Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Sentences

The workshop was about interesting first lines in a novel or short story. The intention was to hook the reader into reading one’s book. Some intriguing examples were given from works by authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Conner and Charles Dickens. I had always thought that writers begin their work with a sentence and some really do. I thought I was one of those following the seemingly effortless work of Ernest Hemingway. But in fact most writers derive the first sentence after doing a fair bit of editing or re-drafting. The writer ‘dusts off the soil to get to an interesting fossil’ was the metaphor used by the speaker. With that statement, I realize that I belong to the former much to my belated regret.

So goes my journey into the waters of writing workshops. I should have attended these seminars long ago but it is only in this country that one has the choice and freedom. It’s amazing that there are so many writing programs out there and even those that are reasonable on one’s budget. It’s as if the whole structure of society is built to develop oneself and be the best that one can be. It’s the first time I have experienced this kind of opportunity which is not available in the other countries I have lived. It’s the mark of a developed nation that a worthwhile activity is to try to develop your fellow citizens even without earning a buck. Of course, there are a lot of programs out there that cost a lot of money but there are still those creative writing programs that exist in small community centers.

Going to creative writing workshops is a lot like going to Toastmasters. One should have the courage to step up and speak in front of people. But it is more than that as one needs to read out his creative work in front of the group. It feels like opening one’s shell and being exposed to public ridicule. It’s a good experience and actually reading ones work and hearing the words spoken aloud feels like a catharsis. In fact, it feels like being at play and the angst-ridden neurotic thoughts of creating and writing and introspective thinking is lost in the wayside. Instead it feels like being in a game or in the classroom where one can make mistakes and learn. I guess that’s the good point in workshops because it brings you out of yourself. With the other people in class, one sees that it is some sort of sport or skill that can be learned and not an anxious hellish ordeal driven by the pressure to create.
In a way, public speaking courses like Toastmasters prepare one for this experience. It makes you relax and express yourself better. So writing becomes a holistic development of the whole person. The act of ‘writing’ a book is no longer being alone in solitude with pen in paper or typing in a computer but verbal communication in front of people. Recently, I installed the software Dragon Digital Speaking in my net book. I could literally talk and create a book by speaking. The writer Dan Brown is said to work this way. Other famous writers have done this as well like Winston Churchill dictating his books to a secretary or Alexander Dumas dictating his stories to his associates in his atelier in Paris. So there are historically precedents in working this way.

If one does develop in this manner, then one’s journey starts by being a diarist writing in long hand, followed by typing into an electronic journal followed by blogging then, finally, dictating into a computer to get out the first draft. It’s a progression of steps, of incremental improvements, with episodes of public speaking and writing and making speeches. So it becomes not only a private expression via written means but public expression. Hence, it’s really communication in all its aspects. Perhaps it’s a return to the oral tradition where the earlier works like Homer’s Iliad where reputedly stories told in front of a fire or in eating places before being written down in paper. Telling stories started as a communal act, speaking publicly to an audience before Gutenberg and the written and published word replaced the story teller. Perhaps to be a writer one must return to the story teller of old.

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