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Category Archives: Experiences

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.

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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.

When we make them learn helplessness

In a school, after a long conversation where I mainly asked questions, the teachers finally asked me something.

“Madam, can I also ask something?” said Lakshmi a teacher in a private school.

“Yes please do so…we are talking ….” I said to encourage her to talk.

“There are some children about whom I am never sure how to deal even though I have been working as a teacher for more than 8 years.”

“Hmmm….hmmmm…”

“There is this one girl and one boy in my class who never speak, even when I talk to them specifically taking their name. They just lower their head never make eye contact. They are both unable to write or read anything. I just feel so frustrated and sad that I don’t know how to help them.”

This reminded me about Khushi in my class who was also very much like this. She always sits on the first bench, yet it took me two-three days to notice her. She is so silent that she sometimes becomes invisible in the class. She also takes many leaves. She mostly sits with her head down not talking with anybody. To keep herself engaged she often tries to complete her notebook work. In my class I like to give each child chance so I often go from child to child and ask everybody to add something to the topic being discussed, whenever we reach Khushi the discussion comes to a stand still. Other children start getting irritated and start telling, “Mam, she wouldn’t speak, she never speaks, she doesn’t know anything.” It is a difficult time for a teacher, you want to give this child time to speak, but too much time may mean torture for her and boredom for others. You want to stop all the other children from saying these hurtful things yet not make this child too dependent on yourself.

With Lakshmi madam, I discussed a little bit about these two children’s home background and kept comparing notes about Khushi and I came to the conclusion that all these three children seem to be victims of learned helplessness.

What is learned helplessness?

Learned helplessness is a state of mind where the individual starts feeling that nothing that she will do will have an impact on the negative situation that she is in. This happens after a long time spent in a situation where the individual is placed in negative situations…..and efforts made by her seem to be futile.

Lets take an example of a woman in an abusive marriage, in the beginning every time she experiences domestic violence she talks to her family members but all she gets from them is a baseless assurance of how things will improve gradually and how as a woman she should adjust with the situation that she is in. She then tries to revert to the strategy of fighting back, which leads to even more thrashing. She then has a baby and starts feeling that she is tied to this setting and cannot go anywhere….that’s when it is possible that she may stop retaliating totally and may bear everything silently.

Another example of learned helplessness which leads to child abuse is when the parents learn that nothing they do will make the child stop crying and they just let the child be.

In school setting we often see those children who fall in a complex situation of constant negative feedback from teachers and parents go into a learned identity of being helpless in changing their situation. Often siblings imitate what the parents say and do and peers imitate what the teachers say and do thus completing the circle of negative feedback for the child. Such children gradually stop making an effort to learn. They may not always the silent ones but may also be the extremely boisterous never listening type as in both situations they are not ready to engage with you or make an effort to learn as they have learned that this will not lead to anything.

In the next post we will discuss what can be some of the intervention strategies in such cases. If you know of a similar situation do share with us.

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.

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.

Favour: A Malignant Tumour

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‘Favour’ seems to be a very innocent and positive term. But in practice it is a malignant tumour, which is hard to diagnose and when discovered it is too late for treatment. It multiplies uncontrollably. It dominates other cells by suffocating them and then it kills them or converts them. Gradually, it kills the patient.
Let me deconstruct this term for you. Dictionary meaning of the term ‘favour’ is ‘an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual’. By asking for favour a person becomes vulnerable in front of the person giving favour. She is then obligated to return the favour. One must note that in the definition itself, favour is described as an act of kindness that is beyond what is due or usual. Why would anybody help you beyond what you deserve? But before answering that question, let us just take a moment to think that if this person who is asking for favour does not deserve it then, is he taking something away from a person who deserves it? What becomes of the person who deserves it but does not get it because somebody else received it as a favour?
I have grown up hearing ‘there is no such thing as free lunch’. So, obviously now this person who has been favoured will have to return the favour. In the doing so, another person who deserves something will be deprived to accommodate this person. This goes on and on. If an institution has one such person who has this habit, he or she will bring another and attract a few others. The circle becomes bigger and bigger with each favour. Soon the institution has a number of people who have been favoured, in other words, who do not deserve this place but by an act of kindness were accommodated snatching it away from someone who deserved it.Can an institution survive with so many ‘favoured’ people?
Now what happens to the people who do not agree with this policy of giving and receiving favours? They are sidelined and are often part of the collateral damage. They are suffocated till the time they die or are converted. Converts, we all know, are never really included in the group. So what happens to the institution?