The ABC of writing

Veteran Mumbai-based editor Suma Varughese, who is holding a workshop in Kochi, talks about the principles and techniques of writing 
The ABC of writing

KOCHI: When veteran editor Suma Varughese saw participant Priya Lakshmi (name changed) during her writer’s workshop in Bangalore last month, she looked lively. However, later, when they spoke, a tearful Priya said, “My husband passed away a year ago. He was a wonderful person. I have not been able to get over his death.”

Suma nodded sympathetically.
In the evening, after the workshop concluded, Priya sent a WhatsApp message, “Suma, I want to thank you. I feel alive after such a long time.”Suma then urged Priya to write about her husband to bring a closure to the death.

Now Suma is coming to Kochi to hold her workshop, ‘The Zen Of Good Writing’. It will be held on December 14 at Kochi Business School, from 9.30am to 5.30pm After the workshop, Suma will continue a month’s instruction on WhatsApp.

Asked about the usual participants in her workshops, Suma says, “They are primarily women. They have a natural bent towards language. Women tend to be more right-brained. Having said that, there are excellent writers from both sexes.”   The participants range in age from 12-75 years and consist of lawyers, therapists, entrepreneurs, corporates, students and housewives. “There is a widespread longing to write well,” says Suma. “This is a time where everybody has an opportunity to write in the public domain through blogs, Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter.”  

At the workshop, Suma starts with the principles of good writing. “There should be simplicity, brevity and clarity,” she says. “You should show vulnerability, write from the heart and use words of high energy.”  
To infuse high energy you should go for dynamic rather than lukewarm words. “Instead of a ‘hot’ day, say it is a ‘torrid’ day,” she says. “Instead of ‘very nice’, use ‘wonderful’. ‘Very’ is a big, fat crutch that we use. Always use the active voice, instead of the passive. In the passive, the sentence construction is awkward and tends to drag.”  

She also teaches the participants ways and means to generate ideas. “You can use your own life experiences,” says Suma. “Or when you travel on a bus or train, listen to what people are saying. You will get ideas from their conversations. Your muse will also give you ideas. When the ideas come, you need to write them down. You can develop a habit of looking at your thoughts and asking yourself, ‘Is there an idea there?’”

Right now, Suma says, many people are concerned about the environment. “So a story about the environment will touch many people,” she says.

As for the common errors made by participants, Suma says, “They don’t know how to use the articles ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘an’. They use it when they don’t need it and don’t use it when it is needed. There is confusion about when to use ‘It’ or ‘It’s’. People have trouble with prepositions and tenses. We shift tenses mid-way through a paragraph. In short, grammar trips up a lot of people. Sadly, the education system is not putting any emphasis on grammar.”  

All these drawbacks can be solved through editing. “You can amplify certain sentences, and check the spelling, punctuation and facts,” says Suma. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Am I crisp and clear?’”
Asked for the definition of a well-written copy, Suma says, “It should have a good beginning, an engaging middle and a strong ending.”

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