Saturday, April 2, 2011

At Play

Writing is like being at play. At play in the fields of the Lord or where the spark of creativity resides in some divine space. The writing class last Tuesday taught me a new thing. Using a visual tool called the plot diagram. After some research, one learns that it’s a well-known tool taught to grade school kids. Now how could one miss this common tool? It goes to show how far one is from having a creative writing craft. It looked like the tools in the book ‘Writing the Natural Way’ which introduced a visual tool called ‘clustering’. This method is more like a mind map to brainstorming or makes associations with various words to write a paragraph. So one can make a series of paragraphs to eventually compose a chapter and finally a novel.

The plot diagram on the one hand is more a top view of the whole novel. One can construct visually the arc of the story. An interesting tool that uses both sides of the brain like mind mapping. I think it’s a good way to break through writer’s block. So I am glad to have proceeded with the writing class. It uses a great book - the NYC Fiction Writing course that is also available in the Internet. One never realized that one is so much lacking on the basic creative writing skills. The attempt was to achieve writing skills via the classic way – by reading tons of books. In my lifetime, perhaps I have read about a thousand books and one wonders how many books one should read to get that kind of creative writing proficiency. One of my fellow students said he read ten thousand books but it sounds like one of those empty boast that are difficult to confirm.

The class is every Tuesday evening from 5 to 6 pm. I arrived in the class from a disappointment. It was production day when we planned to go live. It was supposed to be D-Day so we went to the site early in the morning at around 6:45 am. But the software failed and blew up in our faces. So we went home dejected and sad. It was not a complete loss because I did my homework and attended the evening class. We also had meetings to define and put a fix in place by next week. At least, the issue was found at go live instead of sometime later during production. It would be humiliating to revert back to the old process after many days. This project needs its members to have thick skin especially in my department. The failure and sometime success in front of the users is a harrowing experience. It’s actually an exercise in humility.

The failure seems to indicate that extensive testing was not done. But based on the situation, one cannot help it with the changes in the lead roles such as project manager, business leader and platform head all within a space of a few months. We were in a state of flux so one needs to keep the momentum moving. In other words, play the game of movement. Now that the roles are filled, with new actors and egos, one is nearly back from the previous state of organized chaos. But challenges abound with enemies lurking in corners. There are those who are setting traps so one would trip over during inspired moves onward. Again there is no choice but to accept the challenge and sometimes fail and be bloodied. One should take the measure of one’s opponent to see what stuff one is made off. Hence, one hopes to show his stoic and heroic side.

Sadly it is the lack of courage and leadership that’s stopping the movement. Again the game is played to move ahead and keep the momentum going. There is no other choice so one should expect to feel the pain. Every man and his dog will take a swipe at you, charge you with additional expenses and accuse one of poor planning and preparation. Hence, the only option is to hit back with calmness and serenity in the face of adversity. One will not crumble and weaken like a novice. The game is afoot and one should be relentless. Perhaps it is an all-or-nothing play but one has the ball and one will run with it. At play in the fields of the Lord as one approaches the end game. But it’s a team play and one is leading the charge. It’s the best position to be in.

Now how does that relate to creative writing?  I guess one can say that one is a writer as my instructor said. Just be. It’s playing the game that matters. To know the rules and techniques like plot diagrams and clustering and mind mapping and all those tricks that help you along the road. It’s a humbling experience but also an exciting challenge to be in the game. One is glad that one can choose inexpensive ways to be a writer. Like Bill Gates said, one needs to have the commitment and focus and vision to achieve what he has achieved. To be a player in the game – to have the needed balls (or cojones) and the willingness to face defeat and pain and humiliation in detached coolness. Grace under pressure is the way Hemingway put it and one thinks that’s a good description of the challenge at hand.

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