Alamesra, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah,
7th April 2016
Despite having read many stories, novels, poems, articles, and journals written by different authors and writers around the world and despite being someone who is regularly engaged in creative writing, I still often stumble with the questions “What makes one a good writer?” and “What constitutes good writing?”
In trying to understand the phrases “good writer” and “good writing”, we all need to begin with the general questions “What is writing” and “Writing is what?”
Here are a few definitions of the word “writing” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1. the act or process of one who writes: as
- the act or art of forming visible letters or characters; specifically : handwriting
- the act or practice of literary or musical composition
- letters or characters that serve as visible signs of ideas, words, or symbols
- a letter, note, or notice used to communicate or record
- a written composition
4. the occupation of a writer; especially : the profession of authorship
For me, to write is to inscribe a word or a sentence with a pen or pencil or to encode something into our smart phones or computers to make a story or present our ideas to others.
I can say that I am not new to writing because I’ve been doing it during my school years (my teachers asked me to), but I am very new to what is “good writing” and how to be “a good writer”. And “good writing” for me is very subjective.
I found writing to be a mix of many things. It is interesting, boring, easy, difficult, and challenging and to write, we have to deal with all its complexities, richness, and values.
Over the years I’ve been engaging myself with writing, or to be exact, typing into a smart phone or computer. I realized that:
Writing is our natural reaction to something.
It is our reaction to any social issue(s) happening in our society and that we write for a particular purpose and audience.
At first we don’t need to be so caught up with the appropriateness of words, grammar, and punctuations. In most times, this can hinder creativity. We should focus instead on planning as to what genre we will be writing in: poetry, novel, narratives or feature or news articles. Later, we edit, proofread and reread before posting or publishing our work.
We can write whatever we like.
We can write for children, teens, and adults and for whatever topics we like in any languages and genres.
It’s good to write for a cause, although we don’t really need to be limited to it. We can even write for pleasure and happiness, as long as it is not to incite hatred and hate. It is up to us how to turn a word into a good sentence, then a good story.
Writing is not teaching.
We don’t write to teach people but to state issues, facts and problems that need solutions. As we do so, we should constantly rewrite to clarify the message that we want to tell our audiences. Our writing creates a message that could help transform our society into something good or something stimulating. Ultimately though, the value of what we do still depends upon how our readers and audiences perceive our message or react to it.
Most of the time, I write to document events, situations, feelings and observations.
Now, we have to know what makes a good writing, because what makes a writer a good one depends upon the writing itself. At this point, we’ll learn to write a poem. What I am going to share is but a small slice of a bigger writing pie. Still, I hope they will be useful for you.
As you all know already, poems and poetry are our poesy. They are an art of expression in composition. Poesy is where our Malay word ‘Puisi’ comes from.
Ideas for writing poetry could come from anywhere. We can get ideas by observing our world, either intrapersonal or interpersonal. We may write to communicate with readers or generate emotional reactions from them. We may also write just to capture our feelings or experiences.
The most difficult problem in writing comes when we don’t start writing what we have in mind. Remember, our minds cannot write. We should always write down our ideas before they vanish into the air.
But how do we write?
Writing poems varies from person to person. There are no rules or definite ways to do it. But there are techniques and recommended steps which you may consider useful.
In the following section, we’ll try to learn these steps along with a few examples from my own work. (I have written many pieces of poetry. I don’t know if they’re good or not, but I am going to use them as examples here just to help explain a few points.)
1. Identify the subject
We can’t write anything without first identifying what our subject is. Do we want to write about any particular social issue-- pollution, killing, discrimination, corruption? We can research or read, but many times, our subject will find us, especially when we are feeling the situations and witnessing events happening in our surroundings. Our subject might be derived from a theme, idea or opinion.
2. Create a new thing
When I say creating a new thing, I mean avoiding the use of cliches -words or phrases that have been used and written by poets and writers many times before, like “no man is an island.” A poet must be creative enough to find something new and interesting.
3. Describe or use imagery
Our five senses--sight, smell, hear, touch and taste--could be helpful in poetry writing. English Professor Peg Lauber added a sixth sense known as motion and advises poets to “be a painter in words”. Let our eyes capture the picture the way a camera captures phrase. Always remember the phrase: “Show, don’t tell”, which means describe the subject, because ‘telling’ is killing your message. It’s better if our poetry comes with metaphor and simile.
Show, don’t tell.
“She shines like a canvass
of blooming roses
in different colors.”
“I did cross the rivers, many times
and I am watching eagerly.”
“they danced in this
romantic garden of birds...
and then, they fly.”
“They only enjoyed my voice
and its melodious longing.”
“Peace is as common as candies.
I want to taste even just a piece of it.”
“I don't feel fresh this morning
not like a blooming rose.”
“smell like hell
sniffing this you can let go of evil.”
4. Don’t be framed with rhymes
Although rhymes in general are good, they can sometimes limit the artistic value and destruct the quality of our poetry. Whether or not we should use rhymes depends upon what we want to write. We can choose between rhythmical and non-rhythmical (free verse) poetry.
“the rivers dance gracefully,
and I am watching eagerly”.
“I can only see the dark
that’s when there is a light”.
5. Always follow the three Rs
Be persevering. Let’s not be too excited to publish our poetry. If we have friends, let
them read and comment first. That, after we’ve read, reread, revised our own work.
After finishing with our writing, we always ask ourselves: Is our article, poetry, novel, short story good enough? Don’t worry. At least we did our best. Let the readers be the judge. As long as we worked hard to write, it is already good, perhaps even the best.
Lastly, be always prepared with criticism. Not everyone can be pleased. In stories, it is simply not good if there is no conflict between protagonists and antagonists. Everything always comes with opposite.
Thank you all for your perseverance!
And thank you, YPC, for organizing this sharing session.