The WRITE Advice

I am often asked what the prerequisites to join one of my Writing Workshops are. Truth be told, the requirements to benefit from a Writing Program, long or short, are just three! And they have almost nothing to do with writing or language prowess!

  1. OPEN MIND – A Writing Workshop is a space where one has to come in with an open mind. It is similar to taking an acting or theatre class in the sense that one can not be shut off, closed off, or conscious in the least. One must surrender oneself entirely; to the mentor, to one’s class-mates, and to the program itself. Holding back one’s feelings or emotions, being guarded about one’s positive or negative thoughts, being bothered by judgment and being concerned with how one will be perceived are all factors that will prevent one from truly engaging and gaining from a writing program. So the number one condition to take one of my Writing Workshops is, to be Open, and to submit fully to the class.
  2. TRUTHFULNESS – Great writing doesn’t necessarily come from great narrative. It comes from honesty. One must therefore be honest in one’s perceptions, observations, and in the portrayal of one’s characters and incidents. There are only so many plots and so many stories out there. What differentiates a great piece of writing from a relatively less engaging piece of writing is the ‘honesty’ with which it has been written. This means that one’s characters must be extremely real and well known to the writer, as must the situations. Anything that does not seem convincing to the writer himself-herself will jump off the page and seem contrived, made-up, irrational, untrue, a fallacy. One must therefore write about things and about people that one is intimately familiar with. Create worlds that one has experienced, lived and inhabited. That is not to say that one can not write about people, things and places that are outside of one’s realm; it requires genuine inquiry and research. No half truths here.
  3. WRITE via SUGGESTION – At school one hears this from teachers all the time – be descriptive, be creative in one’s writing. What does this really mean? In my own perception, it means one very simple thing. Write observations, not feelings. If we describe an observation, it will automatically convey the emotion, that too in a vivid, picture-like, immersive manner. It is one thing for instance to say “Ram felt incredibly nervous”, and quite another to say, “Beads of sweat formed on Ram’s forehead. His toes twitched in his Kolhapuri chappals like prisoners wanting to break free from their fleshy-confines.” Its plain to see what makes for more engaging reading, while leaving something for the reader to infer. Readers must be able to infer, rather than being presented the ‘whole truth’ in words. If one can get into the habit of writing though describing situations, one will have addressed this third and final requirement to be part of a fulfilling writing program.

Writing can unlock an infinite landscape of creative expression. It can be liberating, therapeutic, cathartic, and hugely satisfying. Be open, and dive in!

Paint A Written Picture of YOURSELF!

One of the challenges I face all the time while teaching, is to try and get students to Write about themselves. It is vital that in order to DIFFERENTIATE themselves from one another, young people know how to write about their individual, unique journey, qualities, talents and such. Not only do I teach this in class, I also recently dedicated one of my weekly columns “A Word To The Wise” in the Times of India’s (Newspaper In Education) NIE, to this area. Since it is already published, I thought I should share this particular article because many found it useful, and hopefully you will too 🙂 So here goes:

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING

As students, there will be many instances where we will be required to share an insight into our unique interests, achievements and future plans. This information will be required at the time of College Admissions, when seeking Internships at various Companies, and even when we finally seek Jobs. It is therefore always a good idea to get some practice in writing about ourselves, and to keep a general piece of writing about ourselves, ready to be modified/tweaked/updated when the need arrives. Welcome to Profile Writing.

In order to write an effective Profile about ourselves, we need a few things:

  1. Introspection – Think about and jot down (in point form) two to three primary interest/passion areas. They could be completely different from one another (soccer, accounts, music) or allied (DJing, Music Production, Music Events); that doesn’t matter.
  2. Achievements – Also make a point-wise note of achievements in each of those areas of interest.
  3. Realizations – At times, an experience of one thing leads to a realization. For example, while DJing, you might realize that you want to make your own music. Jot down those kinds of realizations.
  4. Future Plans – Make points about what and how you’d like to translate your passions into definite future plans. For example, a young DJ in grade 12 may want to study Music Production further in order to hone his craft.

The above is all the ‘prep’ you need to do BEFORE the writing can begin. Often times we make the rookie mistake of writing before research and thought-organization. This leads to our attention being diverted from the actual writing process because the mind is preoccupied with ‘what to write’, not ‘how to write’.

Once the above soul-searching has been done and noted in points, the writing process of a Profile can begin. There is no set word limit, but anything between 250-350 words is sufficient. Here’s a tried and tested format that never fails:

SENTENCE 1 – State who you are.

SENTENCE 2 – What you currently do.

SENTENCE 3 – Your pre-decided 2-3 Interest Areas

This constitutes your first paragraph, which ought to be in Present Tense.

PARAGRAPHS 2, 3 and 4 will be dedicated to writing about 1 Interest Area each. These will be in Past Tense because you will retrace how/when/where that specific interest began, how it developed, what your experiences & realizations were, and what you achieved.

CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH – This will be a sentence or two that will come back to Present Tense with one line about what you are currently doing in your interest areas, and a last line about Definite Future Plans relating to your Interest Areas.

An important recommendation – you should write your Profile in 3rd Person (as if someone else is writing about you) as well as in 1st Person (you are writing about yourself). This gives writing practise and lets you have two versions your Profile ready so you can submit the type that is required.

One important thing to remember though. 1st Person Profiles can tend to sound a bit pompous. Lets take an example. Say I have written ‘Kartik was invited by the European Union to Moderate Literary Panel Sessions at the World Book Fair’ in my 3rd Person Profile. This sounds fine. But the moment I convert it to 1st Person, simply changing the ‘Kartik’ to ‘I’ does not work because you end up with ‘I was invited by the European Union to Moderate Literary Panel Sessions at the World Book Fair’. This sounds needlessly self-praising and does not reflect well.

It has a very simple fix. Shift the ‘onus’ (responsibility) of the praise in 1st Person Profiles from yourself onto another person/institute/organization. Therefore, if I make the same sentence ‘The European Union asked me to Moderate Literary Panels at the World Book Fair’, you end up with a sentence that provides the same information in terms of conveying achievements but does it a little more subtly and in a non-showing-off way!

If any of you would be interested in writing a Profile for yourselves and would like to discuss it in further detail, I look forward to hearing from you.

Lets Go Outside..

The classroom can be a wonderful place for a student to learn, gain knowledge, explore, and discover. Sometimes however, it helps to GO OUTSIDE!

Whenever I teach a session on ‘communications development’, grooming, or what is unimaginatively called ‘personality development’, I like to take my students outside. One of the sessions I always take is at my favorite breakfast eatery in town. Here, the students and I get an opportunity to interact in a more informal environment. And there is an immediate and tangible reflection of this lighter atmosphere in the students’ behavior. They are more open, more free to express, less inhibited. In doing this, I also have the chance to expose them to a real-world scenario. Not that my students don’t go out with their parents; the act of being out with a teacher is altogether different though. So be it simple instructions on table manners, public etiquette, and an informal chat about what’s going on in all of our lives – all of this solicits some surprisingly intimate bonding, confessions, free banter, and subconsciously, gaining of public-conduct skills.

This weekend for example, I am taking one of my batches to breakfast, and now that the weather is better in Jaipur, another batch will just sit outside in the garden with me and we will read stories to each other.

Think of it this way… If man had never crawled out from under his rock, or emerged from his cave, how would he have DISCOVERED the world?

Ta-boo!

Competition.. Schools, parents, children, are all competing..

Vigorously.. Vehemently..

To what end though? To gain that enviable spot at an IVY League College? Which, will then land that once-in-a-lifetime Job Interview? Which will make that student a Ripe Marriage Prospect? Which will then facilitate yet another Suburban, Mortgaged, Cloned, Picket-Fenced Life?

Was a time when our grandparents and teachers told us about stories of courage. Of kindness and of love. Of living life in the moment. As we were growing up, blissful, rolling about in the mud with the neighbor’s children, eating mud, racing paper-boats through rainy-streams; something changed.. Something died..

It became more about Marks & GPAs, less about exploring, expressing, learning and understanding. It became more about Certificates, less about empathy, helpfulness,  sensitivity and caring. It became more about “my Harvard graduate son”, and less about “my son”.

How? Why? When? Because of What? And by Whom? One is not sure about these answers. But I can offer a small solution. Let us TALK to our kids. Not LECTURE, Talk. Not INSTRUCT, Engage. Not REPRIMAND, Explain. Not PUNISH, Reason.

Talking CAN solve the world’s problems, including this one. The world needs, now more than ever, SENSITIVE, AWARE, EMOTIONALLY-AVAILABLE Young People. Let us create those, rather than A+ Robots & Zombies.

And to start, Let Us Talk about ALL the ‘Taboo’ issues…

Because ONLY Awareness will create Inclusion…

I leave you with a film I ALWAYS show my students… Its just a 6 min Short Film.. Please watch..

Freedom…. to just BE!

In the 3 years I’ve been teaching regularly, I have noticed that students, junior and senior, are mired in a labyrinth of restrictions, dogma, and pressure. While some have to subscribe to their family’s views, others do not find an encouraging enough environment, even within their own peer-groups, to be, who they REALLY are!

At least for some parents/families that are privileged enough to not HAVE to have their sons and daughters follow a ‘pre-selected’ path (that has nothing to do with the child’s passion, inclination or talent); children from these families ought to be ALLOWED an independent, uninhibited, exploratory childhood.

In my own modest little way, I try my best to create an atmosphere of NO JUDGEMENT and absolute ACCEPTANCE of ALL my students. And I always show them one of my favorite short films – Vicky!

I leave you with the link to this beautiful, and very important short film, in the hope that while you enjoy the visuals, you also find it in yourselves as parents, to let your children, just BE!

On behalf of ALL the students of the world, and, from the student within me….