August 31, 2013

Writer's Block

Dear M,

Whether one is a writer or not, this is a phrase that can be used with abandon: Writer's Block. There is some kind of a world-wide licence for everyone to use this and mean anything. Some say they have writer's block when they are unable to finish their tasks. Some say they did not send an email because they were suffering from writer's block.

I am no authority on the topic, but I am sure Writer's Block is more than a fashionable phrase for laziness or procrastination.

I haven't really figured out what Writer's Block is, except that due to some reason the writer is unable to write. Stuck. I have had short spells of not being able to write, too. For about a week or two, I could not come up with anything because I was exhausted from my regular work and other responsibilities, and my mind felt as though it had transformed into a block of ice, and whenever I thought of writing, nothing came to mind. I gave it a rest. I told myself I was going to take a break from writing. Rest was important, writing came after that. After all, without health, what writing can I do? (On another day, I would tell you to kill yourself writing, but today is not that day.) So I slept, read books and watched television when my eyes weren't too tired, attended to my regular chores and job, and tried not to think about writing. The phase passed after a blissfully lazy week.

Then there was a time when my story was almost through but a major link was missing. My character was searching for someone, and about 500 words later, he would have to find him. But how would he find him? I had no idea. I was blocked. I went back and forth, moving my characters here and there, trying to make them chance upon each other, but nothing seemed to work, nothing was convincing enough. I had to stop trying. Again, I took another break, but I think I wrote a short story in the meantime, to keep my mind off the missing link of my novel. Then I went back, retreated a few steps, thought about what all the rest of my characters were doing, pondered about what I would do in a similar situation, and gave a few nudges to people here and there, and I got a solution. Maybe not the best solution, but something to keep me going.

That's pretty much what Writer's Block is - you are looking too intensely into your world that you do not see things you wish to see. They are right there in front of you, blurred and vague. And you're frustrated when you cannot bring them to focus. When you realise this, take a step back, look away, take a few deep breaths, think of something else. It will come back to you, if you are dedicated enough. Sometimes it will not come back for days. You may have gotten over the block and started writing something else. Then weeks later, it will burst over your head and cover you with flower petals.

Some say it is a good idea to take a walk when faced with Writer's Block. I think the point is distraction. Distract yourself for however long it takes to get you back on track. Distract yourself so that the block is the farthest from your mind; if it threatens to return, send it farther away.

By no means is Writer's Block a term for excusing your laziness. A person who starts writing today (and makes a big hue and cry of it) will complain tomorrow that he/she cannot write because of Writer's Block. My only request would be, please call it by some other name.


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August 30, 2013

Struggle and Frustration

Dear M,

I have been feeling very low for the past few days. I am working hard, but there are no real results to show. Do you know how relieving it is to be able to talk to you regarding this? But even the relief is temporary. The weight returns to my chest sooner rather than later.

Sometimes the pain is too much that I want to stop writing and move on. But even as I say it, I know I don't believe in it. I cannot stop - I am like an addict who wants to give up. The addict never really wants to give up, it is just that a grain of practical sense in his head tells him it is better for his own health that he quit now. But most of the time when I feel this way I try to go back to writing. It does not take the pain away, but it distracts me and makes me alive. I love what I write, you know. I like to believe I have talent. A little rugged, perhaps, and raw and untamed, but talent nonetheless. The best part is, when I feel so strongly about the part I am writing, I feel it has come alive. I like it when it brings tears to my eyes. But I am not sure if the tears are only because it is so convincing.

But what I wanted to talk to you about was this frustration. I feel slightly better when I read that famous and successful authors have had long periods of failure before they found their feet. It is encouraging to know that we are not the only ones and that failure is an essential homework to success, but it is also unsettling to think that there may be many nerve-wracking years before we find ours.

A baby born into this world normally comes out screaming. The effort must be painful but he has to go through that test if he has to reach this world. Makes us feel our world is pretty special, eh? The luckier ones (though the Moms aren't lucky) get to be taken out through a C-section. Doctors come to the womb where you live, request you to come out and help you emerge - without much of a struggle. Just as so, a normal writer has to struggle and fight and push his way through the narrow, oppressing tunnel to find some light - and the life after that isn't a bed of roses either! For a few lucky ones, publishers and agents come to you, and help you step out to the world of writing. People make time to operate so that they can hold you in their arms. All your crying is probably to be done later in life. Oh, that sounds nasty.

This struggle is essential. It could be over in thirty minutes or eight hours. No one can say! A happy writer does not make a very good writer, I think. Every evidence we see across nature shows us so. Apparently the caterpillar goes through a life of pain before it emerges as a butterfly. We are stretching ourselves so that we can see inside our characters. The pain shows us the darkness in our own mind, its capabilities to do good and bad. It is the extent and depth of this darkness inside that decide our colours as we emerge as a butterfly.

Sometimes it scares me, this darkness. It could pull me in, you know.

The more the struggle, the better - the results will be sweeter and the happiness, well-deserved. But I doubt if the baby would ever appreciate it.


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August 29, 2013

Reading is everything

Dear M,

I came across an interview when I was scouting the Internet for a publisher. You know I have those spells of snooping around for good, small publishers who might be just the ones for good, small me? So there was this publisher's website and an interview with their new (and perhaps only) author. I would not comment more on the premise, but I was surprised to read the author confessing proudly that she/he started reading books (fiction) only after her/his first book was published.

I don't have anything against the author, because as a new kid on the block, I had made one loud blunder too. (Which I prefer to forget and never mention in this life again.) But this author writing a book without having read anything in life? If she/he is not a genius, then the book is a full-fledged disaster.

Reading is everything. I have nothing more to add to this, the sentence says it all.

I have an author friend whom I respect a great deal. His grasp of current affairs and his general knowledge are impeccable. He has a job that takes him places, and he must have such an ocean of stories and experiences to share. He reads all kinds of books, whenever he gets time. His stories are promising, and as far as the synopses go, they have huge potential. I only see two major problems in his writing: the first is his utter disregard for grammar, the second is his hyper obsession with vocabulary.

Perhaps the two issues are connected: it could be because of his obsession for new words that he did not pay much attention to polishing his grammar. Or he must have worked too hard on his vocabulary to cover his grammatical incompetence. Either way, He ruminated, she rued, etc. stand out from his text as though they were planted there to scare the crows.

In his defence, English is not his first language, possibly not even his second or third. In this country where we are lashed with all kinds of languages from all sides every day, English is only used when the rest of them don't work - at least in his line of duty and in the place where he lives. What he has achieved is tremendous when we consider these facts.

What I am trying to say is (I can see you are confused), there should be a balance between the grammar and the vocabulary. If the grammar is faultless, the vocabulary, however ordinary or outstanding it is, may not look odd (or it may). But if the grammar fails and the vocabulary is extraordinary, the outcome will be a failure.

How in the world can we expect our structure to stand on its own and with a perfect blend of grammar and vocabulary, if we do not have any experience reading books? How in the world do we expect to build our knowledge and have the words at our finger tips without reading daily? How in the world do we expect to be able to use the vast capabilities of the language if it is not cemented to perfection by reading?

Look at this author friend of mine - no one else reads as much as he does, no one else has the determination that he has, no one works as hard as he does, yet he cannot get it right. How bigger a calamity it will be, if the reading itself is absent?


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August 28, 2013

Sub plots in a novel

Dear M,

I wish I had known earlier about sub-plots, you know. My first novel would have been a lot better if I had. But I know about it now and I have started noticing sub-plots in many books I read. So I guess it is better late than never.

I think in my novel there are a few sub-plots, appearing like thin veils. But those could have been made to appear much sharper and finer if I had known that these were 'sub-plots', and if I had known how to work on them.

For one thing, without sub-plots, the story sounds very linear. If you are writing a very heavy, action-packed plot-based novel (already running to 500+ pages), then probably there is no space for sub-plots. You do not deviate to tell people about other insignificant things that passed by the highway.

What are sub-plots exactly? They're things that happen on the side, that enrich the main flow of the story. Either it adds a dash of colour to your characters or to your plot, or it takes the reader into an arc, telling him about important events that affected people. In a recent book I read, there had been interlacing of politics of the time (the story was set fifty years into the past). It had nothing to do with the theme or the main plot of the story. But because of the politics, secondary characters changed and this in turn affected the main characters and the way they made their choices. Without the historical intervention, things would have been a lot different. And yet, if you ask, is the history the main theme or plot of the story? The answer is No.

When I began reading about sub-plots, one of the articles I came across was introducing sub-plots to increase word count. That sounds crass, but have you any idea how word-starved some of our stories can be? Our most brilliant idea (in the beginning stages of our novel-writing career) could be expanded to about 50K of words. There are exceptions of course, and I speak from experience. And these 50K words are as straightforward as "The man was dead - the detective came - he spotted a ring near the dead body - the ring was the fiancée's - the fiancée was the killer." Apart from the unpredictability you can offer to your tale, you can also develop things on the side, you can develop the dead man's relation with the fiancée, the fiancée's past or relationships, even the detective's personal problems. Though, strictly these may not be the reasons for the murder.

I don't know if the examples I have given above are any good. I have a feeling they aren't. It is one thing to understand, it is quite another to explain. But I am sure you have understood something, and that is always a good place to start!

As for me, I am going to look for - and inject, if needed - important sub-plots into my stories.


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August 27, 2013

Character Development 3 - Quirks

Dear M,

I wish to continue where I had left off Character Development. As I had mentioned, this is the difficult part. But I feel this is the part that could bring life to our characters, because it helps us connect with them, it makes us feel that the characters are people just like us, and hence it makes us feel these are our own stories.

We could call these character traits quirks. If we look around closely, we find a lot of them in people. It's just that unless they are extraordinarily weird, we do not even notice - the mannerisms, the strange (and sometimes annoying) habits, their common gestures, their attitudes, their responses to situations and all those.

A girl who has long, straight, thick hair that is the envy of everyone around her, always flicks her hair back when she speaks.
A person who starts every conversation with "See." "See, this is what I did. See, this is where we are going. See, the sun is up already. See, what he told me yesterday was.."
A person who clicks his tongue.
A scientist who has an obsession with astronomy and loves to teach children all about constellations and star formations, places herself in her balcony with a telescope every evening after sunset.
A gorgeous woman who keeps looking at your feet whenever she speaks, making you wonder if shoes doth make a man, so what does she think mine make me?
A man who smiles only about twice a year and the rest of the time sulks as though life is tired of him or he is tired of the rest of us.
A man who is quite skilled at his craft, but who yawns all the time; the yawning makes others feel he is incompetent.
A girl who runs her hand through her lips when she is thinking.
A person who can work at his computer only if he has old film songs running.
A boy who always walks with ear plugs from his mobile.
A woman who makes an impatient face every time she is asked to do something that she is paid for.
A person who engulfs everyone with her optimism when she is at her best, and drowns everyone in pessimism when she is depressed.
A person who appears very friendly and polite and enchanting, but who picks up little things when no one is looking.
A person with very high general knowledge and reads a great deal.
A person who is kind.
A person who quotes the movies in every conversation.
A person who is always anxious, and terrified of every day.
A person who ignores others when he is hard at work.
A person with a vibrant social life. Another who avoids social get-togethers.

In some recent books I read, there were these characters: a genius mathematician who forget trifles like people's names, one person who gets agitated easily, another who takes offence quickly, yet another who is deeply superstitious, one who has a very high memory power, one who is excited like a child at the smallest things and another who is so dedicated to his work that he has his work brought to hospital after he had a heart attack, a woman who thinks a person who cannot speak English well cannot be respectable enough.

These are not all. One good exercise we could do as writers would be to note down whatever quirks we have observed of others. Think of smugness, modesty, humility, pleasant or gloomy attitude, talkativeness - you have a whole range to choose from. There will always be a pattern. It's up to us to notice them, note them and immortalise them!

What are my own quirks? I have hidden some of them in the list above. I hope you will not find them.


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August 26, 2013

The Importance of Discipline

Dear M,

I think this is a topic I should have spoken to you about first - the importance of discipline in writing. Anyone who is not prepared to lead a disciplined life with respect to writing, should stop aspiring to be a writer. Everything else comes after that. Discipline is as important - I dare say, more so - than skill and talent. It is tightly interwoven with hard-work.

I have already mentioned that unless you take writing seriously, you will never become a serious writer. You are a writer because you write. But you will never be exceptional. If your goal is to be an average writer then nothing else matters.

Among my "real" friends, no one takes writing as seriously as I do. Among my virtual (online) friends there are many. In fact I connected with them because they are writers. They are possibly more dedicated and involved in writing than I am. Some do not even have a day job, they get all the day to do their writing (for which I sometimes envy them). Many of them have fixed writing times, and more often than not, they succeed in not letting anyone disturb them.

Among my real friends, however, there are many who would like to publish the "next big" book. Their idea excites them, their dream probably drives them. They have come asking me for advice, because I am the only one in their circle who can claim to have some experience. They ask, "Give me some tips on how to write." I want to tell them about discipline. To the first few who asked, I did. Then I stopped. Now I reply, "There is only one tip: Sit down and write. Daily." They are clearly not pleased, they expect some short cuts that rip them right through the difficult writing part and come to rest in the best-seller part.

That is all there is to it, really. Sit down and write. Everything else comes afterwards. You decide how much you can write, or for how long. Daily. Either it is 500 words per day. Or it is for one hour every day. Or it is eight hours a week. Whatever works for you, taking into consideration all other priorities: family, career, responsibilities, emergencies. And during that fixed time you have set, do nothing else but write. No chores, no pending responsibilities, no work, no social media, no emails, no phone calls. After all, we aren't doing it for anyone else, we are doing it for ourselves. And for that very same reason, the fact that we are our own bosses, it is easy to procrastinate. My "next big book" friends tell me, I really can't find time to write. I have so many other things to do. I don't tell them, everyone does, but that is what I think.

I talk big about discipline, but I am not great on that front. My work hinders with my writing, my chores distract me, my pending responsibilities worry me. To disclose a secret, discipline was one reason why I started these daily letters. My goal is a minimum of 300 words every morning. That sets the pace, and in half an hour or one hour I have the feeling that I have achieved something. Even though I get nothing else done for the rest of the day! But the fact is that once this is done, I have energy and inspiration to run me through the rest of the difficult business.

So what if I am not perfect at it? At least I know and acknowledge its importance. And I strive towards it, though my work might suffer, my chores remain undone, my responsibilities are neglected, my people complain that I don't call them.
Which is the first step in attaining some semblance of discipline.


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August 25, 2013

Talking to oneself

Dear M,

Something really embarrassing happened a few days ago - someone caught me speaking to myself.

That in itself isn't bad, I am sure we all do that now and then. But in my case it was a very advanced (and hopeless?) case. I had been at it, gesturing and whispering and smiling, for at least ten minutes (and I have no idea how much longer) before I realised that I was being watched. I can't say how shocked and ashamed I was, and how foolish I felt. How deep inside my own head was I that I forgot where I was? I laughed about it, of course, but it was a real jolt.

I know I told you yesterday that I have a five hour distance between my real and fictional world. That's what I thought, really. I thought there was sufficient layer of reality between both, and a sufficiently thick wall of consciousness. Maybe this is not true, maybe the two overlap more frequently than I was aware of.

Strictly speaking, I was not in my fictional world - in the sense that I was not creating or developing my characters or plot. I was in a fictionalised real world: by that I mean, I was thinking of real people, people I had spoken to over phone just minutes ago. I was running the same conversation again, and then I moved on to conversations that might have happened. I imagined their reactions, my responses, the smiles, the laughter, the comedy. We might call it day dreaming or fantasising. I was too involved in it (I was also doing some chore at the time where not much brain interaction was required) that I did not realise someone was standing just a few feet away, and that I was enacting the scene, gestures, words, expressions and all, much to that person's amusement.

So many thoughts come to my mind when I think about this. One is that we are such an absent-minded lot hovering dangerously over the brink, and the journey to complete isolation begins somewhere close by. Too close by. It is scary. Some day, if this goes on, I could end up living more in my imagined world (with real and fictional characters) than in the real world with real people. Some might call it madness.

Another thought is that these imagined conversations will one day make their way into my story. It has happened before. I have imagined meetings with people I know (people who barely remember me and don't think of me at all), conversations, attitudes, expressions, everything. Then later one of my characters would find himself/herself in a similar situation and say the very same words and display the same behaviour and expressions. That's not a bad thing. At least that is what I tell myself when I remember this incident and my cheeks begin to turn red at the memory.


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August 24, 2013

Getting Inspired to Write

Dear M,

Have you ever wondered what or who inspires us to do things? Every day, many little things we do are the aftermath of someone's kind action or a smile or an encouraging word or an angry outburst. It could also be things like the rain or a puddle of water on the road or the squeals of children. It could be silence or an absence.

They say most emotions are unique to humans. I don't know if 'getting inspired' can be classified as an emotion. But it sure does feel like one. An intriguing and inexplicable one! I think everyone can inspire people around them.

A person inspired me to write recently, without even knowing how much I was inspired. I have not spoken much to this person or exchanged more than a few polite, casual words every time. But I have observed this person very well every time our paths cross. What came out of my writing was beautiful, I think. Because every time I read it, I feel it all over again. And if I feel it so intensely, a little of it might exude to the reader as well, I hope. The reader might also be reminded of someone they know. I hope.

A second person who inspired me recently was a lady I did not particularly like. A lady with a beautiful, though frozen and emotionless, face. I tried to imagine what her life must be like, is she as frozen inside as she is outside? I based my character out of her: but in my story, despite her frozenness, she is loved - maybe because I loved her as my character, though I do not particularly love the real person. I would rather avoid her in real life, but I could pamper her in my story.

I wonder if the inspiration thing is something that we are given, or is it something we find? Does it come to us of its own accord, or do we chance upon it only when (if) we go looking for it?


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August 23, 2013

Forgetfulness is inevitable in a Writer's Life

Dear M,

I forgot something yesterday. Something that was very, very important to the family, and very important to me. I forgot about it for five complete hours. Nothing happened, no one was harmed due to it but it brought home to me that drastic realisation that my real world and my contrived world are so far apart that it might take me five hours to move from one to another.

It is often said that writers are - as are artists of all nature - an absent-minded lot. When you hear it, standing somewhere at the brim or outside the realm of art, it sounds exciting, romantic, even enthralling. One would yearn to be an artist to be so absent-minded and creative. Except that, when you are in it, it is no fun at all.

I drowned in guilt for a long time. No one blamed me, in fact no one had probably even noticed my absence all the while. Yet, inside I remained shattered for long. How could I forget it? It had been the foremost thought in my mind before I went to sleep the previous night. I was concerned, I was worried, and I was praying. And yet when I awoke, my mind was wiped clean. All those long hours (when I was hard at work), this memory did not cross my mind even once.

It was terrifying. To be an artist so absent-minded as to forget family, friends and one's own priorities, is not as wonderful as it sounds. It is painful - to others as well as one's own self. It is every bit as tragic as a drunkard father who forgets his children. That is what we sign ourselves for when we call ourselves artists. It is not romantic, it is not exciting. And yet, if we are unable to detach ourselves from the daily intricacies of life, we would never be able to delve into our fictional world, our creative world. So this pain is essential, this feeling of guilt is important. Because, until we feel the guilt, we are not deep enough inside it.

If we want to finish all our responsibilities before we take up writing, we would never get there. We would never find time. And if writing is something you do when you get time, then it is not your life. It is merely a hobby, which you can abandon any time, or get back to any time. If writing is your life, then you know this pain, then you must endure this pain.

Who said writing was easy?


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August 22, 2013

Character Development - 2

Dear M,

Today I want to talk more about Character development. There is so much more to know, to understand. It is one thing to learn, it is quite another to implement. But I think there is a way to do it, though it isn't easy. Believe me, the effort we spend on fine tuning our characters is totally worth it.

Suppose I say that my protagonist is a thirty-two year old Software Engineer in Bangalore. Considering the number of software engineers in Bangalore, there is nothing unique, nothing specific, nothing eye-catching about this man.

Now I add that since he is basically from Chandigarh, he understands very little of the South Indian mannerisms and language. I also note the fact that since he is six foot two, he has to bend low to kiss his much shorter girlfriend. His manager does not think very highly of him because he is a Literature graduate and not an engineer; the manager tends to be skeptical of his talents. But our man had become interested in software development after graduation or during his graduate days, and had worked his a$$ off to learn the basics. He was determined to prove his manager wrong. His parents had divorced when he was six, and in Chandigarh he lived with his Mother and her unmarried sister.

Now see how much you know about our protagonist. He was totally grey when we began - a mere Software Engineer in Bangalore. A drop of colour here, and a drop there, and he is developing right before our eyes. There is a whole lot we could add to him. We could expand his geography (Chandigarh to Bangalore), his history (his past, stories about his divorced parents, his school days, the influence his unmarried Aunt had on him, etc), his physics (physical appearance, the scar on his forehead, the gentleness in his eyes, the almost imperceptible limp on his left foot), his chemistry (relationships), his mathematics (his attitude to things), his language (his accent, his culture) his friends, his hobbies, we could talk about everything. See how our man has grown.

He is by no means perfect, because no one is. He gets impatient too soon, he has a short temper, he loses his heart to every girl he meets, he shouts when he is agitated, he is superstitious to an alarming extent, he is obsessed with his past, he hates exercise, he smiles too less, he talks too much - you name it. (Look at him through the eyes of his girl and she'll show you what his negatives are!)

And we haven't even given him a name yet. A name would immediately place him in a certain position - with respect to religion, caste, culture, land. For instance, if he is a Rao, I could immediately talk about how they were originally from Andhra. If he is a Muslim, how they were affected by the partition. Maybe he is a half-Hindu. See where that takes you.

Why are these important? Because our man's traits are defined by everything he or his ancestors have gone through. As simple as that. He is this because his people were this. He behaves thus because his past was thus. He believes in that because he has seen a lot of that. He is kind to them because he was once one of them. He hates those because he was forced into those.

There is one more very important item in Character development, Quirks. I will talk about that soon. That could be one of the most difficult ones for me. That part takes more effort in defining our character, but if we get that right, our characters would jump out of the book and perform right before the reader.


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August 21, 2013

Character Development - 1

Dear M,

There is this dicey topic I want to talk about today, but I am not sure if I am up to it. The subject is Character Development. I feel jittery whenever I hear those terms. I don't think I have mastered it yet, but if I talk about it, maybe it will become clearer in my mind.

As a writer, one of my regrets is that I do not have a literature background. It didn't interest me at the time, otherwise nothing could have stopped me from heading that way. As it is, my focus and priorities were elsewhere, and I do not regret the path I chose (for it took me places where I would not have gone otherwise) though I would have been happier if literature was interlaced in it somehow. On the other hand, I am also pleased about my lack of literary learning. Because secretly I am proud of the hills and valleys I have trudged to master some of those literary lessons. Not that I have mastered all of them, but at least I am on the track. I am also painfully aware that there are so many more pearls of literary wisdom evading my eyes.

Anyway, in those years after I took writing seriously, one of the challenges dangling before my eyes was Character Development. I came across that phrase everywhere, every writing website and book in this world wanted to teach me about it. But however much I read, I could not understand it. I understood something, but I didn't know what I understood. Or how I could implement it in my writing.

Once I asked someone about it - someone who was into literature, but was not a fiction writer as far as I knew. I asked her what it meant when you said, a character was rounded, or flat, or three-dimensional, or linear? She said it was basically the way the person, the character, responded to situations. How they changed in your story. It kind of made sense to me, but I was not satisfied. Surely there was more to it.

I do have a better idea now. The best place to find answers (provided you know the questions) is in a good author's books. Which takes us back to the literature education - where, analysing authors and their writing is an important part of the learning. Since I had no other option, I took to these authors and tried to understand the magic they weaved with their characters. They way they presented them to us. They way they shaded and coloured and explained them to us. They way they developed them.

She was right, the way a person responds is about how well you have presented your character. And how predictable he or she is. And how they change with the circumstances, how they are forced out of their mould. That is one part of it.

Like how a King who has a stammer, who prefers to keep away from the limelight, learns to speak confidently in public. Like a con man who liked nothing better than to con people and who always managed to escape from the tightest situations finally decides that he wanted to live an honest life.Or a girl who had always been quiet and cowardly, grows up to be the woman who leads a group of people towards a cause.

But there is more to it. Character development involves history, geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics and everything. I will tell you more about it tomorrow.


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August 20, 2013

Who is your favourite author?

Dear M,

I had been reading an interview with one of those new authors on the block. Whenever a newly famous author is interviewed, in magazines or newspapers or websites, there is this one inevitable question. Who is your favourite author? Who has inspired you? And the author will have a ready reply to that too, you know.

Maybe because I am not quite there yet, I do not understand how a single author can be the inspiration behind your writing. If you ask me that question, I will be totally lost. Where do I start? And if I do start listing them, I am sure I will forget some of the most important ones.

And when I say, important ones, do I mean the ones I like the most? Or are they the same - the ones I like and the ones who have inspired me? As far as inspiration goes, both books and movies have inspired me. There was this short story I had been working on for a long time. Then I abandoned it, because I wasn't quite feeling the pulse of the story, though I completely believed in it. I could not get the voice right - but I did not know the problem at the time. I just felt it wasn't coming out right. So I left it and moved on. It must have been over a year later, as I watched a film, it struck me - I had to write in the little girl's point of view. Maybe not in first person, but I need to see things through her. It all came back in a rush. I think I completed the first draft in a couple of days.

Another time, there was a theme in my mind, a single sentence that I thought I could work on. I hadn't thought much of it, I hadn't even noted it down anywhere. Then I read this book, and I was inspired by its tone, and it was only a matter of hours before my story was finished.

I can give you many examples. Each time I was inspired by a different book, a different author, a different movie. How can I name one of them as my favourite, or the one single person who inspired me? I cannot even name one single person who inspired me to take up writing seriously - there are at least three, surely there are more who have inspired me without my even realising or remembering it.

Every thought we hear, every word we read, inspires us, sometimes even without our knowing. It strikes a chord within us and it stays there. When it comes out, days or years later, we might not even recognise it for what it had originally been.


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August 19, 2013

Writers need guidance too

Dear M,

Sometimes I feel lost. And lonely. And it is not only because the writing I do is lonely business. It certainly is, but the real reason is that I sometimes need someone to tell me, why don't you try that? or Here, let me help you with that. Not just anyone, though. Someone who really can help. I don't want it easy, but this feeling of being in the dark, groping my way forward (or backward, I have no idea) and sometimes finding a wall and sometimes walking without encountering anything... when it isn't depressing, it is devastating.

I wish someone would tell me, I know someone in the publishing field, let me introduce you to them, they can give you some guidance, maybe they can even get your work read by someone. Once, a friend told me that if I finish my book he would introduce me to someone who can introduce me to an editor in a very popular publishing house. I worked on my book with renewed energy, just hanging on to those words. A year later when I was ready, something seemed to have changed - for nothing came of it, no introduction was made. I finished my book, that was the only positive thing that had happened.

For my part, I think I am too proud to ask someone for help. I don't know - I don't see anyone who can help, so who do I ask? Well I did ask someone once, and all he said was, Yes of course, you can send your query to this publishing house and see what they say. Do you want their address?

Everyone expects you to know everything there is to know about writing. They think you know what to do, they think it is only a matter of time before you surprise them with a book or an award or something, and they wait. Eagerly and encouragingly.

You don't want to disappoint anyone, so you keep a straight face and pretend that you do know everything indeed. Yes, the book will be coming out soon. Oh, I am hard at work. Writing all the time, of course. They nod in vigorous excitement and support. When? When? When will the book be out?
Oh I don't know... maybe in a year or two, this publishing is a damn difficult thing.

And all the time, something deep inside has collapsed to the ground, and you pray with all your might that these people (and you too) will be alive when your book finally attains the shape of a book.

Who is the publisher? Some of the more knowledgeable people ask.
I am negotiating with a few of the good ones, you say. Unless you find a real good publisher, the book will not sell well, you see.

You sound as though you're interviewing the publisher for a book contract. As though, the publishers are lined up at your door, waiting to kiss your feet and make an offer for the book.

I didn't know this art of writing also involved the art of deception. Among other things.


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August 18, 2013

God is in the Writing

Dear M,

We look for God everywhere. We expect Him or Her to turn up before us, raise a hand in blessing and say to us, "All your wishes will be granted, as of now." We expect things to change right before our eyes and whatever we have hoped for to be true right there, right then.

We miss out on two important things in this dream: the first is that, nothing of the sort will happen, and if it does, what do we do with the rest of our lives? We have got whatever we wanted. What next? Secondly, the success we seek is the journey. The success is in each of the steps we climb. We may recognise some, and we may not recognise some, but each learning is a success. Each milestone we have passed is a success.  Each failure is a success. There is no such thing as an Ultimate Success, after which there is nothing left for us to do. Be practical: such an end is not possible to a thinking, dreaming human. There are advantages and disadvantages in this vision: the advantage is that every day is a success. Every day gives us happiness. The disadvantage is that we never feel successful and we keep believing that real success is evading us, taking itself far away from us.

When we look at a person whom we call successful, what do we see? We see him content. We think, he does not want anything more in life. His life is complete. This could be the most untrue thing in life. An author who has published many successful books in his lifetime and is the best author in the world, is still struggling to complete his next masterpiece book. If he dies before he completes it, do you think he will consider his life successful? He will be dying in regret. No one is successful if they don't see success in the little things they achieve every day.

I think God is in everything we do. If we do it right, the results would come. It may come in any form, not particularly in the form we want it to be. But one thing leads to another, and eventually we would get some of the things we want. When I write the way I want to, I find contentment in a strange way that glows from within. My day feels more pleasant, and I am able to give peace to my surroundings. If the struggle is greater, the contentment is sweeter. God does not appear to me in any form or give me any gifts. But the opportunities that appear because I am focussed towards them, because I am looking for them, because I am working hard to find them, that is the God I see. Spiritual? I don't mind if you say so. This is my faith. This gives me the strength when my days are long and dreary. This helps me gather myself and hold myself together when all I want to do is give up.

Whatever gives you that kind of strength, is your God.

My today's success is completing this letter. I am happy, I am content. I could go and pamper myself a bit, watch TV and sleep and chatter with friends. But if I die today, I will die unhappy about the four novels that are in draft, the one that is completed that has not yet found a publisher, my poems written and unwritten, my short stories that are yet to be published, my letters to you that are still in my heart, unformed.

We will never find success the way we see it. But if we are ready to see success in the little things - the size of homeopathic sugar pills - that come to us each day and each week, then we can call ourselves very, very successful.


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August 17, 2013

Getting noticed

Dear M,

Getting ourselves noticed the way we want to be, is one of the most difficult things in life. It is just so in writing. We may have the talent, the looks, the skills, the learning, we may even have excellent results to show. We are like that post-graduate, walking around with his certificates and trophies, but his prospective employers aren't interested or impressed yet. Getting our writing noticed by the right people takes more than mere talent.

We have our own set of admirers - a small group consisting of family, close friends and a few not-so-close friends - who believe in us. But what we really need is someone solid - an agent to represent us, a publisher to publish us. There is only so much that a set of close folks can do. If they are not writers themselves, then their efforts and appreciation are close to nothing. They can motivate us for a while, then it is up to us to motivate ourselves, to drive ourselves close to death. Have I mentioned recently that writing is lonely business?

Why is getting noticed so important? Because sometimes we need more than a measure of our own assessment. We would not grow and our skills would not develop, if we do not seek feedback from others.

We know we are good. We are good learners, and we are on the right track. But sometimes these are not enough. Especially in these times, it is not mere talent that gets us ahead. This is like a job-hunt, really. The one who pushes through the most aggressively, the most mercilessly, the most selfishly, gets the job. The persistent ones keep trying. Eventually their day will come. The ones who give up? They have lost.

But the battle just gets fiercer with each passing day. Everyone has to fight, to win, to get noticed. In writing, as in everything else.


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August 16, 2013

Anyone can write

Dear M,

You remember the animation movie Ratatouille? The late Chef Auguste Gusteau believed that "Anyone can cook" and his book, which has the same title, inspires Remy, the rat, to cook. Beautiful movie.

You frown - I am back to the cooking topic! But have no fear. I don't have enough knowledge about cooking to fill even one blog post.

I believe Anyone can write, too. It's no big deal. Just write what comes to mind, about what inspires us, on topics that we feel firmly about. Feeling firmly about - that is the pre-requisite, there is pretty much nothing else. And the more we write, the more we polish ourselves. Our vocabulary gets rounded off, our confidence gets sharpened, and our writing begins to gleam.

Anyone can write. But not everyone can be a writer. One does not become a writer just because he writes. Just as one does not become a photographer merely by carrying a camera around. The most important thing required is dedication. You don't find time, you make time. And to make time, you need to be dedicated. And to be dedicated, you need to be motivated. To be motivated, you need to be interested. To be interested, you need to believe in it.

I have lost count of the people who have asked me for help with publishing. For them, everything begins with publishing. The enthusiast that I am, I have given them all sorts of advice, readily. Then, after half an hour of conversation on how to bowl publishers over with our brilliant work, I ask them if they are done with the final editing. That's when the truth begins to unravel. Forget the editing, the writing isn't complete yet. Oh, what percentage is pending? Well, I think just about nearing completion... but a long way to go... in other words, I must have written about 10% of the book.

I can't say I am disappointed. It was foolish of me not to ask this question sooner.

Everyone wants to be a writer. There are enough success stories around to make people believe that writing is a lot of easy money. This belief and the truth are strangers - they haven't set their eyes on each other, they do not even know about each other's existence. The real (success) stories are not best sellers most of the time. Not every writer discovers an easy path to fame. Yes - clearly fame is the attraction here. Fame is money, and money is attractive.

For the most part, writing is a long, unpleasant, winding path that pretty much leads to... another long, winding, unpleasant path. Only a few dedicated ones can keep up.

You know, I first planned on calling this blog something on the lines of "Don't ever be a writer" because I don't think I have a lot of positive or encouraging pointers to give. But that isn't completely true. Finding succes with writing  is hard and most of the time I would never change anything. I am glad I made it this far, and I have enough fire left in me to go a long, long way forward.

Except that sometimes I ask myself: I can write. I am a writer. So what?


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August 15, 2013

I should have taken up cooking!

Dear M,

You know how much I dislike cooking. I would rather not do it, unless my life depends on it. Perhaps not even then! And yet, sometimes I think that cooking is a very gratifying task. At least if the food that you prepared tastes good, you know it is good and you are happy. If it isn't, you could improve the next time. The point is that you get your results rightaway.

If you prepare dinner for a number of guests, and they all eat heartily, that's probably your reward, delivered right to your hands. If you want to be a professional, you work towards being a chef and make people happy. At least that's one career where the consumers are completely satisfied, mentally and physically! Unless you royally goof something up - but that could happen in any profession.

I sometimes wonder why people take up writing seriously. I mean, what pleasure could they possibly dream of getting from it? But the fact is that people do, many people do, and they spend a lifetime (or part of it) unhappy for the decision. And yet these weirdos, if they get another chance at life, would do exactly the same thing the second time as well. Insanity of the highest order.

Unlike cooking, you never know if your efforts are good. You just keep going, you write what you feel is good. And if someone thrashes you, you just cannot bear it. All those efforts, all those devastating headaches, all those characters who rode their horses in your head. And all it takes is one person's one unkind word.

Writing is tedious, everyone knows that. But only a person who had actually tried writing, and kept on writing for months and years, would know how laborious it is. How terrifying it could get. How lonely life becomes. How unromantic it actually is. I am not surprised that the lives of many famous writers have ended in tragedy. How could it be otherwise? It is not smooth sailing. It never is. If it is, then there is something wrong in the direction we're taking.

I look for some sign - is this what I should be doing at all? Where am I headed? There seems to be no wind, no life, no movement. Everything seems abandoned. Or am I the one who is abandoned? I don't see many results either. No, I do see some - like a thin spring trickling down from between two rocks, drop by drop. It could vanish anytime. Or it could turn into a river.

Perhaps I should have taken up cooking.


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August 14, 2013

A Contract and a Promise

Dear M,

With this line, I break my promise to myself.

What are promises if they keep us from doing what we want, doing what we should, doing what we love, to do? What are promises if they bind us to something we have no reason for being bound to?

For, I had promised myself that I will start these letters when (and if) I get myself a publishing contract with a very good publisher. After a while, I leniently lowered my expectations to a fairly good publisher. Later, it became any publisher. The day I sign the contract, I said, these letters would go live.

I waited for a year. A year is not even a blip in the publishing timeline. I do know it, but for me, today, a year is just as long as a year. The thought that I may have to wait another year... is not quite enticing. By then I may have grown out of today's preferences. And the thoughts I have been accumulating would be lost to me. And to you.

Promises made with a certain optimism and energy that fade after a while, promises that hold us back rather than encourage or inspire us, such promises are intended to be broken. Such is their existence!

Breaking this today was very well thought-out. I would not regret it, even if it were an impulsive action. It is always better to let ourselves out rather than be caged in meaninglessness. I have so much to say. So much to share. What use is my learning if it is confined to my thoughts?

I still believe, the contract is coming. It is on its way, except that the people who should despatch it do not know it yet. They have probably not even seen my Manuscript yet. But the machinery has started creaking and groaning and coughing to a start. Why is this contract so important, you ask. Frankly, I have no idea. I write because I am compelled to. When I started writing, I did not dream of my own book. I just wrote. The idea was planted by someone. Then it became a dream, a wish, a frenzy, a fever. Then came the frustration. The dream never left.

And after the contract, what next? Who can tell.


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