Struggle and hope: A poem (Working title)


Written for a colleague:

Struggle and hope: A poem (Working title)

When darkness flows all around,
When dim is sight and sound,
All it takes to break the night,
A single candle, set alight.

Silver linings in dark clouds above,
Diamonds in gritty coal below,
From great strife can come great life,
Like a bird’s struggle before first flight.

Johnathan Sia (C) 2016


Plainly speaking (or How to write so that others can understand you)

Please do not state the obvious, thanks :)

Please do not state the obvious, thanks 🙂 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English can be a horrible language (the French would probably attest to that and if they could they’d probably sue the English language for grand larceny). With terms like idioms, double negatives and conjectures being thrown about the English speaking world it’s no wonder a large number of people are confused.

Our Malaysian education system hasn’t seemed to help improve our level of English proficiency and it seems like more university graduates these days struggle to write a report without either basic grammatical mistakes or including bombastic words that would not see daylight in normal conversation let alone in a standard audit report.

Consider this extract from a company called Cityware and try to see if you can understand what they are talking about, “This theme investigates the impact of pervasive technologies on the spatial environment in urban space, both within and outside buildings. As a theory of society as modified by the spatial environment, we will develop space syntax to respond to novel pervasive modes of communication, transaction and exchange implied by pervasive technologies. This will be achieved in Cityware by means of a continuous process of analysis of empirical data on people’s use of and relationship with the urban spatial environment as this is affected by the intervention of pervasive technologies.”

Some people mistake the use of bombastic words and industry terms and believe it’ll make others perceive them as being smarter (or at least, more knowledgeable). After all, ‘unsmart’ people don’t know many fancy words do they? The reality however, is far different.

Two way street

Communication is a two way street and more often than not, if someone else doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, you are the one that comes off looking like a total goof. Not the other guy. Not even if you’ve talked about, ‘creating total solutions for solution-focused people who are working in a environment that is not conducive towards fostering greater problem-solving situations.’ (Note: that line was totally made up).

The Flesch readability diagnosis was interesting, “You overwhelmingly embrace obfuscation and don’t want the reader to understand
anything you have to say. Your writing lavishes a preponderance of dependent clauses and compound negatives upon the reader, whose cognitive load not infrequently exceeds the purported benefit of the substance of the article. Syntax incorporates numerous collections of items juxtaposed or in series that demand persistence and not a little unqualified expertise on the part
of all intended recipients of the author’s communications.

In fact, such machinations inevitably prove detrimental to comprehension and sabotage the imparting of any and all knowledge. Your condition is irreversible.”

In other words, “you probably don’thave a clue what you’re talking about and there’s little chance that anyone else will understand it either”.

Writing tips

To help make your writing easier to understand, for both your manager and your client:

  • Speak using ‘you’ rather than the third person or passive voice.
  • Break up long runs of text with subheads. It will be more inviting to read and will help structure the development of your ideas.
  • Communicate key themes by demonstrating audience benefits through specific proof points and examples.
  • Avoid jargon and clichés
  • Express complex thoughts in simple terms. Aim for clarity, accessibility, and understanding.

Words to avoid

Double confirm

You can’t double confirm something. You either confirm it or you reconfirm it.


Irregardless is supposed to mean regardless. Why not save that 2 letters and just say regardless when you mean regardless?


Revert does not mean the same thing as reply. It means ‘to go back to a previous state.’ You can’t say “revert back to me by tomorrow please” because that’s physically & psychologically impossible.


The correct term is mobile phone or cell phone. Technically, ‘handphones’ don’t exist in the market.


You can’t past tense a past tense. Since ‘understood’ is already the past tense of ‘understand’, there’s no need to add an ‘-ed’ at the back of it. The ‘-ed’ is only meant for events that have happened in the past.

First written back in early 2008 in a company magazine.

A (possible) home for freelance writers

The Renegade Writer Blog

I think somewhere along the line about 2 years back, I found that there had to be a better way than waking up early each day to get to the office and work for someone else. Contributing most of your time and energy towards the betterment of their business and getting rewarded at the end of each month with an envelope with numbers in it, ostensibly to increase the amount in the bank account. But it’s tiring stuff and can often be unrewarding. Especially if you’ve just had a shitty day and been misunderstood by your boss (we’ve ALL had that at least ONCE in our careers).

Well.. I thought…. why do I have to travel to get shat on? When I do it from the comforts of my home? I’m not naive to think that the world of writing is all rosy and I won’t get misunderstood… in fact, that’ll probably happen more than if I was sitting behind a desk in my own cubicle area enjoying the freezing air conditioning.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun a journey towards a time when I can safely go into writing full-time and still be able to pay the bills and put healthy food on the table (maggi mee does not count as food…). I’m pleased to say that during that time, I’ve succeeded in getting a 4-page article published in a magazine called Max-IT. Since then… I admit I’ve slacked a lot and gone off the boil.. over the past several months I’ve still been getting ideas but the words aren’t flowing off my fingers. And that’s discouraging. As a writer, it’s actually very painful to sit at the keyboard and grind out words. Other writers will be able to relate to what I’m experiencing. My writing was just so dry and so stale and so…. boring..

Some books I’ve read recommended writing my way out of this slump and well, that’s what I’m trying to do. To rediscover my old flair and ease of writing, turning the pages before me into my own private canvas as I paint scenarios, emotions, and people into what I hope turn out to be mini-masterpieces.

As I continue writing in this blog as my own therapy, I’ll continue posting up old articles of mine that have been published. Partly to share with my friends and other peeps that might stumble on this site, but mostly, to encourage myself to take things to the next level. Each article, I remember the positive feedback I’ve received from various people. People with experience and have seen and read a lot of different kinds of writing. One which sticks to my mind the most is a compliment from a business journalist in The Star. She said that I wrote better than any of the writers they had on staff. Now that was a compliment that really meant something to me. I carry that quote to encourage me as I go through this dry spell.

And not only that, I now can visit this blog called, The Renegade Writer Blog to refer to for ideas, encouragement, and information about the freelance writing industry.

Physical fragility vs the human spirit

This article was my second that was published on in December 2006 and was part of a monthly series of motivational writings that were loosely titled, ‘Forward ever’. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity to have my work in print, even if it was ‘only’ in the online space. I remember the original motivation of this article was to have a deep look at some mistaken beliefs we often have of ourselves. I hope I succeeded though at the end of the day, that’s for you, the reader, to judge for yourself.

Accidents happen. Every day. Every place. Every second. Tragedies happen. In life, the whole world would find agreement in one thing. That we all will someday pass from this earth and breathe our last breath. Sometimes these accidents happen in such a way that leaves the soul intact but the body crippled and devoid of function, sometimes, even of limb.

Faced with this bleak scenario of human life, we somehow manage to hear tales of great courage and of the strength of the human will when faced with seemingly impossible odds. These success stories become living breathing miracles for the rest of us to hear, see and be encouraged by no matter what our circumstances are.

Some of us may feel somewhat distant from these great stories of supernatural will and perseverance, feeling, “My situation’s different from theirs. There’s no way I’d be able to match up to those high standards that they have achieved.”

But if you take another look at those stories and probe a little deeper, you find that many, if not all, have also gone through times of painful doubt and crushing defeat. Oftentimes, they too have spent some time wallowing in their own self pity and embracing their fears like a bedside pillow, keeping them close to their heart.

These people are the same as you, me, and that scruffy neighbor that lives across your street. But there is one thing that’s different about them that raises them above their situation and their circumstances.

They made a firm, concrete, and life changing choice not to accept their circumstances. They believed in a greater possibility that there is a life out there for them to live. They believed not only in themselves, but they also believed in a higher goal and a purpose.

I heard of a man by the name of Jim MacLaren who, when he was a young star athlete, suffered a crushing accident with a 40 ton bus and was even initially diagnosed as ‘dead on arrival’. He somehow survived but lost his left leg below the knee in the accident.

During his rehabilitation, he made a life-changing choice to resume his previous life as an athlete, this time to compete as a triathlete. Over the next few years, he would go on to break records in some of the toughest races in the world and he would routinely finish ahead of 80% of the able-bodied athletes.

Tragedy was to visit him again, when during a race, he collided with a van and was flung onto a signpost, breaking his neck at the C5 vertebrae. Doctors told him he would never be able to move any part below the neck. Devastated, his life took a downward plunge and he even turned to cocaine to relieve the pain, eventually ending up addicted to it. 8 months later, he found himself speaking to voices that weren’t there on the same street that he used to regularly compete in races and he made another life changing decision to break free from his situation.

After more than 1,000 rigorous physiotherapy sessions, he has managed to reclaim some of his motor functions back and could even walk (with difficulty) if it was necessary to do so. A tremendous miracle of life – in spite of the medical experts diagnosing that he would never walk again.

What’s even more amazing is that as a result of the accident, the Challenged Athletes Foundation that was formed to help Jim, donated a bicycle to a young one-legged Ghanaian boy named Emmanuel Yeboah who would use it to change the perception of the whole nation towards disabled people.

This young Ghanaian rode the bicycle across his land of Ghana despite only having one leg. To put the significance of this event in perspective, not too long ago, disabled children were either murdered at birth or lived their lives begging on the streets of Ghana.

Their stories are amazing examples of the strength of the human spirit and what one can do when he makes a firm choice to choose life over his circumstance.

(c) 2006. Johnathan Sia