The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

3 Habits of a Proficient and Prolific Writer

Last year, upon arrival here in Canada, fresh from my gratifying work in the Philippines as an editor-cum-writer of scholastic magazines, and still having a hangover, I embarked on a pursuit to continue what I believe is one of my chief missions in life—to write and share my ideas in whatever means I can.

Here's one of such literary works of mine which I wrote as an advice to a friend.

3 Habits
of a Proficient and Prolific Writer
by aLfie vera mella

“Literature is also an art, for it can be learned. It can be demonstrated not only by the gifted few but also by those who have acquired such literary skills. As the saying goes, ‘Geniuses are born; scholars are made.’ Therefore, everyone can avail of the literary skills and become a littérateur.”—Rainald C. Paggao, Of Stories and Poems (1992)

A friend of mine—who loves writing—recently wrote to me, asking for advice on how to improve her literary skills and if I know some secrets in achieving proficiency and prolificness in writing. She also asked if I might, perhaps, be altruistic enough to share with her the secrets in case I knew them. Staring at her letter, I paused and then pondered smilingly; and before the train of thoughts that choo-chooed in my mind disappeared, I took my quill and a sheet of parchment, dipped the quill into the bottle of ink, and, across the parchment’s smooth surface, began to slide my cursive hand…

Dear Melchie,

“Everyone can avail of the literary skills and become a littérateur.” However, to become a literary writer, there are works to be done and bittersweet pains to be experienced. Of course, anyone who is literate can begin to write; but unless she learns certain principles, she can never reach her full potential as a writer; for without following such rudiments, she will soon run out of words with which to express her ideas and, worse, she will run out of ideas to write about. She then ceases to be what she had aspired to become—a littérateur.

So, how can you improve your literary skills? How will you develop proficiency and prolificacy in writing? I encapsulate my answer into three “secrets”—write, read, and study. Simple, you might think, but honing these skills involves self-discipline. What then if, for whatever reason, you simply could not compel yourself into “living” these habits?

Easy! Forget about becoming a writer. Anyway, there are many other avocations in which you can indulge.

Obviously, this should be the first step in becoming a writer; and what I mean is, you make writing down notes a habit; so, wherever you go, you should always have with you a pen and a small notebook, or better yet, a journal. Compel yourself to write frequently and regularly—every morning upon waking up, every break time at your work, every night before sleeping. This is the beginning of prolificity. Write about anything at all—experiences, delights, woes—whatever that pops up in your mind; and regardless if it’s only a couple of sentences, a phrase, or a word, write it down. Unless you put it on paper, you will never know if a doodle can elongate into a noodle of stories.

Don’t trust your memory. It’s not flawless. This was the reason stylus and parchment were invented—so people could document what might otherwise be lost in the webbeddest corners of their minds. And usually, spur-of-the-moment ideas are the most potent. Even the greatest authors in the annals of Literature owed much to the initially incomprehensible jumble of words that they scribbled in their journals in rare moments of inspiration. In fact, the first sentence of one of the most popular novels in the world—The Hobbit—“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” was just a scribble its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, had mindlessly written on a blank sheet of paper during an unexciting day upon seeing a hole in the carpet in his study. You can now imagine how a small hole in a carpet had grown into something gigantic as The Lord of the Rings and Middle-earth itself.

I can never imagine “writing” without “reading.” Can you? Just as women were born to complete men and vice versa, writing and reading exist to complement each other.

Remember: the topics good writers write about do not only originate from what they hear and observe; they usually come from the amalgamation of everything they read. So, you, as a writer, can greatly expand your bag of ideas by reading a lot—encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, pocketbooks, any form of publications at all. And do not limit yourself with a particular genre or with the subjects of your interest. Not because you fancy fantasy fiction that you will read only publications dealing with dwarves, elves, castles, and swords; not because you are romantic and lovesick that you will dwell on only romance pocketbooks; and not because we are already living in the Internet age that you will forget the literary classics.

Be an eclectic reader. Read the best books in every genre. This is the best way to become a proficient writer. It broadens your knowledge and perspective, it diversifies your taste, and, most especially, it enables you to discover different styles in writing. An eclectic reader is someone who has reread any of her schoolbooks; has read a children’s book, a Science magazine, an almanac, the appendices of a dictionary, a Web-site article; and is unafraid to try reading something obscure or unusual.

You can express your “brilliant” ideas and write them in as many words and with your most original style as you possibly could; but if you have a poor command of the written language, what’s the point? You mock the very essence of being a writer—for, above all prerequisites, a writer should be a master of grammar and letters.

It is insufficient that you are able to express on paper what’s in your mind; you must be also capable of writing them precisely and in a grammatically correct fashion. Therefore, it is paramount that you own, aside from a dictionary and a thesaurus, a grammar book and a manual of style. For as long as you are writing, you must never cease to learn and study—and update yourself on—the rudiments in writing the continuously evolving language.


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