Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dear Blogger: Focus on Reading, Thinking, and Writing (Part One)


When I was still an Associate Producer/Scriptwriter at the Presidential Broadcast Staff - Radio Television Malacanang, I had a boss named Alex F. Ontong (RIP).

Apart from being a very good Tong-its player, he was among the best professional writers that I have ever come to work in close contact with.

Alex, or AFO as we called him, was very generous with advice when it came to writing and I got a lot of it over the three or four years that I worked with him in Malacanang.

Of the hundreds of things he taught be about good writing, the most basic and most helpful one was that in order to write well, you had to read well.

As soon as I heard him say that I almost saw AFO transform into Pat Morita (which was such a bummer because I didn't see myself transform into Ralph Macchio).  And in his Pat Morita state, he was teaching me Karate-do by making me wax his car.

Well anyway, the lesson was pretty straightforward: In order to become a good writer, you have to be know a lot about whatever it is you are trying to write.

Reading can give you leads to what is new and exciting, therefore interesting.

Reading also allows you to acquire facility with the language you are writing in, allowing you to become familiar enough with writing styles so that you can mimic it or re-work the writing style to make it your own.

Reading is part of the process of acquiring expertise in any subject or field of knowledge and expertise, above all, is what you should really aspire for as a writer.

Going back to what AFO said about reading being the foundation of good writing, he also pointed out that while most people think that reading is a passive exercise (like being a sponge soaking up water), it really isn't.  

It is an active process that may involve not just reading one article but several articles in order to get a better  understanding of the context in which that one article was written in.

At a basic level of reading, you understand what words, sentences, and paragraphs.  On a higher level of reading you begin to see the structure of the entire article and in some cases, how the article is structured works on the level of enhancing the reading experience while at the same time conveys additional meaning.  On an even higher level of reading, you begin to see how one written work relates to other written works and how the article you are reading matters in this universe of written works.

Moreover, I think more people put a premium, or at least should put a premium, on writing that is based on their reading of first hand documents or source documents.

I've seen people rant about the RH Bill or the FOIA Bill and in their writing I sometimes get a sense that they haven't actually read the bill or even if they did, it doesn't seem that they really understood what they read.  Ditto for controversial court decisions, official government documents on transactions, contracts, terms of reference, diplomatic communiques, international trade agreements, etcetera, etcetera...

As of this writing, there are people who are ranting about the proposal to put a cap on internet connection speeds and it makes me wonder, what they are basing their opinions on. (If I can muster enough energy, I'll write about this in the coming days.)

On the flipside of this, I've seen a few (a very few) number of bloggers who write about stuff that is strictly OFF LINE and it amazes the hell out of me.  To me, someone writing about an OFFLINE document or even an online source document that needs expertise to be understandable, deserves acclaim.

Take for example someone who quotes extensively from historical documents written in Spanish during the 1800's as a way of either explaining or pointing to the significance of something in the present.  Or someone who actually pores through an unpopular court decision and finds sections in it that either neutralizes the controversy or  proves its detractors right.

Even better, take for example the person who upon reading everything that has been written on a particular subject, comes up a completely new but very relevant idea.  

Of course, most bloggers will not be able do this everyday or every week, but those who are able to do so gain a better reputation than those who do not. (At least, in my mind.)

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...