Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE WRITER'S DILEMMA

THE WRITER'S DILEMMA

You wouldn’t believe it, but when I sat down to write this post I was faced with the dilemma as to what to write. Well at least now I have written a sentence and so to an extent broken the stranglehold. Over the last fifteen months I have on a few occasions touched on the topic of ‘Writing’. It all started with ‘Why I write’ in two separate posts and ‘The Travails of an Aspiring Author’ again in two posts and then ‘The Writer’s Block’. So I shall not dwell again on what I had said earlier but some points are bound to creep into this exploration as to the dilemma that a writer faces especially during the initial phases of his writing life.

It is a question of ‘what do I write’ and ‘how do I realize the dream of completion of my creation and see it in a tangible form in front of me’ and last ‘how do I really connect with my readers and find acceptance and recognition’. In my very first post ‘Why I write’ I had ultimately reached a conclusion that I do it because I like it. That’s not the total truth and hence the dilemma.

As to the very first dilemma ‘What to write’ it is easy for the first time author as he draws on his own experiences and more or less exhausts himself in the process. Thus we find in a majority of first time authors the theme is largely autobiographical. The problem arises when he sits down to examine as to how much coherence he has been able to bring into his narration. The very first person who should be able understand what you have written is you yourself. If like I had earlier stated that I write because I like it then I should stop as soon as I am satisfied with what I have written. But then that’s not the whole truth, I want the others who read it should also understand and connect. Why? That is because of the need for acceptance and recognition. If this need had not been there, why publish?

Is that all? But then I was reminded of my friend KV’s observation –

When you conclude that writing is a journey into our inner world and every writer in the end tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is his own life, I cannot agree completely because what you say is true of only a few genres of writing. For example, a professional writer's fiction will have nothing of her personality or inner world, but a cleverly crafted story on a theme she researches well.

Very true (but I still wonder who he had in mind for he insisted on referring to the writer as ‘her’ may be because I went on referring to the writer as ‘he’. But it does not matter whatever the gender of the author is, a dilemma is still a dilemma). So the dilemma still persists – what do I want to write, in which genre? Will I be satisfied just to see my book or do I want to make money out of it, become a professional writer and give the reader what he wants? Well what does the reader want? Thus coming back full circle to ‘What do I want?’

There is a vast population of readers out there – serious readers and non-serious readers as a broad classification. There are various genres of books – non-fiction and fiction as a broad classification once again. To some reading is serious business a way of understanding the world through the documented experiences of others while for other it is a pastime (or rather I should say passing the time). For the serious reader it is a question of going back again and again to what he has read while for the other once the reading is done it has served its purpose and hence disposed of. This reminds me of Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ where he talks about how disposable relationships whether it is with people, places or things will become in future. The book written in 1970 defines ‘Future Shock’ as a certain psychological state of perception of ‘too much change in too short a time’. Toffler says “the accelerated rate of technological and social change left people disconnected and suffering from ‘shattering stress and disorientation’ – future shocked. The majority of social problems are symptoms of future shock.” You may wonder as to why I should talk of this here. It is relevant when we consider that a large section of the population is too busy accumulating and discarding – accumulating wealth and discarding things which they feel have served their purpose or does not fall within the zone of their interest.

This is where the dilemma of the writer surfaces once again. To whom should he cater to? What are their needs? This by and large is a problem of the professional writer of fiction. He has to be awake to the reality that his book will ultimately become disposable. But how does it matter if he can ensure that it is acquired before being disposed of.

Non fictional writing is less disposable especially self-help books, books on philosophy, art, economics, biographies etc. but then again the readership is restricted to serious readers. These are readers who collect what they read.

Perhaps the most difficult genre is poetry. The takers are few for not many have the time in this future shocked world to sit back and enjoy the imagery and sensibilities of the poet. A poet is a poet; you can never be a professional poet. It is poetry alone that explores the inner world of the writer and hence can never be a commercial venture. That’s why it is very difficult to find a publisher who would be willing to take it up. It would be interesting to find out as to the number of poetry books published in comparison with the other genres. Poetry is serious literature.

I have realized that I was not being entirely truthful when I said that I write because I like it, the whole truth is I like it when people like what I write. May be I do have some altruistic motives like sharing my experiences so that it will help others, but in the final analysis I want acceptance and recognition. And how does that happen? Well that is the final dilemma of the writer – his book seeing the light of the day.

There are publishers and publishers and there are writers and writers, so how does one squeeze himself through? There are traditional publishing houses and there are self- publishing houses. There are rejections and more rejections of scripts submitted. So where do you stand, have you felt the agony of your masterpiece being rejected? You will come across literary editors who say that they are not in a position to pitch your work to a publishing house since it does not meet with their standards, but at the same time they do offer you editorial services to make your work better, of course for a fee. When you enquire whether after their editorial intervention they will be able to take up with a publishing house, they are offended and say that they do not like to work with authors who are not serious about their work.

My own experience could well highlight the travails of aspiring authors. I first experimented with self-publishing with one of the major houses and left it midway as I thought pitching to a traditional publishing house will help me evaluate the value of my manuscript as seen by a publisher who would definitely be in a better position to gauge its acceptability by the reading public. I did submit the manuscript to five of them. There was no reply from three of them even after a lapse of four months. The fourth was courteous enough to say that they will not be able to fit it due to constraints in their existing calendar but they said “however, we remain committed to giving platform to new voices. We understand that you've put in considerable time and effort on this book and would like to publish it at the soonest. To address the same, we have come up with a unique solution, where you can choose your publishing plan and the options you require to do justice to your book, under our new self-publishing arm.” That would of course entail financial outgo from my side.

Well not everything is dark, there was a silver lining for one of the publishers has accepted the manuscript for publication. This comes with a rider for though the manuscript is placed as ‘projects under consideration’ I have been informed that it will be taken up when the commissioning editor deems fit. They were also very courteous enough to add that a book under consideration with them could get published within weeks or in a few years. I do not know where I stand right now. But I guess when my patience wears out I would revert to where I started from.

For every writer his work is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered. He lives in hope that it happens sooner than later.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

WAITING……………

WAITING……………

I was tempted to title this post as ‘Waiting for Godot’ but stopped after ‘Waiting’ and finished with a series of dots lest Samuel Beckett from wherever he is would have pulled me over to court and proceed against me for copyright infringements. Not that I am trying to write something even remotely connected with what he had to say in his play but something in the plight of his characters Vladimir and Estragon waiting for someone’s arrival which does not ever occur strikes a chord. But I guess I have done justice to the title here for you can add as many dots as possible and still continue waiting. But I know dear friend you are still out there ‘waiting’ to decipher what I want to say. Please don’t for I am also still waiting.

I know you would like to know what my predicament is. I do have, not one but many of them. The next question would be what stirred me up so much to make me sit down here in the middle of the night and write all this. Very reasonable I guess, is your right to know since I have already made you wait. But on second thoughts, why should I since the whole purpose of this post is to make you wait. Sorry, but right now I am waiting for sleep to overtake me but it doesn’t. Now I guess you know the reason for all this rambling.

Well this morning I was stuck up in a traffic jam and what would have taken me ten minutes took almost an hour to reach my destination. Of course it is not the first time that this has happened, but today somehow as I sat within the confines of my car I did not feel perturbed that I may end up late for my appointment which of course was to attend a hearing in the magistrate’s court pertaining to a complaint I had filed in a cheque return case. I have said enough of that in my earlier post ‘The Trial’. But having grown used to the fact that nothing was going to happen whether I was on time or not, I waited. It is at such moments I am gripped by moments of inspirational thoughts and I contemplate on the deeper aspects of our existence. Oh yes! I said life is one long waiting whether it is on the toilet seat early in the morning or waiting for your case number to be called while standing outside the fast track court. While the former brings you relief the latter only enhances your exasperation. Well I did reach late but it did not matter for my turn came two hours later and all the while I waited outside. But my previous visits to this venue had taught me that this waiting need not be painful for one could always watch other similar sufferers and draw consolation from the fact that you were not alone in this entire ‘waiting’: the only danger being that at the end of all that waiting, when your turn comes to appear in front of the magistrate you are left confused as to whether you are the complainant or the accused.

I should concede that ‘waiting’ also has its merits, for during the time it lasts  it makes you wait for better things to happen, in a sense it gives you hope. Many will not agree with me for the general refrain has always been ‘I am tired of waiting’. I am also guilty of such a sentiment for the most part. But this perhaps is defeatist. The ‘waiting game’, whether in a game of chess or when a predator stalks its prey or the mating game, forms an integral portion in the formulation of strategies to attain your objective, whatever that may be.

‘Have patience’ is another oft repeated advice which implies ‘Wait it is only a matter of time before you achieve your goal’ or ‘Don’t act in haste for you may make a wrong decision’. Waiting for an answer from your lady love could be traumatic especially if the prospect of rejection looms large. But enough I guess of all this exploration into what should normally have been responsible for inducing a soporific effect on our existence.

So we agree (I take it for granted that a consensus has been reached) that if we seriously look at our life we find that it is one continuous process of waiting. Of course you are free to decide at any point what it is you are waiting for.

Sometime ago I dropped in at my friend’s place as it was sometime since I had seen him (all this while I was waiting for an opportunity to visit him). When I enquired about his mother he took me to her room where I found her lying on a cot totally immobilised. There was a nurse in attendance. My friend then told me “She has been like that for more than a year now, partially paralysed and failing eyesight. Of course over the years she had been suffering from a slow deterioration of her mental faculties. Though she can recollect certain things from the past, the present to her never really embeds itself in her memory”. When my friend told her my name there was a faint acknowledgement with her movable hand. When I leant close to her she said in a faint voice “why does God not take me away, why does he make me wait like this?”

Before I left my friend said “It is very difficult watching her suffer like this. I should not say this, but the truth is I am also waiting for her to pass away so that she is spared of further agony.” I felt sad for him.


You spend your entire life waiting, waiting for something to happen – a ‘yes’ from a ladylove, a favourable judgement in your favour or even a portending calamity. But it is that helplessness as conveyed by the old lady perhaps is the most disturbing aspect of ‘waiting’ – ‘Waiting for Deliverance’. One can interpret whether the deliverance she seeks is from her suffering or being made to suffer before her final deliverance from this living itself. Whatever it is when deliverance comes one should not be made to wait, it should be abrupt.   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

THUS SPOKE THE SAGE

THUS SPOKE THE SAGE

“What is it that you seek from me?” the sage asked.

I had come a long way to meet this holy man. The last few miles I had travelled by foot through a wooded area. The village headman had been good enough to give me the directions to the place where the holy man lived. I had found the place after walking for about an hour. It was a small hut. The village headman had told me that once in a while the Swamiji would come down to the village, sit with them, partake of whatever they offered him and then go back. He rarely spoke but would answer any question put to him.

“I come seeking happiness, your holiness” I replied.

“Why do you seek happiness?”

“I believe that it will bring an end to my suffering” I again replied.

“And what is that suffering you talk about, my son?” the sage asked with a smile on his lips.

“This very existence, it is painful.”

“So what do you mean by ‘painful’?” the sage queried.

“Well it’s an unpleasant feeling. It makes living miserable.” I replied.

“What is this feeling you talk about? Where do you think it rises from?” he asked.

For a moment I lapsed into silence and then said “I am filled with anxiety when I think that one day I shall die without ever having achieved all that I have wanted to from life. I shall die without having known what true happiness is. It makes me miserable and I suffer.”

“You really think that if you find happiness it will bring an end to your suffering?”

“Isn’t that so?” I asked.

“No, happiness does not bring an end to suffering. It is the end of suffering that brings happiness. So you see there is no way that you can escape suffering. It is a process that has to be undergone before you reach happiness.”

“And how does suffering end?”

“When you learn to live with it?”

“How‘s that possible?” I asked.

“Well when I said you should learn to live with it I meant that it would be necessary for you to understand the cause and accept the effect as a natural result of your own actions. Once acceptance is there then it ceases to bother you and the unpleasantness or the suffering as you would like to call it vanishes. This perhaps is the state of happiness you are referring to” the sage replied.

“Do you mean to say that I should accept the suffering and do nothing about it?” I asked.

“I never said that. The process of understanding and acceptance is in itself the way to overcome suffering. Life is interspersed with periods of suffering and periods of happiness. Both are temporal in nature and vanish the day you die. After all, both are sensations of our physical existence.”

“So you mean to say that there is nothing like a state of permanent happiness?”

“What I told you is true of our physical existence. This is a reality one has to accept before realising what lies beyond. It is in this process of trying to understand and accept that we ultimately transcend the boundaries imposed on us and may be get a glimpse of that permanent happiness that you talk about, though I would term it as bliss or eternal peace. You said you have come here seeking happiness. I cannot nor can anyone else give you what you want for you are searching in the wrong place. What you seek is within you and that’s where you will find the answers. Running away from reality does not take you any closer to what you are seeking. I can only say that your suffering will teach you more about who you are then your happiness.”

It was late in the evening when I walked back to the village. In that slowly descending darkness as the moon ascended and a gentle breeze blew I was enveloped in that stillness and a strange sort of bliss. I let lay the existential dilemmas somewhere within me for the moment and allowed myself to be immersed in that beyond.