Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Being awake means not allowing the mind to be focused on trivial matters. Sometimes the mind purposely distracts itself by reading too many books or watching too many movies. There is an internal desire to be quenched. For example, watching the critically acclaimed television drama ‘The Wire.’ Now who wants to miss that? Or perhaps reading the latest ‘Wired’ magazine or the latest TED video or Vanity Fair issue. Or perhaps reading the latest New York Times or reading the books of Thomas Pynchon or Cormac McCarthy. There is always a reason for the mind to be occupied in pursuit of one’s desire whether fulfilling one’s curiosity (always a good thing) or being in the know (like a snob or geek). The mind is lost in thought as it tires to achieve it’s pursuit of knowledge. In fact, the mind is asleep lost in its blind pursuit of some desire.
One is able to indulge in distraction because of wealth. To be accurate, not true wealth but a lack of true poverty. The homeless or the unemployed do not have the luxury of reading or watching movies. They have the in your face reality of surviving, to get food on the table or some money to feed the family. The early pioneers did not have this luxury only possessing ‘The Bible’ as their reading guide. People in the early years did not occupy their minds with too much thought or thinking. They went out into the world to make a living. It was a practical no nonsense world. Only in the world of creative endeavor where people like writers need a lot of ideas. But there is a limit to the free time as one still needs to get food on the table. So struggling artists don’t spend their time reading but actually practicing their craft – such as painting or writing.
It’s this realization that one gets attending writing workshops. The mind is stripped free of churning thoughts with too many ideas that one gets from reading lots of books. Instead one is faced with a blank page and a writing exercise. The creative muscles that need to be engaged are different from the free-flowing mode of thought engaged in journal writing. It is a formal act of structure when one tries to learn a craft. It’s like appearing for work in one’s first day. The mind is alert trying to find the way forward. It’s the same with trying to be a creative writer. Journal writing or blogging is just practicing the basic skills. Like basic arithmetic as compared to solving a physics problem. Hence, the writer’s craft is an application of a structured methodology that is free of emotion. Facing an empty page and disciplining the mind to focus (instead of allowing it to be distracted) is possibly the hardest thing to do.
Jonathan Franken famously sealed his Internet connection with glue to avoid distractions and for him to focus on writing. That goes to show that even the best of writers are plagued to distraction. Reading the first chapter ‘Writing Fiction’ by the New York City writing school provides simple solutions. As a start, one needs to set up a time every day to write; at least four to five hours a week as a start. Showing up at this time regularly, at one’s favorite writing spot is the first step. One does not need to write but show up at that time at that spot. Maybe one can spend it planning, reading, editing or researching. The trick is to get into a habit. I understand this goal as I go to the gym three times a week. So it is similar to setting a habit that one can follow until one develops the discipline and craft needed to succeed.
Recently, I was losing interest in going to the gym. What for? What is the meaning of spending too much time there? Is it worth the effort? There were days when I had turned back on my way to the gym. Soon I was shaken out of my laziness by the thought that I was overweight and needed to lower my cholesterol and blood pressure. So I remembered an acquaintance who suggested joining running events. I started to read magazines with the schedule of these events. It got me interested and back on my weekly exercise regime. I guess one needs such strategies to remain engaged. So I plan to attend the NYC online writing classes, workshops in the community centers and scribbler sessions in the local libraries. Of course, one has to keep doing those writing exercises to keep engaged. Hopefully these actions would result in a published book.
Having a plan and implementing a plan is being awake. One is not lost in some world of one’s own. I had made the mistake thinking that one could achieve writing success ala Hemingway; busily writing alone in solitary glory. But it’s a myth that one only realizes later in life. Hemingway worked in newspapers and actively sought the help of editors and people like Gertrude Stein and Maxwell Perkins to hone his craft. The only thing good about starting with Hemingway is reading. Reading a lot of books was the way these great artists learned to write in the absence of formal writing workshops. Creative writing courses are an invention of the current century which one had initially disdained. But it was a regretful contempt due to the ignorance of the writing craft and delayed one’s development as a creative writer.