Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Being Taught to Write

About writing I say this: you either can, or, you can’t. That’s it. Finito! There are no in-betweens that say: He can write a little, or, I can write a little. And one more thing, if you don’t write very early in your life, then you probably never can in your adult life. No teaching course, or degree can teach you how to write. They can teach you to put words together as in a scrabble, but you can’t make absolute sense of it all, you still can’t write, but you would go on thinking you can, because you paid them, those rascals! For the rest of your life you would say something like, “I did a course in creative writing, and they say I am quite good if I can apply myself to serious writing.” Say this with a “can do” smirk and you will sound credible.

This leaves the hacks, such as me, who write for a living. This type can’t do any other job, but can write commercial stuff that can be passed for acceptable writing. Writing for a living can get very tiring and boring at times, as I have learnt. I can’t enjoy the writing I do to make the home fires burning. In other words, I don’t enjoy the writing I get paid for. I wish with all my heart that I could, but things didn’t work out. So if someone says, “Write me a great article and I will pay you $ 1 million,” that would make me very nervous and unable to write. I would sweat a lot on my keyboard, and the keys would all be submerged and I would panic. But I can hold on to a writing job because, a job is different. It’s a job. Well, er, um, you see, you know, by the time they find that you can’t write, you would be out of the organisation and well-ensconced in another job, with a better salary to boot.

And, oh, yeah, in this system-addled world of today, where systems are supposed t rule the way you eat, drink, and, well, do it (what? I didn’t say it, did I?), there is an increasing need for people who can write. Because, all those systems, workflows, algorithms and programming abracadabra require documentation. Not that anybody reads such documents, but documents are needed to, at least, re-assure people that some semblance of order exists. Brilliant, isn’t it? I still have a cupboard shelf full of manuals I haven’t yet read, which I keep thinking I would one day. Well, what I do is tinker with the keys of my latest obsession, and – lo and behold! – through blind faith or familiarity, I can figure out how to operate it. Who the hell cares for manuals, anyway? But there are standards the company has to comply with, and that requires that you have everything in writing, and therefore they employ duffers like me.

That’s the reason my friend Raj wants to learn writing. He asks me how long it will take, one year, or, maybe, two? I tell him he needs to read a lot of books if you wish to write. Now, Raj looks like the sort of chap who is addicted to 64-paged “Chausatiya” erotic stories sold on railway bridges in Bombay. So, I rather expect the next stupid question, “How many books should I read?” That quite flummoxes me. Is he serious? Does he think writing is something like typing, learn to type and you can keep on typing, and typing and typing any damn rubbish. Would he understand what it means to agonize over commas, semi-colons, full stops, and colons? Would he know what it means to tear hair, rack brain, and bite nails for an appropriate word or sentence. Oh, God! What is this world coming to?

Then he tells me that he knows of an institute that teaches writing, that too, within a year. Yes, they are there by the dozens. Beware of them and their sage advice, and their spiral-bound book manuals. They would be so sweet about your great and dormant talent that you would be tempted to sell the shirt off your back to pay them, because, “Hey, I am going to be a great writer, and the cheques should start coming soon”.

Poor, poor, Raj, I feel sorry for him. He thinks he can learn to write by doing a six-month crash course in writing.


Geets said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

John said...

Hi Geeta,

Thanks! Wish you and your family a Merry Christmas too!

Hope, joy, and happiness.