The Art of Writing
One of the differences between pure art and the art of writing is that although writing is also described as an art, it is acquirable, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.
Writing is an art. But it differs from other arts in that it does not demand–for a start – a few inborn qualities, tastes, and skills, as those others do. For example painting. Not everyone can paint with success. (Most often, the West hides its aesthetic poverty by gluing the eyes of the onlookers to the nude).
Contrarily, everyone and anyone can learn mathematics. To be a mathematician of note, one needs to apply himself to the discipline, again and again, equation after equation; but not everyone can become a successful poet, no matter how hard he tries, or how many attempts he makes, or even how bulky his vocabulary-box is. If the flair is missing, he is unlikely to produce something like Wordsworth’s lines to his wife:
She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
Far from that, he might not make any inroad even in free verse. It is well said that federal funding of arts is a waste. What a nation could not achieve in one hundred years after independence, a lady achieved, not once, but emphasizing her contribution, time and again, throughout her life, to be remembered as ‘one of the most influential personalities on the planet.’ This lady-architect, Zaha Hadid Muhammad, of Iraqi origin, dominated the architectural world, invading Britain, France, Azerbaijan, Dubai, USA, Germany, China– you name the rest – with her breath-taking ideas.
After the perfection of the dome design by the Muslims centuries ago, it was for her to take to perfection curve-based designs in modern architecture. The Chinese – innovators themselves –attempting construction of the largest airport in the world, in Peking, chose her to import fresh ideas to their country. (Her contemporary and competitors in the West, who normally excel in constructing matchbox-shaped buildings, have recently built, as a proud tribute to the 21st century, a tall building in the shape of aphallus. If Bedouins – of the deserts or steppes – are described as those who raid, plunder, slaughter, and rape, then the Hadith prediction has come true).
In short, art is not every nation’s share, nor every individual’s. As dynasties, the Mughals were, perhaps, the last and the best at art. To steal their masterpieces is an irresistible idea for the Bedouins.
However, one of the differences between pure art and the art of writing is that although writing is also described as an art, it is acquirable. One needs to build vocabulary, learn from others ways to express in a variety of newest ways, increase sensitivity and sensibility (if he, or she, already is), think beyond the first or second step at which averagely educated people to stop, and he, or she, can look forward to scribbling some meaningful lines.
A meaningful writing also requires a meaningful plot, or an idea, or a thought, or a theme. Clarity here is of utmost importance. A fresher usually tries a bombastic style, but hopelessly fails to convey any meaning. He hasn’t got a clear theme behind the façade of words.
Almost the first requirement for one trying to become a writer is to be a voracious reader. A thousand pages read, might help produce a paragraph new. The choice of subjects and titles to be read is decided by one’s own interests, first, and second: by the tastes of the literary world of his readers. But, in general, English masterpieces of the Middle and the early Modern periods, both prose and poetry, are recommendable. (Contemporary literature is closer to being described as junk rather than following a genre).
In the sub-continent, literary courses, graduate to doctorate, would be considered a waste of time by those whose objective was not to win a teaching job. We do not know of the quality of language education in the West, but their writings seem to be getting more and more abstract, and less and less pleasurable. Recently, given one of them a piece of writing from Gibbon’s history, he – a University teacher –triumphantly suggested several corrections! That reminds us that reading Gibbon’s voluminous history would be justified if read for literary reasons. Edward Said is good for modern-day conjunctions.
Humor is a strong element in people judging the quality of a piece of writing. The kind of humor as PG Wodehouse’s “what looks like his nose, is his nose” is popular with the British and nostalgic Indians. Dryness of the likes of Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain,” lets you know from the start that if the objective is to learn the language, you better beholding a different book in your hands. In our times, even scientists take care to introduce humor, once or twice in a textual work where equations are, ordinarily, more welcome. “I’ve been teaching this subject,” quips a professor in a University corridor, “that I’ve begun to understand it.”
Mystery, not of the detective type, is another desirable quality. In this case, the reader is left guessing about the intent of a paragraph, so as to be pleased to discover, at the end of the passage, something interesting he couldn’t guess earlier. (Sometimes Henry James achieves that). That leads us to mystery’s little sister: surprise. It is not the surprise of a tale. It is the surprise within a sentence itself. You didn’t expect that the sentence would convey what it did when you completed it.
Pun, but not artificially created: in a sentence made for that, is quite welcome; but only the occasional one. It might be placed here and there at some distance. For a Westerner, the first Biryani eaten is to be smitten. (Vegetable biryani is the favorite meal of the Maharajah bankrupt).
An important quality is a simplicity. Bertrand Russell recommended a language as simple as which is: “understanded of the masses.” (His line)
Criticism is a spicy element; but not of the empty-headed, fanatical politician in power. His party and regime will come gunning after you. Provoking the intelligent leads to heated, healthy, and non-violent discussion, lending credence to the writing and the writer. A word of appreciation by one of them can spread like a bottle of perfume unplugged.
Revisions are beautifying elements. Errors are like pimples and maturing warts on the face that the onlooker into the mirror ignores to note. Reading and re-reading makes them visible. And the method is to keep away the writing until the writer forgets the idea or the theme in it, and then pick it up, perhaps, after a few weeks. Not only the errors would be now visible, but sometimes, absurdity of the whole might cry out loud.
Design of the
Heyder Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan