The last workshop I attended was a Mine and Movement Workshop organized in college. Those who know me know how many donkey years ago it was. There is a reason why the word ‘workshop’ makes me run in the opposite direction. My mind, with the concentration span of a drunk dragonfly, is not cut-out for prolonged hours of patience, obedience and learning. Biologically too, my body craves movement post-breakfast and a slowing down post-lunch. A workshop, typically, forces you to reverse that pattern. All activities that need joules and ergs and calories happen the moment food forces sweet slumber into our eyes.
So, when Kanchana Bannerjee and Kiran Chaturvedi of Write and Beyond asked me to participate in a day-long writing workshop, truth be told both my mind and my body protested. I will have to sit in one place pre-lunch and keep the energy from anda bhurji bottled up while after a sumptuous meal and generous doses of wine I will be asked to write, read, share and get critiqued. To top it all, it’s a Sunday – a day God deemed holy enough to not ‘work’, but only ‘shop’!
However, I went, because two dear friends were inviting me – Kanchana and Writing.
A round of hellos was done and we were at the brink of beginning when these handles right behind the speakers took it upon themselves to distract me. A magical deer party in the cupboard gone out of hand or a gaming party’s loot being put to use? Too much to begin with so I panned to the bottles of wine. I tell you, one of them did wave and say ‘Pick me now!’ I did not then, because a sweet voice had begun to welcome us. Once she was finished I no longer found time to play silly with my own thoughts. There was much else that was planned!
Kiran Chaturvedi, versed in the psychology of writing, took us through an exercise to relax our minds. A sort of letting go of all thoughts which may have followed us there, say of babies and daddies, pending deadlines and bosses, cupboards and their handles too. Whereas so many of us write when we are brimming with stories, never before did I realize how important an empty mind is for clarity of thought in writing. To be in touch with ourselves is to be in touch with the stories waiting to be told through our pens. We opened our eyes to find a box full of objects which smelled unique. ‘Pick any one, smell it and write for 5 minutes about what it evoked in your head’, Kiran announced to the tune of lovely music. Tempted as I was to pocket the Body Shop shampoo and the Khadi soap, all such banal thoughts lay forgotten when everyone starting reading out their handwritten words, as I did mine with immense self-consciousness.
13 different strokes by 13 different people!
A kind of shared-writing exercise with people you have never met before but who are ready to put down their most private of thoughts on the table before you in the form of a few paragraphs - for catharsis, feedback or both. The spontaneity was both challenging and revealing about us as writers. Similar time-bound exercises around common prompts with feedback from more experienced people helped me calm my misgivings about my writing while brought to the fore strengths which I never thought existed. Needless to say, my mind no longer found any reasons to wander, except when we broke for tea and I couldn’t stop admiring the biscuit which looked like a chess-board. Delicious it was!
Kanchana’s session was what can be called ‘experience speaking’. With a publisher-ready manuscript polished and proudly adorning her desk, Kanchana is fresh from the oven! Touching on important aspects of fiction writing like Characterisation, Time and Narration and Tension (which I had no clue about!), she put before us some simple rules of writing which are oft-forgotten. For vainglorious writers like me who fall in love with their own words enough to ramble on, her tips were manna from Heaven, and great accompaniments to the red wine in the glass before me.
By now we were in a room-full of back-slapping camaraderie and I wished I was in my jeans. The formality of chanderi suddenly seemed so unnecessary!
What is indispensably necessary for those of us who dream of our name on book covers is interaction with those who have reached their milestone. Devapriya Roy, with two published books to her credit, began her session with simple introductions. While we spoke about ourselves she drew out the silk to note it down on the white board – our reasons for writing, with a book recommendation ready on her lips. ‘Show up, show up, show up at your desk, and the muse will show up too’ and ‘Write, but please read, read and read. A lot!’ are additions to the post-its I love sticking on the fridge. In touch with classics as much as with her contemporaries, Devapriya’s session helped me realize why ‘literary’ is not a bad word just because it doesn’t read ‘popular’ and why ‘form’ is an important aspect for maturity of writing. I felt delighted to know that blogging would no longer make me turn my back to the genre of my liking. This time, I had a huge sip of the wine. After all, I got saved from turning an infidel!
Satyarth Nayak, published recently, came to tell us about those we cannot do with, or without. No, I don’t mean husbands. I mean Agents and Publishers. I use them as proper nouns here for their might and say I was made to understand through Satyarth’s own publishing journey. If patience paid then a manuscript submitted to the publisher would make you a millionaire even before your book is out. Satyarth’s session, though not of immediate relevance to me, made me understand the historic war between “market-driven” and “artistic freedom” that so many manuscripts have to face. He had to chop his to 1/3rd its original size. Thankfully, he did not omit the enigmatically done fight scene he read from his book ‘The Emperor’s Riddles’. Except, I can never look at an eye ball the same way!
The workshop ended with a long writing session on randomly given prompts. The best thing? Everyone wrote. The authors, the mentors and us participants because somewhere those lines had been erased and it had become one big group of writers forever learning. Each write-up was patiently critiqued by the published authors and we were helped in arriving at our niches. To have someone erudite enough paying so much attention to my scribblings is something that is not easy to come by, and neither is such good writing company.
I cannot thank 'Write and Beyond' enough for a Sunday spent so wonderfully!
|Kiran and Kanchana
PS - On the way out I did remember to check. The handles on the cupboard were not real antlers at all. They were crafted from wood. Just thought maybe you too, like me, were holding on to that imagery. We should why not! For who knows what best-selling stories can begin with exactly that thought? All we need to do is ‘show up’!