Nov 18, 2007

Walk your way around the Writer's Block

It is more common than I originally thought it would be. The malaise affects us all who pick up the pen or tap the keys to write something. I also thought that writer's block is just figment and nothing more. We write for pleasure and it's as natural as breathing for most of us. We don't suffer from breath block or fun why should their be a 'writer's block'. The only thing I know I suffer from is verbal diarrhea. I know that I can wake up on a Sunday morning and start tapping on my keyboard just for the pleasure of writing. So I guess I thought myself totally immunized to the so-called block. I was a bit off the mark. Just a few days into my content writing freelance career, I was struck down by this malady. I could put something on the screen no doubt, but it was all incomprehensible. It didn't make sense at all to me. I loved writing. How could I not string together my thoughts into a sentence of words! A bit fazed, I started to a bit of research into the reasons and the cure for this which had laid low my pen-chant (pun intended) for writing.

I guess writer's block happens because we,

i) Run out of ideas...
ii) Don't feel inspired or motivated other words get a case of the writing blues.
iii) Just cannot string together our thoughts and ideas into words.

Their is surely no magic pill. But their are lots of tiny things we all can do. Of course what works for me when caught in a rut might not be what works for you. A cup of tea sometimes for someone else's case it could be a bout of boxing! But the important thing is we all can find out an activity or a combination of activities that take us out of the rut.
For me at least, I found out this prescription,

1. I take long walks just to unclog my brain. Sometimes just observing other people around us makes me think of something new to write about or allows the old ideas to reshape.

2. Every morning for this blog I think aloud, what is one topic which if I write about would advance me somewhere. It could be an article on learning something new, some new inspiration or something just to increase my fun quotient.

3. I try to read a lot. When I can't write for my life, I just pick up a book or go on the net to read something. I always have found that some quality input often acts as a catalyst for some output.

4. I maintain an ideas book. Its like a scrap book, filled with top of the head ideas to write about.

5. I try to just think about the title of a particular piece and carry on from their.

6. Sometimes on a piece of paper, I scribble everything that is going through my mind...its like doodling with words, half of it is pretty non-sensical but it works to clear up the clogged channels of the mind.

7. Just write 5 lines. I take it by the numbers. 5 lines or sentences don't take much out us. As in all things, the first steps are the hardest, then its all Newton’s law of momentum.

8. Sometimes just chilling out is the best solution. As they say, take a break.

These are not complete solutions by themselves but they do help me to break the idling of my brain and give it a jumpstart. Do comment on ways you use to break free from your version of 'writer's block'.

Nov 17, 2007

The Power of the 101 List

I don't exactly recollect where I first heard about this. But to me it sounded quite interesting. Think about this...

If you knew that whatever you could wish for would come true in your lifetime what wishes would you make? Their must be an entire treasure trove of wishes you would like to go for. Call this is a Mega List for you life. God has given all of us our own personal calendars. With our years, days and hours page marked. Instead of making minute lists of mundane activities why not create a super dream list. As we go about our lives I have realized that micromanaging each day sometimes makes me lose out on 'LIFE'...with a capital 'L'. Instead of micromanaging I have put the milestones I want to achieve in the form of the Super List of 101. The 101 things I want to do before I die. Theirs a quite finality about that title. My own personal list is populated with 'dreams' from the trivial to the arcane. Things like just learning technical writing to the adventurous sport of bungee jumping. I want to travel to Antarctica at least once. Want to learn the harmonica. Want to just play cricket again. Or just buy a good book a month. Oh yes! Writing a blog is certainly there too.
I haven't reached the figure of 101 yet, its just 50 at the last count...but I know that even if I achieve 25-30 of those wonder goals I would have made it for myself on the journey of life. I carry the list around with me in my wallet. Sometimes, I take it out and wonder about all the dreams I have put down on paper. It does give me a slight booster charge. I look forward to my time in dotage taking out this time worn list and striking out all that I have reached and hopefully surpassed. And I do hope I get to cross out my goal number 23: Bungee Jumping!

Nov 12, 2007

The Power of Lists

Their are shopping lists and then their are lists. Nothing but an ordered itemized account of items to do one at a time and then consigned to the dustbin. I used to believe that lists meant a series of infinite steps leading to a gradual headache. It took me some while to discover the 'power' of lists. And it was a serendipitous offshoot of my own procrastination through which I stumbled upon the benefits of lists. That is to say in simple enough words that I was damn lazy...and finally fed up of my own activity, I decided to accomplish tasks with a vengeance which was hitherto absent in my human make-up. The first list I 'created' included items ranging from cleaning my scooter to clipping my toenails. And it was rather long. I thought that if I could accomplish everything in a single day, it would be great. To my chagrin, I could follow the list only till the fourth item. At the end of the day, I was tired, pooped and thoroughly de-motivated. In short, I was back to square one.

Is their a method to creating a perfect list? Something which makes you accomplish more without making you feel like a rushing locomotive without brakes. I set out to find it. I did devise some means of my own along the way and it has brought me successes too. What I discovered was,

1. Put everything into perspective - Determine what exactly you want to do. What is important and what is less important. We only have 24 hours and 365 days. Putting everything in its proper frame helps us to de-clutter our mind after all their is only some things we can do in a day or a year. So pick the ones which are the most important for you. List them in no particular order. Just a random collection of items on a piece of paper. Next, rank them in order of priority. on and so forth. Remember the Pareto 80:20 rule - 80% of the results from any series of actions are caused by 20% of the actions themselves.

2. Visualize - Imagine how completing the tasks would benefit you. Creating a list involves two things, first effectively creating a list itself and secondly 'motivating' oneself to go through the list in a day. Take it like a movie in reverse, from the ending to the beginning. How would you feel?

3. Create buffer time - Life is busy making its own plans while we are making ours. Each day throws hurdles in our path. An unscheduled meeting, a system crash or whatever. Build these 'potholes' into your list too. One way to do this is to create a short un-crowded list. If the 'potholes' don't come about you can always do something extra or reward yourself for finishing the day sooner...either way you win.

4. Make a short list - As I said earlier, start small, keep time for enjoyment. Keep the list simple. The direct benefit of a small manageable list is that you don't have to hurry through the day; you can focus on each task much better. And also keep yourself motivated. Remember, at the end of the day its not the list that is important but the items on that list.

5. Stay committed - Take it for the long haul. Even if you finish 60-70% of the tasks on the list, its a victory. How were you doing before you started on the lists? Better or worse? Are you doing the work in a better way now than before? Decide on these yourself. Fine tune the list according to your own requirements and abilities.

(I make an Excel sheet with the columns as days and the rows for each task. At the end of the day, I fill each cell against the task with yellow to signify -Task completed. Also keeping track of each day and week makes me aware whether I am improving or sliding down. )
Lists are like maps. They provide us with a direction to steer. Our own discipline and commitment are the oars by which we can give direction to our efforts. Lists again are personal tools. What works for me many not necessarily work for you.
(I make an Excel sheet with the columns as days and the rows for each task. At the end of the day, I fill each cell against the task with yellow to signify -Task completed. Also keeping track of each day and week makes me aware whether I am improving or sliding down. )
But all of us have a finite number of seconds a day, and finally a list is about managing those seconds and having a good time doing it .So work on it and try again and...develop your own method to tackle the 'madness'.

Nov 7, 2007

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Max EhrmannThis entry is for a poem I just discovered. I discovered it at the back of a picture post card. I looked up the meaning of 'Desiderata'. It signifies - Something desired as a necessity. The poem touched my heart and reminded me of another similar equally inspiring piece of work - 'If' by Rudyard Kipling. Sometimes it’s quite wondrous to discover the story behind such works. Works which have endured are treasures of wisdom and beauty. I wonder how I 'discovered' this so late...but I am thankful I did.
A pure heartedly simple poem. The legend behind its origin is ambiguous, but their is no faulting the writer's purpose. This apparently simple piece of penmanship remains as relevant as it was decades ago. Perhaps more so...because the strife of society is more pertinent for us today. The writer appears to be a master of apposite and evocative thoughts. Without being excessively preachy, the poem could serve as a mirror to our soul and a map for our actions. ( Go placidly amid the noise and haste,and remember what peace there may be in silence...) It tells us to be always happy amidst the chaos of life ( With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world...)

Spare a few moments for this poem, and leave a comment if you share a similar view as mine. Perhaps you know of some other similar inspiring work?


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Nov 6, 2007

Improve Relationships - Ctrl+Alt+Del your Email for a Day

I have about 42 email id's in my contact list, a few more in my favorite social networking website. A large circle of friends one can say. I have had many conversations with them over the years. Some sober and some filled with laughs. Only, I don't remember when I saw them last. The keyboard has been my mouthpiece, the email and chat my means of dialogue. I have cracked a joke and shared a laugh...and I couldn’t have done it without those emoticons. Of those on the list, a select few are the very close friends. Friends with whom I went miles for a tête-à-tête and a guffaw. Today, its just a handshake across the cyberspace. Of course, I believe our relationship is still going strong but gradually battered by the daily grind it is losing the warmth which is makes a relationship special. All of us confined to our cubicles, staring at a 14 inch plastic cube are losing touch with those who made our yesterday's special. Their might be six degrees of separation between me and another but the degree right now seems rather wide. It is true for me and I have a feeling its true for a lot of others too.

It dawned on me that I answer about 25-30 emails on an average every day. Single line replies, cc's and forwards. I share information at the speed of thought but do I manage to share my feelings with the same alacrity. Is it a paradox that technology is creating more spaces rather than bridging them? I put a lot of thought into this.
I put together the following action steps which I hope benefits you as it did me.

1. We have Friendship Day. Why not have Friendship Days - Any time is a good time to catch up with old friends and acquaintances.

2. Realize that an email or a chat session is non verbal - A phone call is infinitely better. Nothing has replaced the sound of human voice so far.

3. Sms’s are all too impersonal - Use the latest means of communication for your benefit but do not be a slave to it.

4. Keep reminders for all birthdays and anniversaries - They are nice times to reestablish contact and break the ice. The latest mobiles have reminder functions. Their are websites like or your mail client which can give you advance notice of any due date.

5. Share time - Schedule time for a conversation or a meeting. A face to face meeting with a friend is a wonderful stress buster.

6. Stay away from the send button of your email for a day - Instead, talk on the phone...make your voice heard. Cross the road to meet someone.

7. Be friends with your postman again - Get back into the habit of sending cards rather than those pesky e-cards. I still have all the cards I have received. It's an effort but give the special occasion your caring touch.

8. Share the moments - Always inform your friends of any special moment in your life. Be it marriage, birth of a child or even a second honeymoon.

9. Have your cup of joy - Meet-up over the weekends. Take your family along. Go for a movie or schedule a picnic.

10. Stay logged on - Relationships need work. Good relationships are the result of consistent, time worn habits. Treat good times and bad times with equal measure.

Nov 5, 2007

Have a True Friendship Day

Let me confess that I am a 'Net Junkie'. This is a confession born out of hours spent in the virtual world, trawling the cyberspace. My idea of a birthday wish is an e-card or a SMS. More often than not its the same one I had sent last year. I have a couple of friends, living practically next door. The window through which I carry out a conversation with them is not made of glass and wood...but it was made by someone called Bill Gates. This habit carries on with my other friends too. My 'social interaction' is limited to the confines of my office. It mostly happens near the loo or the coffee machine and lasts exactly for one cup of coffee...then its back to the grind.
This story could be remindful in most of our lives. We spend most of our walking and waking hours consumed by the rat race, racing from one deadline to the other. The ones 'unlucky' to be married share a worse fate with the added responsibilities. It's the life of the fast and the furious. Their is hardly any time to pause and smell the roses.
Today, we build bridges...but the chasm between people has grown. TV and cable bring the world into our living rooms, but we don't know the first name of our next door neighbor. Social networking in the digital age is synonymic with Orkut. A feeling is an emoticon. Being in touch means SMS's and mail forwards. The advance of the net and telecommunications with cell phones, sms's, chats, emails, video chat should have given us more time for our leisure pursuits but it has become a fact that we are doing more and more in less and less.

Awareness dawned on me a few days back when I dug out an old scrapbook from my footlocker. Some of us might remember them as those decorated thin notebooks we used during our school leaving days to collect the 'What U Think of me' and 'What do U think about our friendship' scraps of thoughts from our friends. As I dusted it off, I wondered, how long it has been since I had caught up with my old friends. These were the very friends who had made my 'wonder years' possible. Some of them existed, yes, but more as IM nicknames rather than flesh and bones. Today I knew them more from their online avatars.

A resolution was thus born in me. I decided that I had spent a considerable part of my life forming deep friendships with most of them. It was an investment in time, love, memories and pocket money. I just couldn't let it flow under the bridge like that. I had some catching up to do.

And so it started...

I fixed a day on the weekends. Shut down my computer, closed my doors...dialed their numbers...and started talking. It caught on like fire and the links of friendships started joining once again. I can tell you that by the end of all our tête-à-têtes, I was a content man. We had caught up old times shared. Had a few laughs. Committed to meet up next weekend. Finally it felt like old times.

Oh, yes! I did return to my social networking site. But this time to make a friends circle with all my friends. Just to cut down on the distances. That is our permanent scrapbook.

An emoticon can never replace a smile. The sound of a heart laugh sounds so more enjoyable when you just have space separating you rather than a telephone line. We have 8760 hours in a year. Spending a few of them in the real world with friends is always time well spent.