The Grey Chronicles

2010.October.30

Writing Improved by Reading: A Recollection

Filed under: Anecdotes,Commentary,Croppings,Long Grey Notes,Philippines,Readings — reyadel @ 23:59
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Writing, which was once considered the domain of the elite and well-educated, has become an essential tool for people of all walks of life in today’s global community. Whether used in reporting analyses of current events for newspapers or web pages, composing academic essays, business reports, letters, or e-mail messages, the ability to write effectively allows individuals from different cultures and backgrounds to communicate. Furthermore, it is now widely recognized that writing plays a vital role not only in conveying information, but also in transforming knowledge to create new knowledge.

This writer is only one of these ordinary people aiming to write as effectively as possible. Having been born in a non-native English-speaking country, all the English—American English, at least—have been learned through practice, patience and perseverance. I may have written in the past posts on the how and the why, but I have not described the manner of acquiring the writing skills set that I now have.

Being born in November, I started school at age seven-going-to-eight and never went the ordeal of nursery and kindergarten as these were not yet required then. School started June yearly, thus I was already five months older than most of my classmates. Unfortunately, I was not admitted the year before because I was yet to reach—being seven months short of the mandatory age of seven! My earliest childhood memories of the English language was with my mother drawing me some fruits and pronouncing their English names. Soon, I was the one making the drawings myself, that my mother let me be. In grades school, as early as the first year, I won in school-sponsored poster-making contests and even went on to join some divisional contests later as well.

My father always joked that there is no money to be found in drawings, and never really encouraged my artistic talents. He quipped: What do you really want to be: a comic strip artist? There’s no money in that! What he did not knew then was comic book artists have transformed themselves into film directors, commercial graphic artists, among others, and ultimately became millionaires.

By age 10, an spinster aunt, a librarian of the Provincial Library in my hometown, encouraged me to learn English as much as the library resources could offer. She claimed that with English, I could conquer the world. I never knew then what she meant by that, but I know now. As soon as I have received the borrower’s card from the library, she selected some of the first five books that I could bring and read home for a week: the Associated Press [AP] stylebook, an anthology of the best speeches ever written, a book on exploring outer space, and an English translation of Rizal’s Noli mé Tangere, and she insisted one Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys adventure.

Never did really like the Hardy Boys adventure book, but The AP Stylebook was an eye-opener. I never knew then that grammar was mainly about basic rules: subject and object, tenses, spelling, punctuation, etc. Thus, I guessed then, that learning all these rules by heart, one could become a better writer. By the way, I only browsed the book about outer space; skimmed the Noli mé Tangere but promised to read it one day; and read some really great speeches, notably The Gettysburg Address.

Every Friday, I became a regular visitor of the Provincial Library, borrowing an assortment of books, but at least one of them was about learning how to write, in English. Reading, my spinster aunt always said, improves writing. In addition to grammar and style book, I also picked on reading Greek and Roman mythology, various autobiographies and biographies, the William Shakespeare books, that before graduating in sixth grade, I already finished most of the books in Literature [800 in the Dewey Decimal Classification] and Collected Essays [040 in D.C.C. but now, no longer used] the library had.

In grades school, I was nominated to be the in-house artist of the school paper, but there was really no need for an artist in a four-page mimeographed paper. It was only in high school that I have gathered my wits and tried out the competitive exams to become a member of the school paper, first as a contributor. I tried writing poetry, essays, news and feature articles then just to hone my craft. By the second year, I was maintaining a column, Points, sort of a words-to-live-by but consisting of one-liners from my various readings and my own version of annotating them.

There was once in my third year, in an English class, where the instructor wanted us to write something about what we did last summer, and she did really liked what I had written that she made me read the whole essay in front of the class, which most clapped their hands when I finished. I was amazed by the reception and the instant adulation. Unfortunately, I have not saved a copy of that essay and neither did the instructor, but to this day, I still remembered what it was all about: telling my thoughts of an unrequited love to a small creek near our house. My English instructor praised the vivid description of the locale, as well as the simple, yet effective, almost poetic narrative [her words] and coaxed me to write more. She hoped that I could also try writing fiction.

I never really focused on fiction writing, although once I tried with a submission of a love story writing contest for Mr & Ms magazine, but I was more inclined in writing more about my personal experiences, factual in a sense yet technical in another. By the fourth year, when I became a Senior Editor in the school paper, I was writing less poetry but more about student life and the usual things.

My visits to the Provincial Library became even more frequent. My reading lists became varied and hey, I have completed reading the English version of Noli mé Tangere, or The Social Cancer and the local dialect version, Hare Saco Pagdoot, even before the whole class in a Filipino course finished reading the whole book in Tagalog. I also discovered great books in the Filipiña section with the likes of F. Sionil José, Carlos Bolosan, Amado V. Hernandez, and of course, Dr. José P. Rizal.

A father’s friend, a captain in the Army, also introduced me to espionage thrillers, specifically Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth, while another aunt recommended reading John Steinbeck and William Faulkner. I was hooked! Soon, I was rummaging the Provincial Library and the Main Library in the University just to have access to borrow these books. The University’s Main Library also had the complete set of The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898, edited by James Alexander Robertson and Emma Helen Blair, in 55 volumes, which was a treasure trove! The latter became my reading material during my free time in between class.

In retrospect, my voracious appetite in reading, probably affected the way I write. The words of my aunt really coming true: Reading improves writing? To this day, I am still honing my writing skills by learning new ways to express myself and «The Grey Chronicles» is only one avenue to do so.


Notes:

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: These posts do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions; refer to this blog’s self-imposed rules: A New Year; New Rules. Unless otherwise expressly stated, posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Comments are moderated to keep the discussion/s relevant and civil. Readers are responsible for their own statement/s.

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