Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’ve recently come to terms with the degradation of my language style, be it in the way I write or the way I speak. Gone are the days when I used to confidently deliver impromptu speeches and get applauded. These days, I sometimes even fumble when stating my daily standup updates.
As for writing, every time I pen something, I end up editing it multiple times because the sentences don’t flow well and my inner critic promptly tears down my self-confidence. The whole process of writing used to bring me joy but these days it has started feeling like a chore. Looking up my old writings surprises me as I wonder how I used to write so well in one sitting but nowadays I’m hesitant to even start writing.
Years of watching badly subbed anime and kdramas have made a bad impact on my language. I blame the Korean variety shows in particular. They are so entertaining that I ended up watching too much of them and their English subs are not always the most grammatically correct.
When I first started watching stuff with bad subtitles, the incorrect grammar used to annoy me. Once I got used to it, I started ignoring the mistakes and slowly but surely they have seeped into my literary voice. Couple this with my decrease in reading and voila, declining diction.
On the bright side, being exposed to different cultures and media serve as good fuel for a writer’s creativity. In an increasingly globalised world, learning about things that are popular in other parts of the world does give you an edge. It is said that one should always look for a variety of experiences if one wants to be a writer.
So I spent countless hours watching foreign material with English subs in the guise of feeding my creativity. To be honest, it was such a fun and enriching experience. The only drawback is that my English is now corroded.
I thought I was the only one experiencing this, but a few of my friends and colleagues are also concerned about how their linguistic skills have deteriorated over time. Whether they are aspiring to be writers or not, they find that their vocabulary has reduced considerably since school. Not writing as much as we used to and not giving speeches may have had a role to play in this. After all, if we don’t use it, we lose it.
In today’s fast-paced world, we are all hard-pressed for time. We don’t want to spend a lot of time reading. We have also become impatient to actively spend time on anything and look for more passive ways of participation. We have found a way to shorten anything that involves active participation (probably except for gaming).
We use acronyms and emojis instead of typing full sentences. We install apps that give us the news in a short and crisp manner. We even read the summaries of books instead of the actual books because our attention span has reduced significantly. No wonder our writing skills have taken a toll.
If we read more, the effects of the above would be diminished. In the olden days, the television was called the idiot box and books were held in high regard as a source of knowledge. Times have changed and we no longer need to read to gain information. So people who weren’t inclined to read do not have to force themselves and can just watch informative videos instead.
Due to the rise in streaming services and the accessibility of the internet, we are tempted to watch more and more movies and series. The downside of this is that even those of us who used to be voracious readers have now become impatient to read as we get enticed by video content. Then, there is also social media designed to keep us engaged and addicted. So we don’t have time to read, but don’t know where all our time goes.
The upside to streaming services is that it gives a conversation topic since most people watch them. It can also help with vocabulary and proper pronunciation. The downside is that you will be watching what everyone else is watching, hence your opinions and thought-process could be similar to everyone else.
If you do the same thing as everyone else, you will be the same as everyone else. So if you want to be different and above the rest, you might want to do something different. As a first step, find out what you want to become and what skills you want to sharpen.
I decided to work on improving my writing skill and remembered a lecture by Ray Bradbury I had watched years back. It had some brilliant ideas for aspiring writers. Even if you are not looking to enhance your writing, this lecture will still be helpful as I’ll explain in the end:
In my case, to formulate my media diet, I have chosen to follow this advice in particular:
What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields… I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story, then read one poem a night and one essay a night.
Here are some of the recommendations in this lecture if you don’t want to watch the hour-long video (but I’d really suggest that you do):
Short Stories –
The short story writers recommended by Bradbury are:
- Roald Dahl
- Guy De Maupassant
- John Cheever
- Richard Matheson
- Nigel Kneale
- John Collier
- Catherine Anne Porter
- Edith Wharton
- Eudora Welty (A Curtain of Green)
- Washington Irving
- Herman Melville
- Edgar Allen Poe
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
Bradbury urges the reader to stay away from most modern poems and go back to the great poets, such as:
- Alexander Pope
- Robert Frost
But if modern poetry is your thing, then you do you. Just keep in mind that the idea is to read poems with a lot of metaphors.
Essays have to be from various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, on politics, analyzing literature, etc. Bradbury wants us to read essays in every field and mentions the following writers in the lecture:
- Aldous Huxley
- Loren Eiseley Essays (The Fire Apes)
- George Bernard Shaw
- G.K Chesterton
- George Bernard Shaw vs G.K Chesterton Debates
My 1000 Days Media Diet Plan:
Inspired by the above suggestions and factoring in my own needs and wants, here is what I have planned for my media diet plan:
- Read a classic short story every day
- Read a classic poem every day
- Read an essay/blog/article or watch a lecture/TED talk/informative YouTube video/documentary every day
- Watch a movie or short series on weekends – any language with good subs
- Read novels and review copies on weekends
- Restrict social media to the bare minimum
- Cheat meal of light reading or watching badly subbed videos allowed during serious cravings only
While the above may be especially helpful for writers, it will be of use to anyone wanting to improve their speaking skills. To quote Bradbury, when you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay every night, at the end of a thousand nights, you’ll be full of stuff.
Being knowledgeable in a variety of areas and having command over the language to express your thoughts properly will make you stand out. It can boost your confidence, instil respect from others and may even make you successful (depending on how you define success). Good speaking and writing skills will be of great value at work and in daily life.
I challenge you to create your own media diet plan based on your aspirations and addictions. Let’s face it, to an extent, we are all addicted to something, be it Facebook, NetFlix, youtube, gaming or even just aimless browsing for time pass. Find what you need to do more of, what you should be cutting down on and what you can indulge in occasionally. Based on these, form your own media diet. It doesn’t have to be for 1000 days like mine. You can even do a 2 month cleanse before the new year starts. This could also serve to test the waters for deciding your New Years Resolution.
I’m going to start this diet plan from tomorrow (4th November 2019) and do the necessary prep work today. By prep work, I mean that I will be deciding what short stories and poems to read for the next 7 days. The essay/blog/documentary part will be read/watched on impulse every night.
I’ve put up a page with the list of short stories and another with a list of poems. Someday these will be master lists of 1000+ short stories and poems with links to read them for free. For starters, every Sunday, as I plan for the upcoming week, I will keep updating the page.
I will try to stick to this media plan for the next 1000 days, but two and three-quarters years is a long time and priorities change. So I will be focused on the first three points in my list (short story, poem, essay) and might get flexible about the rest as the months progress and my goals change.
The idea is to make the plan flexible and balanced. Internet fasting is popular these days but doesn’t seem very sustainable. If you’ve tried internet fasting and gave up because it is difficult, give media dieting a try. It is more sustainable and you can reap the benefits of the internet without getting sucked into addiction.
Have you tried an internet fast or a media diet before? Are you planning to start one now? Let me know in the comments below!