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).


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!



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.”


  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.


  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?


  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.


  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.


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.


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.


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 :)





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?


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.


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.


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.


Recommended reading:




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.”


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.


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?

A Walk to Write

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Lifestyle change #2 – Walking 30 minutes a day

Who would have thought that walking would help me in my writing? The two activities are fundamentally different. One is about creation. The other, contemplation. One is done in sedentary in posture yet is active in nature. The other is exactly opposite.

Yet, I write better on the days I walk. Even though I spend time away from my writing desk, I end up writing better stuff, for longer.

Think it’s mystery? Nah. It’s logic. A walk clears your mind. And a clear mind is a fantastic tool for the writer.

For me, a walk is like a gate pass. As an introverted freelance writer/editor, I have a lot of deadlines at any given time, so I am (at home) the quintessential worker bee hunched over her laptop, typing away to oblivion. So, a walk to me is like a glimpse of the outer world in all its glory, a “spread your arms white and take in the bright light and air” moment. And I need these moments every day, if not for the endorphins, at least for the Vitamin D.


Walking everyday is one of the best health habits you can ever practice in your life. It is said to prevent diabetes, keep the heart healthy, stop obesity, halt dementia, promotes endorphins and is gentle on your knees. Oh, it also tones your arms and legs. So what’s not to like, eh?

The problem is finding those 30 minutes, isn’t it? I hear you. With the daily grind and obligations, spending thirty whole minutes on walking may seem impossible. But it’s not. It’s just a matter of priority.

I don’t know about you, but I live in the tropics. Hot most of the year, and it makes no sense to walk after 6:30am when it’s too warm for a stroll. But I’d hate to cite that as a reason for not walking. OTOH, I also hate giving up my early morning writing time, so I walk in the evenings. You just need to find a time that works for you.

I walk not because I have to, but because I want to. Because I believe we are a generation with escalating sickness in its body and soul. We were never like our parents grandparents ancestors, and we will never will be. We didn’t eat wholesome food like they did, we didn’t make good health choices like they did and we certainly did not physically work like they did.


Not just writers, but most of humans in these times are slaves to their work desks and get little exercise in a day, so a walk is almost the best and cheapest solution for this problem.

So, if I see the clock pointing to 5:45pm, I just put on my walking shoes and head out.I walk for 15 min in any direction and then head back. It’s as easy as that. I invested in a good Adidas, purely for its durability – trust me, you don’t want to be cheap in this issue! – and let me preach it from the mountaintop that a good pair of shoes makes it a pleasure to walk.

When I return from my walk, I do a simple 10 minute stretching routine, which is vital for your muscle health and in decreasing your risk of injuries. There! In one sweep, I completed my 40 minute exercise quota a day.

Try it. You don’t need an expensive gym membership. You don’t need fancy equipment. Just comfortable clothing and a good pair of walking shoes. Make this simple change in your life, and watch both your health and writing thrive.

Required reading:

How Walking Inspires Writers

Why Walking Helps Us Think

Meditation Walking for Writers

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.

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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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!


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!




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 :)