How to start writing?

People express themselves in various ways. Some sing themselves hoarse, some dance their hearts out, some cook and decorate their food with painstaking detail, some collect rocks that look funny, and some write. 
Writing is something each and every student has to do at some point of time in school. Anything made compulsory quickly becomes an object of hatred among kids and hence, a lot of people consider writing to be a chore, something they need to do from time to time to get the job done. Writing for joy or for emotions sounds alien and strange to them. 
However, there are tons of people who write simply because they love it. I am one such person. 

I write only when I am truly inspired to express myself in a certain way. Writing this blog is probably the most important thing I have done in my 22 years; it is a living, breathing scrapbook of my emotions and thoughts over the last 5 years and I am proud of it. 

One question a few people have asked me is how do I write? How to get into the mindset of writing and what are the tools required to write effectively? These are common questions and I am sure there is no right answer to them, rather there are several good answers. But I would like to share a few thoughts on my approach to writing. If you have different thoughts or views, please do share them in the comments - I would love to know them. :) 

A lot of people consider reading to be the first step in writing. They assume that being well-read is a necessary requirement for writing. I beg to disagree. Reading is *important* and *vital* for writing but definitely not *compulsory*. Reading and writing are two different strands but they intersect at several places. 
Reading helps writing in two key ways:
  1. It builds your vocabulary, arsenal of idioms, phrases etc. These lend to the richness and vitality of your writing. Good writing and great writing are sometimes differentiated only their difference in choice of adjectives and adverbs! Reading good authors will help you enrich your own tool set for writing, but this is a sub-conscious process which occurs over a long time. You definitely should not read just to write! That will deprive you of the joy of reading and writing! 
  2. Reading gives you content for writing. Let's be fair to ourselves, we don't have a lot of things happening in our lives. Most of us are students or employees and a major chunk of our day goes off in getting through to the next day in one piece. We don't get opportunities to travel or observe as much as we would like. Reading can provide with the much-needed fodder for writing your own content. Reading good newspapers, blogs and books will enrich your mind and give you a chance to build on those. You may do so through 'reply' articles or letters or even 'fan-fiction'! 

Write what you know! 
A lot of people love reading murder-mysteries and whodunits from a very early age. I am also a part of that list. I love reading tense, terse action-thrillers (think Bourne) and historical mysteries (think Angels and Demons), but if I try to write such a book, I highly doubt if I will want to read it myself! The reason is, I don't *know* how a murderer feels when he plunges his knife into his victim! I have not had the opportunity to talk to convicts or detectives to know their mindsets. I don't know how a helicopter flies or how it will explode when struck by a missile! If I try to write a book about a murderer who attempts to flee from the cops on a helicopter, it will be a childish rendering of what I would have read from numerous other whodunits. There will be nothing uniquely *me* in that book. So, I generally aver, don't write what you don't know. 
In its own way, my life has been full of challenges and excitements, so I try to write about things I can relate with - my past, my hopes, my concerns at the state of our nation etc. 
I don't publish any post unless I am sure there is at-least a tiny part of me in it :)

The Word Processor
Please don't write on MS Word. Please, just don't! It is one of the most depressing experiences in my opinion. Every time I open MS Word to start writing a post, I am reminded of the hundreds of school and college assignments I was forced to write and it totally spoils my mood! Word also has too many options for font, color, scaling, background blah blah. For writing all you need is a screen and a keyboard. Go for a minimalistic word processor like Q10. Trust me, you will be amazed at how much you can write in one sitting with a no-nonsense word processor! 

The Font
I know I just said, a screen and a keyboard are all you need for writing, and I stick by it. However, I am a fool for fonts! :| I love the typographical features of various fonts and they help me focus my thoughts better. If I am writing for office or work, I prefer a more serious *getting-it-done* font such as Calibri. It is crisp and literally has no frills attached. But for my blog, I prefer Helvetica or Trebuchet. I feel the elegant notes of these fonts give the blog post the personal warmth I want my readers to feel when they read my articles.

The Music
Simple advice - turn it OFF! People love listening to music when they read or write. I detest both. Reading and writing are for me - uni-functional tasks. You must give them your full attention, otherwise you are just wasting your time. Music has a great power to transport you to different states of mind in no time. While that is a magical thing when you are stressed out or bored, that may not be good when you writing. Imagine that you sit down to write a polemic about the garbage problem in Bangalore and you plug in your headphones to listen to classic country music (think James Taylor). If you are anything like me, your anger would instantly fly away and get replaced with a sense of wonder at the power of such simple lyrics. If you still strive to write your angry article, you will end up neither enjoying the song nor relishing the righteous anger etched into your words. 
There are innumerable places where music helps, I feel writing is not one such place. 

Whom are you writing for? 
Target audience is an important thing to consider when you are writing a blog or a book. Whom are you hoping will read and savor your words? Your peers? Young children? Women? Or, are you planning to write just for yourself? 
Any answer is fine! As long as you know your target audience, it will help to focus your work. If you are writing for your peers, you will automatically gravitate your article towards references or implications of their affinity. If you are writing for children, you will obviously refrain from certain avenues and topics. Like me, if you write largely for yourself, then it is an open world for you! You can write anything you want and there is a sweet sense of freedom in that. 

When to write?
Time tables help me get through my day. I assiduously compartmentalize my time into several chunks of productive work. Being a geek, I use tons of apps and websites to help me increase my productivity. But the one thing I can never organize is my writing time. If I sit down at my desk with the intention of writing, I usually cannot. Or worse, I will write such absolute drivel that I will get depressed for the next hour. Like most forms of expression, writing is inspired work. You may never know when it will hit you and you certainly can't predict it. For example, once after getting drenched to my bones in the rain, I came back home and after having a bath, sat down and wrote 3 chapters of a novella, no questions asked. The words just kept coming out! 
However, if you are just starting to write, it is always good to practice writing regularly. Don't expect your articles to always be at the best of your potential but regular effort will attune your mind to the patience and rigors of writing. 

If you plan on writing a blog, even if it is a personal blog like mine, you will eventually want more people to read and share your thoughts. Obviously, like any form of expression, writing also demands attention and nourishment from informed audience. Popularizing your blog, however, can be an uphill journey. In this age of twitter and facebook, a lot of people don't have the discipline to read a full article. So it will take time and a *lot* of persistence before you assemble your band of dedicated readers. My blog, despite being 5 years old, is still an infant in terms of reach but I have managed to put in place a group of people who always read my posts and give me invaluable feedback. It makes me feel appreciated and inspires me to write better! So, don't shy away from popularizing your works. 
There are several techniques for promoting blogs - Search Engine Optimizations, Social Networking, Blog Directories like blogadda etc. Just Google it!

A very important part of writing is editing. You must keep reading and re-reading your own work to ensure that it is absolutely of top-notch quality. You don't want embarrassing grammatical mistakes or silly play of words to spoil the flow of thought in the article. Sometimes, reading your post after a day or two will give you a different perspective and aid the editing process. Never shy from butchering your work till it is *just* perfect! 

Respect your limitations
Just like anything else in life, you won't become a Gabriel Garcia Marquez after writing for a year or two. It will take time, effort, discipline and limitless patience before you reach a level that you will be proud of. But don't write for the sake of becoming better at it, instead write because you enjoy it. That will make the journey towards perfection a breezy ride. Respect your limitations but constantly strive to overcome them!

Happy writing!  :)


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