The joys of writing | Sunday Observer

The joys of writing

4 September, 2022

When you write, you lay out a line of words that is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. - Annie Dillard

Every writer knows the joys of writing. A writer is always compelled to find something new to write about. Professionals collect ideas, keeping notebooks and card files of old and new gleanings that may later be shaped into articles and essays, poems and stories. Teachers value the spark that is kindled when their students find something to say.

They also recognize the necessity for teaching in a way to help students find substance for writing. There is a need to discover content for writing and about the clarity of structure and liveliness of style. The celebrated philosopher Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am.” Dr Samuel Johnson rephrased it as “I write, therefore, I am.”

Any young person who wishes to be a professional writer should maintain a journal. It will soon become a storehouse of knowledge and a treasury for everything in his life. The journal is meant for recording the stories you hear, the strange people you meet, beautiful expressions found in books, and even subtle signs and symbols you encounter. Unless you record them in your journal, they will fly away like birds.

Most of the professional writers have been such collectors. Unlike ordinary people, they observe life clearly. Henry Walden Thoreau exemplifies the importance in journal writing in the following extract. “For a long time I was a reporter to a journal of no very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only my labour for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their own reward.”


More than 50 years ago, I started contributing to a lesser-known newspaper. Although its editor never published any of my contributions, I did not give up writing. By writing regularly I made certain discoveries. I began to see connections and conclusions that otherwise would not appear obvious to me. I was not worried about the non-publication of my articles.

Regular writing made me a craftsman, like a potter or carpenter. I agree with the experts who say that writing is a skill which improves with regular practice. On some days I found nothing to write about. I sat idly and thumbed my journal looking for ideas. Sometimes I rediscovered incidents long forgotten.

If you wish to be a writer, always try to write something in your journal. It is an ideal place for free writing, letters to the editor or simple poems. I always remember the inveterate journal writer E.B. White’s memorable words: “When a man quits writing in his journal, he has lost interest in life.” When you maintain a journal you will find something interesting to record almost every day. It is somewhat similar to scientists’ ‘eureka experience.’ Any writer should be ready for the ‘eureka experience’ by being interested in collecting and sifting material meant for writing.

Apart from maintaining a journal, brainstorming with others or by yourself is necessary to become a writer. Whatever ideas you get, list them as they occur and start writing freely. When you get the inspiration to write it will lead to a kind of ecstasy. Gerald Brenan says, “In my hours of inspiration I am stronger than that hill, that person, that tree. In ecstasy they are stronger than me. When inspired I radiate out onto them and flatten them; in ecstasy they radiate onto me and I become one with them.”

Writing courses

Unlike in developed countries there are no writing courses in Sri Lanka. However, there are online courses in professional writing. When online courses were unheard of I followed a distance education course in professional writing conducted by an Australian institute. The lessons and the books they sent me were of a very high standard. Those who are unable follow an online course will have to experiment with writing for a long time. As there is no royal road to success in writing, coming of age as a writer can be a lifetime process.

Writing, like any other subject, can be difficult at the beginning. Therefore you need loads of self-discipline to write regularly without giving up. When you are young you are surrounded by mirrors and wherever you turn you see yourself. When you grow up, mirrors dissolve and they will be replaced with windows. Then you begin to see people as they see themselves. Any writer worth his salt should realize that he is writing for people in the real world.

If you want to be a writer, you will have to pay attention to English grammar. You need a solid foundation in grammatical rules. Otherwise you will be compelled to seek the services of editors. Grammar is to a writer what anatomy is to a sculptor. Many budding writers break grammatical rules and most of them are reluctant to learn grammar.

Common complaint

A common complaint is that there is no money in writing. It is true that in a developing country writing does not pay. The only consolation for a writer is that he can put forward his views for readers. In comparison to other professions writing may not bring money or fame.

If you have been reading this article, you are probably not a journalist or novelist but a writer nevertheless. Despite some negative opinions, the art of writing can be taught. You have to remember that some of the greatest thoughts and concepts in history have been expressed by writers.

Writers do not express themselves in a vacuum. When they write they must have a target audience. The audience can be children, adolescents, adults or professionals. When you have a target audience you find it easy to communicate. When you write to a newspaper, however, you have a general audience – an audience that you may assume would share your thoughts and reasonably serious and thoughtful about what you say.

Beginners should write a first draft and then revise it several times. Record your thoughts rapidly and then stop writing. Come back to the first draft after a day or two and add any fresh ideas. The final draft should be direct and error-free. By following such simple procedures, you will be able to become a professional writer. [email protected]