Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Becoming a Writer

In Ray Bradbury’s book on writing, he mentioned the work ‘Becoming a Writer’ in the very last page, praising the lessons as helping him in his journey. The premise of this work is that one needs a ‘personality change’ to become a writer and those lessons on adapting one’s personality is the key, not just technical knowledge of craft. This premise conforms to my own view that being a writer is a holistic journey that involves not only the learning of techniques or accumulation of writing experiences but also the whole development of a person.  This means traveling, reading, experiencing life and possibly things like learning meditation and cultivating public speaking skills in clubs like Toastmaster. The goal is to perfect one’s voice which will reflect on the writer’s point of view in the stories he is writing. Hence, being a writer does not mean a solitary journey of introspective writing but a holistic endeavor that covers the full development of the person.

I have not read the book yet, not having the time to squeeze into my busy schedule. But the premise was intriguing enough for me to purchase the book in Amazon, where it is billed as a ‘classic bestseller’. My weeks are filled with writing and reading assignments, participating in the writing classes and critiquing the work of my classmates. It is an online version of the Toastmaster experience, where a group of people help each other via constructive feedback. The group activity is especially useful as one learns the background and work of others in the class, helping one assess his current ability by comparing it with the rest of the other students or would be authors, who are mostly adults, retirees, and a few young people and office employees looking for another career or pursuing a child hood dream. An interesting mix that is similar to Toastmasters where one develops his public speaking skills within a club environment.

This is my second class in the online course which is not cheap but more thorough than the previous workshops I have attended last year. The main benefits are the reading assignments, sharing and critiquing of work plus the feedback from experienced teachers who are also established authors. One is exposed to humility as one reads the work of others and receives useful criticism that one should take as a constructive feedback. For example, a short story I wrote in my first fiction class was praised after extensive editing, but my teacher in my second class, advised me to start all over again. The students from my second class are more exact and seemed at a more experienced level than my first class. I feel like stepping into a higher stage with more exacting people. After this class, I will take a break and reflect on my experience. I plan to read the book ‘Becoming a Writer’ after this course.

Currently, I am reading Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Naïve and Sentimental Writer’, which is based on a series of lectures in Harvard. The book introduced a concept derived from a celebrated essay by the German writer Schiller. Writers and readers are categorized as either naive or sentimental and Pamuk’s describes the difference between the two. I fall into the naive category and the learning of craft has led me towards the sentimental or reflective category. These months feel like a revolution to me, after thinking that one has already learned all he can that one finds that he must throw away all his knowledge and start afresh. A young French man I worked with back in Asia preferred to work with young people, remarking about the old saying that an old dog cannot learn new tricks. Therein lies the challenge, that one’s past training and experiences would help one move to an entirely different field of battle, ready to work with new weapons and skills.

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