Monday, 8 May 2017

Writing or Writhing?

When I was asked to do a session on 'Writing for Print Media' I was wondering what should I focus on. My long journey as a writer for the past 30 years seemed far too varied to compress in 90 minutes. When I stepped into the classroom at PES college, Ponda, Goa, I opted for the grass roots approach.

I had just wrapped up the corrections for the compulsory English paper for the undergraduate course. Apart from the numerous creative spellings I encountered the one that leaped out of the answer sheet was 'writhing' for 'writing.' I felt this was an apt topic for the day -- considering the apathy of some of my students towards the act.

Breaking the tyranny of the formation of  a lecture hall, we all rearranged the chairs in a circle as in a creative writing class. Then I placed a handbag of one of the student on a chair in the centre and asked them to write about the bag. Later I asked them to imagine that they were the bag, and to write from the bag's point of view. We made some headway with this. I asked each student to read what they had written, for a writer needed to have the capacity to share his/her work.

As they read in their hesitating way, I picked up finer points which could be improved upon. These included, the omission of the definite article; the inability to end a paragraph successfully; cliched expression, imagery (one person compared the lines on the bag to a tiger's stripes); and the importance of a good opening line. We then had an open and free discussion on all the samples we had read together. Many students came to understand why some writing was more effective than the others.

After this we moved to a deeper level about what makes a writer write. Where does one get the matter to write about? Does it matter if you are an Arts / Science / Commerce student? As long as you could empathize with the sadness of someone else there was plenty to write about. A writer is a humanist. I shared my experience of how at the time of supervising students for an exam, one of the students looked flustered. When I spoke to her kindly, she shared with me later that her father had passed away recently. Writers have a duty to write about society and its malaise. This girl's father died because he took to drinking after his brother cheated him off his property.

Does a writer write for himself/herself or should the write keep his/her audience in mind? This was the subject of a debate. We divided the students into two groups and many views were put forth.

To round up the session I gave the students a tour of my published work displaying samples from my collection over the years. Writing has morphed into the digital space, and one can have a global readership through blogging. But to be a writer who is read one has to have diligence, discipline and daring. Daring because you need to be bold enough to write about topics no one has written before. Only in this way can you develop your original style.

Translation was another area one could explore. Learning a new language would help to access another culture and offer more subjects to write about. We ended with a plea to preserve the impetus of the students by starting a WhatsApp group to share the writing of the interested students.
Pix of Dr. Brian Mendonca conducting a session on 'Writing for Print Media' at PES college, Ponda, on 27 April 2017. Ms. Jasmine Kurien, Faculty, Department of English, PES College, Ponda looks on.

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