are always guilty of repeating themselves, they tell you things
that they told you a couple of days ago, and a few days before that, some
even tend to blubber as suggested by some of the previous examples. With
good grounding as in research, getting the right idea in your head, and
correct sources, you can train your mind to think methodically and not
This is what is actually meant when it is said that the fingers actually
type by themselves or move effortlessly, either on paper or on the keyboard.
They do that because the mind has already structured the pieces of information,
and at the split of a second signals to the fingers to write them down
or type them.
So what appears as an effortlessly written piece takes a great deal of
time, and experience. Writing and researching allows the mind to "store"
banks of knowledge which it uses when the time requires, and a call for
different articles and writings. What appears easy is difficult, what
appears graceful, requires much effort.
Writing requires the right mood, its one of those activities where one
day it can be easy, the other difficult. The grace, elegance, panache
and finesse, doesn't always come the first time round even when all the
'basics' of gathering information has been done. Much scribbling or red
ink is involved, with words, sentences and paragraphs written time and
again, to get the 'smoothness', feel and texture of what you are writing
and want to say.
But regardless, writing is a hard and arduous business. Every time you
sit at the table, its a new experience with all its thrills and
heartaches, excitement and trepidation, with a mixture of elation as well
as challenges going through your mind and body. The feeling never goes
away but always stands lurking in the background, waiting for you to put
pen to paper or type on the keyboard!
© Marwan Asmar October 2007
on Reading in
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