Distilling thoughts, emotions and knowledge, and then lending it expression while a pen glides on a page or fingers clatter on a keyboard, is never easy. Writing, be it literary endeavours, journalistic output, day-to-day communication and official notes, demands a certain rigour, nuance and an awareness of the immediate context and the larger world.

Ask anyone staring at a blank page or screen and they would agree that there’s often a moment of trepidation before the nervous energy settles and words emanate. Usually people seek comfort in the familiar; they might just write the subject title and their name, some, especially in diaries, may even invoke God. These are all tropes that writers employ before charging headlong into the cut and thrust of lending an exposition to their thoughts.

This is the age of pithy lines, abbreviations like FOMO, and tiny notes on WhatsApp or SMS. Twitter may give more space and yet language overall gets truncated, alphabets get sacrificed and this is akin to the culture of brewing a strong cuppa with tea bags or whipping up two-minute noodles. Speed is the essence and as every micro-second vanishes, writing throws up various challenges.

In their book Writing for Busy Readers, authors Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink dwell into the textures of finding an expression to the various thoughts that jostle in our brains. In their preamble, the duo state this fact: “Writing about writing sounds a lot like, say, singing about singing. Then gradually, almost without noticing, we became convinced that there is a genuine need for a different kind of book about writing – one that explains, point by point, the proven techniques for communicating effectively with any recipient.”

Then they cut through the jargon and get straight to the point with a rhetorical flourish: “A text message is writing. A work email is writing. A Facebook post or a tweet is writing. An update on Slack is writing. Even a to-do list on the fridge is a form of writing.” The authors make it clear upfront about their desire to cut through the frills and get close to the bone. They also offer a fine-print: “Effective writing is not the same as beautiful writing.” And so if you are a reader with time enough to drool over William Shakespeare’s iconic line from The Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” you might as well stay away.

Catch the eye

The writers stress on how contrasts in a picture get us focussed and then juxtapose it with creating a similar vein in writing through the skill of formatting, like making a line bold or using block letters or underlining or highlighting with a shade. Catch the eye is the mantra and it works. This is essentially a book that brings a scientific rigour to understanding the way the art of reading is practised, and through that the authors try to tell how to write and cater to a specific demand.

The larger principles of good writing shimmer into view, like brevity, being concise, and how a single word can replace multiple words, and that effectively lessens reader fatigue. Writing to communicate and not to impress is also dealt upon with a scathing line: “It was all in the English language, yet I could not understand the mumbo jumbo!! This for me feels condescending and corrupt.”

The visual element of presenting writing on a page is also dissected. The need for space and headings, but also not to overdo the stylistics, are mentioned too. Words matter, and the aesthetic element should be like seasoning in a curry, seems to be the polemic. Writing and reading, like the act of breathing, is often taken for granted, we believe that it is second nature and will keep happening on auto-pilot. This practical book makes us pause and ponder why we write the way we do.

The reviewer is Sports Editor, The Hindu

Check out the book on Amazon