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How Do We Start Writing?

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Many of us, who have just begun their writing journeys, are struggling with this question. Invariably, most of us delay our writing assuming that what we want to say would develop in our mind first and then, we would put it on paper. This is also an excuse for postponing our writing. We keep trying to think of something substantial before putting our thoughts down on paper. We fear that without any thoughts we would be staring at the blank paper.
Some other times, we think that we know exactly what we want to write. It is all in our mind, we just need to put it down on paper. However, when we start putting it down, the entire structure begins falling apart. We realize that the structure we thought was reasonable cannot be supported through any evidence or theory. We feel that we have to start again.
In both aforementioned scenarios, we are making the mistake of assuming writing as a mechanical process. We think that it is just about jotting down on pen and paper or on our laptop. We think that we think through our minds and our hands just mechanically process it. This is one of the biggest problems of modern society, which has undue importance to the mind at the cost of the hand. The movement of our hands facilitates the flow of our thoughts. It is our hand that has the capacity to engage our mind in an extensive manner. Maria Montessori (1949), in The Absorbent Mind, has argued that the development of our mind remains stunted if we do not pay attention to the development of our hands.
We can start writing with a blank mind. We might sit on our desk with nothing to write but this act would help us to focus our mind on the task at hand. It would encourage us to pick our pen to write something. This would get the ball rolling and we would get into the writing mode. Once we force ourselves to write consistently for a few months, we realize that the more we write the more organize our thoughts become. Our thoughts develop and shape through writing. We may start with a brief outline or an overview but while writing our thoughts gradually pick up a logical sequence.
Writing everyday is the most important activity for a writer. Every time you think of postponing writing, you must remind yourself that it is you fear of writing and not the lack of ideas and thoughts.

From Writing First Draft to Re-writing: Note to Self

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I began my writing journey with the fear of writing. I would do most mundane tasks to put off writing. Gradually, I overcame this fear by forming a habit of writing everyday. It was an uphill task and it took me more than a year to start writing everyday. This exercise made me comfortable with writing. I am not saying that I write everyday now but I find it comparatively less difficult and I write quite regularly. This was the first milestone in my writing journey.

I reached my second milestone when I began reading Paris Review Interviews. These interviews taught me to perceive writing as essentially re-writing. It is in the process of re-writing that we gain control over our writing. This idea inspired me to begin my first big writing project. My research for this project was complete and I had ideas I just needed to sit down and write. My first draft was prepared with a lot of anxiety, agony and physical labour in two months. I have written about this experience in my previous posts. The joy of being able to put your thoughts in words in the way I wanted inspired me further and kept me going.

By the time I finished, I was drained physically, emotionally and mentally. I could not sit to read and write further. Then I decided to take some rest. During this time, I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I also looked through some other texts but I did not engage with anything. In retrospect, maybe I should have. It would have kept me going. I was still writing everyday, mostly writing my journal. However, as time went by, I became more and more relaxed in my reading writing routine.

Now it is time for the third milestone and I find myself procrastinating. Like the first one, I have been delaying it for two months now. This time I fear it because it is a humongous task. However, it is most essential. It is the task Paris Review Interviews taught me, that is, re-writing. I have to read my work sentence by sentence and edit or rewrite it. I think I am facing two roadblocks. Firstly, reading triggers writing and I am not spending enough time in reading. Secondly, I realized re-writing like writing requires practice. Cultivating a habit of re-writing everyday along with reading and writing will gradually improve my editing skills.

At present, I am struggling to re-write and edit my writing. In each attempt, I struggle with new kinds of grammatical and pragmatic issues in language. Sometimes, I struggle with the use of ‘but’ or semi-colon, or the issue of re-writing the entire paragraph to make it more accessible and coherent.

My writing journey has been slow. Struggle that accompanies each of these milestones appear daunting in the beginning and requires a lot of hard work and discipline. Sometimes, I want to quit. But the silver lining is that reaching a milestone assures me that I am moving in the right direction. It is this struggle that makes me feel alive.

Post Writing Experience

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Writing is very tiring. It is physically tiring. I have been chasing a deadline and so writing for most hours a day and it reminds me of Earnest Hemingway’s quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down on your typewriter and bleed”. I relate more to the last part of the quote more as there are moments when I feel my fingers are bleeding.

In this post, I wish to share my post writing experience. Once the text is completed even if it’s the first draft, it fills me with joy, joy of accomplishment. The joy of creating something after hours of concentrated effort, physical labour. For a few moments, I enjoy this feeling.

This feeling leads to a trail of thoughts about my writing. I begin to reflect on my argument, on the illustrations I used and their appropriateness and the conclusion. How did I tie the entire paper in the end?

Soon, these reflections lead me to dilemmas and then doubts. Did I conclude it properly? Could I have used more threads from introduction in the conclusion? Did the analyses of the situation make sense? Was the analyses properly done? Did I analyze all important points of the illustration?

Then I begin to think of things I could have done differently but worse, I begin to think of things I missed or completely forgot writing. This makes it worse. I am now compelled to re-work on it. It is a good thing if I have not submitted it, but really bad if it’s gone.

In moments like this I remember my teacher’s voice to complete the draft and then leave it for a few days. A fresh set of eyes after a few days will help you improve. This also means planning your writing. If you have to submit something in ten days, you work on it in your mind in the first three-four days, then you take two days to write it, then you keep it on a back burner for three days. Then you pick it up again and re-work on it. This time management always works but I often forget and sit with my paper on the last day.

Technology in Classroom

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Today, learning has become techno-centric. Everything is available on the internet. It is hard to think of a word or a topic that cannot be googled to generate a long list of responses moving from most relevant to irrelevant. Google also calculates and share the time (in seconds) it used to generate such a long list of responses. Children get assignments from school in which they google information, note it down and share it in school. Children often get a lot of time in school to search for information on the internet. Surfing for information, which was limited to computer room now enters the classroom with ‘smart board’. So now teacher can use information from the internet arrange it in the form of a power point presentation and give a lecture to students. It is more appealing because of the visuals and speed. Exploring literature, discussing and questioning texts, writing, experiencing and thinking seems to be the elements of the bygone era.

So learning gets reduced to three things- information; rote-memory and speed. The faster and more accurate information you can find and the way present is what matters most. In a country like India, this has widened the gap between privileged and under-priveldged sections of the society. As the better technologically equipped you are the better you score, leading to better opportunities.

There are some positive effects of using technology too, such as sharing of information is easier. However, it is important to take a minute to think about what kind of information can be educative. In this post, I have only mentioned adverse effects of technology in educational setting because we have been advocating the importance of technology without giving it much thought. A ‘smart’ classroom is certainly good for corporate businesses but is it really good for our children? In what ways? And how can we judiciously use it in our classroom? These are some of the questions we may want to spend a minute or two at least.

The following link is a recently published editorial in The Hindu newspaper on this issue. It is written by Prof. Krishna Kumar, who teaches in C.I.E, DU. It is the only editorial published in India that I have come across that discusses the role of technology in classroom in the context of OECD report. Please see and do share your comments with us.

Mommy Learns

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This post is written by Richa Goswami, an EPTAF member.

It is not surprising to me anymore that Piaget became Piaget by observing his children. I am a mother of an eighteen-month-old super naughty girl. And I learn with her all the time, I would like to use this space on the blog to share with you my learning. I don’t think I would really come up with a new theory or anything…but there are things about child development that I am learning on a daily basis and losing too due to my laziness to document.

Documentation is important as the process of writing will make me analyze more and learn more….

So, the first and most important thing that I have learnt since she was born is that learning and development is a slow process…..very slow process…

She seems to be on the verge of learning something and then months would go, before she would make any progress. I would share some examples and other readers can share more…you may be parents or uncles and aunts….we all have seeds of being a Piaget all around us, we just never water them

  • I would start with the time when she was 2.5 or 3 months old. Let me start by humbling informing you that I have studied child development and also worked in preparing child development papers for teacher trainees of two states… so wouldn’t I know what to expect. To add to it, I am also one of the google-everything-moms (who isn’t these days). So to cut the long story short I knew that rolling over is a milestone she would achieve by 5 or 6 months age. But there are two more things….worth sharing (at least I believe that): first, my daughter is preterm by two months so the doctors had told me that her developmental milestones may be (the doc said “would be”) delayed by two months. And secondly I am not much believer in milestones anyways….My education has made me skeptical of that and a follower of individual difference. So one Sunday when she was a little less than three months and we saw her roll over…once….twice…thrice….we were thrilled (like most new parents are) “We have got this exceptionally fast baby”……and then the worry, “oh….we need to be very careful now…she can roll over…it wouldn’t be long that she would start successive roll overs and may fall from bed”…..but that’s about it…she did not roll over after that…not until she was almost six months old….in the mean time for many months she would just go on one side and get stuck….but when the time came she learnt that on her own her own and much more…
  • Similarly I remember the time when she learnt to sit and then stand from a squatting position…she would stand near the table and non stop do sit ups….we were amazed…how many times she did the same thing…but she would untiringly and happily do it.
  • And the time when she was ready to walk….This is the time when she had mastered walking by holding…and was about to take her first independent steps…when I saw this I said “may be in a week she would start walking….” But weeks passed….and then there was a stage when she started leaving whatever she was holding and would balance herself but not move….and I waited with breath held…”she is abut to walk” but days passed and then one day we noticed she was walking on her own….but this was much later than we had expected….
  • The last example that I would like to share is about her current phase…is about talking. She is a talkative child (no surprises there!) she non stop communicates, asks, responds, demands or comments…though we understand very few words from what she has said….and she has been like that for more than two-three months…and I the resolute non learner have been making announcements for two three months now, “she speaks so much and such long things….in a few weeks she would start talking …dekhna” but my darling is obviously proving me wrong….she is happily continuing in her own language….and is in no hurry

So, the point is learning and development (I think development has a bit of learning in it) is a slow process…a very slow process…. children take their time and are happy in the journey…unlike us….

Happy learning

Ciao (till next week….coz mommy loves talking too)

From Fear of Writing to Becoming a Struggling Writer

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The title of this post may seem to indicate that hardly any progress has been made since I took the writing challenge eleven months ago. But if one reads it closely, some progress has happened in the sense that I have started calling myself a writer. A struggling writer would present a true picture of my current situation.

Around 11 months ago, I took up a writing challenge to deal with my fear of writing. Inspired by watching Brandon Sanderson’s video, I challenged myself to write 500 words daily. At that time, I had recognised my fear of writing, which was now affecting my everyday ‘compulsory’ writing activities. This challenge forced me to write 500 words everyday. Initially, I used to take more than an hour to complete the target. I would get stuck somewhere and wouldn’t know how to proceed. Gradually, it became easier.

Around two months later, I began to engage with my writing process and started reflecting on what I write and how I write it. I also realised that my fear is caused by the lack of control I have on myself and my writing. There are times when I write a lot and then there are times when I go blank. This helped me see this challenge as an exercise in disciplining my mind to write everyday. However, I am in the process of disciplining my mind to write everyday at a particular time. I also started attentively reading my writing. This writing also became therapeutic for me at the time I was going through a stressful work situation.

I reached my next milestone when I stumbled upon The Paris Review Interviews. These interviews inspired me to look at writing as a craft. Most of these authors described writing as a ‘physical’ craft. Their sense of ownership of their writing and their pride inspired me to write or to craft a piece of my own. Their writing habits motivated me to discipline my mind and body to write everyday. But most importantly, it helped me see writing as a never-ending re-writing exercise. The writer tirelessly re-writes his/her story even after it is published.

Now I am learning to hone my skills of writing and re-writing. It is tiresome for me. I struggle to look for the appropriate words. I struggle with the same sentence for days. I para-phrase it to express myself in the most accessible way. In this way, I am gradually understanding what writers mean when they say that they write to know themselves. It is a struggle and a never ending one, and I am elated that finally my struggle has begun.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

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I just finished reading Deborah Ellis’s novel ‘The Breadwinner’. It was first published in 2000. The novel is a heart-warming story of an eleven year old girl, Parvana, living in Kabul, Afghanistan. The sensitive and careful portrayal of Parvana’s life and her struggle for survival is an eye-opening experience for readers who are not acquainted with such a difficult reality.

The novel has fifteen chapters in all and the author ends it with the beginning of Parvana’s journey along with her father in search of her mother and siblings. The novel has few characters and an uncomplicated plot. It vividly describes Afghan culture and Parvana’s life. It is an apt for reading for children between the age-group of 11-14 years.