By Azra Farzana Shuib
There is this one rule in journalism training – KISS.
It’s an acronym for “Keep It Short and Simple”. There are many variations to the phrase, but I like that one the most. To keep sentences short is quite easy and understandable. But simplicity in writing is not as simple as it sounds. You ought to be short, but sharp.
Ironically, to write on and on in long sentences is fairly easier. However, attention is sparse and in order to grab readers’ attention, does it mean writers have a choice?
Personally, I think writers are pretty much like photographers. They craft how we see glimpses of moments, but in words. We can ‘see’ how a person looks like by reading how a writer describes that person. We can anticipate and feel certain written situations just by the pacing of words and sentences the writers finesse.
My interest in writing started to develop during high school, although at that time I never took it seriously. I was occupied with the thoughts of going professional that kids look up to – doctor, engineer, lawyer… well, those are among the popular choices.
There was one time before SPM, my English teacher read out my essay to the class. Apparently, she couldn’t find any mistake in it. She even admitted to have read it four times to make sure that she didn’t miss any slightest mistake – and well, she didn’t miss anything. But even without mistakes, she didn’t give me full marks.
“Your sentences are too long,” she said.
In my defence, we were not taught any advanced concept of writing at that time. The point was to ensure your writing was free from any grammatical mistakes.
Anyway, that was my first exposure towards the importance of keeping sentences short and sweet. From there, I learned to plan and structure my points beforehand instead of going straight to writing, hoping it will turn out a masterpiece.
Then, I went to the university… but oh wait, before I even learned journalism, I was an architecture student. Nothing much learned about writing, but I’ll get to that. So, long story short (since this is about keeping everything short), the unexpected twists and turns of life happened and I became a journalism student.
People have always asked me why did I change course, but that was not important. Nobody ever asked me the lessons that I got from my previous course that have helped me survive my second-course-turned-love-of-my-life. Apparently, these two courses did not even seem to be related in any way.
Actually, there are some relations.
Architecture is about art. It’s an art with rules. You don’t go and jump straight ahead in building castles. You plan. You draft.
Is writing an art? Yes. Do you have certain rules and format to follow? Do you need a draft? Do you need a plan?
Do I have to answer?
And most importantly, I learned that in both arts, simplicity is the one thing you should strike on. It keeps everything clean. Even in chaotic designs, there is simplicity within them. It makes your crafts pleasing to the eyes.
Just like a building needs its foundation, any literary piece needs a solid intro. That’s one thing my lecturers have always stressed upon. Intro is like a punch. It’s also a hook to get the readers’ attention. Once you get it right, it will be easier to build other parts of your piece.
Best thing about learning how to write with simplicity is it somehow shaped my life the way I wanted it to be. I want simplicity in my writing. I want my readers to understand what I’m saying. But you can’t expect a written piece that is free of clutter with a cluttered desk. Or with a cluttered mind. Simplicity is clean and neat. Prior to this, my desk had almost everything on it. But now there are some important stuffs, and there’s a little tree too, but more importantly it is looking better than before. What I can’t seem to change is my cluttered mind.
But I have changed the way I dealt with it.
You see, problems are expected in life, you can’t escape them. And being the emotional human that has lived slightly more than 20 years on this earth and still trying to figure things out, all issues will stuck in my mind. All those clutters do not help in writing at all.
So, how do I cope with stress? I do not bottle them up anymore like I previously did. Once I’m stressed, my friends are forced to listen to my ranting extravaganza. I could keep all problems to myself, but for what purpose? To pretend that I’m a strong, independent woman who could carry the weight of the world herself? Well, you bet I am but do I have to show it? Nah. What friends are for anyway? Basically, once I let negative emotions out, my mind becomes clearer. Clear mind, clear work.
And as a curious creature, I have witnessed some living examples at the university. Some friends have difficulties in arranging their tasks and priorities. They stress too much about trivialities, they don’t follow their schedule and their assignment papers are a mess. Basically their writing will reflect their circumstances most of the time – their points will not look neatly arranged.
And there are some blessed friends who kept everything planned and neat – their schedules, tasks arrangements and their desks. Safe to say that their write-ups are simply worth a KISS.***