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Defining the Art of Writing

To define the art of writing is to essentially invoke the question asked by the sages of all ages as to what it is, exactly, that constitutes the quintessential ingredient of good writing?

Writers and thinker-philosophers throughout the ages have puzzled and wrung their hands over this burning and controversial question, and it is one that has thereby bound each writer into a close-knit guild in the sense that all of these men and women have been in pursuit of no less than the “holy grail” of the writing craft: the quintessential ingredient that most distinguishes good writing – writing that transcends time and remains compelling – from the runners-up and also-rans of the writing realm.

“Clear thinking,” my English teacher would confide to me as he watched me scratch out voluminous writings in high school, is the secret ingredient to good writing. Of course, in high school I had no clue what Mr. Starr, an elderly Scotsman with the singing lilt of a well-educated highlander (and the ruddy complexion of one too, who likely imbibed a little too much of that quintessential morning toddy) meant by this, at least in the context of a high school English composition class.

It was only much later that Mr. Starr’s words came back to hit me in the frontal lobe like a boomerang of quintessential insight, informing of something that was indeed pertinent and significant, because in high school, preoccupied as my mind was with thoughts and imaginings of how to win glory on the gridiron, or baseball diamond, the imperative of writing well was well and truly the furthest thing from my mind. And so it was that Mr. Starr’s repeated mantra, entering into my brain, rattling around and to some extent resonating such that I could eventually come to recognize good writing, never fully lit that quintessential neuronic lightbulb that connects insight to practical application, such that would move me to try to wrench words from thin air and wrestle good writing from any kind of life endeavor – be it comic strips, nifty novels or even elaborately storyboarded movie scripts.

It was only after I understood, entering as I did upon a professional career in the real-world workforce that depended upon good writing to bring home the bacon, that Mr. Starr’s mantra transformed itself into a hallmark of my thinking and a work ethic that undergirded my writing philosophy. Mr. Starr’s mantra, insidiously but gratefully, had somehow become my own. I use it to squeeze and leverage from my mind every last drop of what all of we as writers must ALWAYS try to make manifest in any good piece of writing – be it copywriting for a marketing brochure, a clever or witty blurb for an ad campaign, a pithily positioned propaganda piece for the president in the corporate annual report, or even the 100-word article you’re asked to contribute – with your byline – to the next issue of your local 4-H newsletter circular.

Now let’s be perfectly frank and practical about the matter. “Clear thinking” is often a rare commodity in today’s frenzied, rush-to-get-it-done world. It’s not something that comes easily – or even naturally, for that matter – to everyone. And that, sadly, is perhaps the most compelling explanation as to why so many aspiring writers – or self-proclaimed Pulitzer prize winner wannabes – have their hopes of fame and fortune dashed on the ruddy rocks of reality.

Think about it. How many of your friends, associates, family members, or cohorts at work try their hand at writing a simple memo – only to have it torn into confetti-sized shredlets by its creator in total frustration? The answer for the most part is that the writer is not able, for whatever reason, to engage the mind and apply logical, lucid thought processes to the writing prowess, which at a MINIMUM is what is required to reduce thoughts, data and ideas into words, or even sentences and more – resulting in tangibly intelligible, coherent, and fluent communication that resonates as intended with others.

My suggestion? If you aspire to be a writer – of any kind whatsoever – sift, sort and examine very closely what the greats of the past and our own times have done – and are doing – to make their works, genius or not, readily accessible to the vast masses, and with a power to last with a clear message that resonates as intended over time. It’s only with clear thinking that the neurons can engage and align to channel your thoughts and communicable information in ways that make it accessible and intelligible to others, and very often the insight you need as to how best to accomplish this task resides in your mind alone. Not even “imitation” or boilerplate “templates” can be of any aid in helping you to find the “holy grail’s” quintessential ingredient: your own voice and platform – for delivery and receipt of a message – not just intelligibly and coherently, but also just as it was intended by you to be received by your audience.

Don’t chase the “holy grail” of writing as if it were some latter-day windmill in the sky. Be brutally honest with yourself, and that means being brutally practical. Accept your shortcomings as a clear thinker, if it’s your writing that suffers as a result, and exercise your mind in all ways that will enable you to sharpen your neuronal activity, attenuate the thought processes, and become a clear thinker with a clear and coherent message worthy of the time, resources, attention and energy you’ll expect others to invest in reading and digesting – and hopefully even being moved to action – by what you have to share with the power of written word.

Try it – you just might like it!

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About the Author

Alan Gray, Total Image Worx
Dumont, NJ 07628

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