Geetanjali Mukherjee

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Buddhist Parable on Procrastination

This year my New Year’s resolution, or one of them in any case, was to overcome my procrastination problem and start to do all the things I had been putting off. This was a tall order, I can see that, but without putting the big goal out there, I knew even slight progress would not be within sight.

In order to really convince myself to stop procrastinating and start taking action, I read everything I could on the topic - sophisticated theories and exhortations from everyone from bloggers to best-selling writers on why we procrastinate, on taking action, chunking, and many other nuggets of advice. Some I tried to implement, with some success, some I ignored or promptly forgot. As we do – we read so much on the internet, sometimes it feels like it’s in one ear, and out the other.
The one thing that really sticks out for me is a Buddhist parable I first read about in high school. It’s the legend of the kankucho bird. The story goes like this: the kankucho bird doesn’t have a nest, and consequently is very cold at night. It is shivering, and vows to itself that this situation is ridiculous, he must build himself a nest as soon as morning comes. Then morning dawns bright and beautiful, the sun is shining, and the kankucho bird is delighted with the possibilities of play in the sunshine.
All day long he plays in the sun, and then, before he realises it, the sun sets. It is suddenly dark and cold, and the bird bitterly regrets the day he wasted playing instead of building his nest. He now looks back to what he spent his day on, and compares it to the joy of having a warm nest, and berates himself on the way he spent his time. He vows anew to himself that no matter what, tomorrow morning he would definitely build the nest first, before getting distracted by anything else.
Morning comes, and full of intention the bird, badly shaken from the conditions of the night, rallies out to start building. And who does he meet but his best friend? Who invites him to join in this really wonderful new game he has invented – and before he knows the kankucho bird fritters away yet another precious day. This state of affairs continues till one day, the cold overcomes him and the bird dies, shelterless and defeated by its own follies.
Does this parable remind you of anything? Presented with endless amusements on our iphones and ipads, it is all too easy to do busy work or play games and fritter away our lives, never really getting to the things we really want to accomplish. Someone recently reminded me of this story, and I realised how hard it is for us to realise how precious time is until we no longer have any of it – just like the hapless kankucho bird. It’s so tempting to pursue the immediate pleasures and ignore the pressing, less fun but ultimately more rewarding tasks that we keep putting off till tomorrow.
What are you putting off that could change your life?

Monday, June 10, 2013

First Draft is King

This week I have been volunteering with this organisation that I have been part of for many years on a show put up by a bunch of young people in July, here in Singapore. I am helping with the script of the musical, something that I have never worked on before.

I actually didn’t write the first draft, someone else wrote the scenes and placeholders for dances and songs that are being composed by others. To be perfectly honest, the draft I saw didn’t read too well, it felt very stiff and formal, the dialogue was stilted and the essence of the story, the emotions weren’t really coming across. I was brought in to make changes as I saw fit, along with the director, which has now meant going over the entire script and making changes to everything other than the underlying structure.
Through this process I learnt so much about my own struggles to complete my writing projects. Although the first draft was quite flawed, without it in place our process would have taken twice or three times as long. Just in my mind, having something to work on made me approach the work differently, with a lot more confidence and less pressure than I would otherwise have faced. I was able to chunk the work in my mind down into this set of lines, this scene, this speech. I worked on it a bit at a time, and the combination of reduced pressure and focus on a few lines at a time helped to completely transform the script.
It’s a work in progress, which should be done in the next couple of days. However, already the dialogue is much more natural, important elements are being added in, the design flaws are being considered and better alternatives found. And most importantly, I realised the fundamental importance of a completed first draft, no matter how terrible. Sure I have read many great writers talk about shi**y first drafts, but I just assumed that since they are great writers, their standards of really terrible would differ from mine, and there was no way I could write really badly and then improve it substantially. I assumed I would have to sort out the knotty design and structural problems, figure out where to add in the really important thematic points and have all my research done BEFORE I worked on the first draft because these were substantive issues. Now I have the confidence to know that drafts can be completely transformed just by changing a few things, and even the many changes seem few when layered onto an existing, completed document.
So lesson learned – first draft is really king, and anything can be achieved ONCE the first draft is in place.
So what project are you putting off till you have all the elements in place, where you can start right now with a baseline first draft?
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