To indulge or rein in?

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Earlier today I had a conversation with a writer friend.

Her: What do I do, during my first draft’s resting period? You know, when I have finished typing THE END and then walk away from the manuscript for a week (or three)?

Me: Ideally, you should also take rest. Authors need rest too!

Her: But shouldn’t I make use of this rest time productively– like, working on my next novel – outlining, perhaps?

Me: I don’t see why. I personally think, after working for months, you’d deserve a little break. Not just for health’s sake, of course, but also so that your mind is completely fresh; when you go back to your rested draft, you can do full justice to the editing process…

Her: But sometimes I get really good ideas only when I am working on one project…

Right.

This brought me to a scene I read in some long forgotten novel. The child wanted to keep playing into dinner time, and when his mom protested that it’s too late, he erupts into a howling… and this woman (the adult, with real, justifiable power), terrified of being shouted at or “hated” by her own child, pleads with the child to see reason but ultimately allows him to do whatever the tantrum-throwing munchkin wanted to do…

Let’s forget the fact that there is a whole room of background story behind this plot, and just concentrate on the scene. And substitute ‘child’ with ‘muse’.

How many of us really try to discipline our muse?

Not many. Otherwise my friend would not have felt like she ought to have listen to her muse – which is what we call the talent or inclination that makes on write (or sculpt or paint), without analyzing the pros and cons. Since I myself have been in the same position many times – proof is the N number of unfinished projects in my computer – I now saw what I ought to have seen a long time back.
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My muse is not my friend.

My muse is not God.

My muse is… a child.

A brilliant child. A child with astonishing possibilities and magical capacities. But… a child nevertheless, who needs to be taught certain concepts like routine and discipline.

Chiming in here for a good word about Julia Cameron, who calls the muse as the “inner artist child” who must be indulged every week.

Now, indulgence is a very tricky word.

Investing in a Lindt bar, one of the best chocolates in the world, and eating it after a hard week’s work, on a Saturday night, listening to some jazz and reading your favorite author – that’s indulgence. A bloody good one.

Stuffing your face with three bars of commercial grade Snickers, after a heavy meal, feeling guiltier by the minute – also indulgence, but well, sad, too.

You should definitely not let your inner muse grow a hollow stomach. But the problem is when we do not know what the line is, between starving it and over indulging it.

Your inner muse may say, “Wow! You have finished a draft! Submit it asap so that everyone can see what an awesome writer you are and treat you like royalty!”

Your inner muse may say, “Who needs feedback or language classes? You can write a clear sentence that is simple enough for the common man in India to read, that’s more than enough. You can always pay someone to clean up your writing.”

Your inner muse may say, “This project that is half done now is boring! I want to do something else NOW! I WANT I WANT I WANT!”

Doesn’t mean it’s right. Doesn’t mean you should do it.
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There is a reason why the artist and her talent/muse/whatever name you give it are fused together in the same body. Each needs one another. The muse infuses the human with the magic of creativity and fills the hole in her artist (the reason why artists are only happy when creating and sour like a lemon when they are not). In return – this is a very vital point, often underestimated – the artist also feeds the muse, by giving the muse the ambience, exposure and nourishing she needs (this includes but not limited to education, travel, creative play, everyday sadhana etc)

Not many practice this symbiotic relationship with the right balance.

Nobody’s to blame here, really. If anything, I blame this society of ours which raises our kids with almost zero respect or practice of their true artistic abilities. There are no special tuition classes or regular workshops in the syllabus for arts, are they? (And no, I do not consider colouring books or clay making to be practice of a true artistic ability.) We are full adults before we discover that our artistic ability needs attention. If by luck, if our profession and passion align in the same field, then great! That’s the ideal scenario, though. Most often than not, especially as writers, we are able to work on our pet projects only sporadically. “Whenever I get time” seems to be the mantra.

No wonder we do not know that our muse needs a regular time table. No wonder we don’t know how exactly we should treat this special talent.

As an aspiring artist, we do not dare to control this muse of ours. We don’t dare to question it, make it sweat, challenge it. We are so grateful to it, we feel so blessed to be gifted this talent, that we walk around egg shells when it comes to demanding our muse to perform regularly. It’s why, when it comes to writing every day or writing several books a year (like many, many professional writers do), we wait like a humble servant for the Emperor to make his appearance, rather than behave like a scowling newspaper editor who wanted the article YESTERDAY.

This is also the same reason why feelings of disgruntlement, anguish, frustration, general dissatisfaction in life and nervous breakdowns are rampant amidst artists and writers (I don’t see this from, say, bank or government employees), because it really is a tough to job to reign in a truant muse or make her perform when you want her too. It’s almost like a cartoon, where you fight with yourself.

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But that’s the good news about adulthood. You can learn. Starting now.

Learn good practices of your art. Read. Read crafts books, and articles on the art and practice of regular art, be it writing or painting. Read Eric Maisel’s books. Read Julia Cameron’s books. They are among the few books in the world that actually teach you how to live as a creative artist. Experiment with various genres, techniques and stick to the one that gives you the most joy. Accept that this is hard work, don’t get sucked in the marketing/sales quicksand, and move on to the next phase of creation: using your good sense logic and preference find out the right working methods that work for you.

And be very clear that what the muse needs, is a firm hand.

A Mom who says, gently but firmly, “Enough! You listen to ME now. I make the rules, and I expect you to obey me.”

A Dad who says, “Why thank you, Muse, for that fantastic idea! I am going to make a note of it right here, but I am not going to start working on it until I finish my current project.” Or, “Yeah I know I can write, but I don’t want to be just one among the rest, I want to be GREAT, so I am going to wait for some time before I rush into self publishing.”

Like all spoilt children, your muse may rebel first. She might throw tantrums – just when you want to work, you might get this itchy nudges of “Should I not clean the house before sitting to write?” or “I am feeling so bored, restless… Perhaps I should start another project.” You may even get physical rebellion like headaches or stomach upset. Your mind/muse (sometimes these two are in the same sphere) has incredible power over your actions – it’s perfectly capable of giving you actual pain during this disciplinary process.

If you give in now, then you are back to square one.

All parents know that boundaries work only as long as you are there on the periphery, guarding it. So guard yours.

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Remember that you cannot be a one book wonder. Or a one art piece exhibitor. You are an artist only as long as you keep creating and getting better. And yes, you need to train your muse to show up regularly and to adhere to the techniques that work for you.

A child disciplined in the right way grows up to be a good human – not a perfect one, but a good one, and sometimes, true goodness is much better than perfection, right? Give your muse the same care, and watch it repay you for your hard work in unbelievable future dividends!

To My Young(er) Writer Friends

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Yesterday, one of my lit friends carpe-diemed and blogged all her inner angst about the unique and mind-bending fears that face a writer these days. Now, it’s always tricky to have a discussion on such a topic, with someone who is convinced that they are suffering the right pain. Often the messenger is shot or beheaded or eaten alive.

Or, horror of horrors, a fate worse than death (apparently, going by what one of my ex-friends did to me recently), unfriended on FB.

But the doubts are ringing in from every corner, from various acquaintances, and I don’t like repeating things, so here is the link I am going to send you every time one of you asks me a similar question! I am also going to borrow some gyan from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, whose awesomest advice on writing can be read here – http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/thoughts-on-writing

 

  1. Why is writing not making me rich (or make my ends meet)?

I don’t know which moron told these kids that writing is a good way to earn money. Newsflash: IT’S NOT. You want to make money, take up corporate management or architecture or data analyst jobs in night shifts. Or work your ass off as a small business owner (restaurants are doing pretty well these days). Or be a born genius who can create a social media empire and retire at 25.

But please, do not write (or self publish) short stories or novels because you want to earn money. Don’t expect your art, your writing talent, to be a money making machine. It does not work that way. At least, fiction doesn’t.

If you are into nonfiction, then you have cause to cheer. It’s certainly possible to make money from NF, provided you are skilled at it and do all the right things. If you want to freelance for magazines and newspapers, then get a job in the field or start on your own, and approach it like a business – set up a home office, show up on time (you can be in your PJ’s), be disciplined, plan each day, query query query, learn how to balance your sheets, do your 8 hours work every day, pay taxes. This is how people make a living.

People do not make money by passion alone. If anybody says so, they are lying.

 

  1. Why is writing for money not making me (really) happy?

Well if you are pimping your talent for peanuts, of course it’s not going to make you happy! Come on! Seriously? You have this amazing God-given gift and you use it to write for content mills? Talk about using a Samurai sword for scratching an itch! What a waste. What a crime. What a dangerous act to the soul.

Now, the solution is simple. Just write only the stuff that you want to and love to write, for money.

It’s not a sin, writing for money. We all need and like having money. I write for money. A client paid me a lot of money to write a hundred scripts based on Indian folklore. Another client paid me even more money to edit his novels. The magazine I work for now, pays me to write a travel column. In each instance, I earned money, doing what I love – writing. And so can you.

But you need to know what makes you happy and avoid what doesn’t. The last bit is important (which is why it’s bold and italicised)

Business copywriting is not my forte (I have done it and it made me miserable) so I stay clear of it. Even if somebody promises to pay me a hell a lot of money for it, I will not do it. And this is how I preserve my integrity and sanity. Don’t accept something you know you hate, just because it brings in the money. I know it’s tempting – and in some cases it’s possible to rise up to the challenge and discover you survived the ordeal, but most of the times, You WILL suffer at the end. And it will slow down the speed of your progress. That’s why I particularly abhor content mills. They kill your creative soul.

So, learn to say no to distractions like these when you are shaping the career path you want to go on. If you like certain types of writing, then build your resume to that level. That’s how careers are made. Cultivate the skills that are needed to get you projects you want to work on. You like writing human interest features, go out in the world and look for stories and pitch. You want to work for newspapers? Start as an intern and work your way up. You want to write a novel? Buckle up, read craft books, and write every day. Don’t know how to? Join a class or get a mentor.

Do something, anything, to remove yourself from a frustrating corner. But after all that, if you still are not happy, may be you need to ask yourself – do you really want to be a writer?

 

  1. Why does quitting my day job for writing seem like a big mistake?

Because it possibly is.

There are only five reasons to leave a job:

  1. If you absolutely hate your job and you can afford to lose it, i.e., you already have another job offer (hopefully, a better one) or going back to college
  2. You have saved up nicely, and you are finally ready to escape the boss-employee world and follow your dream career.
  3. You have somebody to support you financially, so that you are free to pursue your passion (this is a slippery slope, so take care!)
  4. You are unwell, and cannot work.
  5. Your life is in danger (perhaps your next cubicle neighbour has revealed a plan to murder you)

If you didn’t quit your job for any of the above-mentioned reasons, you are in trouble.

Nobody jumps into the sea without a failsafe arrangement! You shouldn’t, too. If you left your job without making any provision at all for your current expenses, without a proper plan of how you would be earning money, then you are a fool. Sorry. You are. I advise you to get another job asap. But first read what Elizabeth Gilbert says:

I have a friend who’s an Italian filmmaker of great artistic sensibility. After years of struggling to get his films made, he sent an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog. My friend complained about how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste… etc, etc. Herzog wrote back a personal letter to my friend: “It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

So. Get back to work, either to your new career or old job. But just get back to work… because every minute you spend moaning or worrying is a minute wasted, an opportunity to learn lost.

 

  1. How will I pay for marketing my book if writing does not pay well?

Don’t pay for it. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to pay for it. My dear Millennials… You are what, 23, 25, 27? Don’t get into publishing now! My goodness, this is the time you should be kicking up a storm and experiencing life, not worrying about marketing and Kindle sales. Trust me, once you get on the M(arriage) wagon, things will change. Once the next C(hildren) train and then the EMI train comes along, all your writing (and non-writing, I am sad to add) goals will go for a toss. This is why you should not waste your single years! Listen to ole’ Radhika aunty!

Ah I know you guys won’t listen. Still, it’s my duty to say this.

And I often suspect that some are so keen on selping because they have a little too much money in their hands. Is that true? You can tell me. I can be discreet. And I will give you some super, free advice. If you do have too much $$, don’t spend it on selping your book and making Motion Press rich. Use it to study advanced creative writing (we know you already covered the basics!), buy yourself a coaching package from a writer you admire or get a flight ticket to Bali or Paris, rent a studio and write. (I especially recommend that you do the last option and take me along with you. You will get the coaching part free!)

Or you can give me some of your money. Really. I will save it for your future. I promise.

Don’t be an impulsive shopper when it comes to your writing. Don’t purchase it, for God’s sake. Don’t blog about writing or speak about writing or dream about writing. Do it. Write. Just write. Bloody hell. Stop the incessant blogging, stop ranting, stop all the time sucking stuff and just write. Do only the stuff that will help you become a better writer. No, that does not mean you hire an editor to clean up your writing – it means, you learn how to write better. It means you take lessons in writing, take lessons in grammar, it means you ask for and listen to feedback from others about your writing, it means you become a Bride of Writing.

Like Elizabeth Gilbert did. She says, “I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this.”

And this is what I say: Don’t kill the budding genius in you by the feeding it the wrong food – and that includes poison.

 

  1. Should I have contacts then, to succeed – or marry someone who will love me enough to gift me a publishing house?

Um, no. Well, yes, to the marrying a person who loves you, but no to the entire idea of accepting or expecting such a gift. You can be a writer, or a publisher. Not both. Not now. Not in your mid-20s. I know there are a lot of successful self-published authors out there – kudos to them! – but they all had well-written, enjoyable books that people loved to read. Nobody can market and make a bestseller of a bad book.

And contacts do help, but only to a certain point.  That is, only if you have the goods in good condition.

So, the first step is, simply, to learn to write books that can be enjoyed. And that, my friend, can take a lifetime. I have been learning for the past ten years and I am not sure if I have even scratched the surface. That’s why I am so confused why some writers expect their first or second book to be great and well liked and minting money. That’s like a 5th standard student aiming to write a thesis. You don’t grow a tree in minutes. I know Bonsai is beautiful, but still, it will always be stunted. You definitely don’t want to be perceived as a passable, but limited writer.

BTW, I do know a chick who married a rich guy who gifted her a publishing house with her pony tail on its official logo, didn’t get anywhere in life until she decided to be a writer, not a publisher. So there you go.

 

6. But there are so many bad books out there, earning good money!

Yep. The mafia earns good money too.

Stop comparing, please! If he can publish, why can’t I? If he eats snot, why can’t I? Well, why don’t you cite the examples of folks like Amitav Ghosh or Anuja Chauhan who do write great stories and sell a lot, instead of citing the Killjoy Bhattas and Screechy Pinoys of the world? Shouldn’t we be looking up, rather than down and following them?

I know there are a lot of silly books in the market – but think… is that the kind of fame you want? Then you should not read this post anymore. All you need in some money and a clever PR strategy and you can be an author who gives book reading and book launch appearances, and you can go ahead and kill good literature.

Because that’s what will happen, if anybody with money and some basic language skills can publish a book. Imagine a hospital filled with doctors who did not bother to learn their skills properly, but just rush through the basics so that they can start operating and saving lives asap. God help their patients, right?  Would you go to such a doctor if you’re ill?

It’s no different in the literary field.

Of course there’s nothing wrong in selping your book – I have one myself – but it comes with its own landfalls and responsibilities, just like any other path you take in life. Deal with it. All paths have thorns in them. Just make sure you selp a book that makes the reader exclaim, “Wow, what a loss to the trad publishing, this guy is right to selp it!”, and not, “No wonder he selped it, who in their right mind would have accepted it!”

Here’s the thing – and I find that young writers always are shocked on hearing this – just because you are able to finish a piece of writing does not mean it is good enough to be published (please don’t tell me your friend or relative or dog said it’s so). There is a thing called practice and there is a saying that you have to write a million words before you can be considered good in your language.

Writing does not come in an app on your iPhone. You have to work hard for it, not for a day, not for a month, but for years and perhaps, decades.You want to write a good book, be prepared to spend time mastering your craft. No shortcuts, sorry.

Finished one novel? Start another, instead of spending all your time marketing the first one. Not every word you write will be a gem and anybody who says otherwise is a nincompoop. Keep writing and making mistakes and learning. when you do have a book in your hand, you cannot expect the cushy breeziness of a traditional publishing (Yay Penguin1 accepted my book!) but the ease and coolness of a self-publisher (I want my book published yesterday). It’s always one or the other.

Sorry to sound like your Dad (or Grand-dad), but they are not wrong, you know. You will always realize it, often too late, that they were right on most things. Life always balances itself out. Gain some, lose some. This is a bitter lesson to learn, yes – even I would have the shot the messenger who attempted to tell me this when I was younger. But it’s the truth. The sooner you accept it, the quicker you will climb out of the pit and onto the path.

 

7. Will I ever get published/bestseller status?

That’s a question no one can answer. Well, they can – they can tell you to go to a vanity publisher and voila! You will be published.

I won’t say that, though. But I can tell you this – Don’t write to get published. That’s setting up yourself to a difficult life, especially in these difficult times. I know this may sound harsh, but it’s what I say every writer who comes my way. Stop expecting the adoration and the fame of being a writer. You cannot buy it with your bank account. You have to deserve it. You have to earn it. And that happens only when you write every single day without expecting to reap rewards later.

I recently lost a big project, one I was working on for more than eight months, commissioned by a reputable publisher too. Not a paisa was paid. I felt sad for a day, okay may be two, but then I moved on. Because it’s not my loss. It’s theirs. I will always have my writing. The book that is now in limbo – it has taught me so much, in terms of research and storytelling. It’s a stepping stone to the next level of excellence in my writing life. And only because of that consolation, I was able to move forward. Otherwise, it would have crippled me.

And that’s why you should not rely on the rewards.

Writing is about exploring the truth hiding inside you, about touching another’s soul with yours, about changing another person’s life with yours. And that’s something that won’t happen to a deadline or can be ‘treated’ by a clever marketing strategy. There are always exceptions, but remember: You are the rule, not the exception. Not until you prove yourself. And you do that by… yes, writing well.

And ask yourself – do you love writing or do you love the idea of being a writer? The latter is okay, really it’s okay to dream, to feel pride in your talent, but without the love of writing, without the discipline and self awareness, you are going nowhere. You may have your brief moment in the sunshine, but it will fade away pretty soon. The Gods of Creativity do not let fakes be in their world for long.

 

8. Are you telling me not to write anymore? That I don’t know anything about writing?

Heavens, no! That’s not the reason why I spent all this time writing this mammoth blog post! All I am saying is, write for the right reasons.

Don’t write because it makes you feel cool. Write because you love writing and you’d rather not do anything else.

Don’t write because it is in right now. Write because you have a part of yourself that is dying to get out in a creative way.

Don’t write because you (think you) can write good English. Write because you simply swoon in ecstasy when you create worlds and characters.

Don’t write because if A or B can write, so can you. Write because you are happiest when you write (not when you get published – although seeing your published book sure is something else!).

Know why are you writing and then give your writing space to breathe and expand. Not giving enough room to your writing to grow or mature, yet expecting it to shine like Aishwarya Rai or bring in the moolah like a Rajini movie in box office is insane. Don’t be that way! Research, learn, read (good books), ask for critique, and take the feedback without crying or sulking.

Many young writers really think writing is just transcribing (or, as my dear friend Nish would say, vomiting) from your memories or what you feel at the moment and then editing it so that it has a beginning, middle, end. No. That’s not what it is about. What it is, is a doorway – but to where?

To, my friend, a goddamn journey. It’s the frickin cupboard to Narnia. To a lonely, isolated, maddening but incredibly amazing world. No point in asking or ranting or raving why it is so – it just is. Everyone onboard will realize this in the first leg itself. And some quit, but most proceed, because they are too hooked. And like all journeys it will take time. Perhaps – to me at least, writing is the most wonderful journey in the world – so don’t just focus on the rainbow at the end of it. Stop following trends, stop asking for reassurance. Don’t keep dreaming about the colours of the rainbow and lose the beauty of the journey.

About all, listen to what your writing says to you, and it will help you. Everything you want to know, your writing will tell you. And if you give it the help it needs from you, in the form of discipline (writing every day), respect (don’t pimp it please) and nourishment (classes, retreats, critique groups), it will give you every riches you have ever dreamed off, things better than any kind of money.

That’s all there is to it.

A Writer’s Day Out

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So that’s one item ticked off in the bucket list!

I am talking about the two days I had spent in Madurai this month, with over 25 young women who attended my workshop “A WRITER’S LIFE”. I was also the Keynote speaker and chief guest at Arcadia, the annual day of the Literature department at Lady Doak College; it was a fabulous experience, not only because I love talking <cough*preaching*cough> to young minds, but also because it gave me a peek into the current reading habits of Young India (South Indian edition).

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Here’s what I learned:

  1. New adults (17-22 years old) like to read love stories. They all have read Chetan Bhagat, Ravinder Singh and Shakespeare.
  2. No, they do NOT want to read meaningful, poignant literature. They prefer books that can give them a break from reality.
  3. Only a few of them have read Tolkien (!!!). Yes, they prefer realistic fiction to fantasy.
  4. Most of them know about Kindle and a couple of them have actually self-published their works online.
  5. In my keynote address, I spoke about David Copperfield and Jane Eyre being YA books (of their time) and the teachers heartily agreed.
  6. The students clapped a lot and took selfies with me. I felt shy, proud and old.
  7. All of them have promised to read YA fiction, and were quite thrilled about it!

Moral of the story: Write love stories with happy endings. Save the angst for another audience!

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FAQ to a Writing Group Moderator

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Eight months into the year and I have finally realized my long time dream of creating and moderating a real-time writing group! Yoohoo. Here is a list of the Top 5 questions folks ask me, when they hear about Chennai Writers’ Ink.

  1. So what do you actually do in this writing group?

We meet once a month on second Saturdays from 4:30pm until people are ready to leave! The agenda revolves around three components: Critique each others’ submissions; attempt a short, timed writing exercise and read it aloud; discuss and share thoughts on the art, craft and business of fiction writing. Our primary goal is get our novels finished and our fiction fine-tuned, and this we do by critiquing each others’ works. There is an official googlegroup email thread where WIPs and documents are exchanged securely. We practice the adage: “Help others, and thus help yourself.”

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  1. Why are you so keen on managing a writers’ community? I mean, how important is it really in the big picture?

It’s the difference between living alone in a house on a deserted street and living alone in a hut in a commune. Each has its merits, but sooner or later, the commune wins. Writing is a solitary act, and there comes a point in every writer’s life where they need some literary companionship. I have long wondered (and cribbed and ranted and moaned) at the dearth of writing groups in Chennai / India. Then one day I just got tired of my own whining and started a group myself. If you want to know more about the backstory of this venture, please click here.

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  1. Why the insistence on critiquing each other’s works? Shouldn’t a writing group be… writing?

You’re right, writing is an act that does not need outsiders’ help. But getting feedback on your writing… yep, now that is a different thing. That’s the only way you can learn what works and what doesn’t work in your writing. And most importantly, correct it at the beginning itself. As writers, we become blind to our own works so we need to get a perspective from a third person. And who better than fellow writers? By critiquing each other’s works, we learn to identify the right and wrong writing techniques. It’s like going to part time MFA writing school, without the $$$ fees, grading and snobbish atmosphere. Nice, right?

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  1. But you restrict group membership at 10! How can it really help all those people keen on becoming writers?

Hmm, good question. I can see you’re itching to call us selfish. But you see, selfishness is much preferable to stupidity. This is the first lesson writers learn. You cannot save the world. You can attempt or try to save may be like, three people in the world. Ideally one, but three is max. But not the entire world. If you attempt to do so anyway, not only is it a waste of time and resources, it also results in the destruction of joy, peace and all things sane. Because, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

TBH, I would love to add the entire writing population of Chennai in the group so that our city becomes what London is to the literary world, but past experience has taught me that a crit group cannot handle more than a dozen writers at a time. Any bigger than that, focus and conversation shift to all topics other than writing. And the more people, the more chances of someone taking offence at something and souring the entire equation. A smaller, intimate group can grow together as a family, but a larger group tends to be split into cliques and eventually leads to anarchy.

And I can’t moderate anarchy (no bandwidth). Ergo, membership cap at 10.

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  1. So, that’s it? Only 10 members? No chance for others?

Yes, if capacity is full in this group I am moderating. But if you would like to start a writing group in your neighbourhood, just shoot me a mail and I will give you all my tools and survival tips. Free. Because that’s how, sometimes, the world has the chance of being saved.

Remember the 3 people I told you about? If they help 3 more people and those 3 people help 3 more people… yes, exactly, what they call paying it back, grassroots level. If someone is inspired by our Writers’ Ink group and is willing to take up the responsibility of starting a writing workshop in their neighbourhood (and moderating it – because you must be the change you are willing to see), I would be most delighted to pass on all my trade secrets and together, we can save the world.

I will wait for your call.

What’s Your Langolier?

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For fans of Stephen King, a Langolier is a scary entity that eats your time. It’s make believe of course, and a proof of the incredible creativity of the Ultimate King of Horror. But these days, its existence looks more and more like fact and not fiction. Judging by the amount of time we spend organising our life and going through established routines like job and family obligations, it is so easy to lost track of how time is slipping away from us.

During my mid-year review – please tell me you too evaluate your last six months’ progress, personally and professionally, or else I am going to feel like a freak – I was dismayed to realise that I had been spending more and more time online during the day, and then working only when the deadline approached. Now, we all know of the deadline crunch adrenaline rush, and how it serves as a catalyst to push us into overdrive and get that work done, but what worried me was that I was sacrificing my days to the online world. And you know what they say… How you spend your day is how you spend your life.

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Back in 2009 when I was studying in London, there was an unspoken code of conduct. If it’s sunny outside, no one was indoors (obviously I am not talking about those who have to be indoors, such as office folks). That part of the world gets so few bright and clear days that it was considered a crime to be indoors. People were outside as much as possible and enjoyed the good weather (often with barbeque and pool parties!), before it disappeared. If at all I refused to come out, my friends would cry, “But it’s so nice outside! Don’t waste such a good day by staying in!”

So. I have been wasting a lot of day time, going on social media and binge watching boxed sets, when I should have been making use of the day. That’s the problem with being a freelancer – if you’re not careful (or disciplined), you can lose the plot pretty quickly. It’s disgustingly easy to lose yourself in distractions when there is no one to report to.

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If you have been following my blog, you would know that my goal for this year is to edit the 10 chapter books I completed last year + edit the book I wrote for Nanowrimo 2014 + write a new novel for Nanowrimo 2015. It became very clear that unless I did something about my (bracing myself here) internet addiction, I am not going to reach that goal.

As immediate damage control, I have adapted this same policy. I am not facebooking or watching TV when it’s bright outside (except for sundays – we all need cheat days, otherwise we’re doomed). FB &TV will be a purely chill out session after I complete my day and am ready to unwind. I have already disabled notification emails to my inbox so now I have to manually arrive at FB to check all my notifications. And I am happy to say, I have already seen the results of this enforced curfew – my WIP has progressed very well, and I also feel more connected to the outside world. More… free.

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Now, this is where you come in. I have some questions for you:

1. Can you take a few minutes to find yourself a quiet corner and go over the last 6 months of your life? Preferably with a notepad and pen in your hand, or at least your smartphone/ipad? Yes? Good!

2. Now, close your eyes and ask yourself: What have you achieved so far in the last 6 months and are you happy about it?

3. What have you NOT achieved, and why? What (or who) is holding you back?

4. Where are you losing your goal / time / power? What are you going to do about it?

5. Write down the answers and make sure you re-read them the next day. Then start thinking about possible solutions.

I know… these are very tough questions to ask yourself. But they are extremely helpful in understanding where you are right now and how you can be better. If you need to share the revelations with some one, feel free to contact me🙂

USEFUL LINKS:

http://www.whatsnext.com/content/life-values-self-assessment-test

http://www.startofhappiness.com/wheel-of-life-a-self-assessment-tool/

http://mashable.com/2013/10/19/evaluating-life-gifs/

Your Creative Space

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How many of you have a dedicated space to create?

I know, that doesn’t sound like a reasonable question, right? Not only writers follow this blog, but also artists, hobbyists, and folks who find pleasure in making beautiful things. Nine out of ten times, they look incredulous when I ask them about their creative space. And they always give an excuse that denies them the freedom and bandwidth to create.

What? How can anybody have a dedicated creative space in this concrete jungle? They live in a rat hole. Their home has no space for their silly hobbies. Their spouse/children/maid would never leave them to have a private space. And who really can afford to have one, anyway?

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Here’s the truth. Your creative space does not have to be large or expensive. It does not need to be a separate room adorned with skylights and furnished in mahogany wood.

It can be as small as the corner of your living room, with a makeshift desk. It can be that wall on your balcony, on which you like to support your spine and type on your laptop. All you need, to possess a space to create, is to consider a piece of square feet as your creative space, designate it as your private space (hopefully with some visual barrier like a screen or a door) and guard it with your life, and not let the daily grind to stop you from creating.

See, I firmly believe everybody is creative. Unfortunately, not everybody gives it the nurturing it deserves. Often, we forget that creativity is like a plant. You need to water it regularly. Otherwise one day, it will wither and die.

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Isaac Asimov assigned a separate typewriter for each book he wrote and arranged them along the perimeter of his room. Then he went around, working through each project, and wrote over 500 books in his career.

Every time she wrote a new book, Alice Hoffman coloured her walls in a different colour, transferring the hue of her story onto the walls and decorating the room with stuff that resonates with that particular tale.

Think they were nuts? Remember what they wrote. They created masterpieces, which in turn made them immortal. So perhaps, these idiosyncrasies, these personal rituals, this reverence they gave for their private space – it all made sense for them and they didn’t hesitate to do it, even at the risk of sounding crazy.

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It’s surprising that most creators do not realise this: it’s not enough to have desire alone to be special and creative…. You should do what’s necessary to make the dream a reality. If you want to write a book or make art or do anything that’s out of ordinary, first assign a physical space in your life for it to be created. A space just for you and your muse to collaborate, co-exist and create.

Do it for one week. Assign a space in your home, and make it yours. Decorate it in any manner you like (strictly optional). Show up at the same time every day, at least half an hour’s time, where you ban the internet, the phone, the humans in life, everything (bar an emergency). Now, say a brief thank you to that mysterious force which blessed you with magic in your soul, the same magic that enables you to create something out of nothing, and start doing it – a poem, a painting, a scene, a handmade card, or even a matchstick structure you used to make as a child.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Recommended reading:

http://ericmaisel.com/a-writers-space/

http://afterwriterdreams.com/a-writers-space-a-room-of-your-own/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/series/writersrooms

Freedom of… expression?

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What would you do if your stand is not the common one? Would you be quiet and unassuming? Or would you be unflinchingly honest and vocal?

If you remember the Perumal Murugan controversy, you would have also remembered the tremendous online and offline support the author received earlier this year. While I am in awe of his talent and, as a reader and as a writer, learned a lot from his Mathorubagan series, I belong to the small minority who were of the opinion that Perumal Murugan had erred when he claimed fiction to be fact.

Recently, I was discussing about the same with a writer friend and her parting response effectively (and temporarily) silenced me; she said, quote unquote: “You cannot afford to do this! I don’t hear any other writer saying what you’ve been saying, and that’s because they are smart – they know they would be boycotted by the industry if they say they aren’t supporting that guy.”

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Freedom of expression is not just about what you want to say. It’s also about what you dare to say, about how your lone voice should not be lost amidst the louder ones.

My friend’s words brought back the memory that I was, indeed, alone.  I also recalled another incident;  Author Charu Nivedita’s, at Chennai Book Fair in Jan 2014, declared that he found Mathorupagan to be an average novel and started to describe why, when he was attacked by Perumal Murugan supporters. His next blog entry revealed that he received death threats that entire week. For what? For speaking his mind against another author, of whose freedom of expression the world and his brother were supporting!

So here is my question: can good literature really be created by some one who is afraid to speak up her mind? Answer: NO.

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The freedom to speak up is synonymous with the freedom to write, and if one is subdued, the other will be too. If you suppress your external voice, the internal one will suffer too. I am not going to cater to the masses just so that I could be safe from the threat of “boycott”. And it’s not news either; the world always poses some threat or other to a creator; so whats one more?

I agree there are a lot of writers who did write masterpieces while living under dire circumstances, but let’s be honest here – we do not belong to that tribe. Most of us are privileged enough to possess a computer, an internet connection and at least an hour’s free time everyday to write. These tools are enough to write a legible sentence, but without the courage to stand your ground, without the proud beauty of honesty, your words would be artificial, hollow and prone to a short life.

This incident gave me two options: I could stay silent and write safe and forgettable words or I could be true to my beliefs and bring that daringness to my art. I choose the latter.

What about you?