What Writing Means to Me

At first, I wanted to compose this post as a poem. But, that would mean another poem on my blog. And, I have had a little too many poems on my blog within the last one year. This, in one way, diverges from the original contemplation on writing. But, wait. I don’t wish to begin this post with a negative thought. That’s is how much writing means to me.

My writing is my ambassador to you. It means so much to me because it is how I express what I feel. Usually, I don’t speak much. Yes, for a lot of my friends, I am an out-and-out extrovert. But, deep within, I am an ambivert who leans, in fact, toward introversion. My words convey what I can feel but can’t express, can see but can’t report, and can write but can’t speak.

Writing is my textual meditation. It is the way I introspect. Just like one must close their eyes to see within themselves, one must pen their thoughts to sieve through to the core. The clearer they think, the clearer they write. And, the other way around. My writing is my soul disguised as words.

Writing for me is like composing verses in prose. It is a melody. A song. There are sentences of all compositions and lengths. Some are long. Some, longer. A few, like this one, shorter. True! The long and short sentences convey the long and short of it—and everything that lies within—to the readers. Mentally listen to yourself when you read varying lengths of sentences. It sounds good. Good, because it is rhythmic. Good, also because it means that the melody is as important as the messages conveyed through the melody. My writing is a lyrical composition that I can hum, listen to, sway along with, or fall asleep to.

Writing is like a mirror. It is that sense of contemplation that adds a dimension of meaning to reflections. It isn’t only the reflection of oneself, but also a cause to reflect onto oneself. Writing is that catalyst without which the inner and the outer selves don’t equate. No reaction, whether it is chemical, is ever complete without a word of thought. It is that skillful, scientific art; it is that masterful, artistic science.

Writing is that folklore that records, refers, and rekindles life. It is that act of play where you are both the actor and the audience. Writing is both the pen and the ink that scribes your acts, with or against your will. It is both the cause and the outcome of your performance. It is also the background score that amplifies emotions without your knowing.

To me, writing is the means, the medium, and the end. It is as nameless, formless, and transparent as water. It originates with a spurt, from within. When it begins to flow like a stream of thoughts, it seeps and snakes through people’s minds, one after another, finding its way to you, who after traveling for miles has got down on their knees to enjoy their glittering reflections. When it flows from my heart to yours, it becomes a burbling river. When it becomes an ocean of emotions, you can watch it hug the limitless skies at the horizon and experience it wash-off the rare conch shells of revelations to the shore.

The most rewarding writing, however, often trickles down your cheeks as pearls of love. What does writing mean to you?

Handy Tips for Impromptu Speeches

Handy Tips for Impromptu Speeches

Here’s one post on a special request from a follower. For our company’s recent communicator’s club meeting, we organized for some impromptu speeches. Each of the speakers had their own style. While I cannot say that one spoke better the other, the effect on audience told more than we could gauge. Later, a few wished for us to provide them a handy reference list for such impromptu speeches. Hence this post.

The organizer, Sanjeev Patra, helped me prepare this list:

A good impromptu speech should have these three points:

  • A central idea: The speech should revolve around a theme. This theme, or central idea, should hold your sentences together.
  • A structure: This means that your speech should have a definite start, middle, and end. We encourage speakers to construct their speeches in the PREP format: Point, Rationale, Example, and Point. Begin with a broader definition of your point. Make the introduction emphatic and attention-grabbing. For example, begin with a quote, a question, or a story. Then, give the rationale and its supporting example. Toward the end, state your point again. Make sure you prepare well for the speech, even when you are short of time.
  • A conclusion: Conclude with a summary and a thought.

Here’s what you might consider including in your speech:

  • Personalization: Remember, your speech is your story that has your thoughts. Make sure you include an inspiration; something that made you a better person.
  • KISS: We all know what the expanded form is, but for the sake of clarity, let me share that with you again. Keep it Succinct and Simple. Yes, I know you are thinking, “but, it’s supposed to mean keep it short and sweet.” The word succinct means that your message should be crisp but accurate. So, when you share your story, make sure it is simple, short, and accurate.
  • Suspense: This one is important. On a lot of occasions, speakers end up becoming predictable with their stories; the audience can guess what’s next on the speaker’s list. Have an element of surprise and unpredictability.
  • Friendliness: Even if you don’t know and wish, you pass on the same energy to your audience. So, when you have a negative energy, that is you feel disturbed, unhappy, scared, or unsure, you pass on the same negativity to your audience. On the contrary, your image, as a speaker, should be that of a person who welcomes sharing. Remain positive. Stand straight. Look at all the audiences. If possible, name a few in your conversation. Your positive posture and body language will do half of the job for you.

It is time to rock!

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

Last week, for our internal communicator’s club meeting, I presented some Tips for Effective Writing. Those who attended the session were mostly developers. And, that’s why it was even more useful for them. To help understand the core need for communication, we used a picture quiz, which you and I will discuss through this post.

Look at the following pictures (courtesy: Internet). The first picture is of Lotus Temple, New Delhi, and not of Sydney’s Opera House. The other picture is a multi-utility tool, also called Swiss knife. Here’s a question for you:

How do you think the two pictures contrast?

Before you begin answering the question, here’s a little built up for it:

As a seeker of information, I am like every other “user” or “audience” – I am like YOU, dear reader. I prefer to take the shortest or quickest path to the resolution. Much like you, I get petrified when I can’t find the shortest route. Much like you, I get petrified when I see unorganized or insufficient information. It’s as simple as that. This puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of technical communicators and user experience (UX) designers. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that we, the information seekers, would access the right information tidbit at the right time; or even if we do, we get to use it correctly. This means, despite all efforts by technical communicators and UX designers, the communication remains incomplete if the seekers can’t get to – or comprehend – the right information or the right tool at the right time.

Given that background, look at the first picture.

 

Lotus-Temple-Aerial-View

The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who seek answers to oneness and peace, go to Lotus Temple. Don’t drift: the name is indicative. So you can take any temple, mosque, church, or even faith. Seekers like you might have a lot of questions, but each of those questions will lead to only one answer: of realizing the seeker’s true self. So, there may be numerous problems that might lead to just one solution. This resembles the Sanskrit hymn, Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, which largely translates to “That which exists is One. Brahmin (Sages) call it by various names.” Rather than seeking the solution, seek for what you wish to solve – the need. That’s how even I have organized the content for you.

Look at the second picture.

 

victorinox_mountaineer_lg

Multi-utility tool

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who wish to complete a task or resolve their issues will seek such a tool. A tool, which has one unique solution for every problem. A tool, which can do a lot, but only dedicatedly. Seek, if you must, the need. The tool is still only a medium to accomplish; it’s a means to achieve, not the end.

But before talking about contrast, let us take a minute to discuss a little about what’s common for both the pictures. The only common thing is the need. The need to discover, resolve, and accomplish; the need to get things done; and the need to get questions answered.

So, here’s the contrast: the contrast is in having one universal solution versus a unique solution for every problem. The contrast is also in stressing the presence of the right information tidbit and of the right tool both at the same time. For the seeker’s shortest route to the resolution is the one that contains a quick and unique solution to their problems; the one that addresses the need.

What’s the lesson for the seekers and technical communicators?

The rules of grammar stand true and remain unchanged. However, there still are different ways in which we can compose, express the same information. Similarly, even though there are style guides and standards, there are hundreds of scenarios that we can count as exceptions. Probably, that’s why we see the Microsoft’s Manual of Style, fourth edition, mention “Microsoft” and “Not Microsoft” ways of creating content, unlike the “correct” and “incorrect” ways in their third edition of the book.

We should choose based on what’s needed, required from the content. There lies harmony where both technical communicators’ and information seekers’ needs meet.

To Article or Not to Article

To Article or Not to Article

Throughout my projects and writing schedules, I deal with numerous situations when I get stuck between choosing to use or not to use the definite or the indefinite articles. This post contains a handy list of situations when I am supposed to NOT use the articles:

The Definite Article

Do not use the when:

  • Naming holidays: for example, “I went home for Holi.”
  • Naming seasons: for example, “Winter has arrived.”
  • Referring to geographical locations: for example, “Next month, I’ll be in New Zealand”, or “He provides consultancy to banks and hospitals.” Note that I did not use the definite article for banks and hospitals, too, which qualify as geographical locations. Unless specified, do not use the definite article in such cases. For example, “We visited The Central Business Park last week.”
  • Referring to sports: for example, “Rohan played Cricket until last year.”
  • Referring to things in general or when using the plural nouns: for example, “I love dogs” or “Marathis love to dance”, or “we love listening to music.” Of course, the usage will differ based on countable, uncountable, or countless nouns (dogs, Marathis, and music all are pluralized), but we will discuss that some other day.
  • Talking about languages: for example, “Shambhavi can speak Sanskrit.”
  • Using names (or nouns): for example, “Shailaja works for Microsoft” or “Anil is an alumnus of Devi Ahilya University.

The Indefinite Articles

Do not use either a or an:

  • With adjectives that modify something that’s contextually understood or imperative: for example, “Spruha is intelligent.” However, when the sentence contains information about what the adjective modifies, then include the indefinite article: for example, “Spruha is an intelligent kid.” In this sentence, the italicized fragment refers to the kid’s intelligence.
  • With plural and uncountable nouns: for example, “Apples are apples and oranges are oranges.”

Happy writing.

Good versus Well

Good versus Well

Much like the previous post, in which we discussed the differences between the usage of I and Me, this post, too, discusses something that people find confusing: the use of good versus well. I’ve fallen prey to it on a few occasions (in the past) and so have most of my friends.

What’s the difference?

The thing is, our mental ears have always known (or is it registered?) the difference. So, none of us will ever, EVER say, “You did a well job”, while all we wish to do is praise the other person for their efforts. However, things get a little tricky for some of us who might happen to say, “Hey, you look good, buddy!” I’ve often used that in the past, and some of those who I know still use it.

Good is an adjective; it is a property of the subject of the sentence; it describes the subject. When I say, “You look good, buddy”, I mean that the “buddy”, or the subject of the sentence, has good eyes or, perhaps, vision because the word good describes buddy’s look. The sentence really means I am telling my buddy that they are actively using their eyes well. And, that isn’t what I intend to say. All I wish is to remark is that my buddy is looking hale and hearty. And, I must say what I intend to.

Well, as you rightly guessed, is an adverb; it describes the verb that relates to the subject of the sentence. So, instead of “You look good, buddy”, I should say, “You look you are doing well, buddy.” Yes, I might sound odd. But, I would choose to sound one rather than end up being one.

Are there any rules?

Yes. A rather simple one to remember: if you are referring to your or other’s health, use well. For example, “I heard he is doing/recovering well after the surgery.” Another advice: keep listening to your mental ear.

But, wait! There’s a catch!

First answer this: is it OK to say, “I’m good?” Good, based on what we just discussed, is an adjective. And, because it describes something, it should be incorrect to say…

WAIT, right there, for here lies the catch. I’d like you to read about linking verbs, which I covered in my previous post. The linking verb, “am” in the sentence, “I’m good”, connects the subject to the property of being good. So, it is OK to say, “I’m good.” However, you still can’t use good as an adverb. So, never say, “you did good”. Instead, say, “you did well.”

Happy writing.

I versus Me

I versus Me

Kindly excuse me for the click bait title. But this post is about one of the everyday challenges that writers face when writing about themselves: choosing between when to use I and when to use Me.

What is I or Me?

Both I and Me are singular forms of first person pronouns. So, if you are referring to yourself, you can use either of those. In fact, you might just use both in one sentence – depending on the place value (For example, I thought Shyam was going to accompany me for today’s Cricket match.)

Let me ask this to you: when you knock someone’s door and they ask, “Who is it,” what do you answer? Most of you will say, “It’s me” because that’s what’s used mostly so it SOUNDS acceptable. However, the correct answer is “It’s I.” See, “It’s I” is a fragmented version of the complete sentence, “It is I who am knocking the door.”

Here, choose what’s correct:

Ram took Shyam and I/Me to the Cricket match.

Quickly; this one is easy: Ram took Shyam and me to the Cricket match. You are right!

Let us now reverse the sentence and choose what’s correct:

Shyam and I/Me went to the Cricket match with Ram.

For those who wish to know the rule, these are cases of the linking verb. A linking verb is a verb that connects the subject with its predicate without expressing any action. In the following sentence “is” is the linking verb, “Ravana is dead.” Any verb that gives the sense of “to be” (Remember these are non-action verbs.) is a linking verb, so you should be able to spot that quickly. By the rule, if your pronoun follows the linking verb, use I, or the other forms, such as she, we, or they.

The correct answer to the question is, therefore, “Shyam and I went to the Cricket match with Ram.”

A simple way around, just in case you confuse the use of I versus Me is to remove the extra person from the conversation. Let us look at the examples we discussed by removing the extra person from the conversation:

  • Ram took I/Me to the Cricket match.
  • I/Me went to the Cricket match with Ram.

Here’s an alternative method to remember when to use what:

  • When you are the subject, use I.
  • When you are the object, use Me.

You can apply the rule similarly for we versus us, she versus her, and they versus them. Hope this helps. Happy writing.

The Writer’s Chronicles – Episode 2

[Almost] Lunch

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The Writer’s Chronicles – Episode 1

The Writer’s Chronicles comics are out now!

The Writer’s Chronicles is about the everyday life of the protagonist, Knight Writer. The writer is a reflection of you and me, the everyday heroes. Here is the life of a writer who chuckles away to the writing glory… much like us. The stories are indicative and do not intend to harm the sentiments of any one of any religion.


The Interview

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That One Fear Every Writer Has

That One Fear Every Writer Has

When I look back at the design of how I grew up, I realize I was destined to be a writer. When I was young, I read a lot. I would play my favorite character by tying my bath towel around my neck. I would jump from one chair to another playing that character. I would punch pillows sending them from one corner to another of my tiny yet seemingly limitless room. I would envision a LASER beam emitting from my eyes and when I thought no one was looking at me, I would nudge off action figures, who played the villains, and tiny cars off the shelf.

When I grew up into my adolescence, I began writing fiction; stories that were about how the hero within me, or the fictional characters I sketched, would go around the town helping those in need. When I grew a bit more, I began writing poetry. Though I knew that I was [really] bad at it – my poems, like someone would say, “sucked” – I continued attempting to write. In fact, some of those came up to be rather good. Two of those poems, out of my occasional attempts, are on this blog. But, down the age bracket, I realized that at heart I was more a writer than a poet. And, that impression has stayed. Until the end of the first half of my twenties, I had experienced a lot – got my masters, earned a job, and lost a job – but I was still firm that I would make a career in writing. That phase, now I realize, meant a lot.

When I look back at this little journey of my graduation from my liking for writing to becoming a published author, I realize that there is one thing that I have been doing, consistently, over the years. This post is about that thing. Back in the days when I was still figuring out my survival in this industry, I was busy reading. Writing, I knew, was like every other industry where the research leads to information, which leads to insights, which in turn leads to wisdom. And, my reading kept me with the “competition”, so to say. I kept reading so that I could continue to understand how the English language evolved over time, and how and what people wished to read (and hopefully know). While this all appeared to be good, I gradually realized that the more I read, the more I ended up losing who I was as a writer. That’s dangerous because the readers wish to read the writer within me. After all, how many of us know that we can write until the day we sit to write? Of the ones who sit to write, how many realize what’s their writing style? Of the ones who know what their writing style is, how many get to write what they wish to? That proportion drops ever so disproportionately.

Readers wish to know you by your writing style. Readers wish to read you by reading what you wrote. This one thing is imperative to the writing industry. But, the trouble with research – like I said in the previous paragraph – and reading is that gradually you begin to write like the ones who you often read. This is that one thing every writer fears: either of not finding their own writing style or of losing it in favor of those styles they think their writing resembles. I am happy that I have a style of my own; a style that only I can have. This writing style is unique to me – much like most of the good writers who I know in person. Each of those writers who I admire has a style of their own. Amongst the things that you should keep in mind if you wish to step into this industry, or are enjoying your stay in here, is – without a doubt – this one that I feel I would fear to lose.

I hope that this post helps you find the writer and their style within yourself. Happy writing.