Category Archives: Writing

Auld Lang Syne

Happy New YearWishing all who enter this blog, by design or accident, a year of great cheer and reading!

 

Three six five and more

of fleeting days of yore

have lapsed, o’ believe

since first keystrokes of me.

Dormant mask I wore

through most this year; remorse

I now feel slightly.

Future be more sprightly .

 

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Mélange

Several months back, I began reading Salman Rushdie’s “Enchantress of Florence”. Even brilliance of prose can be tedious, as I realized not too far into the book. Nonetheless, it did trigger in me some interest in history. Out came a dusty paperback from my bookshelf, an old edition of History of India Vol. 2 by Percival Spear. A trip down its pages was so much more refreshing than the gibberish (sorry Mr. Rushdie, I like your writing, but everyone should retire one day, no?) I’d been digesting, that I returned to it with much reluctance. The end result of course was that my persistence fell short of my impatience, and I abandoned the book more than halfway through it.

Then came another book that I was hard pressed to finish – Manil Suri’s “Death of Vishnu”.  I did finish it though (with much gritting of teeth), overcoming the profusely ornamental style and unending series of cliches. The ennui of plodding through two (well, almost) painstaking books clearly signaled that I needed a break, perhaps into stuff not classified as “literary”, or even non fiction for while.

Michio Kaku’s “Parallel Worlds” was as intriguing read, next. But physics itself seems so limiting in trying to explain the non-physical, that I have a hard time carrying on, at least beyond one book. Projecting something as the pinnacle of knowledge when the source itself is dependent on our perception is a futile, if not unwise, exercise. Interestingly, I picked up Kaku’s book after watching a few episodes of the hilarious sitcom – Big Bang Theory (The title, science, books … you know, one thing led to the other). It’s about a bunch of bungling Caltech geeks and their hot neighbor.  Incidentally, I’ve become a fan, and recently watched the entire Season 1 on DVD

From physics to metaphysics – I re-read Dr. David Hawkins’ “I: Reality and Subjectivity“, the third of his trilogy(or what I knew as a trilogy till today before I checked amazon.com. I really need to catch up on his more recent works), a profound piece of work that highlights the importance of kinesiology for the serious spiritual seeker, a vehicle for intuitively discerning truth from falsehood. Yet despite the depth, I feel he should have kept away from opining on politics and other trivia (which seems oscillate more towards the right wing, to a degree). They act as  mere hindrances. Still, a very valuable book, for its insights. The book itself is in a question/answer format, somewhat like the compilaiton of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s discourses “I am That“, an advaita classic. David Hawkins himself greatly revers Maharaj, who, in his kinesiologic test, calibrates at 740.

But wait, I haven’t entirely given up on ficiton and literature. I couldn’t. One refreshing read was Gita Mehta’s “A River Sutra”. Written simply, it’s an allegorical tale of a retired bureaucrat’s search for meaning. It reminded me of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”. Perhaps I’ll write about it next. In the meantime, I’d very much welcome tips on anything recent (Booker perhaps? Haven’t paid much attention to it), or even the not so recent.

Literary potshots

In Fury, a Salman Rushdie character (Prof. Solanka) flays Hemingway, calling him the “most effeminate” of novelists, or something to that effect. It suits Rushdie, his writing leaning towards the opposite spectrum of literary style.

A few years down the line, Rohinton Mistry writes in Family Matters –

“…Yezad felt that Punjabi migrants of a certain age were like Indian authors writing about that period, whether in realist novels of corpse-filled trains or in the magic-realist midnight muddles, all repeating the same catalogue of horrors about slaughter and burning, rape and mutilation, foetuses torn out of wombs, genitals stuffed in the mouths of the castrated.”

– obvious references to Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

Mistry makes up for it when Yezad is immediately penitent:

“…He knew they had to keep telling their story, just like Jews had to theirs, about the Holocaust…”

 

It is interesting to see some mudslinging between authors, through their own medium, a license to criticize one of the small pleasure’s of a writer’s life.

On Writing by Stephen King

onwriting.jpgI’ve never read a Stephen King story, having little interest in the genre that he typically caters to. But I must say that this book has some excellent tips and inspiration for anyone interested in writing. And why just that? It’s a good read in itself – part memoir and part instructional, it manages to draw attention and hold it throughout its moderate length through a direct, hard hitting, no nonsense stance.

King classifies writers into four categories: bad, competent, good, great. He tends to believe that it’s possible to transform a good writer into a competent one, and that is the only jump possible among the various strata. I do agree that writing requires some propensity towards the skill, something one is born with. But I also think it is possible, for someone who is terrible, to improve, with sufficient training and determination, to levels close to competency. Greatness again, is a different matter, but Thomas Edison said: Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. So apparently, there could be some perceived misconception in King’s thesis.

 

King focuses on fundamentals probably most good writing teachers would emphasize: characters over plot, story over theme, active voice over passive, and so on. He doesn’t mention anything on conflict: the basic premise of any story. But he does strongly prescribe sticking to the truth, on verisimilitude.

King is pissed off with literary snobs who distinguish between high and low brow writers, and that’s understandable. But it’s also understandable why someone writing horror stories and bizarre tales would be hard pressed to find admirers among seekers of truth in reality. No matter how deep the characters and their apparent conflict, there’s the supernatural element which is hard to imagine and dismissed as bogus by many, including myself. He also has a strange notion that a writer, regardless of the quality of the work, needs to be prolific, and is somewhat bemused by the fact that the likes of Joyce merely produced a handful. I find this idea rather naive. What has volume got to do with quality? Some are prolific and yet produce brilliant stuff, some continuously pour out rubbish like a leaking faucet, while still others create well crafted fiction but in large gaps (maybe they need the time or they may simply be disinclined to write in such profusion). Where’s the issue?

 

 

But regardless of Kings biases and limitations as a writer, the book is a worthy addition to an apprentice’s shelf, simply because most of what is told is worthwhile and comes straight from his heart. No BS there.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcuts.”

 

King heavily emphasizes reading, calling it “the creative center of a writer’s life.” I agree. It does help one grow as a writer, put ones work in perspective, discover unexplored means of expression. And this happens automatically – no conscious effort is needed besides the process of enjoying the book.

 

There are two appendix sort of sections at the end of the book. The first is an example of revising a story (leading to the second draft), which is very useful to analyze and understand. The second is a suggested reading list, but I’d make my own list based on my interests.

 

Above all, King believes it is most important to enjoy reading and writing, not let it feel like work, the element of play being vital to the mysterious creative process which every successful writer must invoke.

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Well put Mr. King, well put indeed.

Online is fun, but offline is where it matters

        In the days of pushbutton publishing without the threat of quality control in the form of an editor, it is easy to become a writer or a critic. Yet I wonder how many sincere writers and critics, who toil the internet day after day in the hope of increased readership, will ever get to see their words in physical shape, in the blackness of ink on paper that smells of newness. The magic of the printed word – in that first story, essay or novel making it through the barbs of censure and heaps of submission – brings much joy to the heart of an aspiring writer, besides elevating one’s status with that formidable adjective prefixed to their nomination: “published author”, published still meaning the print medium.

But despite success in print, many authors today maintain an online presence, not as a source of their primary work but as an introductory platform, prompting a surfer to dig deeper, buy one’s books, or partake in discussions of mutual interest. The widespread reach and easy accessibility of the internet has rendered it a very viable and valuable source for useful literary information – from book reviews and critiques through countless blogs to lecture notes and reading topics of students and teachers. Universities use it to dispense online courses, and some, like MIT, have thrown open their cyber doors to one and all, many of their courses available for free. Here’s a link to the MIT Open Coursweare available for Literature: http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Literature/

There’s no denying the fact that the internet and its associated technologies have forever altered our reading and writing habits, enabling us to disseminate our opinions freely while making it easy to elicit information of interest. In the future, I can only see this influence grow, not only in numbers, but in the depth and quality of the participants.

However, I cannot imagine the cyber word replacing its printed counterpart. There’s a solid, timeless feel to a book that can never be achieved online. There’s also the fear of short attention spans and flickering interests deterring the serious publisher or writer. And ultimately, there’s the wall of quality that one must scale to reach “Published” heights, which of course with sufficient infrastructure is not unachievable online, say in the form of paid subscriptions.

But even there, I doubt if the user will not prefer clicking the print menu from the browser after logging in, to feel the magic of the ink on paper.