Becoming A Better Writer

I rather fancy myself as a writer. I tell people unhesitatingly that writing is the one thing I do well. In fact, I write for my living.

So, it was a real shock to discover that recently, my writing has begun to bore me.

When I read what I have written in the last few months, be it blog posts here or writing done at work, I get a feeling of monotony. All my works seem to share a dull sort of sameness. I can almost predict how each piece will begin, flow, and conclude.

This scares me. This prospect of becoming bad at something I was good at. I simply cannot afford to lose this one thing that I am sure of about myself.

So, I am making some fundamental changes in my habits, which, I believe, will make a significant difference to the quality of my writing. Or at least, to how I feel about it.

1. Reading Right

These days, all I’ve been reading are light-hearted novels that don’t offer much by way of cerebral food. My excuse to myself each time I picked up such a book from the library has been that I am mentally exhausted and just want an easy read.

Last week, on the way back from the library, SR asked me, “Do any of the books you read influence your writing?”

And for the life of me, I couldn’t even remember the names or plots of the last 15 odd books I had read!

Going ahead, I have decided that at least one of the books I pick up each week will be by an author or of a genre that I have not tried before. Some of the books/authors that I want to read are:

  1. The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami
  2. Atonement & The Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan
  3. A House for Mr. Biswas – VS Naipaul
  4. The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
  5. Till Death Do Us Part – Mahaswetha Devi
  6. No Full Stops In India – Mark Tully
  7. Take A Girl Like You – Kingsley Amis
  8. An Accidental Man – Iris Murdoch
  9. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym

2. Involved Reading

From being a detail-oriented editor who was very engaged with every book I read, I have now become a very lazy reader. I am no longer as involved with the characters in the books I read, nor do I spend time thinking about what I have read or observed.

Even the worst of books teach you something-what not to do, if nothing else. By not learning from the scores of books I have read in the past months, I have let a lot of learning slip through my fingers.

Going ahead, this is one thing I am certainly going to change. I will review every book I read on Goodreads, so that my insights are recorded, and may perhaps even help someone else make a decision about a book.

3. Writing More

Often during the day, on my way to work, or while watching TV, or playing with B & B, ideas strike me. I tell myself, “Now, there’s a good topic to blog about!” and then promptly forget about it.

When I see bloggers I follow take up challenges of writing every day, I always think that you should not force yourself to write. That the urge to write and the words must flow on their own.

I now realize that by not compelling myself to write, I have ended up not writing at all. Soon, months and years will pass, and I will regret these wasted days then.

I still don’t believe in setting myself a target number of posts to write. But I have made up my mind that every time I have a thought or a good idea for a blog post, I will not let it slip. I will write about it, even if it’s just a paragraph.

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Gratitude

Gratitude

I was not born a dog lover. In fact, until 2 years ago, I was ambivalent towards dogs, perhaps even a little scared of them. On one fateful trip to Sakleshpur, I met Shunti, the dog belonging to the home stay where we stayed. She made me fall in love with dogs. Six months later, we brought home Buttons, a 2 weeks old Indie pup someone had tied up in a garbage bag and left to die. He turned my life upside down.

Before we brought him home, we were plagued with doubt. Our financial situation was not particularly bright. Butto needed a lot of time and attention, being so young, which we weren’t sure we could give. We would no longer be able to travel as often… Despite the nagging doubts, we brought him home anyway.

And gave him up for adoption 2 months later. Believing that it was for his best. The 3 weeks that he was away from us was the darkest, bleakest period of our lives. We looked at each other, speechless, our life empty. The patter of his little feet echoed around us. It took us a 3 week battle to get him back, and each day of it only made us surer that we needed him to survive.

SR and I are both staunch believers, and we know that it was God who gave Buttons back to us. We will forever be grateful for that second chance.

In the past year that I’ve had Butto, I’ve swung between frustration and delight, felt my heart swell with love, felt crazily happy in the bleakest of times… I have cried into his furry little body, and laughed as he licked my tears away with his worried expression… I have scolded him and cuddled him. Kissed him and held him. I have died many times in between when he fell sick.

As I write this, Buttons is sprawled on my lap. Running my fingers through his soft fur and listening to his quiet, even breathing is more calming and relaxing than any yoga maneuver I could attempt.

Butto has changed the two of us forever. SR and I are now far more patient, more relaxed, more appreciative of the truly priceless things in life. He has taught us to love unconditionally and believe without questioning. We’re still learning though.

Someone once told me that my dog is very lucky. That’s bullshit.

It is we who are lucky, blessed, to have him in our lives. Because a world without our little fellow is not one worth living in.

This post is not just a tribute to Buttons. It is also a call for action. If any of you is considering adopting a dog, but holding yourself back because you are not sure how he will fit into your life, do remember that all it takes is commitment.

A promise you make to a dog that you will love and protect him for the rest of your life or his, whichever is longer. Once you make that promise, everything else will fall in place. Work, travel, money… there will be workarounds to everything, if you commit.

What you will get in return is indescribable. But I promise, it will be heaven.

The fittest time for festal cheer!

The fittest time for festal cheer!

SR and I had made grand plans of sitting on the terrace on New Year’s eve, watching the fireworks light up the sky. We intended to begin 2015 by waking up early, working out, making scrumptious food and getting started on all the projects we have at hand. The New Year has been here for 15 hours so far, and here’s what we have done:

  • Missed the fireworks last night because we fell asleep early
  • Woke up late (as usual) and immediately felt cranky & depressed because 6AM on 1st Jan 2015 was now a distant & hazy memory
  • Watched ‘The Holiday’ for the umpteenth time (at least, I did, while SR argued politics with random people on Facebook)
  • Boiled vegetables for Buttons and tried to get him to eat them. (he did not)
  • Considered showering & getting dressed up in order to feel fresh; then decided not to since I wasn’t going out anyway.

Need I continue?

When I was making my list of resolutions for the New Year, SR had warned me that it would all come to naught. He is not a list-maker. “You have to want to do stuff…  not just keep buying new diaries and making lists in different colored inks.”

I know you don’t need lists to get things done. I know promises for change can be made any time during the year, not necessarily on New Year’s. But what the new year offers is the hope that you have a new beginning in front of you. Another chance to start again, to explore new things and change the course of life.

It’s mere symbolism, I agree. But it works for me.

When I scroll up and read what I have “accomplished” in the first 15 hours of 2015, I don’t feel depressed. I don’t think I have failed already. Because I am sitting here in front of my laptop penning a blog post on the 1st day of a new year. I am thinking ahead of the possibilities and plans I have for this year and imagining the exciting things in store for me. And I am glad for that – I may not be knocking things off my list, but I am doing things that matter!

I want to put down my goals for 2015 out here – I want to see them written. In the days and weeks to come, I want to read them over and over again, and strike them off one by one. And on another day, a year from now, I want to write another post that is hopefully happy, triumphant and self-congratulatory. 🙂

So, here goes the list:

  1. Write: Whenever I am asked to describe myself, I say without qualms that I am a writer. But when I look back at 2014 and ask myself, how much have I written, the answer is “Not enough.” 10 personal blog posts and 3 short stories. That’s all. The good part is that I just re-read the posts and the stories, and I didn’t think any of them was ridiculous or terrible. I’ve always believed that you cannot “become” a writer – you are either a writer or you are not. In 2015, I want to live up to this image I have of myself. By writing a lot lot more frequently. Not for anyone else, but for myself.
  2. Get off my ass: I want to shake things up in 2015 – for quite some time now, I have been in my comfort zone. “Take control, show action” is a piece of writing advice that I give all my clients – in 2015, I want to do that myself. I have a long list of things I’ve wanted to try out, but never got around to doing. This year, I want to stop procrastinating or over-analyzing, and just get out there and do them!
  3. Relax: A lot of people have told me that I seem to have everything under control. I appear to be someone who is on top of things. But I tell you – conscientiousness is a curse in my case! I worry about things and cannot stop bringing work home. The boundaries between “excellence” and “perfection” fade in my case and I end up nervous and stressed-out and ill. If I have learned one thing this past year, it is that my work-life balance depends more on my own attitude and ability to manage my time and work, than on the policies of the organization I work for or the nature of my boss or colleagues. In the coming year, I’d like to manage my projects better, be happier with my lot, and actually enjoy the things I do, irrespective of whether I have everything under control.
  4. Get fit: I am a ‘fads’ person – one week, I am super-committed to healthy eating and feed SR ragi and flax seed and stop him from eating chips; the next week, I am PMSing or stressed out at work and throw the rules to the winds, gorging on chips and Kurkure myself. Sometimes it is Rujuta Diwekar. At others, it is Leo Babuta or a random Chicken Soup author who catches my fancy. This year, I don’t want to keep sliding the baseline. The baseline is that I am 10kgs overweight and totally unfit for anything more than climbing 3 dozen stairs, and therefore, I want to get back in shape. Period (Pun intended. Boy, am I clever!)

That’s it – those are my goals or 2015.  Last year, I wanted to travel more, paint more, read more… this year, I am not spelling anything out. I am not breaking up my goals into SMART mini-goals. I don’t have to – as SR said, these goals are in my mind. I really want to achieve them. 

So, here’s raising a toast to a brand new year – may this be the best year yet!

Source: Kanako Kuno
Source: Kanako Kuno

Finding life’s purpose

“The road of life is strewn with the bodies of promising people. People who show promise, yet lack the confidence to act. People who make promises they are unable to keep. People who promise to do tomorrow what they could do today. Promising young stars, athletes, entrepreneurs who wait for promises to come true. Promise without a goal and a plan is like a barren cow. You know what she could do if she could do it, but she can’t. Turn your promise into a plan. Make no promise for tomorrow if you are able to keep it today. And if someone calls you promising, know that you are not doing enough today.” – Iyanla Vanzant

This quote seems to apply directly to me. For over a year, I have been struggling to find my purpose in life – looking back, I feel I have showed promise and interest in many areas, but the paths I have taken were very different. My choices seem to have no connection. I cannot find a common thread in life.

During my schooldays, I used to participate in painting contests and win prizes – It is now 8 years since I stopped painting publicly. When early acquaintances and relatives still ask me if I paint these days, their question surprises me. When I tell them I have stopped, they shake their heads and tell me I should get back because I used to paint so well in the old days. A few months ago, I decided to start painting again, learn water color techniques from the net and practice them on a drawing pad that nobody except SR would see. I have made no more than 3 paintings in 6 months.

When I was 16, I won the national Balsree award for excellence in creative writing. I was invited to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and received the award from the then-president Dr Abdul Kalam. This was a great honor and I was felicitated by many associations back home in Trivandrum. It was during this time that my articles began to get published in Children’s World magazine and The Indian Express. People expected miracles from me – the talented writer who would win many more accolades and publish books. It is 10 years since I won the award – and where am I? I still get published in the odd newspaper and magazine. But where are the stories? Where is my novel? I see sparks inside my head, fleeting thoughts and ideas that I am too lazy to pen down. I average one – at the most, two – stories a year. And even if a publisher were to be interested in my work, I do not have a portfolio to show him/her! This blog is an attempt to revamp my writing – a place where I will put down the thoughts that come to my head. A place that will serve as the fertile ground from which my books will spring. I also joined a writers club last year. For the first few months, I attended every Saturday afternoon session without fail. But sadly, I have been lax here too lately. My writing is as sporadic as ever.

I was considered a cheerful, optimistic person with a sense of humor. Someone who is conscientious and reliable. Someone who has ideas, takes up ownership and executes projects with efficiency and flair. I remember a beloved psychologist professor telling me some time in 2010, “I need you for this project because I need someone with vision.” But today, I feel I have fallen short of expectations – of myself and my colleagues. I came in with great promise, but have fallen by the wayside somewhere. I feel no energy, no excitement, when I think about work. There are, of course, ideas and thoughts. But they are sparks that fizz and go out. I seem unable to muster the energy to take them up and see them through.

On the personal front, my goal sheet is like the Guinness Book of Records not yet made. The things I do give me little pleasure, and the ones I have not yet managed to do seem to weigh me down. A more disciplined lifestyle – a super goal with many facets – sums up this list, but I have not ticked off even one of the smaller goals under this.

This blog was not written in a fit of depression – it is part of an exercise in self-introspection. I realize that my fundamental problem is the lack of a purpose in life. Nothing moves me strongly enough to act – therefore, I see no color, no excitement in life. Therefore, I remain sunk in lethargy. 

A survey I took recently told me that I place far too much importance on extrinsic goals – money and recognition – than on intrinsic ones – self-acceptance, relationships and social consciousness. I think I know why – if I dissect my extrinsic goals of financial stability and recognition, I will discover that a desire for personal satisfaction lies underneath. I don’t want to be rich – I just want to be rich enough to do the things I want to do. I do not crave recognition of my self; rather, I want to be recognized for my work. I have some internal measures of success and happiness – I want to meet them.

A Facebook friend of a sunny disposition and a very broad-minded, generous outlook on life puts up status updates and shares quotes that are cheering and heart-warming. She talks about being joyful and thankful just because you wake up to another day; to be grateful for the small and big blessings that you have been given and to strive to deserve them; to do your best everyday to make a difference in someone else’s life… 

In some of my bleak, black moods, I have read these updates and wondered irritably how anyone could be so infernally cheerful. I have even quarreled with SR for laughing too much! But I want to shake myself out of this cloud of gloom.

I would like nothing better than to emerge again from my cocoon as a butterfly as vibrant and free as before – perhaps of different colors and tastes, but as beautiful nevertheless, and as happy to soar into this world each day.

My efforts start today. 🙂

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