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Category Archives: Language Pedagogy

Learning to Revise and Edit

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Ever since I plunged into the write everyday cycle, writing the first draft has become easier. In the past two years, I have written several first drafts. These drafts are based on hours of research. However, once the idea is on paper, I seem to find it painful to revise it.

Once I get to it, I keep revising it. This revision is directionless. I feel like I am lost in a jungle of words and don’t know where to go and how. I also continuously doubt my decisions. The process stretches to months and years and most first drafts never make it to the editing table.

Editing is less painful and there is some direction. I would know more about its pain if I get more papers to the table.

Dear Readers, do share your learning and experiences with me to achieve this milestone in my writing journey.

 

 

How To Read A Book

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I have been reading a book by Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read A Book. The book was first published in the early months of 1940. I am reading the revised version of the book that came out in 1972. This version is co-authored by Adler and Charles Van Doren.

A friend introduced me to a chapter from this book by a friend, How to Make a Book Your Own. In this text he advocates such a reading of a text that it enters your bloodstream and becomes a part of your self.

In my last post, I talked about my teacher’s teacher. An interaction with him informs you how well he has read the text that even after 40-50 years of reading it, he can quote from the book. I want to read a book like him. Adler discusses the steps to become such a reader. I read this chapter more than once. Inspired by his convincing and authoritative style of writing, I decided to buy the book.

This revised version of the book is even better. It is a fat book of 418 pages. It is a compelling read especially today when we are increasingly losing the capacity to read. I will write more about the book once I finish reading it.

My Teacher’s Teacher

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I went to see my teacher’s teacher yesterday. He taught my teacher during his graduation years. Now, he is 90 years old. He never fails to amaze me with his memory. Yet during every conversation, he complains that he forgets. I tried to tell him to see how much he remembers. During our conversation, he narrated a long poem that he read in a newspaper in 1945. The poem was about an incident in which a student died during lathi charge.  He remembers the names, writers and even quotes from books. My teacher still consults him for books because he remembers nearly everything that he read even if he read it in a newspaper.

I wonder how well he must be reading. Yesterday, he shared an anecdote about his teacher, Dr. Dhirendra Tripathy. Dr. Tripathy was a D.Litt from Paris. Around 1945, as my teacher’s teacher graduated, he went to Dr. Tripathy for a testimonial. He had applied for a teaching position. Dr. Tripathy called his secretary and dictated a testimonial. One thing I valued most in the testimonial was that Dr. Tripathy described him as a student who almost always, “either adds something of subtract something from the lecture that was given to him. He chose what he liked. So, he is a man of independent ideas.”

So, after Dr. Tripathy gave him his testimonial, he asked, “Do you know how to teach?” He replied, “I know how to read.” The forever serious Dr. Tripathy smiled and said that you must take three counsels from me:

  1. Always be better than the best student of your class.
  2. Never enter a class unless you are fully satisfied with your preparation.
  3. Be honest. Tell your students with honesty that you do not have an answer to a particular question but will find out about it.

I have a feeling that my teacher’s teacher gave this counsel to my teacher too.

 

Writing for Children

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As an editor of a children’s magazine, my primary job is to commission articles. There are many senior writers whose work I enjoy. Then there are writers I feel whose ideas, style of writing must enrich the body of children’s literature. Because of the purity of their expression. They are just writing what they think with such honesty that it seems they are talking to us. They are engaging us in a conversation.Such articles, stories are missing in children’s literature because the moment one talks about writing for children, they immediately assume the position of an adult. They write down to children.

E.B. White has famously said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

Then the basic rules of writing such as ‘Show, don’t tell’ are seriously flouted. The attempt is to explain every possible word used in the text is explain, which makes it an excruciating read.

Beverly Clearly says, “As a child, I disliked books in which children learned to be ‘better’ children.” Children’s literature in India is full of such texts.

More recently, a very dear friend of mine asked me to translate a story for children. Saying ‘No’ was not an option as she would then think of me as too high headed. The story writes down to children. Children are not unaware or silly beings who do not know what goes where. In fact, they are very observant of not just their natural surroundings but also of human behaviour. That’s how they learn the rules of society. It does not see children as reflective beings. It also tries to teach good behaviour to children. The story is on environment. Why do you have to write a story on it? Why can’t you just write about deforestation? The idea of deforestation used in the story is also dated. That is not how we are presently thinking about environment. We have moved way ahead. A text on Greta Thunberg and other (Indian) children environmentalists would have made an interesting read for 6 years-olds too. They would be able to identify with child activists and identify their agency to act.

How does one explain this to writers of children’s literature?

Self-acceptance through Writing

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I am stuck. I have been working on a short article for a popular magazine for three months. It has been drafted. Re-drafted. Re-drafted and re-drafting is seeming to be never-ending. It is missing something. What is not sitting well with me is its language. The sentences are not flowing into each other like a melody. Content-wise, the article has been reviewed by external reviewers. They seemed to have liked it. They think it is ready for publication. Yet, in my heart I feel it is not ready.
I am stuck for just one reason. I am not able to re-write it on paper with a pen. I know once I do it. I will begin to feel the writing. I have to re-write it with pen on paper a few times and it is done.
Now, my mind is procrastinating. It is procrastinating because it feels weak. Why? Because it needs nourishment in terms of reading. So, until I read some relevant texts, my mind will not support my hand to re-write.
Before re-writing, I need to feed my mind with reading. Like a cow, it will ruminate. When the mind has ruminated, it will be eager to serve the hand. In fact, it will send urgent signals to the hand.
Then the hand would pick up the pen, find paper and re-write. That’s when the article would be finished.
That is how my system works. I could be a slow-writer, who has lost a certain race. I want to accept my system and leisurely walk at its pace. I am with me. I accept myself unconditionally.

Pleasure does not come Easy

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I used to wonder when some writers said that their urge to write is so great and intense that they can’t sleep, eat or drink. A writer can write in the middle of a party. If you don’t have such an urge you are not a writer.
Experiencing such an urgency is essential to be a writer. However, this urgency is nurtured. No one is born with it. What we often struggle with is to nurture this urgency.
To be a writer, one has to live the life of a writer. You know when you are living that life. You know it because then you breathe it. You obsess about writing. You think about it all the time. Your mind stays engaged endlessly with developing just one idea. The idea that emerged as a tiny dot. You build it into a thread. The longer the thread gets the more it occupies you. Once you have entangled it, you know it is times to write.
A writer is constantly moving from this state of disequilibrium to equilibrium. Reading makes this engagement finer and nuanced. That’s when the fun really begins.
You eat, sleep and drink your writing.
Achieving this stage is no fun at all. You need to really focus and become it- your writing. You have to identify with it so strongly that it becomes you.
It requires an uncluttered and meditative mind.
Pleasure does not come easy in writing.

Why Writing is so Hard?

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I write. I write to clear my mind. I write to organize my thoughts. I write to deal with emotions. I write to inspire myself. I write to understand myself. I write to explore myself. I write for pretty much everything. I write when I am happy, sad, grieving, confused, cluttered and in love.
Yet writing does not come easy to me. I need space to write. Both physical and mental space. I need preparation to write. I can’t just switch the ‘write mode’ on at any given time. I need a routine. I need an uncluttered mind. So, when even a slight change happens in life, one of the first things that get affected is my writing.
Just like every other craft that demands, writing demands a certain way of life. For me, writing is not an option or an alternative. Writing is my way of being. Still writing does not come easy.
It is demanding. I have to submit to its demands. I have to carve my life in a way that writing demands.
Like these celebrities, writing also never comes alone. It comes with a team of readings. Different kinds of readings and texts. Slow-paced reading, fast paced reading. Academic reading, poetry, short story satire and news. Until you submit yourself to all of them, writing wouldn’t come to you.
They are like shy toddlers. They wouldn’t come to you if you don’t address them in the way they feel comfortable. Every reading has certain distinct needs. Virginia Woolf in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ explains the different kinds of readings that short-stories, poetry, letters, and other forms require. Once you are able to bring them home, writing comes easy.

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.

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.