The Three Writing Advice That I Will Never Forget

It is said that some people we meet through the course of our lives end up leaving marks that influence us and the things we do.

I am blessed to have been given these three pieces of advice–two from two English teachers, one from a senior journalist at a mainstream newspaper I was stringing with after my graduation.

1. Advice on widening my vocabulary and using words appropriately
This I learnt from the late Mr. Yeap, an elderly English language teacher I went to for extra tuition to prepare for my 1119 English examination while sitting for the Malaysian equivalent of the O Levels. Mr. Yeap taught his students to read newspaper and magazine articles, and while at it, to highlight words we did not understand. Then we were to look the the words up in the dictionary one by one. And instead of bookishly memorizing the meaning of the words, we were to write them on a piece of flash card each, and on the other side of the card, the sentences in which we originally found them. This way, referring to the context not only helped us to recall the meaning of the word, it also ensured we would use the word appropriately. To this day I remember learning the word ‘verve’, as in ‘She wears the shirt with verve.’

And my brother had a box full of those neatly written flash cards! Needless to say, he writes very well.

2. Show, not tell
This was an advice given by my English language and debate teacher in high school, also in the year I was preparing for the O Level equivalent examination. Mr. Calvin Leong was a young teacher in his twenties and was clearly not impressed with some bombastic words I had used in some of my essays–hence the advice to ‘show and not tell’ in my writing. I must agree that a piece of writing is more engaging when the writer uses common words to paint a clear picture for the reader’s imagination. For example, compare “He is incensed” with “He glares sharply at me while his chest seems to be rising and falling rapidly.”

And this leads to the third and last piece of advice I will always remember…

3. Write to express, not to impress
This I learnt from Fred, a senior journalist at the News Straits Times where I was stringing after my graduation. If I remember correctly, he told me that when I complained to him about how difficult it was to write a business piece after attending an event where some big shot economist from the World Bank was the key note speaker. I did submit my article in the end but I don’t remember it being published. Ouch. But at least the ordeal gained me a gem of an advice that I will remember forever!

I think Mr. Yeap especially would have been proud of the fact that I am still writing, even if it’s just on a blog to amuse myself 🙂

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