“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”
The above are among the most famous lines in English literature, penned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797. The poem remained incomplete because the author was distracted as he was writing it, based on a dream. The writing was a result of inspiration, imagination and drug-induced vision.
Coleridge’s friend Wordsworth with his sister, Dorothy, “wandered lonely as a cloud” and was inspired by a “long belt” of daffodils on April 15, 1802 and wrote his most famous poem with ” the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and emotion, recollected in tranquillity.”
“I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.”
Valmiki utters the famous shloka (Ramayana, Balakanda 2.14) when he witnesses killing of a krauncha bird by a hunter:
मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीं समाः । यत्क्रौंचमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम् ॥
maa nishaada pratishtham tvamagamah shaashvatim samaah |
“You who have killed one of the birds engaged in the act of love; thus, may you not yourself live long!”
As this verse was born of ValmIki’s grief (shoka), it was called “shloka.” Burst of emotions sprouted in to a song. Some claim this to be the first expression of poetry in the universe.
Charles Dickens published most of his novels in “shilling instalments” before being published in complete volumes. He needed the money for a living and could not wait for inspirations. There are many of us whose profession involves writing and we cannot wait for inspirations either.
How many of us write software by inspiration? Document for joy? Write Business Proposals to satisfy our creative urge? Record process steps with pleasure as per CMM or ISO standard? We all do good job of it; but, we do them because our job definition, implicitly or explicitly, requires us to do them.
MCQs have reduced the need for students to formulate thoughts and write long answers. Telephones have reduced personal and business needs to write. Text messages and emails have made messages shorter, informal and often cryptic. However, we still need to write, and write a lot as we move up in the ladder of hierarchy.
Most people do not like to write, many are not confident of writing and some dread it. But, we all need to write as part of our job. We cannot wait for inspiration or burst of emotions to write – we have to deliver documents too against deadlines. One task that gets procrastinated most is documentation.
“Your profession includes writing, so learn how to write. No one is naturally talented enough to get by on instinct alone.” … read some pragmatic tips on how to improve writing at Dreamsongs – Richard Gabriel’s website.
Think of excellent columnists like Malcolm Gladwell. Writing a column has its challenges
- He has to submit a fixed length on a fixed date; he cannot wait for a flash of inspiration.
- He has to retain the interest of the readers issue after issue of the periodical.
- Each part should make sense by itself while being a continuity of the previous installment and leading smoothly to the next.
Emotion, imagination and complexity take backseat when we have to write for a living or writing is part of our profession. When writing becomes a habit by continuous nurturing quality improves. We form a habit by doing a task repeatedly and deliberately, even if they are not enjoyable on the outset. Once a habit, writing is no more unpleasant; words flow effortlessly from thoughts, evolving logically.
Several young people ask me how to improve their language skills, mainly lamenting that they do not have good command over English. My advice is – talk to people, but do not ask them to correct you when you talk, which would make you self-conscious and affect the thought process. Write at least a page per day, pausing for thoughts, reflecting on grammar and document structure. Review and critique these documents and improve continuously. We have to complement talking with reading and writing.
Write deliberately, write continuously. Even those who write with inspiration have learned how to write by writing deliberately. There is even a website that can help us to stick to the commitment of writing one page per day.