My Struggles With Brevity

I love to write.

I love to write a lot……Unfortunately.

I don’t remember how old I was when my mother, an English teacher, told me that I should always while writing answers in a literature paper take it for granted that the examiner knows nothing. Explain everything. Provide as much context as possible.

I don’t think even she realized the widespread repercussions her words would have, but since then my answers in the examinations, especially my literature paper, have just grown in size. The smallest answer I ever wrote for an English literature paper was three-quarters of an A4 size sheet! A close friend joked that if I had written the entire Shakespeare play verbatim in the answer sheet my answer would probably be shorter. It wasn’t even that big an exaggeration. For one exam, I remember taking 11 supplements or extra sheets, after finishing the initial 12-page booklet. I would probably have written more, but I was running a mild temperature  that day. The same friend joked, that next year our juniors could probably just bind my answer papers and read it instead of the textbook. It never hurt me however. In my final Literature exam at the end of high school, I wrote more than forty pages and scored 99 out of 100.

Verbosity has always been a loving friend to me. My essays in middle school used to be six-seven pages long, and I would only stop writing, once the final bell had rung, and my teacher had more often than not literally snatched the paper away from me. Writing till the last possible second is a habit I am yet to curb, during exams.

I remember one glorious day in tenth grade when all our lectures had been cancelled  due to some emergency teacher’s meeting, but unwilling to leave us all free for the rest of the day, our teacher had asked us to write a story on the topic ‘I wish I had wings…’ Unsurprisingly, no one in the class did…except me. When in the last period, our teacher came to collect the essays she found that no one had written anything, and the one who had was unwilling to give it. I had written ten pages, but I did not want to submit it yet. I told so to my teacher. Surprised, she urged me to tell her why. After a little pushing, I confessed that I had yet to finish my story….or to begin it one could also say. You see my plot was simple: a young village girl dreams of flying and on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus gifts her the ability to fly, and what she does after that. When my teacher came to collect the stories, I had only written till the part where she dreams of flying, and even Santa Claus’s grand entry was yet to be made. After I had explained this to my teacher, she was speechless for a second, and then groaned, “Archita, you shall be the death of me! Please, please don’t do something like this in your Board examination!” She was afraid I would waste so much time on that one question that I would not have enough time left to finish the rest of the paper. Despite her warning, my essay in my tenth board exams nearly reached twenty pages, but I made sure that I finished the rest of my paper beforehand. Yet this was the first time that I realized that as much as I loved my verbose style of writing with grandiose descriptions, brevity has its own charm.

Since then, I have trimmed my style a lot. I write my answers in bullet points, and try to be as concise as possible…at least in academic examinations. But at home with a pen and a sheet of blank paper in front of me – I run wild. My journals are filled with pages and pages of the day’s account in excruciatingly precise details (this year, I have already finished two 400 page journals. Last year, I used up 3 notebooks as my diaries). My ultimate dream is to write a diary entry so intricately detailed that when I open my journal, ten years from now, I can experience all that I am experienced a decade back with the same intensity that I felt then. Needless to say, I haven’t yet been successful in my attempt, but I am trying hard. I write in as much detail as Time and Memory would permit.

For me, words are the path to immortality. Maybe when I am 80 years old, I shall flip through the yellowed pages of my youth, and through the faded blue scribbles relive once again the forgotten past – laugh at the old jokes, chuckle at a daring prank, fondly remember forgotten friends, and for one moment someday the lines between the Past and the Present would blur. 

My verbosity is well known among my peer groups. My friends might tease me, but I am also pretty much in demand. Whenever someone has an important essay to write, they seek my advice. Sometimes before a literature exam, I have had to turn my phone off, so that I could ward off advice-seekers and study. For friends’ birthdays, I don’t have to waste a lot of time looking for the perfect gift. I usually give my friends a book (usually a personal favorite) with a personalized message inside. For some I might even write a poem, and those few scribbled lines alone often overshadow any extravagant gift anyone else might have bought 😛 On the last day of middle school, I was the one everyone wanted to have their slam books filled by. I remember, a girl with whom I had throughout my school life barely ever seen eye to eye with came up to me with her slam book, handed it to me, and said hesitatingly, “Write something good, ok?” 

Yet as much as I love verbosity, I do believe that brevity has its own utility. Sometimes the lesser you write, the better it is. I love reading and occasionally writing Flash Fiction.

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Earnest Hemingway’s six-word story, written as part of a bet, is according to me more poignant than dozens of thick volumes of tragedy taken together. It is one of my favourite works in literature. The story leaves you wanting more, like any good short story should. You yearn to know more about the individuals who published this notice, but you can’t, and that’s when your brain start filling in the blank space underneath the words. You imagine the pain, the angst of the dead child’s parents. You question yourself is the child really dead? Was it a miscarriage? An abortion? Was she kidnapped? You try to imagine the mother’s pain, the pale face of the father …and the story stays with you, because it has, through its brevity transcended the world of fiction and entered the sphere of reality.

Someday I would love to gain that much mastery over the elusive skill of brevity. But never at the cost of losing my verbose style!

Today’s Daily Prompt: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal          Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

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Words of Wisdom #1

Don’t invent sufferings which you have not experienced… A lie in a story is a hundred times more boring than in a conversation.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Russian Author)
I am not in the habit to preach. People usually learn best from experience, and they rarely value sermons. But this quote by Chekov is a gem of an advice to any individual anywhere who dreams of becoming a writer.
Write of what you have experienced, and you can never go wrong. It’s a personal philosophy that has rarely failed me.

The Fussy Writer

I am a fussy writer. One of the fussiest you may ever have the bad fortune of meeting.

For one, I can’t write if there are people around me. I am paranoid about people looking at my works, before they are done. The unedited, raw first draft contains too much of me — it contains raw emotions, disjointed words, melodramatic and verbose phrases, and loads of scribbled over lines. Letting someone see it is like letting them see me naked. Confession: It makes me feel vulnerable.

So, writing with anyone in a two-hand distance of me is out. I spend too much time looking over my shoulder, making sure they are not peeping (even if they are not remotely interested in my work, and would really appreciate it if the constant drone of the keyboard or the scribbling, scratching nib stopped). Though I am trying to get over this pet aversion of mine, there is another fussy habit of mine that probably causes more annoyance to people, especially my family.

I can’t write with the T.V. on. I can’t write if someone is talking on the phone near me. I can’t write if someone is listening to music near me. I can’t write if there is any kind of noise around me. I need a perfectly quiet, serene environment, that is nearly impossible to achieve in a suburban family apartment.

After years of tantrums, tears and me acting the misunderstood creative genius — my family lost patience.

They bought me a laptop, and locked me in my bedroom, where I can scribble in peace, and type away to glory. 

 

The Room of Requirement

Today’s Daily Prompt: An extra room has magically been added to your home overnight. The catch: if you add more than three items to it, it disappears. How do you use it?

My own room!! Oh yay!! Been waiting for that for so long. 

Hmm…only 3 items are allowed :\ Ah, that’s okay, we will manage. All I need is:

  1. My Laptop with a Good Strong Wi-Fi Connection: So that I can type away to my heart’s content, update my blog posts, chat with friends, download e-books, watch films and videos. 
  2. My Diary: As much as I love the rhythm of my keyboard, it really can’t compare with the magical melody of my pen’s nib scratching against the blank white paper, leaving beautiful inky designs behind. Looking at a blank white page in my diary always gives me an adrenaline rush – if you keep a diary too, maybe you can empathize. A blank white paper today will be stained and etched with my heart’s dearest secrets tomorrow. Events I can’t even imagine today is already destined to be etched onto that page in the future. How can one not find that exciting?! 
  3. My Mp3 Player: My third love (after reading and writing) is music, so having my mp3 player with me at all times is a must. In this room, my own secret lair, I can blare my favourite songs at the maximum possible volume, and maybe even sing along (I hope the room comes with soundproof walls 😉 )

There my Room of Requirement is designed. Now, where is that extra room??????

Writing A Blog….

writing-centerI will Write! I decided, and with great determination opened my computer. The ‘new post’ page loads and there is no sound in the room except the whirring of the ceiling fan, and the soft crackle of the newspapers in the wind – no sound, NONE – not even the fantastic one of brain gears clicking and churning to produce an idea, that blossoms into a story.

‘Text’ I click on the dialogue box, and a sterile white box opens – waiting, waiting for my words…..as I wait for them to come, to descend like invisible moths into my brain, and help me write. For I want to Write. But nothing comes, and in desperation I open up the daily prompt ‘Shake it Up‘ write about your birthday from when you were 12. Ah! what a nice idea! I will write on this.

I re-open the page. The white box stares at me expectantly. When I was 12 years old….nothing comes to mind, except the image of my mother, my mother in the kitchen cooking for us, my mother waking me up with kisses – my mother who is right now at a hospital, battling for life from hyperglycemia.

mother-and-daughter-1Writing for me is therapy, and so I want to Write, but nothing really comes to my mind. When I think of my 12th birthday, at present it is only my mother who comes to my mind, saturating all my memories, with a heavy sweetness. My taste buds yearn for the taste of the dishes she cooked for me on my birthday, all my birthdays – pulav, prawn curry and chilli chicken. And for desert – caramel pudding and rice kheer. Always! At every birthday, she would be the first person to get up and visit the temple to thank God and pray for my health. Then come back, wrap up my presents – and wake me up to her own rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. The whole day she would be busy in the kitchen, in the dreadful heat, cooking up dishes whose fragrance dragged me and my sister to the kitchen door, where we would linger, watching her work. My nostrils ache for that fragrance now. In the evening we would go to my grandmother’s house for dinner, and it would be late by the time we returned. I remember how on our way back I would put my head in her lap, drowsy and half nodding off, and watch from this position the vast blue sky above with twinkling stars, interspersed by tree leaves and street lamps, while she gently patted me to Dreamland – this image always evokes in my mind a sense of safety and security that I cannot find now. I long for it now. I long for the comfort of her hug, the warmth of her arms, the promise of hope and security in her kiss, that could in an instant cure anything – from bruises to heartbreaks. I remember her pushing me on the creaky old iron swing in the park, I remember her holding my hand tight in the crowded roads, I remember her patting me to sleep, and I remember her hugging me tight when I woke up in tears after a nightmare; and later when these nightmares became real in the form of school bullies and cruel taunts.

I want to write, but it is only my teardrops that fall on the keyboard – and they craft their own song of nostalgia, of undying love and of Hope.

Daily Prompt: Shake it Up