THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #4.

THE DUALITY OF PAST AND FUTURE.

In continuation with my earlier blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of past and future in this blog. This duality is not obvious at the first sight, but it is a duality that shapes our lives, particularly our present. As mentioned earlier for the duality of good and bad, this duality is also a continuum. It is our awareness of present moment that gives rise to this duality of past and future. Strangely, present moment is a fleeting experience. In contrast, both, the past and future seem to exist permanently. Of course, we know a lot about past, but we are blind towards what future holds for us. This asymmetry between past and future is the foundation of the human angst. It is this angst that I would discuss in this blog.

All most of all of us are familiar with a strange feeling that we experience when we are conscious of the present moment and its transient and evanescent existence. This consciousness of a present moment happens when we experience acute emotions. What changes during that awareness is the type of emotions but not the acuity of emotions. In the moments of joy and happiness, we desperately want that present moment to last forever. Similarly, in the moments of agony and pain, we desperately wish to get over with that moment. However, what we fail to realise is that both these desires arise because our past and future dominate our present moments. The present moment, which philosophers call specious present, is without any emotional content. It is only because our past memories and future expectations colour this specious present differently that we react to it differently. This is the crux of the human predicament. We are torn between this duality of past and future and the duality of hope and fear.

The present moment, the specious present, has no emotional content of its own. It is we, or rather our subconscious mind, that impose the emotional content and meaning to this specious present. Therefore, our emotional experiences during the specious present are not absolute. They are manufactured by our subconscious mind. This possibility is so unnerving that instead, we choose to believe that these emotional experiences are absolute and struggle to make sense of our lives. Thus, the duality of past and future shape our lives without any one of us being aware of it.

There is one key difference between past and future that is not only stark but it plays heavily on our minds. The past, as we all know, is fixed and known to us. The future, on the other hand, is totally undetermined and unknown to us. Of course, those who believe in destiny, however insist that future, like past, is predetermined. Therefore, instead of discussing whether there is something like destiny, I would focus on the knowability of past and future. This is because I believe that our knowledge of our past and our ignorance of our future have a strong impact on our perception of the specious present.

The most common feature of our past is that it is unalterable. It seems to exist whether we like it or not. However, it is not same for our memory of our past. Our memories of our past are altered by the emotional state of our mind. Therefore, the way we recollect our past depends our emotional state during the specious present. As a result, not only our specious present is influenced by our past, but even our recollection of past is also influenced by the specious present. On a moment’s reflection, one would realise that this is a disturbing situation. One would never really know whether one’s conscious mind selects a memory of some past moment just to suit itself or our subconscious mind would throw up a memory of a past moment to fulfill its own desire. No matter which of these possibilities is true, it is clear that what we think to be certain is not that certain. Our past is not cast in stone, at least its recollection is not. Therefore when we decide what to do next, our specious present, together with the selective memories, influences our decision making without us being aware of it. This is insidious indeed. Our freedom to decide is really not a freedom in a true sense.

As if this is not enough, our ignorance about our future also contributes to our predicament. Since we don’t know what the future holds, we try to imagine what future could be. Rational part of our mind tries to work out various scenarios and then makes an assessment of what the most likely scenario would be. Accordingly, our mind acts during the specious present. This is a routine procedure that we follow without even being aware of it. However, since we don’t know what future would be, we depend on our past experiences and their memories to build these scenarios. Since the recollection of these memories, as mentioned above, is not in our control, we act according to the emotions that the selective recollection of memories have generated. As a result, when we act proactively to actualize the future that we wish for, our actions are already biased by our selective recollection of our past. Therefore, our actions in the specious present are biased by our emotions. Even when we feel that we are acting rationally, we are actually acting emotionally. This is because our emotions eliminate some of the rational choices that would otherwise be available to us. Thus, our so called rational behaviour is in reality, a partially rational behaviour which is restricted by our selective recollection of our past memories.

It seems reasonable to think that it would have been simpler if our future too could influence our specious present. In that case, at least we would have a better chance of success. However, Nature does not trust human nature, at least not totally. Therefore we have sometimes intuitions about what is going to happen in future. However, such intuitions are rare and we are left with an unfair consequences of our past interfering our specious present. It would be an ideal situation if we could live only in the present moment uninfluenced by our past and unafraid of our future. However, we would not be human any more. Our existence is characterised by our imperfections and our struggle to overcome them. Maybe God could stand outside the cycle of time and decide impartially. However, for us, we are destined to be governed by this asymmetry between knowable past and unknowable future. Thus, our lives are governed by this duality of past and future, notwithstanding our angst.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of pessimism and optimism.

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THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #3.

THE DUALITY OF REASON AND INSTINCT.

In my previous blog, I had discussed the duality of good and bad. I had pointed out the irony of our compulsion to decide what is good and what is bad, even when we don’t know how to define good and bad. In this blog, I would take up another duality that is at the heart of the earlier duality of good and bad. In this blog, I would discuss the duality of reason and instinct. This duality refers to the method by which we decide things, including the decision of good and bad.

To be honest, there is no clear cut distinction between reason and instinct except for the fact that our instinctive responses are unanalysable. When we think about the situation that we are facing, the factual details are available for both these modes of thinking. However, we can analyse the method that reason uses to arrive at a conclusion. However, in the case of instinct, we can never find out, either before or after we arrive at a conclusion, what was the method used by our instinct to arrive at that conclusion. We simply know the answer but never the method. Perhaps, our minds are capable of deciding without the help of any known logic.

Those who are familiar with the topics of artificial intelligence and machine learning would realise that our minds seem to use methods not available to computers. The question that I would discuss here is not about the exact nature of our instinct, but what happens when we know that we have two opposite modes of thinking available to us. More importantly, when do we allow our instinct to dictate our behaviour and when do we allow reason to tell us what to do. I am sure most of you would agree that there is no fixed pattern of when we act instinctively and when we act rationally. I think there is some rationale behind our apparent random choice of instinctive versus rational behaviour. This rationale perhaps points towards the deeper levels of reality and how our minds perceive it. The tragedy is that we don’t have any idea about this rationale.

Psychology tells us that we resort to instinctive responses when we are faced with extreme situations or when we are required to respond instantly. Our rational behaviour happens only when we act proactively or deliberately. Therefore, it appears that Nature does not trust our ability think in the times of crises and it takes over our behaviour by activating our instinct. At the same time, Nature wants us to use our thinking abilities to make progress. Thus, what decides our mode of behaviour is not ourselves but the circumstances of our lives. This is the root cause of our dilemma. Though, we have two modes of thinking, but we don’t have a say which mode of thinking would take control of our minds. Depending on the circumstances of our lives, we keep on switching from a reasoned behaviour to an instinctive behaviour.

As if this wasn’t enough, we have an ability to reflect on our own behaviour. Therefore, we often find shortcomings in our past behaviours. In fact, I think regretting our past behaviour is an almost universal experience. All of us, sometime or the other, have regretted the way we have behaved in the past. This is because, in hindsight, we are able to evaluate our behaviour which we couldn’t evaluate while it was happening. Therefore, it is possible that in a given situation, we end up choosing wrong mode of behaviour. The real problem is that we have no control over our choice of mode of behaviour. As a result, we end up with an unjust situations in life without being really responsible for them.

However, there is one redeeming feature of this duality of instinct and reason. Our instinctive reasoning (whatever it is ) is uncannily correct. While our logical and rational behaviour works well because the world that we live in is regular and broadly predictable, our instinct reflects the the way the world behaves in a manner that is beyond logic. Therefore, it is possible that Nature, in its wisdom, has incorporated both modes of thinking in our minds. Maybe, Nature is trying to figure out which mode of thinking is more suitable for life. Maybe, we are ‘ work in progress ‘ models of evolution. What matters is that, whatever may be Nature’s reason for providing us with these two modes of thinking, we end up with the unfair situation of being saddled with this duality and yet without being in control of it.

This is perhaps the crux of human existence. We are imperfect and yet we manage to survive, thrive and even excel. We may be riddled with this conundrum of the duality of instinct and reason. Yet, we are able to make reasonably good moral choices in our lives. We may be imperfect, but we have a potential to overcome our imperfections. More importantly, it is this duality of instinct and reason that enables us to transcend our shortcomings. It is possible that maybe either the instinct or the reason, singly by themselves, are not adequate for facing the vicissitudes of life. Therefore, Nature must have its own reason to impose this duality upon us. However, being unaware of Nature’s reasons, we are destined to face the consequences.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of past and future. This is important because our past and future dominate our minds in our present moments.

The DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #2.

THE DUALITY OF GOOD AND BAD.

In my previous blog in this series, I had promised to discuss various types of dualities that govern our lives. In this blog, I would discuss the duality of good and bad. To begin with, we all know that what is good and what is bad, is a debatable topic. The notions of good and bad are not only subjective but they’re also dependent on the one’s social and religious background. There is no absolute definition of what is good and what is bad. Moreover, the distinction between good and bad is not clear cut. Very often, we decide whether any particular thing is good or bad depending on the context in which we encounter it. As a result our notions of good and bad are nebulous.Therefore, it may appear that any attempt to deconstruct their meanings would be futile.

However, I want to discuss an altogether different angle of the notions of good and bad. The key point is that in spite of this lack of clarity, we are required to judge every day, in fact at every moment, what is good and what is bad. It is this irony of our lives, of not being able to define good and bad and yet being compelled to decide about it, that I would discuss in this blog. It is as if the destiny is testing our limited skills by making us decide what is good and bad. If one were to think in the inspirational fashion , one can rationalise this predicament by believing that such a scenario enables one to discover one’s inner wisdom and therefore one should accept such a challenge thrown by destiny as an opportunity for introspection , self improvement and even possibly release from the karmic cycle.

While such an optimistic reasoning could be therapeutic for people who find the vicissitudes of life daunting , from the psychological perspective, this approach works as a placebo. The problem, according to psychology, with this approach is that it ignores the contribution of our subconscious mind. The real problem is that,more often than not, our subconscious mind works at a cross purpose with our conscious mind. In fact, our subconscious mind subverts our conscious thinking. Therefore, our notions of what is good and what is bad, is compromised by our subconscious desires. Moreover, since we are unaware of our subconscious desires, we are misled into making wrong decisions.

Therefore, from the psychological perspective, if destiny were to exist, then it must be using our subconscious mind to mislead us and thereby forcing us to commit wrong acts by creating wrong perception of what is good and what is bad. If this psychological interpretation is true, then it leaves us with an uneasy situation. This is because we all are familiar with the situations in our own lives, wherein we acted based upon what we thought at that time to be good. It was only on the hindsight that we came to know that what we did was wrong. In fact, we are also familiar with the situations in life when people have created flimsy justifications for their crimes. We have, rather condescendingly, called them psychopaths and taken pity upon them. We rarely, if ever, realise that we too could be acting under similar, but evidently less harmful, cognitive distortions all our lives.

The tragedy of such criminals is not that their subconscious mind leads them to believe in such flimsy excuses, but rather their tragedy is that they can not perceive how flimsy their justifications really are. Similarly, there is no way for us to find out whether our own subconscious mind is also not misleading us. Perhaps, this is the most fundamental tragedy of human existence. We condemned to live with imperfect faculty of deciding what is good and what is bad. Our tragedy is not that our ability to decide what is good and what is bad, is imperfect. Our tragedy is that in spite of being aware of its imperfections, we are condemned to use it.

It is natural to question our compulsion to decide what is good and what is bad, particularly when we know that our ability to decide this issue is imperfect. Science has no definitive explanation for our compulsion. Science suggests that this is far more general problem. Our minds are genetically programmed to analyse everything by breaking things down into smaller fragments and then to assess the overall issue. Therefore, when we think in terms of good and bad, we simply divide the topic under consideration into several possible consequences. Having done that, we evaluate these consequences to decide whether the original topic is good or bad. However, our ability to imagine possible consequences is limited. Therefore, we always end up with a partial (and therefore imperfect ) judgement. We normally do not realise that any given thing need not be either good or bad. Very often, a thing could be good as well as bad, at the same time. However , our thinking is not programmed to handle such a simultaneity. In fact, the notion of good and bad forms a continuum. However, our analytical skills, in its over enthusiasm, overlooks this simultaneity and instead tries to separate good from bad.

While this rationale seems valid, it offers no relief to us. We still have to decide on what is good and bad even when we know that our ability to decide that is imperfect. In that context, it is remarkable that most of us manage to live a fairly ethical lives. Perhaps, our minds operate in far more complex and perhaps far more fundamental ways that are beyond the scope of science. Maybe, the notion of destiny sums up our limits of science. Maybe the notion of destiny is a placeholder for the mechanisms by which our minds decide and pick up the good from bad. Therefore, whenever we do something wrong, our subconscious mind creates a compensation by creating a sense of guilt which prompts us to atone for our wrong acts. In such a scenario, consciousness is the repository of the good and the bad both. It distinguishes between the two by the methods which remain inscrutable to logic. This is because only one part of our consciousness is available to our analytical skills. Therefore, we are not able to understand the nature of our consciousness in its totality. We know only one part of it viz. our conscious half, while the other half viz. our subconscious mind remains beyond our analysis. In other words, we would never know whether destiny exists or not by our introspection. Therefore, our predicament of being condemned to live with our imperfect understanding of good and bad, is without any redemption.

In my next blog , I would discuss the duality of reason and instinct.

THE DUALITIES OF LIFE.

REFLECTIONS AND RECOLLECTIONS.

I am beginning a new series of blogs titled “THE DUALITIES OF LIFE “. In the opening blog, I would describe the reasons that prompted me to write these blogs. Of course, the prime reason for writing on this topic is that I am writing my third novel on this topic. However, when I began writing that novel, I realised that the notion of a duality is present in every aspect of our lives. I also realised that I would not be able to weave all these nuances into the fabric of my next novel. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of blogs to delve upon some of these nuances of duality. This series of blogs would try to deconstruct the very idea of duality, how it defines the way we think and what its meaning is. I would begin with my own life in this first blog. Then, I would move on to different aspects of our lives. Finally, I would move on to my third novel. I hope to end this series of blogs with the completion of my third novel which is centred around this topic of duality of human existence and how our psyche copes with this.

Before I describe what the notion of duality is and why I think it is central to the understanding of human life, I would begin with my own life and how I realised the importance of duality. As I have often mentioned, I am a scientist by profession and a novelist by vocation. Therefore, in that sense, I am a living example of a duality. I have often wondered whether I am a scientist who writes novels or I am a novelist who is also a scientist. After all these years of wondering, I don’t have any clear idea of who am I. This lack of clarity was my starting point for self inspection. Therefore, I decided some couple of months ago, when I had finished my second novel “THE HUMAN PILGRIMAGE. “ , to explore this ambiguity in my life. This gave me an idea of my third novel. Therefore, at present, I am writing the novel as a way to introspect and understand who am I and what it means to be a human being full of ambiguities.

Before I elaborate on what I mean by a duality, let me tell you why I think I am a scientist as well as a novelist at the same time. I can trace my both these abilities right up to my bringing up. I think I became a scientist because of my father and a novelist because of my mother. Let me clarify. Neither my father was a scientist, nor my mother was a literatus. More importantly, I am not trying to be like my parents. All I am saying is that my being a scientist and a novelist is my way of saying thank you to my parents. Still more importantly, I think that I am lucky to be able to thank my parents by doing things that come natural to me anyway.

When I think of my father, I can still remember his acute analytical skills. He was a rationalist who taught me to value reason and the knowledge that reason begets. Incidentally, it was my father who introduced me to the world of literature, both Indian and English. He was a bibliophile and introduced me to libraries in Mumbai. When I look back, I find it ironical that in spite of my father being responsible for introducing me to the world of literature, he didn’t influence me to become a novelist. I think I became a novelist because of my mother. I think my mother shaped my emotional world. She taught me to use emotions to reach the truth that logic can never have access to. While writing my novels, I can feel shades of my mother’s non judgemental attitude in my writing. Similarly, when I do my research work, I can see my father’s catholic sagacity in my work.

As you can see, in my case, the duality of being a scientist and a novelist was the result of different personalities of my parents. I think this is true for all of us. We carry diverse influences from our childhood. We are shaped by different forces and as a result we are not one dimensional individuals. I think it is this, being individuals made up of different parts, is what makes us so unique.

I have come to realise that the reason why we think in terms of dualism about every sphere of our lives is because we are genetically programmed to think by simply dividing things into small fragments. Since the first step in our thinking leads to two halves, our first perception is that of duality. Of course, we subsequently break down these dualities into smaller fragments, but our first impression of duality persists. Therefore, it is possible that these dualities are not true. However, our value system is still governed by this notion of duality. It is this ambiguity about the nature of these dualities, of being so fundamental in our value system and yet of being artifacts of our thinking, that I would discuss in these blogs.

The real trouble with our preoccupation of dividing everything into fragments, is that we lose out an opportunity to integrate our different facets into a single personality. We, as a species, are torn between reason and emotions, between our culture and our instincts and between conscious and subconscious states of our psyche. I would take up different nuances of the duality of our existence in the subsequent blogs.

I would like to end this blog with a couple of personal notes. My parents were not alive when I achieved some excellence in both these fields. I would regret this fact all my life. Maybe, life gives us what we wish for, but at the same time, it takes away something from us, something that we cherish. Maybe, life itself is the ultimate duality. Secondly, my sister also played a critical role in shaping my personality. I promise to write about her some day , but not now, because her loss is still raw in my psyche.

I would take a look at the duality of good and bad in my next blog.

A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #12.

THE COVER STORY.

In my previous blog in this series, I had discussed the role of immediate environment and family support system in writing a novel. In this blog, I would discuss the visual impact of a cover of a novel.

Till I published my first novel, I was totally blind towards the importance of a book cover. Of course, this was partly due to the fact my father was a member of a public library. That library had a policy of binding all the books purchased by it. Since the binding was old fashioned leather binding, this policy ensured that the books had long shelf lives. However, as a result of this utilitarian practice, my impressionable mind was conditioned to overlook the book covers while selecting the books. Of course, my father would guide me about which authors to read. However, the visual appeal of new books had always been alien to my sensibilities in my formative years. It was only when I grew up and started buying books on my own that I began noticing book covers.

Even then, I would react to book covers almost unthinkingly. I would like some book covers and dislike the rest. To be candid, ‘ dislike ‘ is rather a strong word. I think it would be correct to say that I was indifferent towards some of the book covers. Of course, there were some book covers which I liked immensely. The turning point in my thinking about the book covers came about when I bought a novel “ A Chronicle of A Death Foretold “ by Gabriel Garcìa Márquez. It was a Penguin edition. The book cover was brownish yellow, with author’s name in white in the forefront. The title of the novel was written on a purple brushstroke. Till date, I can not analyse what happened to me when I saw that book at the Strand bookstore. I knew I had to buy it. I would like to admit that till then , I had not read any of Marquéz ‘s novels. Therefore, I did not have any expectations, but there was something incredible about that book cover. It touched my subconscious mind. That was the moment that changed my attitude towards book covers. The irony of that moment was that I became lifelong reader of his books , but I still don’t know the artist responsible for that book cover. The novelists become famous but artists who create the book covers remain anonymous.

Before I move on to my understanding of book covers, I would like to point out two of my shortcomings. Firstly, being a male, my colour sense is rather primitive. I realized this while describing that book cover in the previous paragraph. My description of that book cover is rather inaccurate. I am sure there are more specific descriptions of colour scheme of that book cover. However, I don’t think I can differentiate between different shades of brownish yellow. To me they are all same. This has nothing to do with my upbringing. It has to do with genetics. Very few of us are aware that genes responsible for color perception are present in X chromosome. Therefore, all males, including me, are endowed with only one set of these genes. Women, on the other hand, are endowed with two sets of these genes. Moral of the story is never argue with women about colours. They are better equipped to differentiate between shades of colours.

Secondly, having been trained as a scientist, I am more inclined to be analytical than being emotional. Those who have been reading my blogs, would realize that I tend to analyse and deconstruct human existence rather than describing the emotions that dominate our lives. I am more of a content person rather than an expression person. Maybe, that is why I was late in realising the importance of a book cover. Somewhere, deep within, I think of novels as vehicles of telling readers about life. I don’t think of novels as sensuous expressions.

However, this predominance of rationality started changing when I began writing my first novel. I had to, perforce, confront my emotions. The writing of novels has liberated me from analytical predilection. The climax of that liberation came when I was required to think about the book cover of my first novel. I am thankful to my publishers CINNAMONTEAL for guiding me through this process of making a book cover. I had some ideas about the design of the book cover. The artwork was provided by the publishers. Someone in my family is professionally trained in visual arts. So, the final outcome was a result of cooperation between three of us. I am already in the process of visualising a book cover of my second novel. This time, I am more comfortable with colours and the emotions that they evoke. However, the real achievement would be when I start visualising my novels rather than thinking about them. A graphic novel would be a pinnacle of creativity for me. I am not sure whether I would climb that mountain.

This brings me to the end of this blog and the end of this series of blogs :A Writer in Transition. I would resume blogging after a gap of couple of months. During this gap, my third novel would be under production and I would be busy with the ‘non literary ‘aspects of that novel, including its cover design.

A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 11.

AN EMOTIONAL ECOSYSTEM OF A NOVELIST.

In my previous blog, I had discussed the role of an editor in creating a finished novel from a manuscript. In continuation with my blogs on the ‘non literary ‘ aspects of fiction writing , in this blog, I would discuss the role of immediate environment and family support system in writing a novel. Normally, when one thinks of an emotional ecosystem of a novelist, first thing that comes to one’s mind is that of an inspiration that influences a novelist. Every creative person is supposed to have a muse who triggers the creative outbursts. However, in this blog, I would not discuss about any such muse in my life. This is partly because I am a private person and I firmly believe that there are aspects of my life that are out of bounds for my readers. However, let me admit that there is nothing that I would like to hide. It is just that I, as a person, is distinctly separate from I, as a novelist. Secondly, I have come to the conclusion, after writing two novels, that what prompts a novelist to write a novel is not a romantic love personified in the form of a life partner, but rather a nonstop feeling of angst. While romantic love with its many splendored glory, could suffuse one’s life with sublime emotions, it does not necessarily make one a novelist. The writing of a novel requires a constant struggle with one’s own self to make sense of life. Therefore, I think I would set aside this hyped image of a muse inspiring an artist.

Instead, in this blog, I would discuss the kind of emotional background that has allowed me to follow my creative urge to the fruition. When I began my first novel, the writing was irregular. Though, I would write almost every day, there was no rhythm and I would write at odd hours, depending on my professional work load. However, while writing my second novel, things have fallen in place. I write for couple of hours every day at a fixed time. This has been possible because my family provides me with a greater privacy. I still live in an emotional cocoon provided by my family, but within that cocoon, there is a complete undisturbed privacy that facilitates my writing. There would be scores of household chores that would have otherwise fallen on me. However, everyone ensures that these don’t interfere with my work. This mindfulness speaks volumes about the emotional ecosystem that I operate from.

In addition to this subtle adjustments, a novelist also needs an empathy. It is not necessary for a novelist’s family to read and approve of the novels written by the novelist, but it imperative that the family knows and appreciates the sincerity and commitment of the novelist. This alone is sufficient for a novelist to continue writing. I have realised that, as a novelist, I too am influenced by the overall mood of the novel that I am writing. This influence is of course, a short time influence. For instance, there is a description of a death in my second novel which occupies a few pages. I remember that while writing those pages, I was deeply disturbed. It must have also reflected in my demeanour. The family is normally unaware of what is being currently written by the novelist. Therefore, the family has to accommodate these mood changes of the novelist simply by intuitively guessing the reason behind the novelist’s changed demeanour. This is precisely what happened in my case. This is where empathy comes into the picture. A family undergoes trials and tribulations together. Therefore, there is no need for verbal communication to tell family members about how one feels. The family can relate to one another simply by observing. The shared emotions ensure that empathy prevails.

It is not just a novelist’s immediate family but even the larger group of individuals of cousins, friends, neighbours, and acquaintances also contribute to a novelist’s emotional ecosystem. Being surrounded by known individuals, adds a sense of belonging and comfort to a novelist’s emotional ecosystem. For instance, I don’t think I would be able to write my novels if I were to be kept away from my comfortable niche. Strangely, I would be able to do my scientific work even if I were to be banished ito some godforsaken place, but I would not be able to write novel. That sums up the importance of of emotional ecosystem in allowing one’s creativity to blossom. Writing a fiction is not a clever workmanship of a wordsmith, but an act of creativity.

In my next blog, I would discuss another apparently non literary aspect of writing a novel viz. importance of book cover of a novel.

A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 10.

FROM A MANUSCRIPT TO A NOVEL :

AN INVISIBLE EDITOR.

In my previous blog, I had discussed the idea of artistic purity and its importance in the days of market driven publishing. In continuation with my decision to blog about “ non literary “ aspects of writing a novel, I would discuss in this blog, the role of an editor in presenting a novel as a finished product.

Since I am not an editor, either by training or by temperament, I would try to present a writer’s perspective of the importance of editing. Writing, particularly fiction writing, is not a straightforward process. Though, I insist on writing few hours every day while I am writing a novel, my experience has been that novel does not move forward in a fixed pattern. There are sessions in my writing, when the novel moves at a frenetic pace and then, there are sessions, when I barely manage to move the plot forward. During the writing of my two novels, I have tried analysing my own mind during both these types of sessions. Though, I refrain from rewriting or editing my manuscript, I can see shades of different thoughts that run through my mind during those two types of sessions. However, I feel that these different thoughts are integral to my creativity. Therefore, I tend to retain my original versions of different sessions just as they were originally written.

In order to avoid sense of patchwork and maintain continuity (of style and substance ) , what I normally do is to read outputs of previous few sessions before going ahead. My objective during the entire writing of a novel is to bring about smooth transitions in the narration of the plot, development of characters and the background ambience of the story. This process continues right from the beginning to the end.

The trouble begins, in my case, when I read that manuscript before submitting it to the publisher. On rereading the entire novel, I notice lots of shortcomings. Firstly, there are typos. Then, there are problems of styles. Finally there are problems of continuity. I usually try to correct these shortcomings during this stage. While doing this, I realized that there were lots of implicit meanings which did not surface in the final manuscript in a manner that I wanted to express. In addition, I found on both the occasions, that there is lopsided emphasis is some of the episodes. Of course, this is a natural phenomenon because, at least in my case, the story does exist beforehand. The story is shaped as it moves forward. Therefore, the manuscripts that I have submitted were actually rather complex narratives with some amorphous structures.

I also realized that no matter how often I tried to improve upon the manuscripts, they would still remain incomplete and unpolished. This was because I was looking at them from inside. The implicit motives of the characters and implicit meaning of the plot itself were known to me but they didn’t surface properly in the manuscript.

That was when I realised the importance of editing a novel. The task of an editor is far more delicate than that of a novelist. A novelist has liberty to shape the novel as she/he wants. An editor is bound by his professional ethics. An editor is required to read a novel from inside as well as from outside. An editor has to get into a novelist’s shoes and experience the novel from inside, from the novelist’s point of view. Having done that, an editor is required to read the novel from outside, from a readers perspective. In addition, an editor is required to remain faithful to the linguistic nuances that is different for each novel.

I have begun to appreciate the role of an editor after the publication of my first novel. Incidentally, my second novel is in the early stages of publication. The kind of corrections suggested and the kind of explanations sought by my editor during the publication of my first novel, have convinced me about the important contribution that an editor can make in a success of a good novel. The most poignant part of publishing industry is that these editors remain, by and large, anonymous. While novelists are recognised and celebrated for their creativity, the tribe of editors remains in the background, unknown and even unacknowledged.

This blog is not a paean to these unsung heroes, but a heartfelt acknowledgement from a neophyte. In my next blog, I would discuss a role played by the household environment in a novelist’s writing.