My Protagonist of the Opposite Gender…

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One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to write someone who is not yourself.” – George R.R. Martin

Writing a whole book from the name of a particular person is always a challenging task, but choosing a protagonist of an opposite gender is a real test for every author. I am doing this for the first time now, so I have been trying to adjust to the funny sensation of having a whole new personality – a male one – living inside me. 

The first confirmations of his presence started coming when I was thinking over the plot, and since then my protagonist has been growing through me like a plant that breaks through layers of soil to see the sunlight. Wow, what an interesting sensation! My first thought was that I was going crazy, but then I found similar feedback in the blogs of many authors. I completely agree with this comment by Cristina Hartmann: “I string words together and hope for the best. All characters, regardless of gender, have a part of me in them. No matter how seemingly different a character may be from me, they all have something in common with me. I put a little of myself in every character I write. In that sense, gender is irrelevant.”

When I write a character, I cannot go only with his/her general gender characteristics: I must imagine and draw a whole colorful picture of the character’s personality traits. Besides this, I may give a character an atypical quality: a male character may love planting roses, while a female may entertain herself by solving math problems in evenings. These unusual qualities may look like pesky imperfections at first, but they often lead my character toward some significant and exciting events, and eventually, the character is supposed to win the readers’ sympathy.

It is important to pick out some easily recognizable, but still quite unique character traits, because this helps the reader find connection between their mental image of my character and someone who they already know from real life: such character can keep the reader excited and interested to read the story to the very end. Secondly, the character’s imperfection should be charming; it is always a good idea to turn it into the character’s power at some point in the story (a stutter that suddenly helps them meet their love, or disarming shyness, or clumsy forgetfulness – anything).

It seems to me that the most difficult thing is to do this with a novel protagonist, especially if this is a person of an opposite gender, and even more – if he/she is the narrator of the story.

Kristen Houghton in her article “Writing As Your Opposite Gender Can Be Successful” wrote: “There are some things to remember when writing in your opposite gender voice. Understand that your character is unique and not a metaphor for the entire gender. The same is true when writing about ethnicity, race, religion, or social classes. You’re not generalizing about entire segments of society, you’re being specific about one character. As far as characters go, it pays to remember that not all women think and behave alike, and neither do all men… If my goal as a writer is to help my readers expand their life experiences through my writing, then my success will depend mainly upon my talent and technique, not on my character’s gender.”

My biggest goal in writing is to draw my characters so realistically that every reader would recognize someone they know in them. I believe that the only right way to do this is to write my characters completely from my own experiences.

I found a similar opinion in an article by Avory Faucette: “…the difficulty comes when describing an experience I haven’t had, which is more about others’ perception of me than about my own gender… I feel comfortable writing characters with similar hopes and aspirations and experiences to my own, and that makes it difficult to write someone who is not college educated, who is much younger or older, who is an immigrant, who is a person of color, etc.”

Sheri Fresonke Harper: “I think people in general have a blend of both feminine and masculine traits and interests… Often we pick up voice, mannerisms, and other characteristics of character from our experience with the world so that when we write from the perspective of another sex, we’ve seen the world through the eyes of people of that gender that have said the same thing, thought the same thing, acted the same way.”

This is true. Men and women aren’t that different, but they face quite different social roles and as so, their behavior is not the same.” Even the very fact of choosing to write the protagonist of the opposite gender shows that the author has made a commitment to explore a new social role and is willing to share that new knowledge with others.

It was a surprise to see that some authors find the task quite entertaining. I loved this comment by Eli Havoc: “It’s really easy. I was told once, by a female friend “we think just like you do, except we’re constantly worrying about how we look.” And that piece of advice had worked very well for me. I wrote a book written in first-person, once, with a female main character, and have gotten several comments from readers that go something like “Jenna’s character is so real! How did you write a high-school girl so believably?”

With all this being said, everything still seems to boil down to the author’s talent and brilliance in writing technique. In fact, the protagonists’s gender becomes nothing more than a tool which the writer decides to use in order to deliver the main idea of the book. Well, let us proceed to writing then! In the end, if I am a good writer, I should feel comfortable writing characters of either gender. Do you agree with me?

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“Cooking” Blog Headlines: My Signature Dish

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Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that a smartly chosen headline can sell even an average article. Headline is the face of every text composition or document, no matter if it is long or short, creative or strictly logical, artistic or business-like. Every word of a headline works to represent the whole composition in search engines, in email, on social media, and can either attract the eye of the reader or do quite the opposite thing, which makes the task of crafting the headline crucially important.

Being a mother and wife with decades of experience in the kitchen, I can’t help but compare this process with cooking. Cooking is a skill, which – when properly used – can turn my daily work of processing food into a very satisfying, creative and surprisingly effective activity. Moreover, it gives me a chance to share my creative work with others… just like with blog writing! See for yourself: to cook a good dinner, we need to take care of four things-

  • to know what we are going to cook (a simple way to talk about goal setting);
  • to develop a method and a sequence of doing it;
  • to have necessary food ingredients and the kitchen equipment at hand; and
  • to decorate the final product and serve it properly, in order to get the best appreciation of the diners.

Well, this daily cooking scheme looks amazingly similar to blogging process, don’t you think? Cooking a blog article seems to follow the same methodology!

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I try to write for my blog quite regularly, so the task of giving names to the articles comes up a few times every week. The method I have developed is a kind of a recipe for cooking blog titles. These are the steps I take:

Step 1. Select 3-4 keywords

While I work on the article content, I write down 3-4 keywords, which describe the main idea of my article. These words usually become the basis for my working titleFor example, when I started writing this article, I picked four key phrases: blog article, create a title, craft a headline, headline writing howto (the idea to compare it with cooking process came to me later). This first step is very important, because it helps me set the direction of my thoughts, and then I check every passage of my article with the key phrases to see if the content corresponds with the working title.

Step 2. Answer the seven questions (below)

When the first draft of my article is ready and I have the working title, I can proceed directly to designing the final title. To do this, I ask myself a few questions-

  • Should I create a witty, inciting title or rather craft an informative headline*?

  • Who may want to read an article with this title/headline?

  • What words should I use or avoid in the title?
  • Is my title/headline catchy enough?
  • How long should my headline be?
  • Does it correspond to the content, structure, and style of my article?
  • Does my headline include the necessary keywords (is it satisfactory to both, my readers and the search robots)?

*There is some difference between the notions “title” and “headline”. To read more about it, go to page: http://blendmagazine.org/blog/2009/02/27/headlines-vs-titles/

Step 2 is the most creative one. I try to imagine my readers and, depending on how I visualize them, I come up with ideas of style, manner and length of my title. I won’t go into lengthy discussions here. You can simply apply these questions to an article that you are writing at the moment, and some ideas will flash in your mind right away.

Step 3. Personalize the title

To make my title attractive to many people, I need to enrich it with an emotional component. Some authors would express it by the phrase “make it sexy”, I would rather call it personalizing the title, which gives my readers a promise that, along with sharing the basic information, I will share a little about my personality. This makes me closer to the reader and simplifies the task of disclosing the subject of my article. Sometimes at this step I come up with an idea (like the one about comparing crafting of blog titles with the process of cooking), which makes me revise the whole article and sometimes rewrite it. But in most cases, revisions make the article better, so I don’t mind…

Step 4. Decorate and serve

At this step the article is finished and the title has been cooked. If I am satisfied with everything, I can proceed to publishing it in my blog. Quite often, I revise my articles days and weeks after they were published, and recently I found out that I am not the only one who does so. Honestly, I never expect the blog articles to be perfect: this is what blogging is about, isn’t it?

A blog article should be fresh and inventive in thought, but it does not have to be coursebook-precise or academically elaborate, it should simply catch the readers’ attention and provoke them to think. This is why I added Step 4 to my recipe. “Decorate and serve” means: make it visually attractive. Do not forget to develop a clear visual structure: break it up into easily identifiable parts, add numbering and bullets, or do whatever is necessary to make your article dish look edible and delicious.

Then, finally, add illustrations and serve.

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Here is a little bonus for you:

To read more on the topic, you are welcome to go to blendmagazine.org, where, inter alia, they provide a classification of article headline types. Enjoy:

7 Types of Headlines

http://blendmagazine.org/blog/2009/02/27/headlines-vs-titles/

1. The Know-it-All: these headlines offer practical advice or tips.

2. The Teacher: these headlines teach you something you didn’t already know.

3. The Gossip: these types of headlines stir up controversy, pique your interest, and often have you asking “and then what happened?”

4. The Instigator: these headlines make bold statements, which may or may not be true, but they make you want to click to find out.

5. The Nay-Sayer: these headlines convince you that what you don’t know will hurt you.

6. The Campaigner: these headlines provoke people who have similar problems or issues to click on the articles and connect with other like-minded people.

7. The Connector: these articles show the connection between two seemingly unrelated things.

Secrets of Blogging Success: Secrets? Seriously? Pah.

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“So, you call this a secret? Seriously? Pah!”

I just read another portion of articles about achieving success in blogging, and my teacher mind has been trying to put all that information into a simple, clear and easy-to-remember system of rules. Many titles promise to reveal secrets of blogging success, but in fact, ther is nothing secret-ful about it: blogging is a skill – no more, no less sophisticated than any other skill that can be developed by thorough, repeating effort – and as so, there are no secrets behind it: only rules.

To be honest, I like setting up little rules for myself: they keep me well-organized and help me manage my time. Based on all the material that I have read about blogging, I have developed my own rules – or tasks, or… well, call them whatever you want, but certainly they are not secrets! Here they are:

1. Find a subject that works for you and your audience.

I find it quite logical to blog only about things that I know quite well and to share it with the people who are interested in the same topic(s). It goes without saying that I need to study the interests of my audience all the time if I want them to read the stuff I write.

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2. Develop a voice and don’t lose it. 

This is a very creative task, but developing an author voice is a skill, too. One does not have to be gifted for blog writing; good understanding of what you are doing plus lots of untiring effort would be enough. Sounds quite promising, eh? 😉

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“Develop your author voice and keep it.”

3. Blog away regularly, let your articles be short and precise.

Doing something regularly is a good rule in every undertaking. When we talk about blogging, it is crucial, especially when you have regularly returning readers and fans. If you stop blogging for a while, a part of your audience may leave you, and regaining their respect later will be really hard.

“Краткость сестра таланта” (brevity is the soul of wit), said a brilliant  Russian writer Anton Chehov in the19th century. Today, in the world of information, his words are gaining more and more value. People prefer short, schematic and visual posts… so I will stop here and go on to our next rule.

4. Communicate with your readers, and do it honestly.

I don’t think this item even needs any additional comments. Communication is the basis of the blogger’s life, it is the ultimate goal of blogging. Doing it with the most sincere intentions will help you to build that special bond with your readers, which makes you successfull and keeps your readers satifsied with your writing.

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“Honestly? Alright, guys, I’ll be honest: I’m sleepy.”

5. Think like a scholar, share like a friend.

This is a good rule that just came to my mind this morning. By thinking like a scholar I mean being logical, consistent and precise in your writing. But sharing like a friend means that a blogger – no matter how educated and experienced she is – needs to find a lucid, intelligible style and friendly manner of writing.

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6. In every blog post, tell your readers a story from life.

“I had never thought I would write a blog, until I met a fortune-teller who told me I would become a famous writer one day… This happened many years ago, the word “blog” did not exist then… but I could never get the prediction out of my head, and now… here I am, writing these words to you.” Did you get the idea of what I mean by suggesting to tell the readers a life story in every post? Let us go on then.

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7. Illustrate everything!

Without the pictures of dogs this post would not attract even one tenth of the visitors to this site. Today, in the era of visual media, simple text is no longer attractive to anyone. All people have a common sympthom: a thirst for visual stimuli. So I have set this rule for myself: “every time you blog, do not forget to quench the thirst of your readers.”

This is it! Please, leave your suggestions and comments below. I would love to hear your feedback.

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Russian Loanwords in English

Recently, a few friends-writers from social networks asked me to share about the traces of Russian culture in the English language. I think this information might also be interesting to other people, not only linguists and writers.

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Since very old times, the people, who inhabited vast territories of the present-day Russia, were known to have strong connections with other parts of the world. I am talking mainly about the ancient Kiev State and Great Novgorod. The exchange happened on different levels – in politics, trade, technology of the time, culture, and, of course, on the level of language. One of the first Russian words which came into the English language was ‘tapor-x’, which united a Russian and a Norwegian words; the word was found in handwritten manuscripts of 1031. Another English word, to talk, has the same root base with the Russian noun толк [tolk] (verb: толковать).

The words with common roots have been found in both, English and Russian languages since medieval times: sable (соболь), the old English meodu (м`д) and the more recent mead, meaning honey; the old English meolk (молоко), or milk; the old English ploz (плуг), meaning plough.

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The pre-revolutionary Russia brought the following words into the English speaking world: мужик (muzhik), изба (izba), шуба (shuba), квас (kvass), морс (morse), щи (shchi), борщ (borshch), мед (mead), калач (calach), кисель (kissel), водка (vodka), наливка (nalivka), блины (bliny), телега (telega), печь (peach), махорка (makhorka), молитва (molitva), обедня (obednia), хоровод (khorovod), указ (ukase), опричнина (opritchnina), староста (starosta), боярин (boyar), царь (tsar), артель (artel), дача (dacha), самовар (samovar), тройка (troika), дрожки (droshky), погром (pogrom), степь (steppe), тундра (tundra), тайга (taiga), суслик (suslik), борзая (borzoi).

The 70-year period of the Soviet Union state gave birth to a whole bunch of new words, which acquired completely new meanings in the given environment: apparatchik (аппаратчик, an office worker), gulag (гулаг) Soviet-time prison/camp in Siberia. The decay of the Soviet Union enriched the English language with such words as: glasnost (гласность) and perestroika (перестройка).

The words sputnik (спутника) and cosmonaut (космонавт) also came into English through Russian.

Russian tourists and immigrants have contributed the words, associated with the Russian cuisine: blini (блины), borshch (борщ), koulibiaca (кулебяка), kasha (каша), smetana (сметана), kvass (квас), pirogi (пироги), shashlik /shishkobab/ (шашлык), vodka (водка), zakuska (закуска).

Russian suffix -ник (-nik) has become quite popular in English recently, you can find it in words kapustnik (The Daily Express), flopnik (Daily Herald), pufnik (Daily Mail), stayputnik (News Chronicle) (Эпштейн М. 2003).

Today, no English speaker is surprised to hear Russian words рубль (rouble) and копейка (kopek), (interestingly, the word rouble came into English through French), балалайка (balalaika) – Russian musical instrument; казачок (kazachok) – Ukrainian and Russian popular dance; борзая (borzoi) – a Russian dog kind; белуга (a fish) and белуха (a whale) have the same name in English: beluga; the Engish babushka – is a woman wearing a cloth over her head, tied under her chin; and of coure, Russian степь (steppe), тайгa (taiga) and тундрa (tundra), and many others.

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The rest of this article may be interesting to experts in Russian culture or to writers, whose work is devoted to the Russian culture:

1. The names, related to the state organs of power and ranks of the seate service people: czar (tzar ) ‘царь ’, voivodeвоеовда ’, knesкнязь ’, bojarбоярин ’, moujikмужик ’, cossackказак ’, opritchinaопритчина ’, strelscyстрелец ’, starostaстароста, ukaseуказ, kremlinкремль ’, sotniaсотня ’, Raskolnikраскольник ’.

2. Different measurements: verstверста, arshinаршин, poodпуд, sageneсажень ’, roubleрубль, copeckкопейка, chervonetsчервонец ’.

3. Names of items of clothes, foods or household items: shubaшуба ’,kvassквас, morseморс ’,koumissкумыс ’, shchiщи, borshchборщ ’,meadмед, calashкалач ’, shashlikшашлык ’, kisselкисель ’, vodkaводка, starkaстарка, nalivkaналивка, nastoikaнастойка, blinyблины, oladyiоладьи, okroshkaокрошка ’, troikaтройка, izbaизба, telegaтелега, peach‘печь, balalaikaбалалайка ’, bayanбаян ’, samovar самовар ’, tarantassтарантас ’, droshkiдрожки ’, kibitkaкибитка ’, makhorkaмахорка ’.

4. Natural characteristics and animals: steppeстепь, tundraтундра ’, taiga ‘тайга’, poliniaполыня ’, suslikсуслик ’,borzoiборзая ’.

5. Religious words: molitvaмолитва ’, obednjaобедня’ and a few names associated with unique Rusian culture: kokoshnikкокошник ’, khorovodхоровод ’, samovarсамовар’,obrokоброк ’,zolotnikзолотник ’, otrezokотрезок, vedroведро, matrioshkaматрешка ’.

There are many more words, of course, but those listed here are the most “recognizeable” by the English speakers.

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A Few Facts About the English Language in Russian

 

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Несколько интересных фактов об английском языке, собранных с разных сайтов в Интернет. 

1. Английское слово «alphabet» происходит от названия первых двух букв греческого алфавита «alpha» и «beta».

2. В предложении «The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog» можно встретить каждую букву алфавита.

3. «I am» и «I do» — самые короткие предложения в английском языке с подлежащим и сказуемым.

4. В старые времена на протяжении определённого времени амперсэнд (символ “&”, в английском языке означающий союз “и”) был буквой английского алфавита.

5. Самые распространенные буквы в английском языке – это R, S, T, L, N, E. Реже всего используется буква Q.

6. Точка над буквой «i» в английском языке называется tittle (малейшая частица/капелька).

7. Самым длинным словом в английском языке, согласно Оксфордскому английскому словарю, является слово pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (обозначает болезнь легких, в слове 45 букв).

8. Самые длинные односложные слова в английском языке – это “screeched” (визгливо крикнуть) and “strengths” (сильные стороны).

9. «Almost» (почти) – самое длинное слово английского языка, в котором все буквы расположены в алфавитном порядке.

10. В английском языке есть слово с одной и той же гласной, которая повторяется 5 раз – «indivisibility» (единство, невозможность отделить).

11. “Four” (четыре) – единственное числительное в английском языке, количество букв которого соответствует обозначаемому числу.

12. Слово “set” (в значениях существительного и глагола) имеет больше значений, чем любое другое слово в английском языке.

13. Слова «racecar» (гоночная машина), «kayak» (каяк/байдарка) и «level» (уровень) являются полиндромами, то есть одинаково пишутся и читаются справа налево и слева направо.

14. Единственное слово в английском языке состоящее из 15 букв в котором буквы не повторяются “uncopyrightable” (не охраняемый авторским правом).

15. Ни одно слово в английском языке не рифмуется со словами «month», «orange», «silver» и «purple».

16. Буквосочетание “ough” в английском языке может читаться девятью различными способами. Следующее предложение содержит их все: “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

17. Самое функциональное слово в английском языке – это «shit». (О способах его использования подробно можно прочитать здесь http://www.funfacts.com.au/the-most-functional-word-in-the-english-language/ )

18. В английском языке больше всего слов (около 800 000) и самые богатые синонимические ряды. Американский президент Бенджамин Франклин собрал более 200 синонимов слова «пьяный» (англ. drunk), включая такие «шедевры» как «cherry-merry», «nimptopsical» и «soaked».

19. Самая сложная скороговорка в английском языке – это “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick”.

20. Согласно закону штата Иллиной (Illinois), в штате запрещено говорить по-английски – официальным языком здесь принято считать американский.

21. «God be with ye»- полная версия слова «goodbye».

22. Древнейшее слово в английском языке – town (городишко), означает, как правило, городок с населением не более 5 тысяч человек

23. Со словами month, orange, silver, purple, английские поэты не могут найти рифму.

24. В одной верхней строке клавиатуры можно набрать английское слово «typewriter».

25. Когда-то слово «pants» считалось ругательным в Англии, теперь его используют на каждом шагу.

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What Distinguishes a Successful Blogger in 2017?

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As I have been learning how to blog, I never miss publications on the newest tendencies in the world of blogging. It goes without saying that every beginner must find a niche and identify a group of ideal readers for their blog, but then… what else? According to my research of publications authored by well-recognized bloggers, the following features will become a must for every successful blogger in 2017:

  • compelling content that adds value to readers;
  • preferably short articles and posts;
  • attractive illustrations, at least one for each post (I have no doubt that in 2017, visualization will become No1 factor of success for bloggers);
  • simplicity and preciseness of all information;
  • an easily identified, unique feel (or a unique author’s voice) of the blog to attract repeated visitors;
  • clearly displayed personality of the blogger;
  • positive general mood of the posts;
  • rational use of social media, (the bloggers should not focus too much on them, they should rather focus on writing);
  • ongoing research related to the main blog topics;
  • regularly appearing video and audio content.

Please, add your ideas in the comments below if you can think of more items. Thank you! Wishing you all the best with your blog!

Writing Fiction Is an Art

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To me, writing fiction has always been equivalent to creating artwork, because it is the art of influencing the personality of your reader, and reading fiction is nothing else but an acquaintance with a new world – the world as it is seen by the author.

Secondly, writing fiction means sharing your vision with others, and sharing is also an art. Like every other art, fiction writing is not supposed to share information – let us leave this to press, television and journalists – it is supposed to provoke emotional reactions, to make the reader feel and suffer.

Gustav Flaubert wrote that the art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. To me, it is also the art of sharing your vision so masterfully that others could see it your way.

Fiction writing is also the art of working with other people’s imagination, which is a lot more difficult than just working with someone’s logics. To master the art, a good writer must be a little of everything: an artist, a linguist, a psychologist, a philosoper, and just an inspired individual who sees the unique sides of this world and can convey his vision to others.

Blogging Is an Introvert’s Torture

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Blogging is a real torture for me as an incurable introvert.

(Here comes a 15-minute break sipping cold coffee and blankly looking at the line above.)

No. Blogging is not my strong side.

(5 more minutes of heavy thinking here.)

It feels like talking to a wall when you have to share your thoughts to a blog instead of chatting with a real audience. Having spent decades working with large and small groups of people every day, I am used to seeing people’s faces and receiving immediate reaction to everything I say. But blogging makes me feel like I have a sleeping patch on my eyes and a helmet over my ears. I must confess: to me, there is nothing cool about sharing my thoughts to invisible audiences. I guess, I am a bit old-fashioned here.

Robert E McGinnis and the Secret of The New Cover — Neil Gaiman’s Journal

I’ve loved Robert McGinnis’s covers for a very long time. I remember the first one I was aware of (it was the cover of Ian Fleming’s James Bond book DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, when I was about 9. They put the film poster on the book cover, which puzzled me a bit because the plot of…

via Robert E McGinnis and the Secret of The New Cover — Neil Gaiman’s Journal

Writing Can Be Taught

Today, I have been reading “Plot and Structure” by J.S.Bell again. In introduction, the author says that he had wasted decades of his time not writing because since childhood he had been told that to be a writer one must be born with it (the gift of writing). He had also been told that writing couldn’t be taught. J.S.Bell writes,”I started to believe it. I figured I didn’t have it and never would. So I did other stuff. Like go to law school. Like join a law firm. Like give up my dream. But the itch to write would not go away. At age thirty-four, I read an interview with a lawyer who’d had a novel published. And what he said hit me in my lengthy briefs. He said he’d had an accident and was almost killed. In the hospital, given a second chance at life, he decided the one thing he wanted was to be a writer. And he would write and write, even if he never got published because that was what he wanted. Well, I wanted it, too.”

Al this sounds sadly familiar to me, and I am sure there are thousands of other people around the world facing the same fact: they never tried writing because they did not believe in themselves, and because everybody around kept convincing them that writing is a wrong way to choose. As well as music, and arts, and any other “impractical” occupations, by the way.

Still, those who are strong enough to overcome their shyness and finally do start writing, as well as those who are quite experienced – all need to learn. My strong belief is that one CAN learn how to write, moreover, it is as complicated as every other intellectual occupation, so it MUST be learned. It is never late to learn and there is never enough of learning. To me, a picture like the one below, is not an evidence of a writer’s failure. It is the evidence of a learning process, which is awesome.

learning_writer

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librocubicularist | nonfiction | moonlights as the host of Silent Book Club Kota Kinabalu | writes on Scrivener