Sunday, July 17, 2011

What Can I do for 15 hours a day and still feel good?

A major turn in my career came when I asked myself many years ago what I should be doing for the rest of my life. The job I had was okay but I never saw jobs as 'mine', and though I think I did my jobs competently (and sometimes well enough to surprise my peers and bosses), I never had any ambitions of scaling the way to the top. So I flitted through.

When the above question came up I decided to do something I could drown myself in fully, passionately, in something that was 'mine'. So I decided to test my theory out if I was capable of drowning myself in things I thought I liked doing. Cricket was one thing, but I was past playing days to drown myself to the extent I liked. Writing was another, but I had no clue what to do and where to start. But I decided on writing, and in that one moment, graduated from writing long, rambling letters to anyone who cared to receive them and read them.

I went off from my job one day, gave myself four months, and started writing. Articles, small stories. Anything worth writing about. The only test for me was, would I be able to sustain my enjoyment even after working 12-15 hours a day for a month and more.

A small break, thanks to friends of mine who found this idea of writing interesting, and they found me a new newspaper that wanted long and rambling articles to fill space. I was perfect for the job - long and rambling articles were my forte. In a couple of weeks I was fortunate to see my name in print. That spurred me on. More articles, some for the paper and most for myself, mostly nonsensical and highly affected writing but the key was to write 12-15 hours. In four months I thought I found what I could do for the rest of my life. Writing 12 to 15 hour a day was no problem.

I loved the process. Capturing an idea as it flits past. Filing it away. Then writing the article or story based on the idea. Watching it take a life and shape of its own as I wrote, sometimes with no idea what was coming next. Most times many new ideas came inspired by some word or phrase and added substance to the skeleton, at times overshadowing the original idea itself. Sometimes serious articles became funny articles and funny articles became great tragedies.

But seeing the article get richer and finding the right words and lines as I edited and reedited gave great pleasure. Laughing at some of the lines, finding some flat. The stretching, cutting, adding, taking away, fitting the right piece, checking the flow, saving up the idea well and presenting it with a flourish was nice. I thought I could do it even if no one read those, just because the process was fun to me. Like some private workshop with words and ideas. I was no Shakespeare. Writing was hard work for me. Always has been. But I just loved the hard work. Articles, stories, series of them, poems too -that my boss Mr. Subaraman saw as too dark and depressing and advised me to keep away from.

The idea of writing a novel came much later. Until then the good writers intimidated me. Some bad ones came up and depressed me. But it was the really bad writing that Indian fiction churned up in the early years that started me off. If they could write such trash and get published, maybe so could I. Once that idea sat in my mind, the project took off with some definite purpose. Long lonely hours, ideas that started and fell flat, ideas that were too pretentious, ah it was fun those days of trying to find a story to write. It took me a long time to find a 'story' - my first was a vague collection of thoughts and events that I pieced together later.

It is the question that I think one should ask oneself. Would I do something for 12-15 hours a day and still enjoy the process of creation, of doing it, even if no one was watching and clapping and paying you me it? If the answer is yes, try it out for a definite period of time (like my four months). If the process draws you to it more than the fear of being stuck with the menhirs you have created, that is what you must do. Create the menhirs with great care for the rest of your life.

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