Freedom of… expression?

Leave a comment Standard

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.”

free2

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.

free1

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 writer 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?

Five reasons to apply for a writers’ residency

Leave a comment Standard

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.

What is a writer’s residency? In it’s most basic definition, 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.

fblog1

 

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?

fblog2a

 

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.

fblog3

 

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).

fblog4

 

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.

fblog5

 

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 :)

Lifestyle change #1: Three litres of water a day

Leave a comment Standard

This is a series of articles I will be publishing this year, documenting my weight loss journey! I have made 12 changes in my lifestyle and diet, in my quest to 12 kilos in 12 months,. What this means is, I didn’t just follow one change per month, but all 12 changes… but for blogging purposes, the format of this series will highlight on each change every month. Now, for the most important part of any diet…. read on:

I have never been an ardent water drinker. I never really feel thirsty so I much never drank water unless somebody prompted me to, or as part of meals. In fact, to be totally honest, I hated the taste of water! Is that crazy? If it is, the only reason must be that I was young and stupid enough not to care about the repercussions.

Needless to say, I had kidney stones, low stamina and myriad other health issues… In the past two years, I was diagnosed with jaundice, hypothyroidism and three other semi-serious body conditions. Nobody said to me that it was all connected to water intake, but I listened to my body for the first time in my life… and I could see what it needed. More water.

w1

So, I took up water therapy. Not the one that advocated drinking 1.5 L of water on waking up, but the one that asks you take little sips throughout the day. But before starting, I did my homework. My short story and chapter book challenges had made me realise that your goals are only as good as your preparation for them. I have failed a lot trying to start a new habit and then giving up three days in, so I made sure I had the tools ready beforehand.

  1. I borrowed a small cup from the kitchen. It’s about 175 ml or 6 gulps of water. It now lives in my room.
  2. I programmed my mobile, PC and laptop to announce the time every half hour.
  3. Every night, I filled 3 medium-sized bottles (750 ml each) and kept it in my room, near my bed and workstation.

That’s it. As soon as I woke up, I filled the cup and drank it slowly. Your body is dehydrated every morning, since it didn’t have any water while you were asleep. But drinking too much water on waking up is not recommended, so sip gently. Then every time the mobile/PC/laptop announced the time, I filled the cup with water and drank it.

w2

Here’s what has happened in the past month:

  1. I ate less. Hallelujah! Or rather, I became full with half the amount of food I used to consume before. Reason? There simply wasn’t space in my tummy to accommodate food when there was so much water.
  2. I don’t know where my sweet tooth went. This in my opinion is the best payoff! I always had a chocolate bar after meals, but ever since I started drinking 3 litres of water a day, I didn’t have the inclination to eat anything after a meal. I guess it got drowned in all the water.
  3. My moon face improved. The double chin is still there, obviously (grrrr), but I could see that my face is somewhat… thinner. Not thin thin, but… a bit less swollen. I guess all the retained water in my body is now gone, leaving my features to finally emerge!

So, this is the ONE thing that I would ask you to do, if you’re looking to lead a healthier lifestyle – drink more water. And here is the good news: Any liquid – hopefully freshly made at home, and that does not include wine! – can count towards your 3L a day target. Have equal parts of water and homemade vegetable broth. Or a combo of soup + green tea + water. You just need to mix and match sensibly!

Caution: In rare cases, drinking too much of water can dangerously lower the level of salt, or sodium. That’s a condition called hyponatremia, which could be fatal. That’s why you should never gulp down water – just sip a few mouthfuls every thirty minutes. And DO NOT drink any water with meals (soups / juices in small amounts are okay). Also, do not have any water for an hour after a meal.

 

w3

As always, before starting any health regimen, consult your doctor. I did and my doc said okay! Here are some tips to help you ease more water in your life:

  • Make sure you drink 1 litre of water by noon, and 1 litre by 6pm. The rest is easy. I advise the sippy cup method because the idea of drinking from a huge bottle intimidates me. But if you like drinking from the bottle, please do so. Just don’t be a gulper – kidneys don’t like it when you overload them with water at one go.
  • I end the day with three cups of freshly prepared green tea (it is believed that this combo will aid in better sleep). Counting this, my daily water intake is only 2.75L every day, but my theory is that the body will get the remaining 250ml from my food (fruits, soups, gravies etc.)
  • If you work in an office, take 2 bottles to work. Most feel lazy to get up and fill up their bottles at the cooler, and there goes the chance to drink more water. If you take your daily intake with you, this excuse won’t fly!
  • If you travel frequently during the day, don’t forget one bottle in your car / bike BUT make sure you take it back with you when you go home. Do NOT leave it in the car (you might drink it on a later date – NOT good).
  • In case, you hate the taste of water, you can a few drops of lemon to it. But, IMO, the more you drink water, the more you end up liking its taste!

Stats on my weight loss goals:

Weight on Jan 1, 2015 – 76 kilos

Weight on Feb 1, 2015 – 75 kilos

So, this is me, thirty days apart… let’s see how I’ll be changing every month this year!

fin feb 1

This Year’s Goals and Challenges!

Comment 1 Standard

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.

blog12

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!)

blog11

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

Comment 1 Standard

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.

jan1aa

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!

jan1b

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!

jan1c

The End of CBC 12×12

Comment 1 Standard

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.

b1

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!

b2

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

Leave a comment Standard

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…

View original 1,356 more words