Monday, January 05, 2015

Be a Selfish Learner to be a Better Writer

By Gaurav Parab

Image from Wikimedia Commons

An interesting thing happened at my workplace the other day. We have an online public forum where we post views, articles, poems and wise cracks. Being a new year and with all the resolution baggage it brings, I felt inspired enough to offer free sessions on discussions around the writing process.

Good boy Parab. Adjust your halo now.

No sooner had I asked for suggestions on what can be discussed, someone wrote back demanding my qualifications before I offered free sessions on the writing process. Now, while I realize that such responses don't deserve too much mind share, and this was but possibly a misfired attempt at trolling a well meaning initiative, with unnecessary references to my ego (I don't even know this guy) it did get me thinking.

Being older and wiser now with my mature paunch and reading glasses, I understood what such a thought process actually stands for. It signifies a uniquely Indian decision to learn based on the college diplomas that a teacher has collected in his life.  A writer is not a writer unless he is published. A singer is not necessarily someone who sings. She has to sing for the movies, or at least have performed a few gigs. Dear Sir, you are from IIM, no? An actor is no actor if he has not been on TV.

While my original post was about sharing thoughts on what we can possibly discuss, as opposed to 'teaching'; lets pretend for the sake of argument that it was about 'teaching' by my haughty self. Anything wrong with that? Lets look at that part.

While conceding that  technical things like flying or medicine need to be taught by qualified individuals who understand the science behind the act of flying and of healing as opposed to mere flying enthusiasts like say Superman, I believe that as far as the arts, leadership, or any skill linked with your heart, mind, or soul go -  you put yourself at a disadvantage if you only want a qualified instructor. You straight jacket your learning of the craft to an agenda drawn up by bureaucrats in dark places that sound like the Planning Commission. You are missing out on all the fun. You are running the risk of never encountering some truly unique perspectives.

No shame in discussing how to make a wheel by someone who has made a wheel before. No matter how out of shape, or how small - he can at least tell you how not to try making a wheel. No matter if he never worked at a Goodyear or Pirelli.

Why hesitate to ask for directions from one who has taken that road before? That person may not have reached the destination - but that insight backed with your own judgment might just help avoid the wrong detour or the longer route to success. Ramakant Achrekar once had a student who had no problems learning from someone with zero test runs, so why should anyone else.

My greatest writing teachers  have been people who have never been inside a classroom, or had their name embossed on a certificate on a wall.My mother and father, talented painters and writers in their own way taught me through their actions that it was ok to think different and wild. Bat crazy wild. The watchman in my society taught me patience and how I have to be at it one word at a time like he is at it one sleepless night at a time. Homer Simpson, widely believed to be a non living character, taught me how wonderful irrelevance is in connecting with your audience. Our regular cab driver, taught me to work harder when I felt I was working hard enough. The salesmen I worked with in a previous life told me how 'real' people interact. My many writer friends who don't run a blog, or have published a book never shy away from advising me for they know that in me they will always have a willing student. My dog Joko, who to the best of my knowledge went to no college - full time or otherwise, teaches me to live in the moment and focus on what is on my writing desk. (God, he can stare down a cat for hours without moving)

I can go on and on and still not scratch the surface of the large pool of  unqualified, yet effective teachers who continue to shape my world; in addition to the lessons from 'qualified' ones that together make me a better writer version of myself. I find questioning the qualification of someone who has offered to share his experiences to be an attitude we can all do away with.

On the bright side,the whole episode did gave me an opportunity to think about this flaw in our thoughts, and share my views on how important it is to not only give free lessons, but also take them.

Fortunately, a good proportion of people have the same value system and I am glad that we will be doing some well attended sessions at my workplace soon. Completely free. Heck, I may even throw in a viewpoint or two about why a writer needs an ego. But that's for another day.

So again, if you still have a chip on your shoulder, and want to learn cooking only from a Michelin star chef as opposed to your Mother who wrote no cooking books, or learn writing only from someone with Hachette,  Penguin, or Picador book contracts - then you might be missing out on some great lessons in life!

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Peace. Keep writing


Priyanka Khot said...

Come to Delhi for one such session and ensure that I am sitting on the first bench.

P.S: One small edit: the whole episode did give me an opportunity...

Akansha D said...

Loved it! Could n't agree with you more.

Anonymous said...

I vaguely remember this incident you're talking about.. I don't remember who posted the comment and I am not sure what his intentions were when asking the question.
Personally , I have never thought "academic qualifications" to be a requirement for knowledge about arts - Well I wouldn't , considering I am a writer ( or aspiring to be one- whichever way you want to categorize me :) ) and I do not have a degree in literature, journalism or anything close to writing.
However Gaurav, on a public forum, when you write a post for offering classes and considering no-one knows who you are or what you have done, don't you think "how are you qualified" is is a very natural question? It does not mean you have to have academic qualifications.. It does mean you have to have some kind of practical experience. You did have that.. but how would the people on BB know? You may have travelled the road before.. but the ones who are reading the post are not aware of that. I do not see why you didn't post a summarized account of your experience so that people reading would have had an idea of what you had to offer before they accepted or not. I think that is fair. An adult in this day is going to see what is offered to him and weigh the decision before making it. Before buying something or investing in something ( however small) don't you gather information and make decisions and try to see if it is suited to you? People are investing time and effort and this is quite natural to wonder.