Learning through Writing

From the short stories and poems to the first attempt at writing creative fiction in the form of the Spyglass, many occasions made me realize that writing took me even before I took to writing. Writing has shown me that both as a vocation and a profession, the fullest one can achieve is still unknown. Perfection remains more a pursuit, a journey, than a destination. For this post, I will take you along back in time for the backstory.

As a kid, I was never a dull boy. Yes, I was not good at studies, especially mathematics, physics, chemistry, but that was not because I was dumb. I was exceptionally good at all languages, including Sanskrit. I was also good at other subjects and extra-curricular activities. I neither disliked my teachers, nor did I hate learning. I still don’t. In fact, back then, I could not define what I now can. I hated the way people taught. This still remains with me: I am equally sensitive toward what is being taught and how it is taught.

The learning process needs a mentor and student. The mentors, I assume, have not changed. The student is still the same: equally hungry to learn. So, what made this student find his own identity? What happened that a kid who just about managed to pass the tenth grade and was made to accept a specific set of subjects turned out to be one of those students that outshined everyone else in almost every department before passing out of the same school?

It was during the eleventh grade that I began developing a reading habit. Or, I’d say, a few books called me to pick them up. It was a connection I cannot describe. Amongst the first few—and I want you to pay special attention to the selection here—were Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and The Glory of Puttaparthy by V Balu. I must have read both of those books at least a few times. While neither the books nor their respective genre has anything in common, both had the same effect on me. I became a better person after I finished reading them. It wasn’t enlightenment, but it wasn’t too far either. The same seagull that once had dreamed of flying at 70 miles per hour had transformed. It no longer needed to understand the rules, the aerodynamic flow, the wind direction, or wait for their turn in their flock of birds to get to nibble around the fisherman’s boat.

This small change then helped me graduate from being a mere reader to beginning to write. I penned hundreds of poems and short stories before I wrote my first non-fiction book on a writing pad. I called it the Ingredients of Success Recipe. Although I never published it, I did share it with my family and friends. They liked it. Or, at least, they pretended to. I won’t get to find out. But, that doesn’t matter, for I now have this priceless gift called writing. Now when I look back, I find mathematics rather interesting. And, so do all other subjects that I once hated of being made to sit and learn. Writing gave me the logic to decode the way to decipher through those dark clouds of thunderstorms called mathematics, physics, and chemistry. But, was that alone enough?

During my years as a freelance writer, I accomplished quite a bit, for I paid off my education loan even when I did not have a regular earning. During the same years, I had also enrolled for an MBA, which was exclusively for working professionals. Eventually, I figured that to be able to make a family and to sustain it, I will have to earn myself a job. Around the mid of 2011, I had completed a translation project that had drawn me some substantial appreciation and accolades from local representatives. I had completed that project in a mere 15 days—the project would normally have taken over four months of my schedule. But for a practiced hand, translation was a mechanical job. I wanted something more creative, more original.

It was during the last quarter of that year that someone suggested I pursue pranayama, the breathing technique. I researched it and settled on doing Nadi-Shodhan, a breathing technique that purifies the blood and mind. The first month of my breathing exercise wasn’t easy. While it resulted in some magical experiences within the first couple of weeks, it also gave me terrible back pain and other emotional turmoils. Words struck faster, so my efficiency improved, my earnings increased. But, at the cost of my health. The reason was that I had not taken the Deeksha (initiation) for its practice from a guru. So, I suffered from acute back pain for almost two years. But I persisted. Eventually, the pain subsided. Now it is gone.

Why do I tell you all that today? What is the reason I open those chapters of my life to you? What is it that I wish you to take away as the vital thought? The life of a writer is that of a generalist. We are the jack of all trades. And that itself has lent me the most potent insight: to be a learner, I just have to take the next logical step. As a proud generalist, I have broken down complex topics into simple terms and simple terms into clear messages, and clear messages into actionable, understandable items. One careful step, every time. I have moved from clutter to clarity in everything I have ever pursued as a writer.

William Zinsser, of On Writing Well, says, “Writing is thinking on paper.” I can only elaborate on his thought. If writing is pouring down your thoughts on paper, then re-writing is choosing which ones continue to stay there. In one of my previous posts, I said that if one of the best ways to learn a subject is to teach it, then the reverse of it—to teach a subject, learn it first—is equally valid. I have used writing to wayfinding my way into the core of complex topics. Writing, for me, is like a map, which I use to navigate subjects and thoughts, much like city roads.

Does that mean if writing helped me understand the world and make it my own, it would do so for you, too? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly would give you that perspective of your own to understand the terms of the world as you pen them down in your own words. Each one of us has their own learning methodology. Writing is mine. What’s yours?

Working from Home: A Revelation

Working from Home: A Revelation

The outbreak of coronavirus has impacted millions of lives throughout the world. A lot of people and their lifestyles have experienced many changes, both big and small. For me, too, the outbreak has not only changed my place of work but a lot more than that. Yet, this post is far more than just a rant.

  • Given that my new workplace is only a room away, I reach the office on time.
  • My consumption of tea/coffee has reduced considerably.
  • I have become better at multi-tasking.
  • I get to choose what to suggest (and, sometimes, cook) for dinner.
  • We have an early lunch and an early dinner. Sometimes, we skip the dinner in favor of a relatively lighter meal.
  • I have begun experimenting with other hobbies, like writing, cooking, sketching. I even sit with my kid to draw and paint—her favorite hobby for this month.
  • We devote some more time to our families; We speak to our parents and relatives more often. We invest extra time with them to ensure that they are safe and sound.

The biggest revelation, however, is that it brought forth what years of married life could not: we stand by each-other. Ever since day one, it helped us rediscover, relive the feelings that became buried under a load of managing relationships, paying bills, and bringing up a kid.

How does writing make you a better person?

This post is a reply to the question someone recently put on Quora. The question was, “how does improving your writing skills help you grow as a person?

We learn reading and writing in the early years of our lives. Like every other thing, we continue to polish it as we grow old. Despite that, only a few of us take to writing even as a daily chore, forget as a profession. Let me tell you, of the things that make us better at who we are or what we do, writing constitutes a more significant share than it currently enjoys. Here’s why I say so:

Clarity of Thoughts

Writing is tiring. First, words don’t strike. When they do, thoughts don’t always weave in perfectly. And, even if we have a smooth fabric of views, we think we do not have any new ideas to share with people around. This insecurity adds to the already long list of impediments.

We forget that we don’t share only thoughts and ideas. We share the way of sharing: the way we communicate. So long as we are clear on what we wish to express, and how to convey it, we can have an attractive style of writing. But, will this suffice? Let me bring another point.

Mental Control

You could be clear about what or how to communicate, but the moment you sit down to write, your thoughts vanish like they weren’t even there. It happens to every writer; it’s happened to me, too. The deal, here, is to hold on to the thought until you pen it down. But writing isn’t easy. It takes time and practice, both of which bring me to the next point.

Persistence is the Key

Not all great/famous writers were born with their talent. None become who they are overnight. They endure a time-taking journey before they reach an attractive piece of writing. The path isn’t easy to walk. Writers fail every day. They make little progress. There are days when they don’t proceed even a single step. Still, they continue to write every day. They choose to persist as long as they don’t end up creating likable work.

Being Someone Else

Your written work takes the reader into the world of your characters. Readers get to live someone else’s experience, at different times, amongst people not known before, and in the situations that they have never faced before. You take them there. You give them the chance to be someone else, even though for only some time. But, to be able to do that, first, you must be that someone else. You must live their life. You must undergo the same situations and face the same challenges. You must confront the same people. All of that, while sitting at your desk. While completing your daily chores. You must feel the pain your protagonist might feel at the loss of their loved ones. You must feel equally desperate to set things right before writing about it. And only then will your readers share the same feelings.

Imagine this.

You are sitting in a coffee shop. You go there every day. But, today, you are the only one in the shop. So, you get to choose where to sit. You select a chair by the side of the window.

As you sit, you realize that there is a lot that’s happening on the other side of the window. A couple is walking their baby in a pram. A hawker is calling for prospects. A man who is perched by the roadside is reading a newspaper. Another couple is walking, their hands locked. A shopkeeper is cleaning the display window. A girl on her bicycle passes by your window. Her cycle cart has a kitten who is enjoying that ride. Just then, you happen to look up to see a bird’s nest near the canopy on the porch—home to two tiny birds—in the middle of a busy street.

You are merely an observer. Yet, from that perspective, you can imagine what each one of them might be thinking—even the tiny birds that haven’t yet learned to fly.

Being someone else is that easy; being someone else is that difficult.

With that, we are back to the question. I wish you to think of all of this in totality. It isn’t easy to register the changes at such micro-levels. It isn’t easy either to feel what others feel. Or, be persistent at something even after failing at it umpteen number of times. In the long run, it does make you considerate towards others. You feel their pain. It also makes you think and weigh your words before you use them. Writing, I conclude, makes me think more, feel more, see more, and make more from every moment.

What do you think?

Get Your Writing Space

“When I began writing, the first thing I did is I created a space where I could carry out my writing schedule every day.” I explained it exactly in those words when someone asked me about how it all began. But obviously, he wasn’t talking about the result of what I wrote, but the cause of it.

This happens to be one of the questions that keep popping every now and then. Writing is as much a part of my daily schedule as are the other activities, like breathing. At times, I sit to write. At times, it is writing that compels me to sit at one place. So much so that my daughter has begun to read and write only because she sees me do so.

And, that is why getting the right space for writing is so much important. It helps create the right rhythm. Your writing is a product of your writing groove—the style in which you sit to write. Your writing is, hence, a factor of how soon you discover the right writing space for yourself. If anything—other than that—it defines how you are as a writer.

My writing space is what it needs to be: my laptop; my work desk; a drink—usually hot—and silent, calm environment. This is why, I choose to write after my daughter is off to sleep or when I am done with my everyday tasks.

The space helps me determine a lot of things that have, at times, nothing to do with the result of my writing. The writing speed, for instance, is then a factor of how thoughtfully have I set up my writing space. There are challenge, too. For example, I usually refrain myself from using my smartphone when I write, but I cannot avoid using it.

But what makes up a writing space? Anything that helps you write, including the non-interconnected things like a window or a rain on the other side of it. Your writing space is your little world where words strike you. It is different for everyone; it should be. Your writing space defines you as much as it defines the work you do.

So, get that write space—yes, you read it right.

What Makes up a Good Novel?

A lot of people ask similar questions to me about writing. Most of them are clueless about where to begin. Some of them are clueless about how to end. And the remaining keep bothering about hitting a writer’s block even before they get to that point. And, while I busy myself with counting pages of my upcoming novel(s), I keep thinking if there were indeed a way to set up a good novel, what would I enlist as the top three things?

Allow me to delve this rather quickly.

A Big Idea

So long as you have a dream that doesn’t let you sleep, you are good to go. Similarly, so long as you have a plot that doesn’t seem to have an end, you are good to go as a writer.

How big should really a big idea be? The easy answer is: If you could figure out countless micro-plots between its beginning and its end, the plot is large enough.

I am of an increasingly believing belief that if the plot is quite simply explained in one line, why spend the rest of the pages of a book to reiterate it. I understand, toward the end, we all talk about feelings that can ultimately be summarized in a single word. For instance, love, togetherness, separation, sorrow, mindfulness, exasperation, devastation, despair, oneness, freedom, et al. Yet, logically speaking, if you don’t have a plot that’s big enough, you don’t need a book. Instead, create an article or a poem and have your readers enjoy it.

A Doable Deadline

Recently, I read an email advertisement that said: “Hurry! This is a deadline sale. It won’t be available tomorrow.” All I wish to say is that if you keep waiting to find time to write, you will never be able to make time to write. In the writing world, the souls don’t rest in peace, I say they rest only after the job is done.

A Sea of Emotions

Consider this: in a sea of emotions, readers wish to ride the waves of the story that flows up and down through the pages of your book. Your words set the sail for them. The gushes of your thoughts sail them through. Your expressions help them take deep dives into the writer’s thoughts. But, despite their sailing in a sea of emotions, the readers get drenched by only those emotions that move them the most.

In summary, a good novel must contain at least the three points we discussed. There could be a lot more than just the three we listed. As we end this conversation, I can only tell you to write for the reader; without them, you are nothing. 😊

What Writing Means to Me

At first, I wanted to compose this post as a poem. But, that would mean another poem on my blog. And, I have had a little too many poems on my blog within the last one year. This, in one way, diverges from the original contemplation on writing. But, wait. I don’t wish to begin this post with a negative thought. That’s is how much writing means to me.

My writing is my ambassador to you. It means so much to me because it is how I express what I feel. Usually, I don’t speak much. Yes, for a lot of my friends, I am an out-and-out extrovert. But, deep within, I am an ambivert who leans, in fact, toward introversion. My words convey what I can feel but can’t express, can see but can’t report, and can write but can’t speak.

Writing is my textual meditation. It is the way I introspect. Just like one must close their eyes to see within themselves, one must pen their thoughts to sieve through to the core. The clearer they think, the clearer they write. And, the other way around. My writing is my soul disguised as words.

Writing for me is like composing verses in prose. It is a melody. A song. There are sentences of all compositions and lengths. Some are long. Some, longer. A few, like this one, shorter. True! The long and short sentences convey the long and short of it—and everything that lies within—to the readers. Mentally listen to yourself when you read varying lengths of sentences. It sounds good. Good, because it is rhythmic. Good, also because it means that the melody is as important as the messages conveyed through the melody. My writing is a lyrical composition that I can hum, listen to, sway along with, or fall asleep to.

Writing is like a mirror. It is that sense of contemplation that adds a dimension of meaning to reflections. It isn’t only the reflection of oneself, but also a cause to reflect onto oneself. Writing is that catalyst without which the inner and the outer selves don’t equate. No reaction, whether it is chemical, is ever complete without a word of thought. It is that skillful, scientific art; it is that masterful, artistic science.

Writing is that folklore that records, refers, and rekindles life. It is that act of play where you are both the actor and the audience. Writing is both the pen and the ink that scribes your acts, with or against your will. It is both the cause and the outcome of your performance. It is also the background score that amplifies emotions without your knowing.

To me, writing is the means, the medium, and the end. It is as nameless, formless, and transparent as water. It originates with a spurt, from within. When it begins to flow like a stream of thoughts, it seeps and snakes through people’s minds, one after another, finding its way to you, who after traveling for miles has got down on their knees to enjoy their glittering reflections. When it flows from my heart to yours, it becomes a burbling river. When it becomes an ocean of emotions, you can watch it hug the limitless skies at the horizon and experience it wash-off the rare conch shells of revelations to the shore.

The most rewarding writing, however, often trickles down your cheeks as pearls of love. What does writing mean to you?

What a (Father’s) Day

What a (Father’s) Day

From what I recall, this is only the second time I am writing sometime on Spruha, my daughter. Here is what I shared on her some time back. The time I get to spend with Spruha is in a stark contrast with my wife. She, as a homemaker, gets to spend more quality time with Spruha. That’s why I enjoyed Father’s Day celebration at the Nurture Preschool, Gachibowli.

The event focused on dads getting to spend some quality time with their respective kids. I was the first one to arrive. It was nice to watch Spruha play with toys and skim through colorful books in her class.

Soon after a lot of fathers had come, the facilitators asked kids to assemble at the entrance. The kids welcomed us with “Happy Father’s Day” plaques and pom-poms. I enjoyed that Spruha accompanied me to the event area. Some kids weren’t in a mood for the event—the usual cute thing with kids. Others, like Spruha, were cool about the event.

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The management introduced us to the event proceedings, and then we took pictures. Here’s ours:

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Then, the kids danced on a song.

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After the song, the school conducted a one-minute competition. The kids had to pick up one straw and run to their dad. Then, they would tuck the straw between father’s fingers and run back for another straw. We enjoyed this a lot. I even volunteered for a kid whose father could not come. The kid won. This kid was smart. He could pick and tuck 19 straws in a minute.

Then the most-exciting event followed: painting dad’s t-shirt. This confused Spruha because back at home, rules are different. We don’t allow her to paint or draw on walls and clothes, amongst the other exciting stuff. And, here she was free to decorate my tee with her modern art. But, she did a good job in the end. I will make her draw on it some more, sometime later, and then wear it to my office.

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Then, it was the snacks time. Some fathers might have found this to be the most difficult. But, we all managed to finish on time.

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The event concluded with some learning, a lot of fun, and a thank you note from us all.

As far as my memory goes back in time, I don’t recall participating in any such event with my father. This event was special for me for that reason, too. I can’t thank Spruha enough for this. But, I can express this by showering her with my already limitless love.

Time flies. Especially in case of kids who outgrow your lap too soon. It seems only yesterday that she was born. But, I am glad to see her grow into her own personality. Too early, is it? I don’t know. What I know is that my love and care will remain unchanged. Well, typical father.