Do you need to write to hold your job or make your reputation? Come and learn the standard techniques of writing in a 3-day workshop that will focus your energies and put you on the path to success.
All writing – from blogging to newswriting, marketing communications and research reporting – shares common principles of composition. The phases of writing are Prewriting, Drafting and Rewriting. Get to grips with how to think and plan in the prewriting phase. Find out how to draft your ideas and facts in simple, bite-sized chunks. And learn how to rewrite to bring out the best, logically organise the text, and signpost it to help the reader.
Prof Graeme Addison is a seasoned journalist and author of 10 non-fiction books. His topics have ranged from the history of innovations in South Africa to whitewater rafting and dietary guidelines to lose weight. In the following article he explains his approach to teaching writing techniques.
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RELAX AND TAKE YOUR TIME!
Fear of failure and impatience with the process of writing are two major psychological obstacles to writing well. There’s nothing mysterious about the process of writing : it’s as natural as speaking, but you’ve got to pace yourself. Anxiety and the rush to finish before the ideas are properly cooked will lead to precisely what you fear : a bad job.
Of course, deadlines are very important and good for writers: they force you to get down to penning the words. Sometimes, in the flush of inspiration, you produce the best work. But this is almost always preceded by inner cogitation, the thoughts that have been going round and round in your head seeking a way out.
I’ve written 10 nonfiction books and edited several more. I was asked by a friend to run a “masterclass”. No, I said, there is no mastery about it. It’s rather a matter of plodding towards the eventual end of the work. There is no “master” in writing but yourself. For years I’ve run classes in Research Writing for the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism IAJ – oddly, because the target market was thesis writers.
My philosophy and approach has always been to advise writers to relax and not tighten up with the fear of not being good enough or not satisfying the supervisor. I recommend a combination of Freewriting (spontaneous composition to formulate words and ideas from in-depth research); mind mapping (organised thinking on a single branching diagram); and list writing (taking things item by item in no particular order to develop detailed texts around topics that must all be covered). These three approaches give you a chaotic but extensive draft of the words, lots and lots of written text which then needs to be cut and pasted into order.
So draft 1 leads to draft 2 and so on, writing transitions, introductions and conclusions for each major section. Finally you get to something like a complete draft. The computer is a marvellous writing instrument because it makes reorganisation, editing and checking so much easier. In the old days of paper, scissors and glue the process of writing was arduous and messy.
Writing is NOT HARD but it is time consuming and apart from the fear of failure the other major psychological obstacle to success is impatience. Wanting to get done and dusted; hoping that you can somehow finish in a hurry – and thus botching the job – that’s a destructive impulse. The loneliness of the long distance writer is partly what prompts this impulse. But learn to live with, and indeed enjoy, the intense inner life of the writer.
Don’t foist your ideas on others while in the process of composing them. Keep writing and keep it private until it’s done. Of course, you should attend seminars and engage with other minds. But to disclose what you’re writing can be the kiss of death because others will say things that undermine your confidence.
Baking the product
Trust only yourself. Only you know what you are trying to say. Writing is like baking bread: it takes time and the mix will not rise unless you keep it warm and keep reworking it like a baker kneading the dough.
Self-editing your own work is the final part of the process before ( I recommend) handing it to a tough and experienced editor for a going-over. There are three levels of editing :
1. Fundamentally, does the text make any SENSE? What does it actually say? Clarify the meaning of the parts and clear up the message of the whole.
2. STRUCTURE. Having established the meaning, put things in logical order so that the reader can follow your signposting. Connect the ideas and spell them out in an orderly fashion as each section unfolds. Lastly –
3. STYLE. This is the element that many consider to be the most important but in fact it is minor compared with 1 and 2. Don’t start with style, end with it. Sort out the wordiness, the clumsiness, the repetitions and the poor punctuation and spelling. Cut, cut. Cut!
In the final stages you should be concerned with legalism like copyright and plagiarism. Are you SURE your words were not lifted inadvertently from a Google search? And have you defamed or misquoted anyone?
In the end you’ll have a manuscript that speaks for you stylishly. Don’t write to impress, write to express. Say what needs to be said and make an end of it.
Those are my principles of writing. Of course, there are lots of bells and whistles that go with it such as tables, figures, glossaries, indexes, abstracts, citations and bibliographies. There is also a lot of prewriting that must be done leading up to the actual composition of the words. But there my advice is don’t spend too much time planning and thinking : that is avoidance behaviour. Get down to the writing. Prewriting, writing and rewriting are stages that usually overlap and go back on themselves. A good rule of thumb is to allow one third of the time to Prewriting, one third to Writing, and one third to Rewriting. That’s a discipline in itself.
- So, to conclude, mastering the art of writing is largely common sense, taking things a few steps at a time, and not trying to eat the whole elephant all at once.