Writing advice has changed over the centuries. In the beginning, which I’m arbitrarily choosing to be the invention of the modern novel, the audience was select and unusually literate. Writing advice at the time was very much about quality and the effect on the discerning reader. Let’s face it, when literacy is not a close-to-universal thing, quite a large number of your small readership is discerning or must pretend to be.
As the reading populace grew, the advice of writers, and to writers, changed. Now it wasn’t about impressing and wowing your readers, not about taking them to new adventures in language, it was now about holding their attention consistently. You wanted to make sure they stick to your book and not pick up that magazine, so temptingly distracting them on the table.
Writing advice now is a vastly different beast. It’s presented in more genteel terms and decorated with the support of convenient brain research and retail and marketing psychology, but at its core, writing advice today comes down to taking what you have to say and blending it down to a very fine and pasty protein shake. This product can then be gulped down, by what can now only be termed as content consumers, while providing the least risk of resistance from or effect on the consumer as possible, linguistically, culturally and intellectually. Today you’re advised to write for people who hate to read.
The easiest thing to write about is not writing. That is followed closely by wisdom about how to write. For the sake of ending my recent writing drought, I’m resorting to the former, with flourishes of the latter, if I still have it in me to pull off flourishes. We will see.
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with time management and todo lists, but today I was writing into an informal one and I realised that several of my recent entries were ordering me to send emails to people. What struck me as bizarre is that if there’s one thing I’ve never needed prompting or motivation for over the years, it was writing people long emails. The long emails I am talking about were not even official or focussed. They used to be personal, human, rambling dialogues and musings that were sometimes universal and sometimes made sense to no one else but the recipient. These were theoretically more difficult and time consuming to write (well okay, they were practically time consuming too), but I’d churn them out on a regular basis and with joy.
I first put up some ballpoint pen drawings on this site back in 2009, a whole two years after I started the site at this domain, but I had dabbled with sketching in pen before. I had forgotten how seriously I’d tried my hand at it until a few days ago, when I was flipping through some of my old notebooks. I came across a book from 8 years ago, just before I started this site, and in its pages between scribbled notes about story and illustration ideas, I found that I’d done a ballpoint pen drawing every day for a whole week at some point.
The quality varied, as it does when sketching with a pen and corrections are near impossible, but some of these, like the tiger here, were quite good. I thought I should put these up here and look at them with a bit of a critical eye because my entire series of experiments with pen drawings has been all about improving my skills, and seeing what works and doesn’t as my technique changes. Seeing so many carefully done pen sketches after a long gap teaches you many lessons.
There are tomes of advice on how to take better photos. I’ve written some photography tips myself over time, and while I will continue to share those and do think they are helpful, for truly improving your photography, you need to know how to think about photography beyond simple recipes. To think on this subject and make your own creative decisions with your camera in hand, you first need to know the basics of what makes a good photo better than the rest. So let’s try to recognise the elements that make good photographs tick.
The simple formulas for taking more interesting pictures stop you from making the basic errors that ruin thoughtless snapshots, but that’s technique and mechanics, for the most part. Good photos are not only good because of how you take them, but more so because of what they show and how they look. We mostly judge good photos on pure aesthetics and content. The one big gap in our understanding, to take us from boring images to ones that hold people’s attention, is an ignorance of what features a good photograph has.
It takes all types to make the world, but some types you just don’t like. Some types appear to not be as useful in the grander scheme, adding more to the chaos than helping build anything. I personally find the solemn juvenile to be quite the unsavoury type.
We have come to live in a world of screens. They exist in every size and for every purpose, televisions, computers, phones, games, tablets. Little windows into another world, or more accurately, an infinite number of other worlds ever vying for our attention. Attend to them we do, with pleasure and curiosity, faith and obsession, boredom and questions, seeking.
This windowed-world is a strange thing. We’ve all grown accustomed to using it to fill in the gaps of our regular world, to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to tell which world is filling in the gaps of which. Those who grew up with all these windows and screens being an obvious part of life will think differently, but I’ve seen black and white TV sets and rotary-dial telephones. As a kid I never actually thought I’d be in a world where the ‘virtual’ would start competing with the real, and would become so real to so many. That was the stuff of science fiction. It’s great that in some ways the science fiction writers didn’t foresee how deeply it would change day-to-day urban life. The cell phone, who ever thought that would happen quite this way and so quickly? Who even imagined there would be an imminent time when every one would require a phone on them all the time, or even more than one phone! Bizarre, to those who knew the times before.
I remember two books from my childhood very distinctly, both unusual for a child barely learning the mechanics of reading. One was my Mother’s college biology book with exquisite transparencies of the insides of frogs. The other was a glossy book with photographs, specifications, technical schematics and the history of Japanese war planes from the Second World War, picked up by my Father because it was beautiful. The second one I would never truly read beyond the pictures because it was all laid out in intricate Japanese text, but I pored over those boldly painted airplanes with inordinate interest as a child, and aircraft would become a fascination, both absorbed and inherited.
Part of the inheritance came from my Mother, who was so fascinated by all things aeronautical, that when she was in her teens, she famously took a dozen younger kids from her neighbourhood for a little picnic to the airport, so that they could all look at the planes. When I’m in the old neighbourhood, I still hear of that trip from the now not-so-young benefactors of that airport adventure, many decades ago. From my Father, who had lived most of his childhood at various spots along the flight-path of the Bombay airport, I received the inheritance of identifying aircraft. What my Mother did in walking down side lanes pointing out trees and shrubs to me by their Latin genus names, my Father did in introducing names such as Fokker Friendship, Comet, DC-10, Boing, Antonov, and Gnat into my vocabulary, whenever there was a droning sound above and an aircraft darted through the blue strip of sky between the rooftops.