the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: May, 2012

Five tips to write (and think) faster

by MDY

Maybe you’re in an exam with too many unwritten words and not enough microseconds. Or your current/prospective employer has just thrown you such a curve-ball of a question that if you don’t catch it just right, you’re liable to get whacked into geosynchronous orbit. Or maybe you need to finish that cover letter or assignment or essay two minutes ago, because that was when the electronic submission box closed. Sometimes, no time is more than you have. You (hopefully) won’t use these too often, but here are some tips to help you write really really REALLY fast (and think even faster):

  1. Pause. That’s right. Even when you can’t afford to, take the time to think and plan what you want to write (or say). Come up with a brief structure in your head, and maybe one or two examples. This should take you five, ten seconds at most. If not, look at yourself in the mirror and answering the insecurities which spring into your head as quickly as possible. That should give you ample practice material.
  2. Speed-writing. The more you write, the better you get. To practice your quick-draw, sit at your desk and take in your surrounds. What’s the first thing you think of? Oranges? Good. Write for a minute about oranges. If you don’t reach 200 words, slap yourself and try again. Repeat. Like speed-dating, but more productive and sadomasochistic at the same time.
  3. Don’t talk smack. Cut out weasel words, jargon, and anything longer than 3 syllables. Trying to buy yourself time with obfuscation and verbal fluff is akin to cementing a wall together using fecal matter: sooner or later, your shit’s going to fall apart. Write or speak plainly and with honesty. If you don’t know, say so.
  4. Stay consistent. What’s the one thing you simply have to say? Got it? Now say it, and keep saying it. Don’t lose sight of your single message – it’s probably all you have time to offer up anyway. If you’ve done 1 and 3, this should be easy: the less you write, the more consistent you’ll sound.
  5. Own it. Write with gravitas. Speak with confidence. Most people will care less about what you say and more about how you say it. And an articulate, clear fool can carry the day far better than a mute genius. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, people will think you do. This blog is a good example.

In brief: Clean up your mind, and you’ll write faster. Planning, structure and plain diction will help you know more quickly what you have to say. And then you’ll be able to say it.

Write lots, write often.

by MDY

When I was in high school, a series of unfortunate accidents led me to write a novel. It was a shambling, bloated husk of a thing, bleeding streams of clichéd metaphors and melodrama from the many plot-holes in its flesh. I spent two years putting it together and tearing it apart. Sometimes I would tweak a few sentences; other times I would hack away at swathes of prose, excising adjectival sores and purging the worst of its excesses in the self-piteous fits which only an adolescent male can muster. Frankly, it stank. And after pitching it at numerous publishing houses, agents and family “connections”, I relegated the manuscript to a dusty corner of my bookshelf and a dustier platter of my hard-drive.

What did that monumental failure teach me?

  • 1000 words is nothing compare to 80 000.
  • Think before you plan. Plan before you write.
  • Draft on paper, proof on-screen.
  • Don’t get too attached to your words.
  • Make every word count.

And most importantly of all,

  • The more you write, the more you learn.

If you averaged out my writing to around two hours a day (a conservative estimate), across two and a half years, that novel consumed a total of 1825 hours, or 76.042 days. You can learn much in 76.042 days. Admittedly, it helped that I had some of the best mentors, friends and family members to guide me through. But some things – like knowing the difference between a fresh turn of phrase and a rotten one, or mastering the art of self-proofing, or finding a voice that is truly your own – just take time.

So if you want to write better, write lots. Write often, every day if you can. Keep a diary, create a blog, compose an epic poem – it doesn’t matter what you write about, or for whom, or even why. But keep writing, and keep learning from what you write. At the start, almost everything you write will be terrible. But if you keep at it, eventually some of it will be a little less terrible. Then more of it. And if you write for long enough, you’ll be able to know when your writing is terrible and when it’s only somewhat bad. And that’s when you really start learning.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell hypothesises that it takes 10 000 hours of practice to become truly great at something. So far, I have spent approximately 6387.5 hours of my life writing. That means I have around 3612.5 hours to go before I hit potential-greatness level, give or take a few days. I’m looking forward to each and every one of those hours. They are only the beginning.

Poetry for Beginners

by MDY

Writing poetry is a skill
Which many like to think they know;
But many so-called “poems” will
Cause pain to eye, and ear, and toe –

Anyone can drop a rhyme
Or spew forth syllables acrostic,
But how to make it sound sublime? –
I’ll share with you my secrets gnostic,

Guide your poems till they be
As splendid as those writ by me.

Let’s start off with the basics first,
Of rhyme and metre, two old friends
Without which poets would be cursed
To write to more prosaic ends.

Rhyme‘s a game of finding pairs
Of words which start and end alike
(Although not everyone’s aware
Of eye-rhymes, ear-rhymes and the like).

Metre‘s all about the beat:
It’s like a verbal metronome
Of dactyls, spondees, stops and feet
That bring the poem marching home.

Now let’s learn to use them better,
With a simple exercise:
Composing a seductive letter
Meant for your love interest’s eyes.

First, the rhymes must fit precisely
When you read them out aloud;
Homophones can work quite nicely;
Breaking rhyme schemes? Not allowed.

Sentences which span a break should
Flow without a disjoint pause
When crossing lines; the best of these could
Pass as prose devoid of flaws.

As for metre? Try to drum
A solid pulse which fits your theme.
Ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM –
Syllabic stresses ought to seem

Quite natural, like spoken word.
They shouldn’t sound too forced or glib
Or beat a tattoo too absurd
For you to keep to with your nib;

In short, your poems should speak true,
Concise, precise, with feeling ample.
In light of that, without ado,
Let’s move right into our example:

Dear potential lover,

Hey, I just met you,

My rhymes are crazy,

I really like you,

So write me maybe?


Your loving stalker (name witheld)

In brief: Never.