Five reasons to apply for a writers’ residency

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People often ask me about writing residencies, as I am the only writer / event planner in India to offer writing retreats for women writers. Here’s an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released ebook, Writers’ Residencies: From Research till Submission.

Writer’s residency – put simply, it is a block of time (and place and food and transport!) gifted to you to finish your current project. There are five main reasons why you might be seeking a writing residency at this time. Let’s take a look at each of them.

TIME (and money)

Time is a writer’s greatest friend and worst enemy. If you are creative AND an adult, it takes all you have to make regular time for your creativity. So much to do (job, parenting, all the joyous and challenging issues life brings with it et al) and so little time to create…. to write. That’s why the prospect of having a whole stretch of period free to write is so tempting… and so rare to plan on one’s own.

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I agree wholeheartedly – not all of us can take a week off from our busy schedule (your boss or client may have a heart attack if they even hear you say that! For some, it’s not a matter of time but money – they may not be able to afford the expense of a residency. This is why a writing residency is the greatest gift a writer can give herself. Almost all formal residencies offer free room and board, or at least self-catering facilities; some also bear travel expenses too. Most if not all writers crave an opportunity like this to finish their long-pending projects.

 

FOCUS

Daily life has a way of sucking all our focus away from our creative wishlists! Some writers have extremely demanding lives and find it hard to focus on their writing and give it the attention it deserves. How can you make long-term writing plans if your life commitments leave you with little energy or focus?

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I realise this only too well. I planned forever to write a book on a subject dear to my heart, about Gandhi’s days in London as a law student. But I got my research done only after a patron gifted me a month’s residency in London, in 2013 – and not when I lived two years there as an au pair for three children and student with loans to repay! Taking a break, and attending a residency may be a writer’s only chance to focus on her craft and career.

 

COMMUNITY

Writing is one of the most loneliest and bravest acts of creativity. If you take any other creative art – say, sculpting or painting – at least there is something to show mid-way, but a writer cannot reveal anything unless her work is fully done! So you write every day, you march on, sometimes in a snail’s pace, but progressing anyway, inch by inch, with only your words for company.

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Truth is, creative artists cannot run on auto forever; they need to synergize with like-minded folks at least once in a while. Most residencies have communal meal times and local excursions; some even pair writers in the same “house”, which may help you find a writing buddy or future collaborator. Artist and writers’ residencies such as Yaddo, McDowell and Omi attract brilliant minds from around the world and the mere interaction can be a stimulating, muse-enriching experience.

 

CRAFT HELP 

There comes a point when you look at your current WIP and you realize that you not only need an uninterrupted chunk of time to finish it, but also specific help from a mentor or a teacher who can critique your work and guide you in making it close to perfect. You then need to target a residency that comes with a master writer-in-residence or author presenters giving one-on-one critiques or workshop sessions (for e.g., Highlights magazine’s workshops; I won a residency from them in 2004).

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These are more likely to be retreats or conferences, but they still need to be treated as a residency because most of them have need- or merit- based fellowships, which requires writers to submit an application including work samples.

 

DOWN TIME 

Sometimes your muse just needs a vacation.

She just HAS to get away for a week or two, to a place where she can gaze at a pretty view all day and write when the impulse strikes, and not be sidetracked by survival tasks like cooking or housekeeping. Sure we can harness our muse to work on a daily routine, but now then she needs to run away from the very routine which helps us write regularly – she needs to have the freedom to daydream and rejuvenate and charge up its batteries.

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If you have been managing a hectic career or home life for a long time, and you feel that your writing well is slowly getting dry and that very notion makes you panic and desperate, you know you should look for a residency asap – either a paid one or free!

 

REQUIRED READING

Check out these blog posts / articles of some writers about their time at residencies – intended to wildly inspire you and swear this year’s the year you will be winning one!

http://www.transartists.org/article/first-hand-residency-experiences-writers-and-translators

http://practicing-writing.blogspot.in/2008/05/talking-about-writers-residencies.html

http://blog.art21.org/2013/02/01/how-residencies-change-an-artists-practice/#.Us51hmQW1Xc

Writers residencies are a god-send – and no they are not some myth, there are legitimate (and highly reputed!) organisations that offer free or almost-free fellowships and residencies for writers to get their writing done – but the application process is no child’s play. In this class, I will help you realise your residency dreams and will break down the steps involved in applying for writing residencies. And as a two time residency award winner, I am qualified to! If you are interested in enrolling in this class, write to me :)

This Year’s Goals and Challenges!

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In 2015, my lucky number is going to be 12.

Ever since I took on the challenge of writing 12 books last year and was largely successful in it, I have been obsessed with pro-active goal setting and personal deadlines. It is easy enough to adhere to deadlines when they are set by your boss or when you are obligated to meet them.  I think that is precisely the reason why we have many successful professionals but often unsatisfied and sometimes, downright miserable human beings on earth.

We give great respect and dedication to the deadlines set by others, but not by us. When, actually, it should be the other way around. Or, at the least, equal.

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I will be frank – last year was not easy, to sit each month and churn out a book. And it was not even a novel, but just a chapter book (5k to 15k words), and it was, pardon my French, frickin difficult. It was possible only because I promised myself (and the entire world!) that I’d give it my best shot each month. Only that promise helped me experience a great educational year, one that gave me 12 first drafts – a feat I have never achieved before in my life.

So, I am upping the ante this year. FIVE challenges, instead of one.

  • 12 books to read and 12 books to give away, every month (only way I can think of, to stop the habit of buying new books without reading the old ones)
  • 12 manuscripts to edit (I wrote them last year, now I have to get them ready for editors to read!)
  • 12 kilos to lose by the end of the year (all thanks to Fast Food Nation and a new found love of fitness)
  • 12 short stories to write (as the host of Short Story Challenge 12×12, I am simply going to continue the challenge from last year)
  • 12 artist’s dates (as part of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way creativity program – I plan to do this every year, I fail to do it every year but NOT this year!)

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Phew! And that’s why this update took so long… because I need all this time to identify my personal and professional goals for this year. I am enamoured with the concept that if you aim for the stars, at the least you may reach the eagle’s nest. I love the thrill of meeting a professional deadline, and let’s accept it, like all others, I love earning money. I really do. But my epiphany from last year – brace yourself for the cliché – is that personal deadlines – the ones that are not dictated by money or obligations – are good for the soul. And this year, I am all about the soul.

Am I chewing more than I could swallow? Perhaps. But there are very practical reasons for these goals, as explained above. All this year, you can expect posts on these topics – health, fitness, creativity, publishing and literature – as I try my darn best to win all five challenges.

If any of you have the same goal(s) as these, please write to me and we will go on this journey together :-). And as you can see, none involve writing one book a month, so I’m very confident 2015 is not going to be tougher than 2014!

The Year Past and The Year Ahead

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How many of us really evaluate the past and the future?

It’s normal to compare, yes, but I don’t mean that. In fleeting moments of joy or despair, every one tends to compare then and now, but I would like to know how many of us consciously sit down and say, “Okay, this is what I did in 2014. What did I get out of it? Did it change me in any way – if yes, good or bad? Have I learned anything at all? Have I become better, or do I remain the same? Did I do the same stuff in 2014, as I did in 2013? What lessons have I learnt and what am I going to do with that wisdom in this brand new year?”

Let me tell you, I never self-evaluated. Really, who does it? Only self-help gurus, I guess. For most of us, the last few weeks of December are usually spent in festive spirit or holidaying (for me, it was Hong Kong!), as we are excited about the coming new year. And on the Day itself, we are full of optimism and excitement and euphoria, that we completely forget that January 1 soon gets over, and we are once again presented with another year which we can choose to just glide by like a passing speck in a daffodil field, or forge ahead with deliberate focus.

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I wouldn’t do that anymore, I decided mid-flight on Dec 30, when the flight continued to hobble up and down and sideways, and my fellow passengers were trying not to scream. All of us were remembering the “disappeared” Air Asia flight just a few days earlier. And all of us surely remembered that we were currently flying Malaysian, the same airline that still hasn’t found MH370. I chanted to myself, if I make it alive, I will be better, and I will do better. I would spend the next 7 days listing out what 2014 really meant to me, to my career, to my life, to me as a writer and an individual.

So, ever since the flight from Hong Kong safely landed in Chennai, I have been self-evaluating, with a pen and a notepad (and sometimes mobile Evernote). Here’s a small glimpse into the results: In 2014, I semi-won the challenge I had set for myself and, as a surprise bonus, completed 50k words in November, for Nanowrimo. On the non-writing side, I got hooked with Ayurveda, realised I had anger management issues and a book called FAST FOOD NATION totally changed the way I looked at food. And more revelations that I will – for now – keep to myself!

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I think we do not self-evaluate because it forces us to come into the light. We are so used to being blind and ignore the fact that it is us who design our present and future; self evaluations unflinchingly tell you who’s to blame and we are insanely scared of the answer. Mine has shown me a few home truths; some pertain to writing, but most pertain to life; I now have more to share with you all now. Last year, this was a writer’s blog that spoke about writing. But this year, it’s going to be a writer’s blog that will also speak about the stuff she cares deeply about, other than writing.

It’s funny how a somewhat-near-death experience in 2013 influenced me to finally write my novel. And now, another similar experience has forced me to self-evaluate and change (not too wildly, I promise) the focus of this blog – same URL, but a different look and a title. I hope you will stick around for the many exciting e-updates I have planned this year. I will still, quite often, address the trials and tribulations of a children’s writer / budding novelist based in India (somebody has to do it!), but I will also be exploring ways to lead a wholesome, content and creative life.

Stay tuned and here’s to a happy, productive new year for all my readers!

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The End of CBC 12×12

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You are probably wondering what happened to my Chapter Book Challenge 12×12.

Well, for some years now, I have been working on a series called The Gurukul Chronicles (TGC). I had outlines of the first three books in the series and had planned to write them during the last three months of this year, to win in CBC 12×12. I had written about 8000 words in Book 1 during Oct, when I stumbled into a plot change… that the 3 books I had planned, would be better as the same book.

Now, like most people, I hate changes. I do not like wild detours. I had allocated Book 1 for Oct, so now to realise that all three books will be written as the same book… not only did it screw up my CBC 12×12 writing schedule for this year, it also significantly screwed up the plans I had for the novel series! Now I don’t have a series anymore, but just a standalone book.

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I admit, I tried. But no matter how much I resisted, I could not put my preferences over what the story needed. It became crystal clear that the novel needed all three parts to be in read in the same book, not as different books. I did try to carry on with what I wanted to do – that is, keep writing the book as separate parts – but it all felt wrong. Pretending and being in denial may all work for some time, but not forever.  At some point, you just have to accept the reality and do what is right.

And that’s how TGC became a Nanowrimo novel. I figured, if I have to write all three books as one, I might as well attempt in that crazy challenge that thousands of people from all over the world attempt. I completed 50k words (40k of TGC and 10k of a chapter book called Adventures of Annapoorani) in Nov 2014. I still am working on TGC, as I am desperate to finish it by this year end, which means… I do not have any more time to attempt CBC 12×12!

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I don’t have any regrets, though. Sometimes, the end is the end. And look at the silver lining – I had sought out to finish 12 books this year, and I do have 12 books! Here is a recap:

Jan – Maanja Madness

Feb – Home Before Dark (in Tamil / freehand)

Mar – The Diary of DDLJ

Apr – Tracks on a Train

May – The Monkey’s Spear and other sci-myths

Jun – Naughty Narada

Jul – Tales from St. Tessa

Aug – The Ark C/O Unicorn Avenue

Sep – Saras and the Superstar

Oct –  100 Tales from Ancient India (this was a project I edited for a US client)

Nov – Adventures of Anna Poorani

Dec – The Gurukul Chronicles

Yes, they are not all chapter books, and I am not going to declare myself as a winner of CBC 12×12… but as I said before, I started 2014 with zero books and now, I have 12 books. With this, I am officially ending the CBC 12×12 challenge. And no, I will not be doing this again in 2015, as I plan to edit all these books and getting them ready for submission, which I imagine will take all year!

But that’s a schedule I can live with ;). That’s the beauty with challenges… even if you did not succeed, you still would be left with more than you ever had at the beginning :)

8 Best Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo

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writingale:

This post is especially for my cynical writer friend who has never attempted NaNoWriMo so far, because she believes that a bestseller just CANNOT be written in 30 days :). Ms P, I really hope you will come onboard the Nanowrimo bandwagon next year!

Originally posted on Writing and Illustrating:

Congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year. I thought you might like to hear about some of the novels in previous years that were written during NaNoWriMo and found great success.  I found this on Paul Jenny’s blog and thought it was very interesting.

Paul Jenny8 Best Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo

by Paul Jenny

The Lunar Chronicles

Some novelists struggle to write ONE first draft during WriMo.

YA fiction writer Marissa Meyer wrote THREE: Cinder, ScarletandCress.

These futuristic re-tellings of famous fairy tales with a sci-fi twist were all written during a 2008 NaNoWriMo. As a self-professed geek and chronic over-achiever, Meyer says she participated in WriMo that year because she was trying to win a contest where the Seattle based writer with the most words written during the month would get to play a walk-on role on a future episode of Star Trek. She came in…

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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!

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