Sunday, December 7, 2014

10 Commandments of Writing

People write for a number of reasons but the bottom line is to convey a message. I suppose even journal writing is a way of driving home a message to one’s self if there is no intention of sharing the journal. Sparked by an online exchange of ideas with my college best friend, I thought of coming up with a list of “10 Commandments of Writing.”

1. Thou shall use writing wisely; there is no other way to treat it. 

Writing is a powerful tool. It can make or break a person, a family, a community, a country. In the past, it has been said the pen is mightier than the sword. Our very own hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, believed in that and so he wrote mightily and wisely used his God-given talent to expose the cancer that had eaten up Philippine society under the Spanish regime.

In this day and age of modern gadgets, the written word, rather, the encoded word or texted word is still as powerful. If it is not, why would tons of books and countless online articles be written and published if they cannot be used to convey desired messages across bookstore or library or cyber spaces? Remember, the key word here is “wisely.” Misuse of writing can be disastrous.

2. Thou shall read in order to write.

It is true that sometimes it is good to write from observations or experiences but one cannot discount the fact that reading is to writing as cream is to coffee. Reading enriches one’s writing. It brings about a treasure trove of ideas. There are a gazillion options for a writer to choose from as research materials, references or study guides. It only needs one’s meticulous searching and weeding out of chaff from the grain.

3. Keep the “writing moment” holy. 

I admire people who can write the moment they sit down. They are the kind whose minds seem to run on an endless supply of ideas, 24/7. There is this meme that shows a contraption attached to a person’s head while sleeping to extract ideas. If only we can all be like that. Most people tend to write when the mood hits them. But when that elusive moment does not come, one can kiss that article good-bye. With constant practice though, one will be able to recognize the moment to write when it hits him regardless of time of day. Thus, it is important to give in to that moment and get some writing done. It also helps to have a pen and paper or a tablet handy so that when the idea strikes, homeward bound it goes. This is especially true for ‘fiftyn-agers’ like me.

4. Honor thy writing predecessors and thou will keep out of trouble for the rest of thy life.

There is a word that writers should be allergic to. Plagiarism. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “Plagiarize” as:
“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; use (another's production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

In recent history, we have crucified the likes of a Justice and a Senator who blatantly lifted ideas from sources they have not credited and passed them off as their own. The good Senator even denied to the high heavens he ever did it, adding so much flak to an already soiled reputation. Students who are lazy to come up with their own ideas have resorted to the “copy-paste” method of research without even citing the sources. This is a disgusting practice no serious writer should ever resort to. Whatever happened to footnotes? Even photos should be credited to someone or something. But that is part of another story.

5. Thou shall not steal ideas.

Akin to the above “commandment” is the passing off of ideas to be one’s own even if they have been written or spoken about by other people. Whatever happened to originality? There is such a thing as intellectual property. I know, not everyone can write effectively and excellently but one does not need to impress readers with ideas not his own. A writer must have painstakingly put together an article or a book and bled his brains dry to come up with a remarkable piece of prose or poetry and it would be a shame for someone else to just copy that and put his stamp of ownership on it. It would be good to share without omitting the originator of the work, otherwise, one should give credit to whom it is due. Stealing, after all, is mortal sin.

6. Thou shall not kill the elements of good writing. 

In this day and age of grammar-check and spelling-check, some people can get quite lazy to study correct grammar and spelling as well as the use of proper punctuation. I have a few friends who think of me as a “grammar Nazi” and after some musing, I thought that is a compliment. Regardless of language used in writing, I think it is still very important to know proper usage of sentences and other grammar elements, spell correctly and not use “text language” when most PCs and mobiles now use keyboards, and know when to use capital letters. Call me a stickler for grammar and spelling but I’m going to teach my children the right thing, grammar Nazi or not! The same goes for writers out there.

7. Thou shall not be boring.

There are countless readers waiting for their minds to be fed with ideas they can use in school, at work and even at home. Different needs call for different styles of writing. Research work and legal documents are usually written in formal forms. Textbooks should be presented in ways that make studying easier and more enjoyable esp. for young students without sacrificing substance. Novels vary in styles, from romantic ones to thought-provoking suspense-thrillers. Self-help books cater to those wanting to improve their lives. I could go on and on with my list.

In my case, I have long been a reader of “Reader’s Digest” and “Good Housekeeping” and have unconsciously imbibed their kind of writing. Simple. Straight. No fuss. A serious writer should find his own niche and write away in a manner and style of his own.

8. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s work.

Covetousness comes with envy. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be like a certain writer but envying another person’s work and desiring it to be one’s own is a different story. We all have a kind of person we look up to who inspires us to do our best in our endeavors.

Before the internet became accessible, I used to clip articles of my favorite writers from newspapers and magazines. Included in that scrapbook are works of the late Angel Anden, a witty writer from long ago who coined “Andenisms,” a collection of witty quotes he had written, PDI articles of Conrado de Quiros, write-ups of the late Doreen Fernandez, Julie Yap Daza’s humorous writings, fiery commentaries of Solita Monsod, and Sunday homilies of Fr. Jerry Orbos. These days, I read the Sunday Inquirer to be inspired by senior writers, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Ching Roces-Ssantos and Conchita Razon and a much younger writer, Cathy S. Babao. Instead of salivating at their luscious prose, I tried to pick up a few inspirations and came up with my own style.

9. Thou shall not stop learning and exploring.

A writer cannot just cease to learn once he becomes comfortable with his style and manner of writing. It is good to be known for a certain mark the way J.K. Rowling may be known for her brand of writing but it doesn’t mean one can just sit back and be content with that. Learning is an endless process and the world is so huge one cannot help but keep on exploring and trying out new things. One needs to keep up with a changing world; the same goes with writing.

10. Thou shall share.

What is all of the above if a written work is not to be shared? I find writing and my love affair with words a fulfilling task, something I could do, not for money but simply for the love of it.

In the course of trainings and seminars when I was still teaching, I learned about Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory. Among the Eight Intelligence presented to us, I discovered my intelligence is one called “Linguistic Intelligence”. Through the years, I’ve proved that with the countless write-ups, speeches, compositions, poems and other works I’ve written. But more than sheer pleasure of doing them, I found fulfillment in sharing them to others. It has always been a joy when someone comes up to me to say he/she has read my post or work, found them worth reading and has even shared them.

That is what my writing is all about.

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