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.

What Your Spell Checker Misses but Doesn’t Tell

Yes, I know that the standard, default spell checker on your word processors is the only good thing about those word processors other than their existence – relax, we won’t talk about the formatting glitches and dependencies in this post. But, we all will agree that none of the automatic or system-driven spell check processes is a 100% accurate.

Here’s a list of the mistakes that my or your, spell checker doesn’t catch:

  • Dangling truth: I start the list with my favorite, “Siya walked her dog in a short skirt.” Wait, what? Who did you say was wearing a short skirt?
  • All spellings correct: Yes, it is possible that what you might have written is correct yet incorrect. Consider the following fragment from an email I accidentally sent the last week. I swear that as soon as I had hit the Send button, I had seen that mistake. But, alas! Only if I could trigger a recall for that email:
    “We would appreciation frequent communication regarding…” The word should have been “appreciate”.
  • Missed words: I will ask, “Could you catch the change of tense in the previous point?” Some of you might say, “Well, No. We were busy reading a of” Now did you catch it? But, did the spell checker catch it? Let that remain a question for now.
  • Your preferences: It is true that the spell checker does check for the grammar, but it doesn’t consider some of my writing standards. Here is my logic: “Whether” by itself is a question, so there isn’t any sense in writing “or not” after it to list all possibilities. So, “Just tell me whether it is possible” should be enough.
  • A tensed situation: There is this concept of parallel construction. But, before we talk about that, let us talk about the concept of tenses. How about keeping only one sense of time all along your write-up. People used to follow this principle a long time ago. They still do. But, who cares! Even if I changed the tense, would the spell checker check it? Did the spell checker check it? It didn’t, right? See!
  • Glaring inconsistencies: Did you notice that I used both “here is” and “here’s” in this post? If you did, probably I should hire you instead of my default spell checker. The point is, the spell checker cannot catch such inconsistencies in your write-up. So, if you use different (but acceptable) spellings of words or their acceptable shortened forms, the spell checker will not catch that. This isn’t exactly a mistake but a miss is a miss

The good news is, there is always a solution to your problems. In this case, the solution is to use either a good spell checker, like Grammarly (it is sad that they didn’t pay me for their advertisement) or another pair of human eyes to run a quick check for you.

May the spellings be with you. Happy writing.

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.

Why is it Horribly Hard to Write a Book?

Writing anything is never easy; especially inking exactly what you wish to communicate through a book is one of the hardest things to do. Then why is it that we see so many of us writing about writing? Or, why is it that so many of us are interested in reading about writing? Each day, writers like you and I wake up to a new challenge of pouring thoughts onto our drafts. Each day we spend hours with pens and papers or in front of our computer screens pursuing stories in the void of nothingness. Only a few can consistently get to write. Fewer still get their works published.

With these thoughts, one such day passed for me recently. And, when I pondered on this question of why is it horribly hard for anyone to write a book, out came this post! Here’s why I think only a handful of us make it through to the readers:

You don’t read everyday things rightly.

This is the commonest. Sometimes we just cannot see beyond one plot. So, even if we decide to write about it and move on, all we can do is pen down the fragments of our imagination. If you are one of those who fails to connect the dots, then you are either in a wrong profession or haven’t trained yourself under the right inspiration. Good writing is all about good reading. No, don’t get me wrong on this one; I don’t mean reading good stuff. I mean reading the everyday things around you; looking closely to understand the perspective of the people around you. That inspires you more than anything else. Read people’s emotions; look at how different people behave differently in the same situations amongst the same sets of challenges. Learn to read between the lines; that’s where most stories lie. If you can read those stories correctly, you can write about them, too.

You don’t have a schedule. If you do, you don’t stick to it.

Those who do have a schedule, follow it. So, if you don’t have a schedule, make one and follow it. Most of us fail to make a schedule for their writing. They lose most of their energies in either thinking or planning. What they don’t realize is that too much of either leads them away from their writing goals.

Take a note of the time of the day at which you are the most productive. Reserve that for your writing effort. Break that period into four equal intervals. In the first interval, read through what you wrote yesterday. In the second interval, think of what you wish to cover. Don’t write anything just yet; create a flow of thought. In the third interval, write as much as you can to cover the entire sequence you’ve decided to cover. In the fourth interval, rewrite what you’ve written while what you’ve initially thought of is still fresh in your mind.

You can set a target for you. If you are a fiction writer, for example, set a realistic goal to write 500 words every day. If you wish to come up with a work of nonfiction, setting organized targets will keep your book on track. Make sure you accomplish your daily goals. Once you make a schedule, stick to it. Be regular with your efforts. Follow the plan without a break. Think every day. Write every day. Rethink every day. Rewrite every day.

You don’t get the plot.

As we age, we continue to define and redefine things. We continue to learn something new – I hope that that’s, at least, the case with me. One of the biggest learnings of our lives is that not learning anything at all is still a learning. This applies to writing as well. Mostly writing fiction is about seeing the hero (or protagonist) move from point A to B or from one plot to another or from one challenge to another or even from one story to another. Similarly, most of the nonfiction is also about taking the understanding from one level of quotient to another. But, sometimes the plot lies not in the change but in its observation. The plot, I see, is both about the journey and the destination; about both the content and its accomplishment; about the details and the totality; and sometimes both the character and their story. The better we understand the plot, the better we can write about it.

You are possessive.

I am yet to find a writer who is not possessive about their works. All of us are awestruck with our first drafts. We love them so much that we can’t see anyone finding faults with them – even we ourselves can’t edit them. But, the first drafts hardly contain the quality that our readers deserve to read. And, that’s why getting the work edited is so important. Today when I look at the initial draft of my book, I see a positive impact of the edit iterations.

.  .  .

This post is an attempt to answer the countless requests and questions I received when I recently released The Write Stride: A Conversation with Your Writing Self. I could see that there are a lot of us who have a lot to share but can’t get the right words. I hope that this post helps them organize their thoughts into a book.

What’s the Difference Between Book Blurb and Synopsis?

As I ready my book for its release, there are a few things that everyone tells me to do. Two of which are to write the book blurb and synopsis. This post is for those who confuse between the two, much like I once did.

For those who are rushing, here is the gist: Both project the book to different sets of readers. So, the simple difference is that a book blurb SHOULD NOT contain the conclusion because it is your book’s sales pitch, while a synopsis is a 200-word version of the book itself. Think about suspense, drama, and questions when you are writing a blurb for your book. But, give one-sentence answers to those questions in your synopsis.

Here’s the elaborate version:

What is a Book Blurb?

A book blurb is your way of selling your book. Like the book cover is one of the biggest selling points for any book, a book blurb helps sell the idea of the book to those who are in search of reading something either new or out of their usually picked genres.

There is one big difference though between a book blurb and a synopsis. A book blurb does not include the ending. Your fans, readers, and prospects wish to read your book. You can make it more exciting by raising some questions without giving away hints about the answers. Through the book’s blurb, you can give an idea about the plot and about why is the suspense/flow of events bothersome/intriguing, but do not let the ending spill out to the prospective readers. This drama is enough for them to make the purchases. But what do you do if you are writing a nonfiction because you can’t use drama, for sure? In such cases, you can use questions; questions that intrigue the readers; questions that make them think; questions they had, but could never answer.

What is a Synopsis?

Your publishers get hundreds of manuscripts every day. So, if they would read each one of those, they would take a lot of time to finish the publication process. Your synopsis makes the job easy for them. In simple words, a synopsis is telling “what’s your story”.

Like we discussed, the book blurb does not contain the ending. But, the synopsis should contain not only the gist of your story but also how things conclude. If it is a work of fiction, tell the publisher how the protagonist brings the bad forces to justice. If it is a work of nonfiction, tell the publisher how you as a protagonist bring off things, or so to say.

Tell the publisher who the protagonist is; about what challenges the protagonist is confronting; about why it is the time for the protagonist to prepare for and face the battle of their life; and, passively, about how facing challenges makes living worth it.

There is one important point for you to consider. Follow the tone of your work. If it is a work of fiction, follow the tone of your novel. Be romantic if your novel is about love, romance, and togetherness. Be funny if your novel is full of humorous incidents.

Why does understanding this difference matter to me?

I want to sell my book. I want everyone to appreciate what I’ve written; not because I have written it, but because their reading it will make a difference to their lives. I want the readers to acknowledge my addressing some of the questions they have had. And, because understanding this will help me create content that addresses the right audiences rightly. Words matter. And, so does the impact they create.

Happy writing.

Are Technical Writing and Instructional Designing the Same?

This post originates from a couple of related question that I answered on Quora, which you can find here and here. For those who are rushing, here is the gist of the post: Although I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different, I do acknowledge that the tools and methodologies both use are quite different.

For the elaborate explanation, I resort to breaking the big question in parts:

How are technical writing and instructional designing different?

Howsoever thin, there is a line that separates technical writing and instructional designing. Yes, I agree that though the end-result is still similar, the routes taken are different. And, here is the first difference. Technical writers focus more on collecting, collating, and presenting information, while instructional designers focus on streamlining the correlated tasks into stepped instructions and courses. Another difference I see is in the approach. I always say that technical writers are backstage players. No one knows they are there, but they are. And, unlike instructional designers, technical writers can never become the front-stage players.

As a technical writer, I deal with creating and maintaining user guides, help files, and release notes, but if the time and scope permits I also get to write white papers, knowledge base articles, full-scope or abridged customer-driven metadata, and blogs. The goal, however, across all cases of documentation and complexities is empowerment. Instructional designing deals with information that’s both specific and generic. It does include offline or online learning, self-paced or instructor-led learning, and activity-based learning from simulation or gamification. The goal, however, across all cases and complexities is still on learning. But then my exploration limits my knowledge.

The thin line that differentiates technical writing and instructional designing becomes thinner at the object level. For example, when you create a knowledge base write-up, you focus both on empowerment and learning. You wish that when a user reads through your document, they will know what next to do and why. I can also see some rules that apply to both technical writing and instructional designing.

In today’s mobility-friendly world, people want everything on the go, including information. And, depending on what you seek or what you have (a smartphone, tablet, watch, or eyewear), the information complexity, language, and medium changes. This means that both information and instructions must be easy to understand and easy to use. In one way, this means fewer words and more visual content. But, we’ll discuss this some other time. Let us look at the second part of the big question.

Do technical writing and instructional designing require different skills and tools?

Quite rightly, the thin line of difference in the professions extends into the skill set and tool set as well. While it is true that both the skills and tools mostly are common, the percentage of a skill’s or tool’s relevance certainly changes based on the profession. I feel that technical writing involves more researching than instructional design. But, like I said, my exploration limits my knowledge. Instructional design involves more of storyboarding. So, it is good to assume that it will also involve more of action-driven, task-based sentences.

Both involve writing instructions, but technical writing restricts such instructions to stepped procedures in user guides and troubleshooting guides, while the entire storyboarding in instructional designing is task-based and action driven. Instructional designing is more of learning management. Consequently, you should have a better understanding of what users do with your products.

Let us take a small example. Consider that you have a job at a place where even a small error might result in huge losses for the company. Now, we will agree that the software or hardware products that you will get to use in such places will come with manuals. But, will it still not make sense for you to undergo a formal training before you get involved in your daily duties? I hope you can now see the difference. You limit your information goals based on your work processes and sequences of actions; on how a tool is designed to work and how it may fail; and, one how you wish to keep yourself and your peers safe and the work processes smooth.

In the context of the differences in technical writing and instructional designing, given the information goals you seek, it would be right to consider instructor-led training first followed by a regular check into the user guides wherever required. That should lend you insights into the only possible difference in the professions. Let us now address the last part of the big question.

As a technical writer, can I switch profession into instructional designing?

Either way, switching shouldn’t sound challenging; it wouldn’t be easy, for sure. But decide what you wish to do or help the users in accomplishing.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, let me take a moment to help you look at how I’ve understood this indifference. First I determine what the user wishes to accomplish. Then, I determine how they wish to accomplish their learning objective. Then, I look for the resources I could use to help them accomplish their learning objectives. Then, I break that learning objective into logical, sequential parts. Now, I see if I could create content that ushers them through those logical, sequential parts. The point is that I register the impact of each of those logical, sequential parts. I register the growth of user’s learning as they move from one goal to another and, eventually, one objective to another.

You see that the already thin line of difference between technical writing and instructional design further begins to blur.

Let’s just introduce a new word into our discussion: training. The word adds a lot of clarity in our understanding and helps us define the scope of both technical writing and instructional designing. Based on what we’ve discussed so far, can we say we are talking about technical training instead of instructional designing? If yes, can we say that technical training helps graduate a user’s understanding from one logical sequence to another or from one learning goal to another? And if that’s also true, aren’t we negating the difference between technical writing and instructional designing?

This is exactly why I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different. They may be two sides of the same coin, and I am OK if they are that way. But, that still doesn’t change the end-result for the users. Despite what users wish to peruse, they seek insights and accomplishment. And, as someone who enables them to achieve both these, I continue to remain a problem solver for the users. And, I don’t care what you name me as.

How Technical Writing Makes Me a Better Fiction Writer

I just published this post on Medium. This post brings a new train of thoughts. Thoughts that lead me to think more for and about those who use what I write for. Hopefully, I will learn to write better. Hopefully, I will have something new for you, too.

Let me know how you found this post. Until next time, then! Happy writing.

You’re a Talented Writer

Am I?

I purposefully start this post with a question because I know that most of those who know that I blog, think that I do so not because I have something to say but because they think that that’s my talent. All I can do is reply with this question. I delve this dialogue in this post.

What is talent?

Is it any special ability that you are born with? Is it something that most others can’t, but you can with the utmost ease? I reckon none of the questions need to be answered.

Your talent is your bent towards better focus and clarity in the application of a skill. It is mostly natural, but you can hone it over time. Talent isn’t something that you and I can’t learn. It is something that both you and I ALREADY have but may have failed to discover. For the most part of our life, we remain learners. Our talent is our sphere of flawless application of what we continue to explore and learn.

So, am I a talented writer? Maybe. Maybe not. Am I someone who can flawlessly describe what I intend to say? Definitely. From what I know and have experienced, this is a skill. And, if this is a skill, you too can learn to master this skill. Here’s how:

  • Observe your triggers: Observe what made you do things. Observe what made you read, see, do, and write. Can you define it? No? But can you understand it? Can you describe it? Can you see how the thoughts and actions connect to your past, present, and future? Can you communicate what you were thinking before doing, while doing, and after you’re done? If you are affirmative, you can write about it.
  • Wear different hats: Think as they would think. See things from the perspective of an observer. Don’t just play the doer, for not always will you like to see yourself in the first person. Become an audience to your own audience. Write from their perspective. Sometimes it is good to wear different hats. Especially when you are dealing with emotions. Play the characters of your story. Wear the hat of an author. But first, wear the hat of a reader.
  • Learn to listen: This one’s tricky. Let me help you understand this how I’ve come to understand it. The reason the almighty gave us two ears but only one mouth is that He wants us to listen twice as much as we talk. Be all ears to what others are saying. But reserve an ear for your inner self. You talk to your inner self as you write. When you begin to listen to your silence, the readers begin to listen to what you write.

If you too are doing what I do, you too are as talented as anybody else. Just be on the write path and your talent will flourish.

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).

Three Tips for Effective Localization

In this post, I take a closer look at the localization project in which my team and I assisted. I take cues from this project, and the similar ones that I have done previously, to discuss the top-three points for localization. This post is special to me, because it has helped me unfold those chapters of my life, which I had come to forget. If you are new to localization, this post will help you scratch its surface. If you already are into this field, I hope that the post will help add some new points to your localization plans. Click here to read the full post.