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. Or someone who can only write (transcribe) about their own life experiences. You are an artist only as long as you keep creating, variedly 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.

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?

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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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?

How Teaching Makes You Better at DOING

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

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

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

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

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

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

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

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

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Deadlines, challenges and other minefields

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As I passed the 6-month mark of the challenge – two challenges, actually; one is a chapter book a month, and the other, a short story a month – three things became clear to me.

1. Irrespective of what you frankly or secretly thought of your own capacities as a writer/artist/professional/human being, You Can Do Anything. That voice that says you can’t – it is lying now, but if you start believing it, it won’t be lying anymore. You just need to find your goal, fix a deadline and work towards it. Even one goal would do.

2. When you start working towards a goal, the universe itself will resist your efforts. You will find innumerable distractions, delays and doubts cropping up and poisoning your mind. You will recognise uncountable numbers of reasons why you can’t / won’t / shouldn’t be doing what you were trying to do. This is a test. The only way to pass it is to Just forge ahead. 

3. Once you are midway through a project, exhaustion creeps in. On good days, the rest of the year looks doable. On difficult days, it looks insurmountable and, frankly, pointless. Do not face this alone. A pep talk is most important at this time. Talk to a friend or a fellow creator. Stop pretending you are fine, and get help. It will save you. It saved me.

So here is my advice to anybody in the middle of a personal project – be it losing those extra kilos or trying to write a book – do not lose hope. Do not stop, or sigh, or look backwards. A job half-finished can make or break you, so be extra careful. True, you are half-way across the well (to quote a Tamil saying) but this is the most dangerous point – you give up now, you go straight to the bottom, you cannot even try to aim for the walls… you won’t be close enough!

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