Losing a Battle vs. Winning a War

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There is a Tamil proverb that says, Jhaan erinaal muzham sarukkum. If you climb an inch, you slip a feet.

When I started this blog, I wanted to post thrice a week. When that proved to be a mammoth job, I made it Mondays and Fridays. As the year progressed in a blur of writing challenges, workshop appointments and travel plans (not to mention day to-day routines, medical woes and happy family occasions), it became once a week, whenever I could update. And now, my last post is a little over a month ago, and I am left in the shambles of my grand intentions.

And the more I lamented about it, the harder it became to start again, and that’s when I realised the destructive power. My laments were not alone. They had company. All around me were the regrets and self-discriminations and resigned sighs, being added in a big pile, straight from the hearts of millions and millions of people who think it’s too late for them.

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It is indeed humbling to know your limitations, your capacity and your weaknesses. Nobody else might know (in my case, you all do!) but if you know of what you are, inside, warts and all – it’s enough, for the self-loathing and self-flogging and self-giving up to start. You may have legitimate reasons (in my case I was trying to complete 50000 words by this month end) but every time you fail, even if it is a minor thing, it settles as one of more nail in the coffin we build ourselves in our mind.

Don’t we? Each day brings us new glimpses into our soul, our desires, our evils, our thirsts. We tally it with the achievements and lives of our peers and friends (don’t you HATE your Facebook home page at times!) and slowly, very slowly, we lose hope in ourselves. That we can ever get better than this. That we ever had it inside us to be better.

And so we begin to harden and forget that we are so much more capable, and we settle for what we are now.

There is a simple solution to this destructive self-evaluation. And that is – to start again.

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The end of your misery? Start again.

The answer to your despair? Start again.

The anti-dote to the heartache? Start again.

The abandoned novel or that passionate project you so enthusiastically began but got stalled in the middle? Start again.

The opportunity you lost to do something about your dream, your aspiration, your desire to be someone in this world? Start again.

Seriously, just brush aside all the cobwebs, sweep away past humiliations and disappointments, and start again. You have had your pity party. You have kicked yourself enough. You have given up so many times, right now there is no other way to deal with the situation than to get up and start again.

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I am pledging to update this blog once a week. Even as I utter the sentence silently, I look behind me, and I see the ruins of my past intentions and I feel a giant stab of fear that I am going to fail again – but so what? I will start again.

Today is a new day. Tomorrow will be a new day. A new day deserves a new beginning. Are you ready to have yours?

Chennai Children’s Writers Meet, 2014

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On this year’s Children’s Day, a group of us – Vasanthi, active educationist; Kundavi, ardent writer; Shalini, journalist-aspiring-to-be-a-teacher; Giri; an engineer looking to make his writing dreams come true – met at Art n Soul (Anna Nagar), and shared thoughts and ideas on Indian children’s literature. I also gave a presentation on children’s writing, and was glad to realise that all four of them were dead serious about creating quality kidlit – I usually do not get a crowd like this!

Here’s what Kundavi says: The Meetup was good and hopefully will be start of good friendships and writing groups among us all. It will definitely be the diving board for all of to leap into good children’s writing! Radhika really packed as much as she could into it as well as allowed for spontaneous exchange of ideas and experiences. Thank you Radhika :)

If you’d like to know more about the workshops I offer, do visit http://www.meetup.com/Childrens-writers-in-Chennai/. Membership at Meetup.com is free and if you need specific details, feel free to write to me and I will be happy to clarify your doubts.

Remember, you don’t need to be based in Chennai to enroll in my online workshops and take the first step towards writing your children’s short story, picture book or novel!

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

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Yesterday, I gave an online presentation on plotting for NaNoWriMo, for the India chapter. (To access it, just join the group on FB by clicking here.)

If you are a writer, chances are that you must have heard of NaNoWriMo. It’s a month-long challenge where writers across the globe aim to finish 50000 words in 30 days. So, if you break those words by daily requirement, you need to write 1766 words or roughly 7 MS Word pages a day.

From the time Chris Baty introduced this challenge, way back in 1998, novels were regularly birthed in the month of November. I personally know many writers who would have never written a novel, if not for NanNoWrimo.

Why 50000 words? An average novel is anywhere between 50k-90k words. If you finish the first 50k words, you are half way there. Considering that most writers suffer from procrastination, this challenge eliminates the “starting problem” and delivers a kick in the pants to get their muses show up for work. What’s not to love about a goal like this?

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But I get it. It’s scary to face that empty screen. How the heck are you going to fill it all up 50000 words, your mind demands, poking you in the ribs. Muttering an ouch, you try to ignore your doubts and put on a brave face.

Don’t.

Ignoring your mind’s questions is always a bad idea. That question is actually your sub-conscious asking you whether you are committed, whether you are prepared, whether you are writer enough to win this challenge. You have to answer it. You don’t have a choice.

It’s surprising how often we ignore this voice. All it needs is the assurance that you can do it.

It’s also surprising that, we would never think of showing up at an interview or an examination without being prepared, yet many writers just join in at the last minute (or join without any prep) and hope to win. Not gonna happen!

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Like all challenges, this one is also tough, it will test you and scare you and if you do not stand committed, it will break you and push you out (no matter how much you shrug it off as cest la vie, you will know that you failed and sometimes, that’s the bitterest of all criticism.)

So. Here are my top 3 preparation tips for anybody thinking to attempt NaNoWriMo this year.

1. Start NOW.

Never ignore your fears and doubts. Face them, answer them, tackle them. Tell your mind that you are going to do it – period. Because – ta da – you have a plan! What plan? Now is the time to plan. You have nearly 2 weeks until Day 1 of the challenge. Spend this time plotting your novel. How to do that? Get all your previous half-completed novels out and select one that’s the most developed. You have none? Then start plotting a fresh idea, something that has been on your mind for a long time. You don’t have one of those either? Go to Plot Generator, keep generating plots until you find the one that piques your interest, and start working on it.

2. Form a Habit.

The habit of NaNo Prep – this simply means you pick a time, ideally the same time (for me, early morning just after I wake up is the best time) and make it your NaNo time. Spend 30 minutes every day this month plotting your novel (you are encouraged to spend more time, but if you have only 30 minutes, then you better start writing!). Not only will this eliminate “oh my god what comes now, I don’t know!” moments during NaNoWriMo month, this will also set the habit of sitting and writing everyday in November. A couple of links given below talk about the same idea, so don’t skip reading them. The idea is to write 7 pages every day and that can happen only when you make it a habit.

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3. Be Ready.

Mentally, physically, emotionally – be ready. You want to be a writer? It ain’t gonna happen by itself. You want to complete a novel? It ain’t gonna write itself. You want to be famous, beloved, immortal? You need to do everything to make it happen. Get your laptop (or notebooks and pens) in order. Get your writing space (please tell me you have one!) in order. After you finish outlining and doing character sketches this month, save those notes in a folder and keep it on your writing desk, so that you can refer them any time. Look forward to editing your novel this January… that would give you the impetuous to finish the damn thing in November!

All others come later. You be prepared with a blurb and an outline, with a decent workspace and laptop/PC/writing medium, and you show up every single day next month and commit to writing at least 1800 words… your story WILL come to you. And that’s how you win a challenge ☺. All the best!

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Homework links:

http://allindiewriters.com/prepare-for-nanowrimo/

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-prepare-for-nanowrimo-to-outline-or-not-to-outline

http://storyist.com/support/howto/get-ready-for-nanowrimo/

http://thewritingcafe.tumblr.com/post/61873818642/preparing-for-nanowrimo

http://rinellegrey.com/preparing-for-nanowrimo/

Interviewed by Indian Express – Twice :)

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It’s showtime!

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed by Indian Express – http://m.newindianexpress.com/chennai/347955

Part 2 was published just a few days ago, here - http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/Weekender-Writing-Vakays/2014/10/09/article2468012.ece

The highlight of the latter link is writing retreats. Have you heard of them? They are, simply put, time off from routine life, where you just sit and…. write. typically, you have a retreat in a pleasant place, somewhere definitely out of your town/city, a place that will relax your stressed mind and stimulate your muse into creating more.

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You will also get to meet other writers (though you can opt out of socialising, if you want – no judgement!) and come away with great memories, and hopefully, a completed outline or a novel. To know more, you should read my second interview :)

So here’s the big news – I am hosting a weekend one in Auroville on Nov 15 and 16, 2014; specifically for fiction writers, it’s two full days of writing-related discussions, exercises and goal making. You can contact me for more information or browse event details at http://www.meetup.com/Childrens-writers-in-Chennai/events/193877312/

Hurry… only three more spaces remain!

 

Book 9: Saras and the Superstar – DONE!

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Plot: Can Saras the School cat become friends with and help the troubled Superstar the theatre cat?

Words: 9923

Status: THE END! For CBC 12×12, 9 books completed, 3 to go!

Lessons learnt from this month’s chapter book:

1.The story is about a studious, stuck up school cat and an uneducated cat living in the neighbourhood movie theatre. So I had an absolutely smashing time writing about my opinions on Indian education system and the movie culture in Chennai. I also had to be careful not to sound too manic or prejudiced, so it took some effort to get that balance.

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Two enemy cats

2. I had to make a trip again to the stretch between Srinivasa theatre and the Oxford school in West Saidapet, to get the “setting” right. Of course, the book is purely from my imagination but I have borrowed the setting :). It was a headache to do this on a hot day, but ultimately it helped me in getting a lot of details accurate.

3. What do you do when you decide to bury the hatchet and extend an olive branch to your enemy, but the other person is not interested to meet you mid-way? Writing about this dilemma actually soothed a lot of old hurts in my own life. And that’s why they say writing heals the wounds of both the mind and the body.

This concludes the first 3 books of the series… I had ideas for more, but am not going to pursue them until I sell these three first. Tall order, much? Hope springs eternal!

How Teaching Makes You Better at DOING

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writingale:

That old age – Those who can’t, teach – annoys me. I do a lot in my life, with the time I have in my hands, with the brain God has given me. And I love to teach. Does that make me a loser? I hope NOT!

Now, I am not saying I have academic credentials to teach (I probably never will, since I am now wired to only write, not study!) but I have several years’ experience in my field of expertise and it warms my heart to help others who are at the bottom of the ladder. Just my bit to make their journey a little easier.

Not only that, every time I hold a workshop, I learn something new from the participants. I am always amazed when that happens – the teacher becomes the student. The synergy happens, and its both humbling and exhilarating. In my opinion, if every qualified person in India tries to mentor just one fledgling under his wing, we would be a super power in no time.

Right, so that fantasy aside, here is an article on why How Teaching Makes You Better at DOING. It’s by Sudipta Barden-Quellen, an accomplished children’s writer and my old batch mate from the 2004 Highlights Conference in New York. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Writing for Kids (While Raising Them):

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

IMG_5422 (1)It’s back to school season here in New Jersey (or, outside Philadelphia, as I typically refer to it) and that means big changes in my household. All summer, my kids and I are bums. We hang out at the beach, at the pool, at the mall. We travel, we sleep in, we do nothing. Summer is heaven.

But come September, my children’s lives change. Gone are the no schedule, no stress days and in their place we have wake up alarms, agenda books, and deliverables (and, it seems, a LOT of laundry!). The kids aren’t the only ones who go back to school—as a children’s book author, the school year means that I go back to school as well.

Every year, between school visits, Skype visits, and events like Dot Day or World Read Aloud Day, I connect with about 100 different schools all around the world…

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Books 6, 7, 8: Edited and done :)

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So… I am updating this section after nearly a hundred days!

You may remember that I had taken a break from CBC 12X12 after having completed 30 (first draft messy) stories in May, thanks to StoryADay.org. I was close to busting my muse’s back – writing a story every day kind of results in that! – so I decided I should use the next 3 months to edit and fine tune the stories. Here’s what I accomplished:

June: Adventures of Naughty Narada

July: Tales from St. Tessa’s

August: The Ark C/O Unicorn Avenue 

Now… on to a new story for September!