What Writing a Book for Children Taught Me

No, I am not breaking that I am writing a book for children; it is just another random thought that stuck me when I was researching on improving my writing skills. Turns out, one of the best ways I can improve my writing skills is to write books for children. I will write a book for children, but that’s far from even a start, as of now.

The big question of whether I will, one day, write and publish my own books still remains unanswered. But, I don’t want to confuse writing with publishing: they are two different things. And, for now, it is writing that I want to concentrate upon. This post comes at a time when I am learning to write. It’s been a while since I began writing frequently on this blog, and I believe the time has come to take things to the next level.

Now that I know that I can communicate my thoughts, and that the writing (Or is it typing?) flows as freely as my thoughts, I should try to bring all my energies, and the free-flowing thoughts, together to write better. Hey, I didn’t want to make this post look didactic… and I haven’t even begun yet. Never mind. There goes the rule number one: get thoughts and words to flow together.

When I began thinking on writing something for children, the immediate next question was: What should I write about? The thought of writing for kids was fine, but I was clueless about what I would write about. You see, there lies another rule. Even before you finalize on what you want to write about, and share with children, you have to be clear about how you’d write that. I mean your writing has to be so smooth that children (from age 3 to 10, roughly) will understand everything that they either listen to or read. Still, here are those rules that came in handy as I made a start:

  • Keep sentences short: Well, you are writing for those who’ve just stepped into the world of books. So, you better make it quick for them. The shorter, the simpler. The simpler, the better.
  • Use bigger typesetting: Use a bigger font size. And, preferably use the non-capped (sans serif) type font. For those who don’t know much about typesetting, the sans serif fonts are those fonts that do not contain the extra caps at the corners of alphabets. Such fonts are readable even when smaller in size, and largely appear informal, friendly in approach.
  • Don’t offer side notes: Unlike the way I did in the previous point, don’t use side notes and additional information that might break the flow. Remember, you are writing for someone with far lesser span of attention.
  • Let pictures do the talking: Use pictures that are colorful; that share an action or event from the story; that can help them imagine the rest of the characters. Seeing is believing; let them see the story for themselves. Avoid monochrome pictures, unless they are simple enough to understand.
  • Focus on grammar: You have to keep sentences short, but you don’t have to play with the rules of grammar. Grammar is like mortar; words are like bricks. If you use only loose bricks, the wall will not stand (or, stand for long). Also, stick to one tense across sentences, as much as possible.
  • Use imaginative relationships: See how I have been figurative in my comparison of grammar and words with mortar and bricks. Use comparisons that can help children build cross-referencing or poetic associations. Make them think; at least, for a while.

Those are some points about how I’d prepare either myself or my content. Now, some points regarding setting pages:

  • Cut short: Delete those sentences that do not contribute to the story or poem. This means, lesser content for me to bother about and for the children to read and understand.
  • One thought, one page: Make sure that the sentences don’t run into the subsequent pages. If so, break those sentences. That’s because, children might find it tough to reconcile their understanding of those sentences that involve more than one event described in sentences that run across pages. Children will most likely skip sentences if they have to turn pages back and forth to understand what’s going on. In fact, I’ve observed that most children hardly turn pages back and forth: they go along only one way.
  • Check for punctuation: Don’t use a lot of punctuation. Instead, let the pictures talk for you.
  • Leave with an afterthought; but not always.

Of all these rules, I’ve come to understand the following two as the most important:

  • Don’t lecture: No one wants to be taught. Learn to share.
  • Be a master weaver: If I can explain the story in just three sentences, I can expand it across the fabric and weave it into a story.

Then, there are other things like:

  • All black and white; no shades of grey (not the color, but the message)
  • Only happy endings
  • Don’t end with a question

But, it depends on who I or you ideally wish to address. Readership varies greatly within this age group. When I look back at the rules, I see that there’s a lot of similarity between what I do every day as a technical communicator and what I’d love to do as a children’s writer. Here’s the greatest of all catches: I understood, all the things that apply to the children’s books, apply to technical communication as well. I can’t exclude even one. I wish to come up with a book that will fancily be a part of every child’s bookshelf. Until then it is all black-and-white documentation (No, not the color, again).

Choose Your Luggage.

If life is a journey, and not a destination, isn’t your life all about how long do you keep walking? The challenges that you face, the people whom you meet, and the experiences that you glean: it all adds up to count as memories in your life. And, unlike the materialistic aspect, your richness is not restricted to the amount of money you earn, but the amount of memories you gather. C’est la vie!

We meet different kinds of people in our life. Each one has their own, small (but important) role to play in our lives. Some get registered as family, some as friends, and some as enemies. But each of them contributes something to our journey. We either succeed with them, or earn experiences because of them. But, we never walk alone. Nobody does!

So, what do we do to make the most out of this life? What do we do to go really long? Or, at least, go longer distances than we initially thought? Let us see.

We travel with a lot of luggage. Although, mostly an unwanted one, the luggage packs our memories. We carry our aspirations, emotions, learning, pleasures, treasures, and experiences. All in all, we carry two sets of luggage: the positive ones and the negative ones.  The negative luggage (of agitation, anger, frustration, hatred, or jealousy) are like bundles of cotton. Each time we have those feelings, the bundles become wet. And, the more we have those feelings the more those continue to get wet. And, if you’ve realized where I am getting at, it becomes heavier, and consequently gets difficult (almost impossible) to walk with a heavier luggage.

But, if we choose to leave aside those presumptions, let go off that negative set of luggage, we will eventually cover great distances in our journeys … I have realized that irrespective of what result do we get, we must choose not to get disappointed. That’s because, we will either succeed or earn a sufficient amount of experience.

I choose to set aside this negative set of luggage, so that I can go longer distances. What about you?

#suyogsutra

It is always good to keep your (in)abilities well bracketed. #suyogsutra

I know what I can do. But, I also know what I cannot – which is equally important. That helps me set achievable goals and workable standards so that I keep myself motivated. Although, it may not always be a great idea to not strive for goals that are beyond your capacity. But, it is seldom that you try to achieve something that you know you can’t!

By keeping the inabilities “well bracketed”, I mean keeping them well in check. Brackets, here, are symbolic to categorized restriction (premise?). So, when you can keep a check on what you cannot do (or find impossible to achieve at a point in time), you can easily calculate what you can do.

At times, knowing what to reject works better than knowing what to accept. And, bracketing your inabilities is an important tactic in the strategy of rejection.

– Suyogsutra

Is Technical Writing Skill or Ability?

I often say this to myself: Anyone can write, but everyone cannot become a writer. But, when we can (and do) learn to write, why can’t we learn to become writers?

Language is a skill, which can be learned and mastered over a period of time. We must learn to follow the rules. Although subconsciously, notice that we almost always associate “writing” with “ability.” But, if that is true, why is writing (which is an ability) regarded as a profession (which is a skill)?

I recently read that writing features in a list of top 15 jobs that have survived for centuries, and assume it will continue to be there through the next century. This contradicts our current thread of discussion. Is technical writing really a skill or an ability? We can look to answer that question. But, first we must find if there are any rules for writing.

Now, the answer depends on what you would like to write. If you are writing prose, your work – in general – should be involving and interconnected, and contain a story. If you are writing verses, the work should have flow and be rhythmic and soulful. Still, none of these are rules. None of these [guidelines] can either be taught or evaluated. It is only the response to your work (or if I may say the reader connect) that can be evaluated.

So, can our work be evaluated based on the response? Certainly, it can be! And, it is a skill to drive the intended response. And, hence writing is a skill as well; a skill, which has some underlying principles, guidelines, and rules that govern the overall structure and quotient of impact and usability.

My take? I think, as I try to answer this question, the following points become noteworthy:

  • It takes a lot of practice to practice technical writing.
  • You need to be a writer (or think like one) – have a natural flair for writing, as they say!
  • You should love using technology.
  • It takes a lot of reading. But, read quality material.
  • You should enjoy walking on the thin line that separates skills and abilities

One last thought: You can have the inborn ability to smell the ingredients, but it still takes some learning to hone to skills of cooking. You can have the inborn ability to understand the poetry, but it still takes some learning to home your singing skills. On the flip side, you need to have some inborn qualities that match with your skills to create the “X-factor.” So, my take: Skill is to language; Ability is to writing. And, technical writing is skill-oriented ability.

For the restless. For those who rest less.

It is good to slow down once in a while.

Life is a race. We reach for whatever we wish We endure even our daily tasks. We make sure that we take the extra step, go the extra mile, to strive and achieve what we set out for. And we do get success. We do make our mark. But, in the process, we have lost (invested?) a lot of energy. Energy – which is precious, limited, and needs recharge – depletes with every step we take towards our goals.

We know we are restless. And we must rest less if we must pursue our goals. But, that does not mean we mustn’t take rest. That the pursuit shouldn’t let us suffer our journey towards our goals. The idea, therefore, is to slow down once in a while. Give ourselves the rest we deserve. To treat ourselves with the comfort of moving ahead of our tasks, schedule, and plans. The rest can not only provide us with the much-needed gap, it also supplies us with some extra time so that we can evaluate ourselves.

Restlessness is good. Restlessness is must. But, it must not pave the path for less rests. Take rest. Take pride, enjoy your journey towards your goal.

Suyogsutra

Keep Work-Attit…

Keep Work-Attitude. Don’t Keep Working on Attitude.

For all of us, the easiest way to prove that we know a lot of things is to keep our mouth shut. The lesser we talk, the more others think we know. But the trick works only if we really “know”. Likewise, a hoarding attitude will only take other’s perception of us a step further, but only we can sustain that image, by contributing work of that (perceived) quality.

Attitude is good only if you are controlling it (and bad if it is controlling you).

Therefore, to control your attitude, you must know and understand the reason behind it. If you think you WANT it just because you can influence your perceived image, you should avoid projecting it. But, if you NEED it to enhance your own perception of issues, you should begin projecting it.

The following Shloka of the Bhagawat Gita, explains the same principle to us:

Karamanya Vadhikarasthe Maa Phaleshu Kadachana

Maa Karma Phala Hetur Bhurma Te Sanagostvakarmani

Chapter 2, Verse 47

Lord Krishna wants us to understand that only by creating the outer shell of results and perception, one cannot create a success story for himself. One must walk the talk, do what he is supposed to do, gain knowledge and wisdom, create positive, the affirmative energy around him, and continue to flow in that energy.

Success, which is the by-product of that positive energy, will come along, without your thinking about it. But, if you showcase attitude (ditch yourself), you will begin to think about the results, and therefore, will gradually stop working towards the objectives, and perish.

Therefore, stop talking about your work. Instead, let your work talk for you. Such an attitude, as I think, is Karma Yoga.

The Absolute Knowledge of Self Discovery

The absolute knowledge of self-discovery.

Each one of us is born with a vision: To create a better vision for those who will follow us. The pursuit of this vision goes through many milestones. The milestones of righteousness, self-analysis, acceptance, corrections, invention, and acknowledgment.

The journey begins with righteousness. We must first learn to know the difference between the right and the wrong. No one is perfect. Not even god. But, there are ways we can judge what can make us perfect. To be able to judge the difference between the perfect and the imperfect, we must know what to do to steer more towards the perfect. The outcome of the self-assumed task is the right and the wrong. The two flip sides of any self-assumed task, they are mutually dependent. One cannot exist without other. Do more of one in comparison to the other to move more towards perfection. Wrong is not wrong unless we do what is right. Moreover, wrong is just a state. So, that doesn’t mean a person or thing is wrong because that is what it is. Hence, being wrong doesn’t make you wrong; Doing wrong does. Do right.

The next milestone is of self-analysis. More rights and less of wrong do not make one perfect; they just steer one towards perfection. One must assess the actions, constantly, to avoid the recurrence of wrong. That is self-analysis. A constant Chakra (or circle) of calculating behavior. Calculate the actions, depending on the degree of severity of issues to take steps, and move ahead.

The next step is of acceptance. Inside, we are all the same. No one is bad by birth. Remember, for those who behave badly, the bad is their definition of good. But, they still have a definition for good. Accept that. You may not change who they are, but you will certainly change the way you look at them. Perhaps, mere acceptance might bring them to the crossroads of self-analysis. But, it is easier said.

Correction is the next step. We are dependent. Correcting our wrong will bring the change into others behaviors. Their corrections will inspire you to do more right. Get inspired and inspire others; learn with examples and lead by examples.

Invent. Evaluate for yourself. Correct wherever required. Bring good to others; keep doing good. Invent newer ways to bring good. Evolve continually.

Acknowledge. A collective growth brings us to the state of a collective consciousness. The consciousness that the intention of bringing more of good to others isn’t really an invention, but a discovery. It is only then we will come to know that absolute knowledge is no different from the actual one. The absolute knowledge is nothing but the acknowledgment of ourselves. The acknowledgment that we are self-discoverers for all our lives. The discovers who are in the pursuit of the collective perfection.

– Suyogsutra

Weaknesses

Weaknesses are our greatest threats, but to have a threat is by itself the great weakness.

We, all of us, are held, tied-up in strings that we invented ourselves. The strings that aren’t really there. The beads that form the strings are made-up of our “assumed” weaknesses and threats. We assume that they exist just to hold us back from all the glory.

As humans, we must constantly strive towards breaking those beads. We must the acquire knowledge, to free ourselves of the strings that hold us back. An attempt by itself is strong enough break us free from the strings of weaknesses and threats.

Our weaknesses are our biggest enemies. They threaten us to not to perform – to not to attempt breaking free from the strings. The threat of losing; the threat of non-performing; or the threat to our lives – threats are what makes us weak. And as weak, individually or collectively, we cannot bring any change.

Only the knowledge of truth can free us from our threats. The knowledge that nothing is permanent. The threats that weaken us will not really be there tomorrow. The weaknesses, that yesterday held us from bringing the change, will disappear tomorrow. This simple fact that the threats are only temporary removes half of our weaknesses, and hence break us free of the strings.

And once we are free, we must choose a path for us, and reach to the absolute abode of strengths. The abode where we aren’t weak anymore. We aren’t frightened and scared anymore. We are liberated beings. Free.

– Suyogsutra

Attitude

Attitude is a matter of habit for some. Others, are just habitual of their attitude.

I am of an opinion that you can win over any challenging situation, provided you carry the right attitude. And, no challenge is too big for you to win over if you remember the path to the right attitude. That’s your choice; the choice to walk on the thin line of attitude.

Some of us fall prey to our own attitudes; No matter what they do to hide, they cannot adopt good, positive intentions. As I understand, we must first win over ourselves (the world within us), to see the brighter side of challenges (in the world outside).

The choice to walk on the thin line of attitude, which separates winners from losers, meets the line of abilities at willingness. Once you decide you need to win, you will. And, that attitude, is a matter of habit.

Suyogsutra

yad yad ãcarati…

yad yad ãcarati śreşţhas tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramãņaṁ kurute lokas tad anuvartate

Whichever and however a great personality conducts himself common men follow; whatever he accepts as authority that and that alone certainly all the world will follow. Therefore, a leader must preach what he is taught and teach as he preaches.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 21