Saturday, July 30, 2011

Writing Books

Although there are many books on the craft of writing, only a few have bridged the gap between writing for the printed page and writing for the Web. In this article I will write about some of the books that teach the basics of writing, how to craft an article, and how to come up with ideas for stories.

One of the books that can be of great help to any writer is the classic by Strunk and White called 'The Elements of Style'.

This slim volume can teach you how to become a master of the English language. If you follow its 7 rules of usage, its 11 principles of composition, and heed a few principles of style, you cannot help becoming a good writer.

It is a marvel of terse writing, setting aside long-winded explanations for simple, direct sentences that tell the reader what he needs to know. His exhortations to "Omit needless words!" have been observed throughout the book.

Another book that should be in every writer's library is 'On Writing Well' by William Zinsser. Subtitled 'The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction' it is a master class on how to write articles and essays.

Mr. Zinsser draws on his years of writing hundreds of articles for the major magazines to pinpoint the little mistakes that can jeopardize a good article.

He emphasizes that the lead is the most important part of the article because this is what will encourage the reader to either continue reading or to jump to another article.

Equally important is an article's ending because, if it is well written, the reader will be left with a feeling of having learned something and the desire to learn more. Mr. Zinnser uses excerpts from his past articles to show how he achieved the desired effects in his compositions.

Ray Bradbury'S 'Zen in the Art of Writing' is a book that can teach the writer how to be more creative and how to find his own voice. Mr. Bradbury is a legendary voice in science-fiction with scores of novels and short stories, as well as film scripts and poetry, to his credit.

Of particular interest to writers is his method of finding ideas to write about. His approach is to go deep down into one's childhood memories and remember the things that caused the most impression. You can use the images of your childhood fears and joys as building blocks to craft a short story or a longer piece.

Another book that can teach you the nuts and bolts of writing novels is 'The Weekend Novelist' by Robert Ray. His approach is to teach you how to write a novel in 52 weekends. Each weekend you will work on one aspect of your novel, beginning with a portrait of the protagonist and her back story. Other characters are then introduced who will continue with the story.

His method of dividing the novel into three acts and several major scenes is reassuring because writing a novel can be a daunting task. You can work on any scene at any time once you have written the major scenes. These will serve as beacons to guide you in your writing.

By dividing the task into 52 weekends, he decreases the anxiety that any writer faced with the blank page can experience. Another positive aspect is his use of Aristotle's Incline to keep the writer on track. You can use this tool at any time to see if you are heading in the right direction, especially if you begin to feel the symptoms of writer's block.

Another valuable book that every writer should have is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Though not a writing manual per se, it is a mine of information, of anecdotes, and of those names and events that most of us are not familiar with. It is also an excellent recourse for the writer in need of ideas around which to weave a story or article.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When to Write - Morning or Night?

Writing is an activity that is peculiarly dependent on whether you are a morning or a night person, on whether you are a lark or a nightingale. There are people who feel more mentally active in the early hours of the morning. Their thoughts flow more freely and they
are more focused. They are able to pin down a line of thought and dissect it thoroughly. As writers, their ability to express in words the images and feelings they identify with are greatly enhanced.

When the same people try to do the same activities at night, however, they find they cannot think with the same level of mental acuity. Their thoughts become entangled with the events of the day and, since these are more recent and affect them more, they tend to return to them over and over. If they force themselves to write, they find that their production lacks the vigor and clarity of their morning work.

One of the first things you should do if you find yourself in this situation is not to fight your inner nature. If you feel you work better in the morning then you should plan your activities so that your creative work gets done in the morning. The evenings could be dedicated to activities such as research or planning your writing.

Next, you should do a complete outline of the article. If your article follows the standard formula of an introduction, three relevant points, and a conclusion, you should concentrate
your attention on the three points. Depending on the focus of your article, you now need to
find the finer points from your research that can enhance your arguments.

Before going to sleep, you should do a quick mental recap of the main points of your article. Tell yourself that in the morning you are going to write the article and form a mental image of the finished work.

While you sleep, your subconscious will work on the data you have gathered, rearranging the facts so that they strengthen the focus of your article. You will often find that the outline you did the night before does not closely match the article that you have just written. You have probably downplayed some points while emphasizing others.

Your subconscious mind can help you write better articles and, if you write when you are
most productive, you will be a much better writer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writer's Block

It can happen to any writer. You are writing fluently, the words are flowing from you in a steady stream and, suddenly, you come to a stop. Or perhaps you have done your research, found the perfect bits of information that will make your story shine but you just cannot start writing. Writer's block is something that can happen at any time. Among the many causes are a lack of research, simple fatigue, self-doubt, or an unconscious desire not to finish the article or story.

Lack of Research

Lack of research is probably the main cause of writer's block. You could have amassed a whole mountain of facts but, if they are not relevant to your focus or angle, you will need to either look for another angle or do some more suitable research. Often, it would be simpler to just follow the former option. This is because you have gathered the information that most appealed to you and you would write a more compelling article if you follow your instinct.


Simple mental fatigue is another probable cause of writer's block. You may have been writing without a break for a long while and your brain refuses to continue. A good indication of fatigue is when you cannot write even though you have adequate facts at your fingertips, all ready to be used. In such cases, you should do something completely different. Go for a walk, talk to friends, or just look at some beautiful photos. This will take your mind off of writing for a while. Meanwhile, your unconscious mind is working away at your article, smoothing out the edges so that you can write it when you return to your desk.

Fear of the New

Writer's block can also occur when you are nearing the end of your work. If you're writing a book, you begin to think of tasks like marketing your work, talking to agents and, in general, dealing with things that you are not familiar with. In such cases, you should stop looking forward, stop predicting the future, and just concentrate on reaching the end of your book. In the words of that wise philosopher Yogi Berra 'it ain't over 'til it's over.' The hardest part of your work is almost over and, if it is good, marketing it should be easier than writing it.

Free Writing

Free writing can be a most effective technique against writer's block. It consists of writing as fast as you can whatever comes to mind. You should not stop to read what you have written or do any editing while you're writing. Just set an alarm for 15 minutes and start writing. Once the alarm rings, you should look over what you have written. Try to find clues that can help you identify the causes of your block and think of possible solutions. Often, the simple act of free writing can help to dissolve any mental blocks you may have been experiencing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Your Writing Appointment

If you're a writer, you'll know that one of the hardest things to do is getting down to work. Most of us procrastinate, find things to do, daydream, or just sit and stare at the screen instead of just writing. Contrary to Fishhawk's dictum that a writer is working when he is staring out the window, when we do start to write we often find that our thoughts remain as they were before. Our production lags and, if we are on a deadline, we are forced to pull a late nighter or skip meals just to get the work done. What we need to do is to find a way to sit down and write until the article or story is ready. Here are three tips that can help us become more productive and efficient writers.

1 – Set the Alarm

Most people do not like to wake up to an alarm clock because it tends to ring just when they are in one of their periods of deep sleep. They wake up feeling tense instead of relaxed. You can also use the alarm to tell you when to sit down at your writing desk. If you consciously begin to write when the alarm rings, you will soon create a habit that will stay with you for as long as you like. Taking a page from Pavlov, you can easily associate the ringing of the alarm to your picking up pen and paper or putting fingers to keyboard.

2 – Prepare for Action

When the alarm sounds, the last thing you should need to do is to start looking for your notebook or reference files. These should be ready on your desk, just waiting for you to use them. Any changes to your daily habit could cause you to shift your attention to something else. If you are writing an article, the outline should be ready and all research complete. What you need to do now is to just pour the words from your mind onto paper or screen. In the wise words of Maupassant, you need to get in black and white as soon as possible. After the draft is ready, you can edit to your heart's content.

3 – Zero Interruptions

There are other little obstacles that can prevent you from keeping your writing appointment. This is why you should turn off the Internet before writing. Incoming mail is usually announced by an audible ping or a visually distracting pop-up. When this happens, our natural curiosity gets the best of us and we can find it hard not to read our mail.

If you can accustom yourself to start writing when the alarm rings, you will find that other related problems such as writer's block can easily fade away. Since you know that you have a writing appointment that can't be missed, you will tend to look forward to your writing sessions.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Tips - Writing On the Go

There are times when you do not have the benefit of a comfortable desk and chair where you can sit down and write. Say you have an urgent deadline approaching with little time left to complete an article or story. If you have to run an important errand that cannot wait, you need to find a way to at least get a head start. Getting a few words down on paper while waiting could mean the difference between missing an important deadline and completing an article on time.

1. Writing in Public Transport

Say you're on a train and you have to finish a short article to be delivered when you reach your destination. All you need to do is to whip out your writing stuff, whether laptop or pen and paper, and start writing. People near you will probably be doing the same, so you will feel at home. This is where a good, long-life battery could be useful because, instead of surfing the net, you could get some work done. In you're in a taxi or on a bus, you will need to rely only on pen and paper because of the erratic movements of the vehicle.

2. Writing in Public Spaces

If you are at a bank, waiting in line or sitting down, you could also get some work done. Once again, you will need to use pen and paper, because the bank will probably frown on your using a laptop. A good technique to use when waiting in line is to write only the headlines of your article. A few cryptic words under a headline is all you need. Later, you can use these notes to write the full article. A knowledge of shorthand could be of great use whenever you need to write in public spaces.

3. Writing Without Writing

What if you are at a place where you cannot write? If you are at a church, for example, or in court doing jury duty and cannot do anything else but listen, you could put any spare minutes to good use. If you do not need to listen too closely to what is being said, you could do a bit of writing even on such occasions. A simple technique you can use is to think of the subtitles of your article and think of what you can say in the paragraph. You can also use topology, where you use the parts of a building you are familiar with as markers for important points or paragraphs. The door of the building could mark the introduction to your article. The chair inside your hallway could hold your second paragraph. When you have chosen a suitable marker for each paragraph, you then proceed to think of the content, mentally filling in the words.

Being away from your writing desk does not have to mean being unable to write. You can continue to be productive even when away from your desk by using these simple techniques. An additional benefit of writing in public is that you can obtain valuable input that could trigger a good description or make you remember a fact to enliven your story.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Research - How Much Is Too Much?

Most writers know the feeling. They have an idea for an article or story and begin to do the necessary research. Soon, they find that Robert Pirsig's book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' can also refer to research. They go down a path that looks invitingly narrow and find that there are multiple pathways leading to other equally interesting bits of knowledge. They fear that if they do not follow the links then maybe they would miss a vital piece of information. This could become a problem for a writer because he spends too much time on research and not enough time on writing. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to curb the tendency to excessive research.

Set a Goal

One of the first things you should do before starting your browser is to decide on your research goal. This goal should be concrete enough and focused enough so that you would be able to stay on course. If you're writing a historical novel and you need information about the battle of Thermopylae, for example, you should only look for data such as dates and forces. While it may be interesting to read all about the opposing sides and the political climate that led to the battle, this information does not have any bearing on your topic.

Have You Reached Your Goal?

The tricky part of setting a research goal is to know when you have reached it. You may think that you now have enough information to start writing, but later you find that a vital piece of information is missing. One thing you can do so as not to stop your momentum is to highlight the place where you need to put the information and keep on writing. You can return to it later after doing the research. To prevent the missing information syndrome, you could do a mental rehearsal with your protagonist before starting to write. Imagine your protagonist looking at his enemies and identifying the leaders, their forces, their weapons, and any other piece of concrete information that is pertinent to that instant. If you find that you are unable to answer the questions fully, you would know that you need to do more research.

Getting Down To Work

Once the research has been done, you need to start writing at once. The information is still fresh in your mind and you have already made links to other information in your brain. This is the ideal time to write and you'll find that the words will flow smoothly.

The writer Humphry Ward once wrote to his wife, also a writer, "Anyone can read! Anybody of decent wits can accumulate notes and references; the difficulty is to write... to make something.” This is a sound observation that can be applied to all writers.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Writing Tips From Trollope

Anthony Trollope was one of the most notable writers of the nineteenth century. His Chronicles of Barsetshire novels were followed by people from all walks of life in all English-speaking countries. His other novels were also equally well-received and went through numerous editions. One aspect of his work that could be of interest to many writers is his writing technique. How he wrote his novels, and how he was able to be so productive, are two things that could interest today's writers as well, since the problems he faced and the solutions he found are applicable to all writers.

1. Write in You Spare Time

Trollope said that when he decided to become a writer, he also decided to let his writing take second place to his job in the postal service. He did not want to be too dependent on the uncertain income from his writing and therefore made a conscious decision to continue in his job. Furthermore, as a part-time writer, he needed to find a way of using the time available to him to the fullest extent.

2. Get it Done Early

One solution he found was to do his writing before he went to his job in the postal service. He would wake up around five thirty in the morning and, after a light breakfast, would begin to write. At nine o'clock, when his family was just beginning to start their morning routines, he would leave for his office. He would therefore have had almost four hours to write, with no interruptions either from his sleeping family or external sources.

3. Track Your Progress

Since he needed to use the little time available to him efficiently, he created a way of keeping track of his daily progress. His goal was to write a certain number of words during each fifteen minute interval so as to produce a given word and page count each day. Each page of his notebooks had a margin indicating the number of words written. By keeping track of time as he wrote, he knew when he was behind in his word count and when he had time to spare. In this way, by maintaining a tight control of his word and page count, he was able to chart his progress and reach his daily writing quota.

Trollope was able to write over 47 novels, as well as many stories and articles, by following this method. The fact that his books are still read indicates that he was able to maintain quality while following a system that suited his particular circumstance. While his technique may not be suitable to many writers, it still has some advantages that could benefit today's writers. Having a day job and writing part-time is still the route followed by many beginning and seasoned writers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silencing The Internal Editor

The Internal Editor is that inner voice that accompanies us all day, scolding, criticizing, but rarely praising us. It constantly tells us that what we are writing is not up to par and that there is another way of saying the same thing. Like all critics, its forte is criticism, not constructive advice. As writers, we need to be able to drown out our inner voice sometimes, so that our creative juices could flow uninterrupted. There are several methods we can use to quiet our inner voice for a while. Even though some may not work for you, there are others that could be of use.

1. Write Fast

This is probably one of the best ways to lower your internal voice, and it is the one I use. You need to write by hand for this technique to be effective, because typing could introduce an additional source of distraction. Instead of carefully formulating what you wish to say and how you are going to say it, you should just write the words down as fast as they come to you. The idea is to convert the image in your mind into words and on paper as quickly as you can. These words may not be the best but they can be improved and corrected later on in draft number two or three. Maupassant's advice to get in black and white as soon as possible comes to mind. From out of the jumble of ill-formed phrases you can later extract a better image. One of the prerequisites for writing fast is that you should be completely familiar with your theme. You should have read your research notes and made a complete outline beforehand so that you would not be forced to stop and think of plot lines as you write.

2. Write Slowly

Technique Number Two for silencing your Internal Editor is just the opposite of number one. Instead of writing as fast as you can, you should write as slowly as you can, tracing each letter carefully as you form each word. In this way, the Internal Editor becomes too busy with the letters of each word and does not have time to comment on your performance.

3. Write To Loud Music

Another way of drowning out the voice of the Internal Editor is by writing to loud music. Though this may sound contrary to what a creative worker should do, it is based on the principle that our inner voice will listen to the music and will become distracted. This is why instrumental music is preferred, with no lyrics that can catch the Editor's attention. Stephen King once mentioned that he wrote to loud instrumental rock music and, judging by his production, we can only assume that it works for him.

Silencing the Internal Editor is one of the main preoccupations of any writer who wants to give full rein to his creativity. When the inner voice is silenced, the writer can find his voice and begin to write as only he can.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing Tips From Balzac

Today's writers can learn a lot from Balzac. His fame as a writer is due to the many novels, stories, and commentary he produced during his short lifetime. His "Human Comedy" is breathtaking in scope, even though unfinished. One wonders how the final product would have looked if he had lived long enough to complete his masterpiece. The great care he took in gathering all the information available on a topic and then digesting it to produce his great social commentaries in fiction cannot be easily repeated. Here are a few writing tips that are based on the life and activities of this literary genius.

1. Choose a Good Writing Environment

Balzac's writing habits can only be described as extreme. He used to start his working day at around midnight. Clad in a long white gown, similar to that of a monk, and wearing a long gold chain around his neck, he would begin his daily writing. He would continue to write for the next twelve hours, pausing only to drink cups of black coffee, the same beverage that would ultimately lead to his early death. He probably chose the dark hours of the night because of the quiet and the freedom from interruptions at that hour. At around noon on the following day, he would finally call it a day. Many writers would benefit from writing under such conditions.

2. Rest Is Important

His ability to work for such a long period of time was probably because of the regularity of his habits. He took great care to go to sleep at the same hour each day. Even when he was entertaining his friends, or taking part in social engagements, he would return to his home whenever his bedtime approached. At six o'clock he would go to bed and wake up six hours later to begin his working day. He knew that a writer needed mental and physical rest even more than a worker whose job did not entail such hard mental labor. All writers should ensure that they get the amount of sleep that their constitution requires.

3. Think Big

Balzac is remembered for, among other things, the sweeping panorama of French society that is the "Human Comedy." His intention was to draw a word picture of all aspects of France and its inhabitants. He would draw his characters from the high and the low, the strong and the weak, the good and the bad. Unfortunately, he was only able to complete a few of the books planned, before his untimely end. A writer should be able to make plans just as the one envisioned by
Balzac. He should be able to go beyond the novel he is writing and think of it as a part of something greater, something that would live long after he has ceased to exist.

4. Networking

Even though Balzac concentrated almost exclusively on his writing, he did not ignore the social interaction that is needed for good mental health. When his working day was over, he would join his friends and participate actively in the social life of his peers. His quick wit and power of repartee were greatly appreciated by the salons that he frequented. A writer should be a part of society as well, observing and making note of anything that could serve as grist for his mill. Only after long hours of studying life would it be possible to make a concrete observation that has a solid basis of fact.

Balzac can be described as one of the masters of French literature. His contributions were many, and his place in the literary pantheon is assured. His dedication to his craft and his ability to conceive great projects can teach writers to love their profession and to go beyond their comfort zones.

Monday, April 25, 2011

3 Writing Tips to Make You a Better Writer

If you’re a writer, you’ll know that one of the hardest things for a writer is to get down to work. Most of us waste valuable time and procrastinate before getting to work. We all know that our livelihood depends on our production of articles, stories, scripts or books. In other words, if we don’t write, we do not earn. We need to develop a fool-proof method that will enable us to sit down and write, impervious to external stimuli and free of stress. Here are three tips that can help you to be a more productive writer and to achieve whatever you propose in the way of words.

1. Set an alarm

One of the ways in which you can accustom yourself to sit down and start writing is to set an alarm. If you would like to start writing at 9:00 in the evening, you should set your alarm to go off at that hour. When the alarm sounds, you should at first consciously, through self-discipline, force yourself to sit down and begin the day’s work. After a few days, possibly a week or so, you will begin to associate the sound of the alarm with your writing desk and the work you need to do. Pavlov’s discovery is not only for the dogs, after all. You can use this simple technique to drill into your consciousness that you are a writer and that you need to write.

2. Prepare The Terrain

Another thing you should also do is to get everything ready before you sit down and write. When the alarm sounds, you should not have to deal with anything that can interrupt your train of thoughts. You would probably say to yourself “Maybe I should first see if I have any new or urgent e-mails waiting for me before I get down to write.” Interruptions of this type can quickly lead you away from your writing mindset. To prevent this from happening, you should have everything you’ll need on your writing desk beforehand. If you write like me, with pen and paper, you should have your favorite pen and writing pad on the desk, with a hardcopy of the previous day’s work beside it. An outline of the article or book chapter should also be available if needed.

3. No Interruptions

You should also make sure that there are no interruptions when you are writing. If possible, switch off your Internet connection or lower the volume of your speakers so that only visual reminders or notifications are visible. Your family should also respect your writing hours. They will know that after 9:00 o’clock you would not be available except for dire emergencies. This would enable you to keep your mind on your article or story and not on anything else.

I have followed these three writing tips for some time and, even though they appear simple, they have a quiet power. You’ll find that when 9:00 o’clock or whatever time you choose comes around, you’ll go to your desk and begin writing. Please share your comments on this article, along with any tips that could be of use to other writers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Robert Heinlein - an appreciation

One of the authors whom I admire is Robert Heinlein. He was ahead of his time in most respects, being a firm believer in women's rights and in the ability of women to assume non-traditional roles. In his novels, his female characters were just as capable as the male ones in exploring space, in fighting for survival, in battle and as leaders of fighting men and women. In his epic novel 'Starship Troopers', he described an ideal society where the title of 'citizen' was something that had to be earned and not as something that was granted automatically because of an accident of birth. You earned the title after having dedicated a certain number of years to public service. This could be done by serving in the military or in any number of activities that benefited society.

Even though the novel was criticized as being too pro-military, the emphasis was not on the military aspects of service to country but on the different ways in which one could earn the right to become a citizen. John Kennedy's famous words at his Inaugural Address in 1961 'ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country', give us a good idea of how the idea of service to country can best be put into practice.

Some of his novels that won worldwide acclaim are:

  • Strangers in a Strange Land
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Tomorrow the Stars
  • Red Planet
  • Starman Jones, and many others. 

His popular collections of short stories and commentary are:

  • The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein
  • Expanded Universe
  • Assignment in Eternity 

These contain what is perhaps one of the finest collections of science-fiction stories ever written.

Another highlight of his career was his 1973 James Forrestal Memorial Lecture to the graduating class at the Naval Academy, his alma mater. In his address, he gives a clear idea of the role of the military. In a brilliant analogy, he talks about a herd of baboons in an African forest. He says that if you see an alert baboon high in a tree, you would know that the herd is on the ground feeding.

The young baboon in the tree has been placed there as a lookout by the leader of the pack. His job is to keep watch for the number one predator in the baboon world, the leopard. The young member of the pack will stay at his post, alert and watchful, rain or shine. If he sees a predator he screams a warning, giving the feeding baboons on the ground time to climb to safety. Only when the other baboons have fed enough will the leader of the herd call for him to come down and feed. His place on guard duty in the tree is taken by another young baboon. The duty of the naval officer and other military, Heinlein tells the graduating class, is similar to that of the baboon in the tree. He has to serve and protect the citizens of his country at all times, always alert and on guard. It is an address that should be read by all whose duty is to serve.

A lifelong anti-communist, he died in 1988,  just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that he eagerly awaited but was not fortunate enough to witness.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

e-books and e-readers

The recent announcement that Borders was closing over 200 stores nationwide came as no surprise, since it was public knowledge that this company was rapidly losing market share. The reason: the increased costs of production and the emergence of new and improved digital readers like the iPad and Kindle. Added to this is the increased production of e-books in a variety of genres. A more effective marketing of e-books was also an important factor in the increasing popularity of this new book format.

Amazon recently reported that sales of e-books had surpassed those of paper books for the first time. While this was not an unexpected announcement, given the increased popularity and better resolutions of e-readers, it was nevertheless tinged with a certain degree of regret. Borders' announcement did little to improve the mood.

The first victims of the closures are the hundreds of workers who will surely lose their jobs. The second group who will feel the absence of an outlet for their production is that of authors and publishers. Even though there are many stores and small chains that will continue to sell books, the reality is that none of them possesses the logistics and accumulated knowledge of retail sales like Borders. Publishers will probably feel the need to lower production figures to reflect the absence of a major player.

The reasons why sales of e-books have surpassed the sales of physical books are varied. One of the main reasons is the ease with which an e-book can be bought. All the reader needs to do is to surf the net and search for the book he is interested in. Seconds later he could be enjoying a good book. Another factor is the lower price of the e-book, several times less than that of a normal book. A point in the publisher's favor is that there is no need to have a physical inventory. Instead of warehouses bulging with unsold books, there will only be a computer program that produces the book. For famous authors accustomed to huge advances, there will probably be some bad news.

New authors will probably find it easier to sell their first book. Low advances will enable the publisher to recover the outlay quickly, while the author will receive royalties sooner. The lower prices for a digital download mean that there will be increased sales.

Undoubtedly, we are now entering a new era in the world of books. Authors, publishers and readers will have to adapt to a new way of writing and selling books.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Readers and Writers

There is a saying in Spanish that people who read a lot will soon start to write. In my case, I think it is true to a certain extent because I cannot remember a time when I was not fascinated by words and their meanings. I particularly liked foreign words, especially the way their spelling and pronunciation did not often correspond, at least according to the dictionary.

I think I always had a talent for spelling because I could see the words mentally and know if a letter was missing or needed. This enabled me to always ace the exams where spelling was involved. Unfortunately, my grades in arithmetic were below par because this subject did not come easily to me.

When I began reading, the first books that I devoured were the ones dealing with myths and legends. Even though these were adapted to children a few years older than me, I found that I could readily understand the content. The illustrations were also attractive and aided greatly in the formation of mental images to accompany the text.

Among the books that I read after my initial foray into myths and legends was Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. The adventures of Mr. Toad and Mr. Badger enthralled me for hours. I reread it now and again and still find it a very good read. A Basket of Flowers by Christoph Von Schmid was another book that I found interesting. Even though its protagonist is a young girl, it was written in such a way as to appeal to children of either sex. Even today I find that it still has the power to inspire me.

In High School I quickly gravitated to the books that were popular among the other boys. The Biggles series of novels by Captain W.E. Johns were a great source of delight for me. The books were always filled with daring escapes, adventures on sea and land, amid the warn-torn Europe of the Second World War. Biggles was followed by the Hardy Boys series of novels by Franklin W. Dixon. The setting was completely different and the young detectives introduced me to a world that was new to me.

Today, I find that my reading varies according to my different interests. Science fiction novels are one of my favorites, especially the ones that deal with present technology. Robert Heinlein, one of my favorite authors, said that a good story should take one aspect of technology and extrapolate from there. The factual basis of the story would lend a certain degree of credibility and make the reader's experience more vivid.