Writing Right with Dmitri: Why Practise?
Did your parents make you take music lessons when you were a kid? Did you hate this, especially if you were missing baseball practice and it was all Mozart's fault? Did you wonder why anybody in their right mind would voluntarily practice the piano? Here are some reasons for learning to play the piano. See if they make sense to you.
- When you get older, you can play in a bar. Two words: girl magnet.
- You'll be the life of the party, especially if you can play what everybody likes to sing.
- You'll never have to wonder what your 'talent' is on talent night. Just play something.
- When you have nothing better to do, you can go and noodle on a keyboard. When you are down, you can cheer yourself up. When you are angry? Pound those ivories. It's cheaper than therapy.
- If you leave the windows open, neighbours usually don't mind. Not like that McGregor kid down the street, who plays the tuba. (His mother got pained looks in the supermarket.)
Now, why should you work on your writing? Believe it or not, some of the reasons are similar – though, alas, 'girl magnet' does not feature.
- It is remotely possible you might want to do this for a living. Warning: the possibility is both remote and not terribly attractive. Writers seldom get paid as well as rock stars.
- No matter what you do in life, sooner or later, you're going to need to write something. A job application. A query letter. A paper for night school. A report for work. A note of condolence to a bereaved family member. You're going to want what you write to be effective – and that takes knowledge and practice.
- You are also going to want to communicate, particularly in this age of the internet. You want people to hear what you have to say. You want them to appreciate your insights. You want them to agree with you. Above all, you want them to like you. If you don't practise your writing, I will guarantee this: you won't be having the effect you think you are, and worse, you won't even know why.
Yes, writing is the art of winning friends and influencing people. Even if you're writing satire. Even if you're writing what appears to be especially abrasive and obnoxious satire. What that kind of satire is really doing is fishing for agreement from those who recognise the underlying message and approve of it. Even Ricky Gervais wants to be liked and agreed with, no matter what he acts like. He's just not very good at it. He should have practised more.
Remember, people know more about you from your writing than you think they do. They know how you feel about other people from the charity, or lack thereof, in your descriptions of them. If you don't want people to think you're uncharitable, write about them differently. Choose better adjectives. Choose different events to showcase. Who knows? While you're writing this way, trying to fool everybody into thinking you're a nicer person, you might become one, instead. Wouldn't that be a hoot?
You desperately, passionately, with all your heart want, nay need, for someone to share your all-consuming passion for animated films/a certain rock group/your hometown. This isn't going to happen if you simply overwhelm everyone with detailed verbiage. Or if you try to hijack every conversation and turn it towards your favourite subject. Believe it or not, this may have the opposite effect to what you intended: behind your back, they may even mock you.
I used to have a coworker, bless her heart, who was desperate to brag on her clever children. The other people in the office knew this, and would just as desperately invent errands when they saw her coming. Yes, your writing can be like that, unless you become aware of what you're doing wrong. It is actually possible, by taking the audience into account, to get them to enjoy what they had previously slighted. But you've got to write for them, not for yourself. It's an art. It takes practice.
The good news is: practice doesn't cost anything. A ready-made audience is yours for the asking. It's the blessing of the internet, and h2g2. Plenty of people to talk to here. Plenty of chances to practice. Take the Edited Guide, for instance. There are kind volunteers in Peer Review who just love to read new things: recipes, odd happenings, how-to-do-it entries, even book reviews. Write for them. Talk to them. Practise.
We can't exactly claim that PR will make you a babe magnet. But it will definitely let you practise your writing skills. And you don't even have to miss baseball practice.