Today, I want to examine the topic of writing. I don’t exactly know how to go about writing this post about writing, but I will try to talk about all the stuff that I have on my mind on such a topic in an enjoyable and coherent way.
When one reads a good article of some kind about some topic, the content that is delivered unfolds smoothly and coherently, as if the author had simply narrated the entire content from the tip of his head. The method and effort to craft out that article might be obscured from this rather face-value depiction. When I try to write out a post, as I am doing right now with this article about writing, I am quite readily met with the daunting situation of a blank page with the faintest idea of some things that I would like to write about this topic of writing. Let me describe a little of my initial thought process in going about to write this article as I do with some of my articles on this blog.
I experience the dilemma in knowing how I am going to write what I want to write. Should I simply start the page typing away and see where that leads? For this article at least, I chose to first hash out all the ideas that came to my head on a blank page of Microsoft words in what can be roughly described as brainstorming. Ideas on contents and associated materials that could be included in this article would come into my mind, and I would jot this down on the paper. I try, as far as possible, to organize these ideas in such a way that they would fall in place sequentially, but I sometimes find it difficult to know where to place an idea on the list after putting so many of them down on the page, and quite frankly, I don’t like the trouble of being too rigorous in organizing these ideas too meticulously. I notice that I had simply written down the phrase “how to write” on my first line, but I didn’t find it easy to write from there. So I decided to type out the introduction passage that you see write now at the top of this article. I thought that it might be good for the learning process if I “print-screen” my drafts and paste the image on my blog, but I figured that would be a little more tedious and I would have to take the trouble to find out how to paste the pictures correctly on the blog. So I am editing the draft as I go along.
I notice that as I write, some other ideas about what I can write comes into my mind, and I write these down at the end of my article so that I would not forget to include them. For instance, I am reminded of a book I read by Christopher Hitchens titled Mortality quite some time ago, and I am prodded about a point I observed in his writing in that book that I would like to mention in this article. Well, I guess since I already start mentioning Christopher Hitchens, I might as well shift over that point to this passage and explain what I would like to mention about his writing in that book. Now, I have read it somewhere before that Christopher Hitchens is quite a masterful writer, and during his living years, he was a contributor to Vanity Fair. I haven’t really read much of his written work, but I do get the impression that he must have quite an eloquence in expression when I watch youtube videos of him debating for the atheist side on topics of religion. In that book, Christopher Hitchens was writing about his experience and thoughts as he battled cancer. He finally succumbed to the disease after about a year or so and passed away in 2011. The book was published posthumously, and an unfinished chapter which contained his “fragmentary jottings” were included. What strikes me upon reading this “fragmentary jottings” section was how disjointed these writings seemed to be as compared to his prose in the earlier chapters. There were the dashes of eloquence, but they do not complete. It seemed to me as if he left them there with the intent of writing more about them, or including them into his essay later. But I inferred that he did have some sort of method to writing his pieces, and these fragmentary jottings were like the scaffolding that he erected before filling them up to form his article.
Whew, I have written to this part so far and it has taken me at least an hour or so? I am afraid I sometimes find myself losing the energy to continue writing, and have the tendency to postpone my writing to another day. But I don’t like to do that because I may lose interest or ideas altogether and not finish the piece. I also wonder whether I take too long to write. I did delete and rewrite some of my sentences a couple of times. I feel that I might be a little inefficient in my speed of writing which does affect my performance to write in severely time-constraint law school exams. This especially so since a law school paper is hand-written, thus making it difficult to edit my sentences or adding in new points after writing down the content. Some professors can be really not understanding about this aspect of technical problem faced and penalize for untidy submission if there are too many arrows drawn all over the script to add in points that were added out as afterthoughts, something which I find myself having a tendency to make. I would think that education faculties at NUS ought to find a way in which computers can be used to type out pieces in exam settings, but I haven’t quite figured out a way to prevent the practical problem of students cheating by using the internet to confer with one another. I am also still not sure what would be the best way to go about doing a law school exam question. Should I spend sometime organizing first before writing, or jot down my answers on my script and write at the get-go on the blank paper? Furthermore, the thing about law school questions is that they are application based, in that I have to refer to the law and apply it to the facts given. The format may be summed up in the acronym CRUPAC which stands for : Conclusion, Rule and Rule proof, application to facts, and conclusion on how the ruling would turn on the facts of the hypothetical question once again. It might thus require a different method from brainstorming out contents and filling them up. Correct citations must also be given, and I sometimes have difficulty remembering the case name where I got the law from.
Speaking of which, I wonder whether I have the problem of rambling in my writing and going off-point. I feel that I have a little of what can be described as a one-track mind which sometimes hitches onto an associated idea and start talking at lengths about them before going back on point. I have read on Wikipedia that circumstantiality is a communication disorder associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and I do think that I suffer from some features of OCD. Sometimes, I lose my train of thoughts. It can be difficult for me to put on hold a certain thought in my head while entertaining another. So when I get distracted by a certain thought, I might totally forget about the thought that I originally had. It may takes me a while to recall the thought I originally had. But I would jot down the passing thought as I am also afraid of losing the passing thought if I ignore it and focus on the initial thought that I had on hand.
Perhaps the reason why I have been finding writing hard is because I had not been writing in a competitive sense after being in the army for two years for national service, and had lost somewhat the skill of writing. The way to go about writing might not be as intuitive to me as it used to be.
I also feel that my vocabulary is a little too sterile for my liking. I have encountered materials from the internet and elsewhere where the writer presents his piece in quite beautiful and eloquent terms. And I feel my writing just doesn’t quite match up to that standard in terms of expression and vocabulary prowess. However, when it comes to the study of law, the language used is rather sterile and clinical as well, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance if a person does not have too wide a vocabulary range.
The easiest kinds of piece to write for me are those that don’t require too much research. Eg: A thoughtpiece on something that comes to my mind like this. I am trying writing thoughtpieces based on some material that I read or see, which I find a little more difficult as I usually don’t find myself having an opinion upon reading something. It is even more difficult when a piece requires that I research, process the data, and deliver them in a coherent format. I never knew that it was quite so difficult until I entered law school and had to write law memos. Researching the copious amount of text from case law, and linking the bits to map out the milieu of the law, before applying them to the facts seems a little above my intellectual capacity, and I find myself stuck often.
Perhaps I might be better in numbers or in the sciences, although I am skeptical about my abilities in such areas as well. I was the usual B student with the occasional A in those subjects when I was in junior college, but I was inconsistent enough such that I could flunk them as well. If the SAT is any good measure on where my aptitude lies, then numbers is certainly the indication. Out of a maximum possible score of 800 for each section, with 700 being an excellent score for application to the Ivy league universities in America, I scored above 700 for math, whereas my writing section is somewhat a little below 700. It’s way above average nonetheless, but simply not good enough for the ivy leagues. And I have taken a psychometric test before administered by the ministry of education for prospective scholarship holders, and scored average amongst the batch taking it where it comes to pattern and numbers, but disappointingly below average where it comes to verbal reasoning. I wonder whether this is any good indication for me that I should have pursued a degree in an area that taps more on my strength rather than in law where I might suffer some natural deficit in aptitude.
Nevertheless, I do enjoy the studying in the field of language somewhat more than I did when I studied for the math and science based subjects in junior college. I prefer studying concepts in natural language rather than in symbols and technical terms. I envy those who come off eloquent because they appear smarter. But as I have come to realize, those eloquent people may not necessarily be good in the study of law. Conversely, there are people who do very well in law in the cohort who I feel are not exactly that eloquent. And furthermore, those who do well at law might not be good in numbers or the sciences as some law school friends have shared with me about their struggles with those subjects in junior college.
I still have the bad habit of being too eager to publish my blog writings upon writing them instead of patiently reading it through at least once and revising it to make it better. I guess there is that eagerness to want to get those words out there into the blogosphere where they are expressed, but I realize that it probably would be better to review them and improve the piece before publishing it.
I redeveloped the interest to blog sometime about last year after reading another person’s blog, and discovering that there is indeed quite a joy for oneself to be able to express oneself in writing, and for someone else to read your writing and realize that a human being quite like themselves can be identified in you. I haven’t been writing on my blog as frequently as I had wanted to because I have been struggling with my preoccupation with tension headaches, and found it difficult to focus on writing when my mind keeps thinking about my tension headache. I have been on about a month now on the antidepressant Prozac for treatment of OCD and it has helped reduce my preoccupation, as well as reduced the intensity of my tension headache. So I have found myself now at least functionable enough to write this piece.
Feel free to comments on your personal experience and methods on writing. Is there anything in my description that you can identify with in your own method or style of writing?