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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Craving vs. Carving.

‘Stay on the path. It's not your concern. Stay on the path. It's not your concern,’ mutters Denzel Washington’s Eli in The Book of Eli whenever he comes across injustice, aggression, or an inhuman act being committed against another person. But these two seemingly ordinary sentences can be used by a writer (or by anyone in any trade) in less intense circumstances, Viz., to gain focus.

When I was young, I used to stay up watching TV until I literally ‘fell’ asleep. ‘Everything in the world is not for you alone,’ my father assured me almost every night. Hard to believe when you are young. What does he know? I would think. He probably doesn’t realize the catastrophic repercussions it could have on my future if I miss this episode of Mind Your Language.

When I wasn’t reading, TV was my best friend; it talked and I listened. On the subconscious level, I realized it was a major distraction. But I didn’t feel distracted; I rather felt hypnotized.

Fast forward to almost fifteen years later when I started writing for magazines and newspapers: reviews, interviews, coverage of cultural and social events. Then TV happened. The object of my obsession became the object of my passion. I wrote feverishly. Years of reading and watching combined with self-teaching came gushing out. I was consumed by this urge to write. I had finally found my calling in life and I just couldn’t stop answering.

This is who I am, I told myself. This is why I am.

Meanwhile, I realized that my reading and watching had trickled down to an almost zilch. ‘What did I tell you?’ My father’s eyes seemed to be asking. Uh, it’s just a, uh, temporary phase, I wanted to say. To defy his gaze and enveloped in haze I went on a shopping spree. I started buying books and DVDs by truckloads. I stashed them. Lined them in shelves. Put them in plain view as I worked. Unconsciously trying to fill a void. Consciously saving them for when I would have time.

‘When’ I would have time? But we ‘always’ have time!

Soon, the rabbit of habit hopped back in: while looking something up on the internet (turning pages of a paper dictionary or an encyclopedia seemed so last decade,) I found myself clicking on countless links, wanting to discover the origins, the usage, the variants. Knowledge is power and I wanted to feel more powerful. I read up everything and anything on the craft. I figured everything was being written to educate me, to inform me, to update me.

Me, me, me. Who are thee?

And then there was more: is e-publishing the future? What is a Vook? How to effectively use Redshirt characters? Which are ten of the best poisonings in literature? (One of them is in I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Read about the remaining nine here.)

Then I realized that I had always heard of bestselling ‘writers’ but never of bestselling ‘readers.’ So I took a long breath, and stopped.

I realized I was hoarding up knowledge and information, not putting it all to good use. To boot, all the information may become dated by the time I actually need it. I realized that I was using this craving for knowledge as an excuse to procrastinate. That I was fooling myself into believing that I was getting something done as I read up How to Salvage a Scene. That when I came back to my ‘scene’ and tried to ‘salvage’ it, I had to make changes that had The Butterfly Effect: change one thing, change everything.

So what did I do? I came back to paper dictionary and encyclopedia. I set aside 15 minutes each day to make a list. This list included tips and tricks that helped me with idea generation, planning, plotting, developing conflicts, writing, and editing.

Of course the list is exhaustive (and exhausting.) 
Of course it is bulging beyond limits. 
Of course it is like gardening where I often have to trim the hedges.

Of course I had to stop craving and start carving out a path that I would tread each day. 

I know there still will be distractions along the way: I will run into blog posts, self-help books, and facebook status updates written ‘especially for me.’ I will be thrilled by a news like ‘the last episode of LOST ever. "The New Man in Charge" is a little mini-episode that follows the events of LOST's series finale ….. with all the answers it hands us.’

On times like these, you and I and we and she can turn to Gary Whitta for the timeless advice, ‘Stay on the path. It's not your concern. Stay on the path. It's not your concern.’

So how do you create a balance between craving and carving? What do you do when the scales tip?

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