Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Strength in Adversity

This is from a post that I wrote on another blog. It has to do with a three step technique that I used to overcome a blog writing obstacle.  My reason for reposting this here is because it addresses the basic problem of our inability to see obstacles as opportunities. Let me not take up your time, and leave you to read the post.


True - this is not a saying you can identify with when you are getting the thick end of the stick every time you pick one up, yet, this simple maxim is what differentiates true success from the pseudo ones that stand tall only to crumble as life works away at the foundations built on vanity and self obsession. The secret trick here lies in being able to learn to not just swallow one's pride but to be able to turn it into good medicine. I was fortunate to have the opportunity of learning this recently.

When Mr. Han in Karate Kid says, Life will knock us down, but we can choose whether or not to stand back up, there is a lesson for each one of us to learn. I have been having a month of anniversaries this month, almost all of them of knock-me-down type of events. The universe has its own peculiar sense of irony, and it teaches you those lessons best (and hardest) that you need to learn the most. The greatest downfall of man (and woman) comes from arrogance, from taking one's gifts for granted, and from believing that one is above the law of cause and effect.

It is a mere five months since I ventured into creating a life different from the one I have lived so far, a life centered around using my gifts of creativity - writing, painting, and teaching - to generate value for myself and others. It has not been easy, since I have been dulled into the securities and complacence that came from my earlier way of living. I set out with determination, focusing my attention on my goal, crafting my work with all my energy, refining my communication, testing my presentation and my content over and over. For someone attempting to make a fresh start at this point in my life, I was satisfied with the halting progress and acceptance that accrued from my efforts. With an unenviable set of challenges facing me, I was perhaps sufficiently distracted to be disappointed.

In the last week, however, I was faced with criticism that I was not prepared for. An editor who had been discussing a guest article by me refused to publish my submissions on the grounds that my sentence construction was not up to the mark, and that my grammar was poor. My first reaction, just like if you've been told that you have a terminal illness, was to laugh. I am quite aware of my poor sentence construction, since I myself am often challenged to figure out what I was trying to say when I come back and read something I wrote some months back. And grammar is what keeps language on a steady course to extinction, in my opinion. All of a sudden, the struggles of the last six years paled into insignificance. To me, with my confidence in my writing skills, this was worse than dowry, divorce or death. Life had not just knocked me down, but knocked me down with the kind of penlight that CSI agents enter dark houses with.

However, as the truth of the situation set in, I asked myself how I could stand back up. On one hand, I felt defeated and useless, and on the other, I felt justifiable anger at not having been understood and appreciated. I spent a day in the doldrums, and the next in deeper doldrums. On the third day, I woke up and made a resolution to use this experience as a springboard for greater success. This post is to share with you how I was able to turn my adversity into my strength.

My first step to stand back up was to take a reality check.

I first went back and looked at my submission. True to my style, it was full of sentences that meandered painfully between adverbial clauses and double negatives. I also used far too many words to express ideas that could have been expressed in half the number of words. Looking at the articles this editor typically hosted, I noticed there was never a variance from the tested blog-post kind of formula, a tight 150 word opening, a bullet-pointed development, and a closure that tied into the key points of the intro. Economy of the highest order. There was no way I could deny that I had been negligent of what was expected of me by the general reading public to whom my personal style was of no inherent value.

My next step was to reset my goals.

I read back on every instance I could find of tortuous sentences and verbiosity. I subjected each instance to the test of whether I could have presented it more effectively, simply, and in fewer words. In some instances, I indeed could have, though it would have made me sound more like a personal development blogger trying to build a silo of lookalike content. I asked myself if I was ready to adapt to the conventions that everyone was expected to adhere to? Was I willing to sacrifice my voice for the sake of readership? Was I ready to say more in less number of words to accommodate the attention span of the nexting generation? What I realized at the end of this searching and fearless writing style audit was that, in order to reach out to a larger readership, I needed to find a balance between my voice, and the reading trends of the present day. I also realized that if I were to abandon my voice, I would not really be able to say what I had to say with the same intensity and conviction.

I decided to mentally segregate the act of writing into two streams,
1. a stream where I would need to train myself to toe the line of attention-deficit reading without losing my voice, and
2. the other where I would need to continuously enrich my style without diluting substance.

My third and last step was to put it into action.

I rewrote by submission in the light of my fresh determination. I allowed contemporary reading trends to hold the rudder of my boat while I let my style make the ride a richer one. I went back and proofread what I wrote, taking care to prune down wherever I could without making myself sound like Sylvester Stallone. I tested every sentence as if I were editing someone else's writing. Once I was satisfied, I brewed myself another cup of Upper Fagu second flush from last year, and sat and watched the pigeons squabble over who gets to strut their mojo first. Then I went back to my submission and repeated the process all over again. At the end of this second redrafting, I was left with a piece that sounded just like me, and would interest all  readers with adversities seeking to turn them into strengths. I finished my tea and hit the publish button. And you have just finished reading it now!

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