On April 24, 2020, I gave a lecture on how to improve one’s writing skills at the online conference organised for writers by The Knowledge Ark Team. Due to popular demand, I’ve decided to publish the lecture here so that more people can have access to it. It contains some of the lessons I’ve gathered over the years as a writer. At the end of this post, I also added one of the questions asked in the course of the lecture and the answer I provided. I hope you learn a thing or two here. Enjoy!
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Omoya Simult, and I’m happy to take this session on writing because it’s something really dear to me. First and foremost, I’d like to thank Ajayi David and all members of The Knowledge Ark Team for the big efforts they put into making this online conference a reality. This is a commendable initiative, and I appreciate the opportunity they’ve given me to be a part of it.
Just now, I took a cursory look at the list of people who registered for this online conference, nearly 300 of them, and I found a few familiar names. So, yeah, I’m making a shout-out to my friends and bosses in this virtual room. To every other person who’s crossing paths with me for the first time, I’d like to note that friends were once strangers, and I hope our acquaintanceship status will have improved by the end of this session. I see y’all. Thank you for making out time to be here🙌🤗.
Before this session is over, I’ll be asking some questions based on things we shall now discuss. There will be prizes for people who can quickly provide correct answers to them. In short, no dull yaself🙃.
As you know, I’ve been asked to give a lecture on how to improve one’s writing skills. But before I delve into that, there’s an important question we must first address: why should anyone want to improve their writing skills?
A couple of years ago — I think I was a sophomore then🤔 — I was at a restaurant in Ibadan, sitting across from my date who was this cute lady with a positive energy that lit up the room. We had been talking about family background, interests, childhood, and all those things people skirt around before they say what they really want to say. Somehow we came to the topic of writing, and she mentioned in passing that she admired writers a lot. She went ahead to say other things that were, at best, tangential to writing. Being a self-acclaimed listener-in-chief, I paid attention all through, widening my eyes here and giving a nod there. When she was done, I drew her back to an earlier statement, asking her why she admired writers. Her answer was very insightful.
She said her father once told her that the grandest skill a person could have was that of effective communication. According to him, there were 3 major ways through which humans communicated: through speeches, through writings, and through signs/symbols. She went ahead to give me a crash course on anthroposemiotics, which I would later realise was a difficult word that meant study of human communication.
Needless to say, that digression almost ruined the vibe of our date. Thank goodness I had the perception to quickly redirect our conversation to more pressing matters, like a confession that I couldn’t take my eyes off the delicate angulation of her cheekbones, or the leap of faith that I saw us having another interesting date. I mean, who anthroposemiotics epp?🤷😉
Now that I suppose I’ve captured your interest, here is where I redirect the course of this lecture back to the hovering question: why should anyone want to improve their writing skills? Of course, the answer is now obvious — to be able to communicate more effectively. That’s the primary reason, no doubt, but many other secondary reasons are hinged on it.
Such secondary reasons include:
- performing better in exams that involve theory questions or academic papers
- expressing yourself better as an advocate for some cause
- creating more entertaining work as a professional
- improving your public relations to boost your visibility or influence
- connecting better with your lover, friends or family
- landing cooler deals, jobs, or grants, through applications and proposals
- making more money online or offline, as an author, poet, journalist, essayist, copywriter, content marketer, editor, ghostwriter, etc.
The list is endless. And whatever your secondary reasons for wanting to communicate more effectively are, improving your writing skills is one of your best bets.
That settled, I have a few suggestions that can help you improve your writing, irrespective of your ulterior motive(s).
MASTER THE BASICS: This is the easiest part, and if you’re just starting out, it will only take you a few weeks of committed work. There are certain rules that generally guide writing. For English Language — and that’s our focus here — you have to brush up on the rules of concord, tenses, spellings and punctuations. Well, these are the things they teach in primary and secondary schools, but if you don’t get a handle on them, they can really mess you up.
I know a lot of people who would make fine writers if only they got these fundamentals right. Nothing pisses off a reader faster than wrong use of concord, terrible tenses, misspellings and punctuation errors. Apart from the fact that these mistakes could tamper with the meaning of your work, they could also undermine your reputation. This is avoidable trouble. I mean, you could check up a spelling in a dictionary in few seconds. You could easily read up online articles to brush up on your concord, tenses and punctuations. Even better, you could download e-books, like the tested and trusted “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. Some say you should not consider yourself a writer until you have read that book twice. They might have a point.
ACQUIRE STUFF THROUGH LATENT PREPARATION: “One’s imagination can be limited by one’s exposure, but as one broadens one’s horizon, one acquires more tools for creativity.” Do you know who said that? Nevermind, we’ll come back to it later.
I love and appreciate people who support my work. I cherish interactions with fans and their feedbacks because they give me insight into what I could do better.
It happens that one question I often get when I meet fans is, how do you schedule your time to accommodate writing and the huge workload of medical school? They are always shocked when I tell them that I simply allocate more time to writing, but the catch is that the answer isn’t as literal as it sounds.
Of course, putting pen to paper and coming up with good pieces could take time, but not as much as the latent preparation that goes into writing. A writer must know things, a lot of things, because only a teeny-weeny fraction of what he knows will eventually make it into his writing. This acquisition of knowledge over years, with the hope that bits of it will come in handy sometime in the future, is what I refer to as latent preparation. If one doesn’t have a well of knowledge to draw from in due time, one’s writing will be pedestrian, lacking in flavour and substance.
In essence, it is my belief that a great writer requires wide horizons. If you’re the sort of writer who wants to someday write about human life in a spectacular way — could be fiction or nonfiction — then you need to know a lot about human life. And there comes my justification for allotting more time to writing than medicine, a logical proportionation based on the understanding that human health is only one aspect of human life.
For starters, the advice is to read as much as possible. Read newspapers, biographies, textbooks, novels, plays, poems, self-help books, etc. Acquire stuff — you will not see the result right away, but the residual knowledge will make all the difference someday.
“One’s imagination can be limited by one’s exposure, but as one broadens one’s horizon, one acquires more tools for creativity.” — Omoya Simult
STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST: Sometime last year, I stumbled on this American author called Austin Kleon, who, among others, had written a book titled “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative.” In the said book, Austin suggests that creative people should embrace the inevitability of influence, that it’s okay to borrow a leaf from those who’ve gone ahead of you.
Studying others — different from merely reading them — can help you improve your vocabulary, imagination, and knowledge.
“You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” said Seneca, one of the founding pillars of Stoicism.
Relating that to writing, to develop your voice, you may need to focus on a few writers you admire, studying all their work at once. “Everywhere means nowhere… A plant which is often moved can never grow strong,” Seneca added.
When I started taking writing seriously after secondary school, one of the things I did was to select few writers and read every book they’d written that I could find. Sometimes I read 5 books by the same author before moving on to another author. I read writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Chukwuemeka Ike, Chimamanda Adichie, Teju Cole, Yiyun Li, JM Coetzee, Dan Brown, James Baldwin, JK Rowling, and others.
Point is, the more familiar you are with the various ways people share their thoughts and imaginations, the more unique your own writing can be.
“DO NOT SEEK TO BE KNOWN. SEEK TO KNOW. WHAT YOU KNOW WILL MAKE YOU KNOWN: Putting Value Before Money”
I once had a mentee who, at one of our sessions, asked me what he could do to start winning writing competitions, what he could do to start making big money from writing. The question surprised me, because here was a guy who was new to writing, and he was already thinking about making millions without even knowing the basics of the skill😀.
I told him the story of Socrates and a young man. Once upon a time, a boy walked up to Socrates and asked, “Sir, what is the secret to success?”
The philosopher said, “Follow me, and I’ll show you…”
Does anyone here know how that story ended?
Well, Socrates took the boy to a river, plunged the dude into water by surprise, buried his head and held him down.
The boy couldn’t breathe, and he soon began to struggle, throwing his limbs around. When Socrates saw that he couldn’t take it anymore, he pulled him up and asked, “What did you want the most before I pulled you up and how badly did you want it?”
The young man gasped, “Air! And I wanted it very badly.”
“Good, there lies the secret to success,” Socrates said. “You would only become successful when you want success as badly as you wanted air just now.”
“Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” — Vaibhav Shah
Before you can become successful at writing, you have to make a lot of private sacrifices — reading on your own, practising writing on your own, making friends with writers, etc. There’s no sudden leap; it’s going to take time. But if you consistently apply some of the things I’ve mentioned today, your journey will more likely lead you to a desired destination.
As you might know, good writing isn’t something that could be taught in a day, not even in a year. Over the last 1 hour or so, I trust I’ve been able to provide you with a solid foundation on which you can build your writing journey.
I’d like to refer you to a resource material for further studies. I’ve gone through it and I think you’ll find it really helpful. Click here.
Question from a member of the audience: When writing, are there some key points or precautions one must have in mind?
My Answer: Yes, a lot actually. First off, you want to pay attention to your grammar, tenses, concord, spellings and punctuations, like we talked about under “Master Your Basics.”
Next, depending on the kind of writing you’re doing, you want to make sure you’re using the right format and that you have your work following an outline you made. It’s important you have an outline. Otherwise, you could easily drift away.
John Grisham, one of the richest writers alive, once said, “There are 3 types of words: first, words everybody knows; second, words you should know; third, words nobody knows.” The advice is that you should never use the third type, use the second with restraint, and use mainly the first type. In other words, keep things simple.
In conclusion, you want to make sure your writing gives your readers a good experience. This is where latent preparation comes to play. The more you know, the better you can write.
It’s been a great experience here tonight. Thank you for having me, guys. Goodnight, y’all🙌.