writing about writing

here you are, dear reader, about to read yet another entry. hopefully you are reading in gleeful anticipation. it is fun to write for people.

writing is such a delicious activity. as strange as it might sound, i actually enjoy writing academic stuff. let me be more specific: i enjoy the act of writing. sometimes the content (especially those eureka! momoents) but more so writing itself.

writing is my form of expression. indeed it is the form in which i am most comfortable and competent in. i find it far preferable to speaking. crafting words so that you have a specific intended effect on your reader is something invigorating. it is an act of creation, you can decide what to do, how to do it, etc. it’s like a dance. i am in constant awe of people who can dance improvisationally, you know, you ask them to dance and they can just do it, without having a routine or something. that is incredible. or its like people who can play the piano or guitar, and do all the cool fill-ins and stuff. i guess for me writing is a form of expression similar to that – since i can’t sing or dance or possess any skill of that sort… i write. and it’s enjoyable.

anyway i have been reading this book called Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond. absolutely fantastic. it is a short history of human society, with a historical perspective, and an argument that traces proximate causes of variations in human history to the ultimate causes. Diamond’s argument structure is flawless. it is truly good. i guess that’s why the book won the Pulitzer prize.

two things from reading this book:

1) i am enjoying reading something non-fiction and decidedly academic. though it is quite easy to understand, i find Diamond’s treatment of this subject material absolutely fascinating. so i guess university education has paid off: i can better appreciate non-fictional texts. i am reading it and thinking about it at the same time: the duality of this process astounds me. this is what learning should be!

2) great writing is indeed great. Diamond writes with great clarity and precision: you are never lost in what he is talking about. his flow of logic is impeccable. and when he uses technical terms they are so self-explanatory, and he explains them anyway. for example when he discusses the relationship between population density and technological and social complexity, he uses these two phrases which i consciously told myself to remember, in the case that i would need to describe something similarly related: ‘autocatalytic process’ and ‘bidirectional links’. what wonderful phrases! an autocatalytic process, as the name suggests, is a process by which something internally catalyses itself. i am not sure how to explain it right now: it took 2 chapters of reading for me to fully appreciate (i am not sure if it is full) what Diamond’s argument is. but the point is that great writing makes the book easy to read.

and that’s another thing about great writing: it can be trained. Diamond is a phd holder and is trained in many different fields, and of course it is safe to assume that he has acquired a certain skill level in writing because of his training and experience. yet he does not write with great flair. not that he is not a good writer, but rather, he does not possess that certain elegance and flair that those truly incredible writers wield: i speak of Heinlein and Tolkien and similar greats (at least in my opinion). their wordsmithery and dexterity with words is mind boggling. its not just the sophistication of the language, it’s how the entire text is set up and designed, created in a certain manner. Evelyn Waugh (who i have only been introduced to) is supremely good at this. and yet i have only scratched the surface of the great literary tradition which the human race possess. but i digress. my point is that these superb writers, who wield their pen like Yang Guo with the condor sword or rajon rondo with a basketball in the open court… these guys are talented.

but great writing can be trained! everyone can learn to write with a certain level of competence. clarity, organisation, precision, argument structure… all these things can be learned. this is my point. everyone is so scared of writing (nobody wants to join KE press!!!!)… but for no good reason! it’s because they weren’t taught well. but one can learn to write well. like how one can learn to be good at math, or econs, or whatever other academic skill. writing is a skill that gets better with practice – particularly with practice, because then you yourself become increasingly familiar and sensitive to exactly what you are saying.

that was a very tiring post.

alright. i hope that was entertaining enough for you and at least convinces you, dear reader, that YOU TOO CAN WRITE. i’m not saying that you can’t already, you know. ‘dear reader’ is deliberately generic. and i am deliberately drawing your attention to that. what fun!

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