When I graduated from my high school, I thought I was a great writer. I had written for countless assignments and examinations. I had written poems and stories. I had scored relatively high marks in English during my high school final examination. How could I not be a writer? It was a bitter shock when reality crashed in and I had to redefine my so called ‘expertise’ in writing when I faced the challenge of writing a proposal for an educational endeavor. I spent many a night poring over the proposal and scribbling on a piece of paper in that pre-ubiquitous-computer era to keep my inflated writing ego alive.
When I look back in retrospect after what seems like eons, and teaching writing to students for over a decade, a few questions arise. Why did I feel that I was ‘good’ at writing when I apparently wasn’t? What were the factors that I had missed altogether to write well? What were the strategies that I had to adopt in order to enhance my writing skills? And what it takes to create your niche in the world of writing- specifically academic writing?
I would like to address the first question regarding why I wasn’t a good writer. The premise to this would be that the writing that I had been exposed to at school was entirely different from the world of academic writing. I had goaded myself to believe that just by getting my grammar correct and by using some fancy words interlaced with ‘impressive’ looking, torturously long recursive sentences, I was good in writing. The praises of my school teachers for writing, what I believe now to be just childish philosophical ramblings that I used to call poetry, did not matter in the real world. I was expected to get results through my writing skills. For example, the very first draft that I submitted for the proposal mentioned above brought cynical remarks and questioned my very proficiency of English language.
This brings us to the second question regarding necessary factors for writing well. The reality is that in order to impress the academic world, writing is more like ‘mathematics’. There is the central idea expressed in the topic sentence. Then the main points have to elegantly support the central idea. Further, clarifications and exemplifications have to be integrated to get the main idea across.And all these are cohesively bound together with connecting devices. Each part added to create the central whole. The structural unity of paragraph writing was something I had to acquire the hard way amidst ridicule and cynicism. This realization introduced me to a whole different game of writing academically.
The word was out that I could be counted on to write and edit works in English. First, my close friends started requesting me to edit their application essays. Then I was logically burdened with the responsibility of editing school magazines at work. Whenever someone had a difficulty in structure or vocabulary, I was the person to ask. It escalated to more professional level when I started receiving requests to write proposals for non-government organizations. My journey into the world of writing was enhanced by these responsibilities I was given, and alternatingly it provided me the impetus to work hard and to come up with polished products that would assist the organisations to achieve their institutional goals. I think it important to believe that you have the skill and the tenacity to perform at a higher level than you actually can. It provides necessary drive to move you forward- keep you on the edge. As I reflect on this journey, I am sure I would not have come this far had I shied awayfrom the trust that my colleagues and acquaintances bestowed upon me. As in any field, it is necessary to accept challenges and strive to excel in the realm of writing as well.
To address the final question regarding creating a niche of your own, it is imperative that you consistently update yourself and the social connections that you have. There are multifarious means that can be adopted for professional growth. The magic word here is collaboration. Without collaboration with peers, it will be difficult to enhance your professional skills in writing and to create a space of your own in the field. Professional networks provide unique opportunities to showcase your skills and to disseminate the knowledge that you have gained. In addition, professional get-togethers provide opportunities for interaction and networking. Another keyword that one should remember in the professional world is ‘sharing’. Writing is a skill that is visible only when you actually write. As I gained more proficiency as a writer of academic texts, I started sharing it to my peers through workshops and seminars. NeltaChoutari can be very effective platform to share your ideas. As I write for this webzine now, I believe this will further enhance my own skills through the act of sharing.
As I wrap up this short personal reflection on my journey in the field of academic writing, I would like to reiterate the main ideas once again. No matter how good you think you are in writing, there is always place for improvement. Since there are many different types of writing, gaining proficiency in any one of them requires constant effort. Moreover, it is through collaborative effort and sharing that one can truly build a niche within the professional circle. Skill enhancement is a constant effort, and as Steve Jobs stated, it is important to ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’ in order to attain and retain proficiency in the field of academic writing.
M.Phil. English Language Education