Chasing Rabbits

A place for my thoughts, important and unimportant. Just indulging myself. For my news blog, visit: http://bit.ly/1Xr1tgM

Category: General

Thoughts #2 On fear and loathing in Writing.

I have serious doubts about my capability as a journalist. I know for a fact that I’m not equipped and well-versed in all the skills and tools needed to be a competent 21st century, digital age journalist. I have to keep reminding myself that my competition is not the people I work with or will go on to work with in the future. I have to be up-to-date with the latest in news production technology and that is no easy feat. Every time I look at a good story done by a senior ACJ-alumni or by someone who’s in his late twenties, I start getting doubts about my caliber. Will I be able to write something like that? Can I produce such a detailed, engrossing multimedia story?

I think it is of paramount importance to know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are, especially your weaknesses, and the sense and grit to not get bogged down by your shortcomings. One should always try to identify exactly what the problems are and then work on them.

For example, every time, I begin typing a sentence, I’m worried that I’m going to produce a grammatically incorrect sentence. No, my grammar is not strong —  this is something I know. Even though, I have mostly been decent with my class assignments and my writing has been appreciated by my professors, I know the honest truth about myself — I suck. I suck in grammar. The question here is where do you set your standards. I read somewhere, in some ‘Top 10 Writers Tips’-like article that if nothing is coming off the pen when you start to write, then you are NOT a writer, because a true writer will always find something to write. Speaking for myself, I don’t think there has been an instant where I have not been able to write anything at all but more often than not, every once in a while, I get stuck while constructing a sentence. I don’t know how common this is with the best of writers in the world but I’m guessing not that common. To reach there, to reach that level of confidence and proficiency needs a lot of hard work, tenacity and patience.

One of my other big weaknesses is ‘editing’.

In J-School, in the first term, we were trained in editing raw news copy. An excellent news-editor during his time, Raghunathan, who had worked in The Hindu for years was our teacher. He was a brilliant teacher and during that term, I was a little better than mediocre in class assignments.

However, when second term came, our respective stream classes began. I was a New Media (Digital Media) student so I did not have Raghunathan as a teacher anymore. He was a Print Stream professor. With New Media’s singular focus on visual and interactive storytelling, where the “experience” is more important than the qualitative density of the text, our collective English writing skills deteriorated. New Media professors were good, definitely good, but they did not worry too much about our English writing. We did not have regular news-copy editing exercises in second and third time, like we used to have in first term, when all the streams would’ve common classes. At such, the Print students, in my opinion, are far ahead in the market than the average New Media student, when it comes to English writing and news editing. Individual talent notwithstanding, the average Print student is a better writer than the New Media student. Conversely, the average New Media student is more skilled in new media storytelling tools than the average Print student. So, one would say that the game is evenly balanced. But not, really.

There is a vast difference between learning to use an app and mastering a craft for which there is no shortcut. With an app, once you know the head and tail of it, all you need to do is put in data, and off the other end will come out info-graphics, charts, maps, and whatnot. When it comes to writing flawless news copy, or forget news copy, just plain, good ol’ English, you need practice. You need schooling. You need to get your ass handed to you when you make a mistake, brutally—something that used to happen with Print students—so that you don’t make that mistake again. You need hard fucking work!

So, for a New Media student, whose interest, and maybe even strength, lies in old-fashioned text-based journalism as against interactive new-media storytelling…such as myself…it is going to be a tough ride in the news business for him if he has to become a news writer worth his salt. I have no teacher now. My teacher is going to be the innumerable mistakes that I shall make in the newsroom while sub-editing. What scares me the most is that I’m joining a digital newsroom and if even there, there’s no one as good as Raghunathan to take my case whenever I fuck up, well…

Honestly speaking, I don’t know why good writing and visual storytelling have to be mutually exclusive. I think this notion goes back to Devadas Rajaram, one of our New Media professors.

Rajaram is an interesting cat. As HoD of New Media, he had revolutionized the stream with his cutting-edge ideas and his enthusiasm for the latest in storytelling technology. He was, in my opinion, a visionary and had he stayed in the college after first term, we—the New Media students—would have all benefited and we would, at least, I would perhaps be a little more confident today with my quality as a journalist. Rajaram was seen as radical by some, mad by some, and absolutely worthless by some, and the last “some” allegedly included a few professors of my college. Hearsay was that one of the reasons for him leaving was his animosity with a few Print professors. I hope that this animosity was entirely ideology-based and it is sad from a student’s point-of-view to think that talented people would secretly bicker among themselves. Anyway, I am digressing. One of the things Rajaram would regularly say with massive confidence was that “People have stopped reading! They don’t read anymore! The focus should be on visual storytelling, how to enrich your story. Text, you cut it down. Make it short. Enhance the story with multimedia” and so on.

Now, all that multimedia jazz is fine but “people have stopped reading” is an abominable reason, on the students’ part, to ignore his/her writing skills, and on the teachers’ part, to be relaxed on that aspect just because they are teaching New Media students.

Anyway, now I am out of J-School, and to look on the bright side, I have all the time and opportunity in the world to get better at what I want to do. I am not bound by curriculum anymore.

One more problem that I frequently face—also related to editing—is switching from being a news writer to a general prose writer and vice-versa depending on the situation. With news report writing, what you’re looking for is precision and brevity. You don’t use unnecessary adjectives or intensifiers. You can’t slyly squeeze in a wisecrack or an opinion in the news story. At least, that’s what we had been taught and that is also how I feel a news report should be — tight, hard and not an ounce of flab. However, when I am writing something, say, like this, I am often stuck at various points wondering what’s the right way to write it. Should I go for brevity or should I go for flourish? Mind you, brevity is also a symbol for good prose writing, not just news writing.

These are things that are going to perpetually haunt me, irritate me, drive me mad and make me insecure for as long as I am a student of the craft and I don’t think one ever stops being a student of the craft. That said, there’s obviously miles of difference between a 24-year old me who just graduated from J-school and a writer in his late twenties regularly publishing in ScrollThe Wire and Mountain Ink, when it comes to writing. Getting better at your game is a step-by-step process. I don’t know which step requires you to blog about it but since it’s writing, well…

Thoughts #1 On starting afresh as a blogger

For years, I have tried to be a consistent blogger. So far, I think I’ve had started and abandoned at least ten blogs, on various platforms including WordPress, Blogspot, Medium, and some other places my blogger friends would suggest as “really cool” and “much better than WordPress!”. The reasons behind switching platforms every time I started a new blog were mainly two:

1. Guilt — The feeling of starting a new blog on a platform where you already have one; one that you left high and dry, whose potential you overlooked selfishly before planning to write on all your new and exciting ideas in a fresh, better-looking blog, is unbearable.

2. Somehow, I used to feel that changing platforms would have some positive effect on my writing and determination to be consistent blogger. I have done this with diaries and notebooks too. There was a time, I’d take the excess diaries that my father would get during New Year, to “write”, and after writing some nonsense or doodling on the first ten pages, I’d move on to another diary/notebook ’cause the previous one was now contaminated — a glaring example of my inability to use a brand new hardbound diary for carefully penning down interesting ideas that’d eventually come together as fodder for the literary masterpiece I’d publish at 24, which’d get me a modest 20,000 likes (more than that means I’m too popular and a popular 24-year-old writer in India means “shit”) on my Facebook page, while intelligent girls from academia in DU and JNU would write me fan letters asking if I’m single.

Now, I cannot say for sure what this trait says about me. But I’m willing to  guess — and I’m willing because I have thought about this more than I should have — that it probably means I am fickle and/or an escapist. Throughout my years from school to college, my parents, along with my close friends, have always said that I am fickle and restless and unless I settle down in my head with what I want to do in life, I’ll never succeed.

Which is actually true. Now, as I write about this, I’m reminded of other examples, of being myself.

Since as far back as middle school, up till college, at the start of every session in every year, for the first month, I’d be super-diligent. I’d study every day; sometimes, even complete the next two chapters all by myself. I’d show off in class. I think after a point, my classmates realized that iska toh aisahi chalta hai and stopped giving me bhao, and without fail, within the end of first month or middle of second month, I’d be back to being my casual, slacker self. At times, for no apparent reason, I’d get excited by something that’d catch my fancy and I’d totally make up my mind to become a behemoth genius in that field, and that’d last for a month or two, tops. On that note, since the age of five, I’ve had plans to be — off the top of my head — (chronologically) painter, actor, scientist, singer, cricketer (preferably all-rounder, and a fast bowling one, because I liked Flintoff, Cairns and Kallis, and later when I realized I can’t run so much all the time, I chose to be a left-arm orthodox bowler), cricket commentator (when I realized I’m too fat, lazy and incompetent to play professional cricket), a WWE superstar (yes, judge me), a WWE commentator (Guess why?), a rockstar (preferably, singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboard player-mixer-arranger-and-producer. Oh and I’d write all lyrics too), a filmmaker (this is something that I’m still interested in and I always will be — more on this in later posts), a screenwriter, a copywriter (I was a copywriter professionally for a while), study MBA (I don’t know why I thought of that), a civil servant, and then finally, a journalist.

I think the only reason I stopped at “journalist” and actually stuck to it is because I’m too old to fool around with my career and my father’s money. Besides, it’s something, I feel, that comes easily to me. I like this trade and contrary to how I’d grumble in J-school regarding journalism being not my “thing”, now, I feel I can be good at this if I just focus and not jump around from one thing to another.

Which brings me to “blogging”. As you can see, I did blog here, at least thrice a month, on an average, in early 2015. If you notice, as the months progressed, the frequency of posts decreased and after April, I think, there has been no post. I think that should tell you a lot.

However, I plan to restart/reboot this blog. I already have a blog for my news pieces. That is something I have plans about. Or at least, I intend to have a plan about it ’cause if I don’t, there goes my career down the drain. As for this blog, I have no plans this time, honestly. No grand plans to win an Indiblogger award. As someone interested in wanting to improve his writing, the craft of it, to discover new, fresh ways to express myself through language, I’m going to use this blog as a writing exercise. So expect lots of nonsense and meaninglessness, if you come across this. There are chances you won’t because I will pass this blog’s URL to someone only when I want that person to read it. So here’s my first post in a long time. Hope, I’ll return here soon and write.

If not, this shall stand as a testament to my singular consistency in being, like my father says, boddo phickel minded!

Starting on Philosophy – Day 1

I have always wanted to study philosophy, both Western and Oriental. Mostly Western. I had Sociology as one of my additional subjects when I was in College. I absolutely hated the way it was taught, dreaded it, the teachers, the professors were awful, barring one or two. It was there where I came across a bit of Marx, a bit of Hegel, a Kant there, a Descartes here and so on. I had this fleeting wish to learn what these people wrote and what they were about more clearly, but never got down to it.

Or I would read a movie review and someone would call it “nihilistic” and “Nietzschean” which would make me google Nietzsche immediately, following it up with reading the first three pages of Beyond Good and Evil before getting bored. Thing is, I never took it seriously even though I wanted to. Regarding Oriental Philosophy, for reasons long, complicated and vague, I never really thought there was anything of value to the Gita and the Vedas and suchlike. I tried to read up a bit up on Buddhism while I was in college, then as usual, I got bored. Recently, I have been convinced by people wiser than me, that apparently, Oriental philosophy is older, far superior and richer than Western Philosophy.

So I finally decided that today’s going to be the day when I embark on a journey of reading up major philosophical texts, both Western and Oriental, in sequence (Western philosophy has to be read in sequence because each philosopher wrote in response to those that came before him. So if you randomly pick up Schopenhauer, you’ll end up nowhere), taking my time, making notes if necessary to understand the thinking of intelligent men and how they have helped the world progress, or not, perhaps a little better. Why today? Well, today’s a day as good as any and also I came upon this article in Existential Comics, where the comic writer talks about how he was unschooled in philosophy and what would be the best way to read on Western Philosophy if you have an interest in it but it’s not a part of your syllabus.

The first book in the list is Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes. The only thing I know about Descartes is that he said, “I think, therefore I am.” Anyway so I start today. Next up I’ll be talking about Descartes and what all I made of him and his writings.

On Facebook Debates

Facebook is bad place to express your views. Really. More often than not, it will lead you into a debate because of some asshole just like you, desperate to prove a point and very keen to come across as the rare ‘thinker’. Remember what Ramadhir Singh said – “Jaisa loha loha ko kaanta ta hai, waise chutiye chutiye ko marega na?” (The way iron cuts iron, similarly an idiot will take care of an idiot right?). Their idiocy will suck you right down a vortex of endless debating that the virtual onlookers i.e people who just accidentally came across your status and the ensuing comments, will merely glance over because they have a lot of other shit to glance over, AGAIN, just like you. To be honest, halfway down the line you have even stopped caring about the debate. You just want to go sweet talk that girl you have made fraandship with. Or maybe you want to check the funny collegehumor video that has finished buffering. But you can’t. Why? Because the chutiya is not letting you, or to be precise, the chutiya that is YOU is not letting yourself – you dug this grave on your own accord when you invited the friendly neighbourhood spirited Facebook debater to shit all over your timeline. I mean what constructive effect does Facebook debating have? The train of comments is not just an eyesore but it really ticks you and everyone else off, because remember, Facebook is a fun place to be in, for people to engage in fun (or at least, seemingly fun things to do) and that does not include debating over whether Al Pacino was better than Bob De Niro or why Modi shouldn’t be PM (This discussion I’m honestly tired of. Kill me now). If you want to debate about politics, do it on some political site. If it is about cinema, do it on IMDb, Mubi, etc. Comics – some comics site. Books – Goodreads or some such site. The internet is a nice place because it not only has something for everybody, it has a place for every chutiya to exercise his mental and verbal chutiyappa. Just don’t do it on Facebook. It’s not the place for discourse.

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