Over the last one year, I have taken a few online classes and been irregularly perusing books on fiction and non-fiction writing. Though the classes were a failure because of my aversion to homework and the books ineffective because of my inability to read without distraction, what I have realized is that the fundamental basics which these books espouse are lessons that should have been taught to me in school itself. You guys must be wondering, why a self-conceited prince of no man's land like your's truly will take a poke at himself. The reasons is that I found to my utter annoyance last year, that I had virtually no idea about those most basic voices used in writing that we all subconsciously utilize - the first person, second person and third person. Like every craft, writing also needs guidance and a little sprinkling of theory is needed for us to master it. Sadly the springboard for our lives, schools, have essentially failed in providing this critical ingredient to spur our writing ability - an ability which i believe is a valuable part of our personality development.
I went to a very good school, arguably among the best in Kerala, and how we like to believe, even in India. Yet, I can't remember a single instance of any English or Malayalam language teacher, giving us a lecture on what separates good writing from the bad or tips to improve our writing while they were adept at nitpicking on spelling and grammatical errors. The emphasis was always on grammar and vocabulary. I guess the blame mostly lies with the outdated syllabi we are all saddled with, which doesn't see writing as amongst the most important wheels in the creative process. A part of the blame could be apportioned to teachers who came up in another age, where the rigours of life had nipped out the last remaining bits of thinking out of the box and believed it is safer to stick to what works. Probably, another important factor is that these teachers are not equipped to talk to us about writing, as they themselves are unsure of their prowess as writers. Or it could be something as simple as lack of exposure to books on writing or something as complex as not having put in extra-academic thought about their own perspectives on writing through the books they studied or read.
Our writings were always called compositions. Even when we wrote a story on a fictitious incident, it was always called a composition. Using a term like "short story" for that budding piece of writing, would have given so much confidence to us. The English course was divided into English-I and English-II and same with Malayalam. English-II was fun from high school - we learnt Shakespeare, poetry and short stories in these classes. Similarly Malayalam-II had novels and until the 8th, short stories and a few poems we lapped up. English-I bored us - one period dedicated to grammar and another period to composition, comprehension or letter writing and the odd stab at precis writing, which though useful was considered to be of lesser value. Frequently teachers would use up the English-I period to finish English-II portions which always lagged, while a Malayalam-I period was a rarity! I can imagine the world of difference it would have made if English-I and Malayalam-I was more about us finding the writer in us. I also have doubts if any of us learnt grammar properly either, despite the importance given to it, because of its inherent dryness which bounced, right off our young restless selves sans imbibition.
Most of us learned to write, with some degree of comfort, thanks to the voracious reading appetite we had in those days, a result of the absence of distractions like the internet and cable tv. We were consciously and subconsciously inspired by the masters we read and to copy their styles, but the most frequent outlet to exercise our writing abilities was sadly only in examinations. Later came emails to friends or official ones at work and then came blogs. Writing for pleasure has continued in some form or the other for a lucky few, and as part of their profession for the rest. What we all continue to lack, is a better understanding of the craft. Some learn the finer points without guidance because these are mostly common sense principles, noticeable if people have thought, compared and contrasted theirs and others writing. Others fumble along blissfully without that self-realization. I for one, hope that schools take a hard look at the absence of well-rounded writing classes in their curriculum and the very real fact that writing is not just a natural or inborn ability but one that can be cultivated in every young mind through proper guidance.