On Writing Well

I never saw myself as a ‘writer’. I tend to see myself as a ‘communicator’ primarily comfortable to communicate verbally and visually. This probably explains my preference for speaking and mind mapping. But perhaps unconsciously and only later intentionally, I found myself a kind of ‘writer’+'communicator’ through being an accidental ‘blogger’. So, I still see myself primarily as a communicator. i.e., one who communicates, enters into conversations, draws from past dialogues in anticipation of future ones, and uses a variety of forms to engage in the process of communication.

My limitations as a writer are many. For example, limited vocabulary, struggle to jump start, scattered thoughts, confused grammar at times (esp. when Chinese and Malay battles for the way I think, which I suspect is still primarily English, or maybe pictures?). My strengths modestly, however, are an open and flexible nature to adapt to the audience, an imaginative mind, a spirit of adventure, an intuitive capacity to connect topics and relations, make cross-cultural and translation inspired comparisons, just to name a few.

So, nowadays, I’m working on my writing skills through very basic steps. The simple use of punctuations was my point of entry to draw myself into sharpening my skills. It was a strange feeling of elation when I rediscovered the beauty of the comma, the semi-colon and colon. Nothing too fancy, basic stuff. I’m also working on the when and where’s to use the active voice or passive voice. And even though my preference is the simple Subject-verb-predicate structure, I do wonder how I can adapt this basic structure so sentences and paragraphs won’t be wooden and mechanical. But, in spite of the continual urge towards creativity, I’m working hard on clarity and plain speech. Why torture the reader? There’s a time for everything I suppose, but working on writing clearly is my way of disciplining my creative side and work towards a kind of ‘clear creativity’ or ‘creative clarity’. Another aspect I’m working on is the value of drafts, and how to sustain the energy for writing. I love reading and thinking. And it’s so tempting for that to turn into a form of intellectual daydreaming. Writing forces me to write for someone, even if that someone is myself, and get those ‘disembodied’ thoughts ‘embodied’ through the incarnational process of writing. Thus, my return to blogging. :-)

In the recent assignment papers I’ve done since starting my PhD in February 2011, I started with a scan of the assigned reading, and reviewed the lectures. In one case, since the expectation of the assignment was spelled out quite clearly, I used the schedule and the topics of the lectures to guide the writing process. Then, I mind-mapped my way on a blank A4 paper. Of course, this assumed I had spent at least a bit of time 5-10 minutes to make sure I knew what was the question and expectations for the assignment. I’m always tempted to add some bonus ideas, but then this must not distract me from what is necessary first. So some effort was needed to park some ideas into another file, and return to the task at hand.

After the mind map, I used it as a basis to write a first draft very much in a free style with an imaginary outline behind my mind. I kept the critical side of my brain in control, and then let the creative juices flow. Then I returned to this first ‘creative’ draft, worked harder on an explicit outline with a critical eye, this resulted in the second draft. Armed with my second draft, I returned to the assignment expectations and readings I needed to draw from as my basis for writing. During this time, I also ventured to read outside the original bibliography that went along with some other ideas present during the process. I did a at least 2-3 more mind maps along the way, to check on the connections and clarity of ideas along the way. The next process was basically editing and rewriting. It came to a point where I felt I could do not more considering the time constraints I had, and I submitted what in my mind is an imperfect product. :-) Room for improvement of course!

I see myself writing in at lease four context: Totally personal as in my own private journals; personal with a public dimension as in this blog, ‘not fully public’ as in my academic writing, intentionally public as in my posts in other blogs such as the Friends in Conversation. In between all of that are Facebook interactions and the occasional tweet on twitter.

Each context has a different characteristic, and right now, I’m more focused on sharpening my academic writing skills. But, I felt it was important to still keep the other contexts in mind. I’m afraid of heights, so ‘ivory tower’ terrifies me! :-) Better stick closer to the ground as much as possible.

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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