September 30, 2013

Writing for oneself

Dear M,

I am quite sure all writers face this at one point in life - more so if they are authors. Our characters are fictional, it's true. But we would unconsciously introduce a trait that belongs to someone we know. More often than not, it is not noticeable, but once in a while it is very obvious and does not escape the notice of the person whom you've written about or the rest of your world. And you know how the world generally is - they will make it a point to let you know what they think about it.

I have such a character in a story. There was no such person in my original draft. When I had to rewrite it, I had to go back in time and introduce her so that at the right time, she could do what she had to. I wasn't thinking about anything else but her character when I was writing about her. After I developed her character, I was satisfied, very satisfied. But I failed to notice the glaring resemblance to someone I know. To be fair to myself, it is one tiny thing - everything else about her is totally different. There is no similarity anywhere. I completed writing and went back to stitching the changes together. It must have been a few days later that the similarity struck me in full force - this could really put me in trouble! Some day, someone is going to read this and say aloud, "Hey this character looks a lot like..." And they are going to laugh and their eyes are going to gleam because they know it would create such an undercurrent that could rise to a nasty tide. I know for a certainty that they will think I did that on purpose. And that's it - I am done for.

I went back and took a look at my character. They weren't alike, not at all - not in their behaviour, not in their actions, not in their intentions. But yes, the general dissimilarity was visible only to my eye, for the one factor they had in common was too huge to be missed. I admit I wavered a bit. A lot. I had to change that trait. It was far too obvious. Better be safe than sorry, I said to myself. But it had come up unconsciously. After writing so much with so much passion, how could I just remove it or modify my character to please someone? Granted, I prefer my peace of mind to my character's (im)perfection.

To change it or not to change it was the burning question. I thought I would introduce something else to achieve my purpose. However, believe it or not, nothing else I could come up with was as impressive as the original.

With a heavy (because of the impending doom) but bouncing (because of the strength of my will) heart, I decided not to change it and to face the retribution when it comes. For come it will, indirectly more than directly, stabbing, piercing, pinching, embarrassing, hurting, unfair and everything else.

But if I had changed it against my wish, I would probably have become less of a writer. If I write just to please or not to hurt someone else, if I write for others and not for myself, if I do not write what my heart tells me to write, I will never be able to convince myself that I am trying my best, doing my everything, working my head off. I will never be able to believe in myself.


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September 28, 2013

There is no alternative to writing

Dear M,

A few years ago, I had a conversation with an author. Overflowing with admiration, I asked her about the writing process and some doubts I had regarding writing. Of a certain "rule" of writing I had often heard of but had never been able to implement. I said, "I have never got that right, I guess we have to keep writing and writing and then we will get it right, eh?"

She shook her head, smiling. I stared at her, was she trying to say that "writing and writing" is not necessary? She seemed to imply with her calm smile that it could be understood and implemented even if you did not write daily. Well, she was the author, not I; what did I know? So I left it at that.

Maybe she shook her head to convey something else. Maybe she was just thinking. Maybe she did not get my question at all. A number of Maybes - because I know for a certainty today that you don't get any rule right if you don't "write and write and write and write". You don't get writing right if you don't write daily.

So what was she shaking her head for? Maybe at my naïveté, that's the only explanation I can find today. For all I know, she has moved on from writing, so maybe her head-shake meant, no, write-and-write isn't for me. (I may be wrong, a masterpiece from her may burst upon this planet any moment.)

I came across some "tips to improve your handwriting" in a children's book recently. The tips were very direct and simple: Take a page out of a book you've read or a certain item from a newspaper and copy it. Repeat every day, same page or different, it did not matter, as long as you were writing every day. Think of how you want your writing to be - even copy someone else's, if you like it - and write that way, every day. Write and write and write, and there was no option but for your handwriting to become the way you have been practising. There is no escape! And there is no short-cut. Maybe as you keep practising you will improvise it a little and it will become beautiful and different and unique.

It is just so for writing. The solution - the only one, perfect solution - is to keep writing, keep practising. Then one day, you will want to improvise a little, and the result could be so original that you burn in its glory.

When you read the latest books from established authors you can feel it - how they have been able to experiment with their writing, expand it, elaborate it, and perfect it, without losing control, without making it look like an ogre unleashed. If a newbie attempts something like that, the lack of confidence and apprehension would appear through the lines, and no one would be impressed.

Until you get it right (and even after that), there is no alternative but to write.


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September 27, 2013

The missing detail

Dear M,

All good artists are keen observers of people and things around them. Now that I say it, it sounds very obvious, doesn't it? If you aren't a good observer and you try to create something, it would look wooden, unreal, lifeless. And you would not be able to tell why it looks so.

Even if you are very good at observing and can grasp and retain every smallest detail, you might not be able to represent it in paper the way it had made you feel.

Sometimes, stories (especially those written by newer or inexperienced writers) seem like ice-cold narratives because the detail is missing. No one, not even the reader, would be able to put his finger on what exactly is missing (unless he is a keen observer of stories, of course!!). Also, there is no single, perfect solution for what's missing. When you wish to breathe life into your characters or story, you could do it different ways: you could elaborate and make sure the details are in place, you could narrate in a crisp and concise way and let the reader imagine the detail, or you could do it in a hundred ways I know nothing of. The best way to start is by elaborating, writing everything you see. Sooner or later you will figure out your own method of expressing detail.

Sometimes it strikes a chord with us, the little everyday things that cross our path. In one of the shows I watched recently, there was a child who behaved as a child would, a little restless and demanding, and not perfect and mature like the kids we see in TV shows. It was heart-warming, even if it was a small, insignificant scene in an entire hour-length of the show. It was good to feel that these people did pay some attention to the detail. It made it easier for me to respect the creators of the show.

We all want to fall in love with books, with movies, with shows. No one sits down for a film thinking, "let me see what I can hate in this one!" We look for something to appreciate. When we read a well-researched book, watch a well-made movie, see an interesting show, admire a breath-taking painting, listen to soulful music, we are happy to fall in love with it. That's what attention to detail does: it makes both the connoisseur and the novice fall in love with the creation.


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September 26, 2013

Starting Early

Dear M,

I know a youngster who has a blog. He must be around eleven years old and his blog is around one. He does not write regularly, his new blog pops up once in two or three months. But when he does write, the result is generally very funny or interesting or thought-provoking. Sometimes he writes science fiction using his favourite characters, and I cannot make head or tail of it. All I see is that his language is good. For a eleven year old, I call it terrific.

I think it is great that he has this platform to write. This is an age where writing (like everything else) can blossom. Or fade. In our youth, we did not have anything remotely similar, of course. Writing, like sports, was probably not encouraged either, because it brings in no money. Until you become successful, you are seen as a huge waste of everyone's time.

Many of us did not take writing seriously or did not even know that we could be writers until we were deep into adulthood. We never noticed the scribblings we did or shared them with others. By the time we were ready, by the time we were old enough to ask ourselves what our purpose in life was, by the time we noticed that writing seems to be our forte, half our life was behind us. Then all we could do was panic for some time, and make the best of the remaining time that is allotted to us.

This child I am talking about is encouraged greatly by his family to write. In all possible ways. This probably drives him more than he would admit (or know). There are a handful of folk waiting to read him. This could probably put him off after a while too, the pressure of expectations, though I sincerely hope not. If he gives up writing of his own accord, it is another thing. I am eager to know where he goes from here. How much farther this spark would take him, how he would choose between his interest for music and sports and games and reading and writing and science. (His blog is currently private and shared with only a few, so I am not posting the link here.)


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September 25, 2013

Good writing

Dear M,

I cannot stress enough the importance of good writing. I happened to read something today, the beauty of which was marred by flaws in the writing.

It was about a Mother's love for her child. The one topic that can never go out of fashion, the one love that sends us throbbing back to our childhood, the one relation that transcends everything else. It was beautiful stuff. But - it would have been astounding if it were written well.

I don't blame the writer. The fact that they could write something without being deterred by insignificant concerns like grammar is admirable. Their intention was only to communicate a feeling, and that they did well. I am of course, speaking from a writer's point of view. To be fair to the author of that piece, they did not intend to be called a writer or a story teller.

However, it led me to think about other writers who wish to be referred to as writers. I don't think I am a grammar nazi (or maybe I am, a wee bit) and my own writing must be spattered with mistakes that have escaped my eyes. And I also know that I am unkind when I criticise other authors' language skills.

Where did I read that it is essential to "be brutal to be kind"? That phrase is so apt for this situation! You cannot project yourself to be a writer if you cannot get your basics right. Grammar, spellings, without them there is no writing. You've got to get the rules right before you can break them. If you break them before you know them, you are going to look uneducated. Period.

There - that was brutal enough.

No publisher or agent is going to accept you if your writing is anything short of perfect. Forget the story - the story may be the next booker winner for all you know - but if they should pay any attention to it, the writing should be flawless. Even with impeccable writing, tonnes of writers are rejected every day.


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September 24, 2013


Dear M,

A person recently gave some feedback about my stories. First of all, this person is a friend, one who would go to any length (sometimes to annoying lengths) to make you comfortable, so there is no question of him having any grudge against me. (I had to explain that, because that's what we writers like to believe when we get bad reviews: "his feedback is unkind because he is jealous of me".)

With that out of the way, let me also clarify that the conversation had veered to my stories by chance, after hours of going elsewhere (or nowhere) as it happens when friends get together. He said (and he had to beat around the bush a lot before he got it out) that my stories and my imagination and my creativity are great, but my language was a little overboard.

Deep breath. 
(We writers are a sensitive lot, we wish to hear that everything about our story - imagination, creativity, plot, writing, characters etc. etc. etc. - is outstanding. We don't want to be told we are not so good in some areas. When we don't like what we hear or when we hear what we don't like, we take deep breaths.)

Okay, so what does this mean, exactly? In that moment of silence when I figured out how to react (in other words, hide my disappointment or bewilderment beneath a silly grin), the topic had again veered off course. From the way he presented it, I think he meant that the beauty was ruined by the way I wrote. Deeper breath. No writer can stand such a thought.

But this stands in stark contrast to an opinion I had heard some time ago from another friend who said, my writing was so simple and straightforward that she could easily relate to it, and that my stories were beautiful because the writing seemed so effortless. (Well, I added a few adjectives here to make it sound extraordinary, but that was pretty much the essence of what she said.)

A third person, through his indirect comments, made it clear to me that though my command of the language was exceptional, my stories lacked a breath-taking quality to it, they seemed quite ordinary and normal and commonplace.

While every reader's opinion counts, it is also essential to remember a few things. Each reader is unique and the way they see things vary. What is awesome to one is tiresome to another. What is brilliant to one is childish to another. At the receiving end, our job is to decipher the meaning of what we hear and extract only what is valuable. And if we cannot extract anything quantitative or qualitative from it, toss it to one side. It will be in memory anyway and will come back to us at the right time.

Many readers who have no writing experience would be tempted to give us valuable advices. Don't under-estimate them, their analysis might be based on a vast number of books they have read. If they talk about character development in this book or that, we better listen.

We easily get put off by bad reviews. And that's okay; that's how it should be. We should have it in us to rebound and write with a vengeance. Apparently (if social media is to be believed) Ernest Hemingway said, "The first draft of anything is shit." If he doesn't know what he is talking about, then no one does.


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September 23, 2013


Dear M,

Some amount of networking has always existed between people who share the same interests. Though we call it Social Networking these days and mean virtual connections more than real ones, there have been interactions and sharing of thoughts between writers all through history. Without that, we would not grow or develop or even get noticed. If we don't get noticed, however skilled we are, we will be easily overtaken by others who know how to project themselves. If we sit at home and write for ourselves, no one else will see us - obviously.

We all like to believe that others would come hunting for us from across the ocean and from the farthest reaches of the planet because our writing has been so awe-inspiring. This might be true for about one person in ten-thousand. But even for him/her, the first few steps is about getting themselves noticed. Our efforts have to reach people before they notice that we are probably worth noticing. It is an effort in itself.

Have you observed that today everyone on social media is either a writer or a photographer? Everyone shoves themselves forward using all means at their disposal (and those means are endless), eager to be noticed and applauded and appreciated. It does not matter what it takes. It does not matter that the attention we give others is not real; we do it so that they come back and give us some amount of attention. We know quite well that their attention towards us is as fake as ours was to them. But it does not matter. It gives us a false sense of security and satisfaction. On some desolate days, that is all we need.

But it is unfair to say that the attention we give others is always fake. We do hope that in our meanderings across the web, we would come across someone who would be able to help us the way we need to be helped. But a lot of it is a case of you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours.

It's our hope that drives us to those extreme measures, it's our dreams, it's our aspirations. No one will deny that it is good to have those.


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September 22, 2013


Dear M,

People think writers are a permanently inspired lot - that they sit down and write every day and keep churning out book after book like they have nothing better to do. Many successful writers are more or less like that, but I think that is the discipline that they develop. Not because they don't want to postpone the writing, but because they know the day they do postpone, they have lost.

One of the easiest things is to get inspired to write. Everyone is inspired to write a few novels, every day. If all those books got written and published, there would be a book explosion rather than a population explosion or a garbage explosion on this planet. Luckily, many people do not get past the inspiration, many others don't get past the first ten pages, and some others don't get past the first draft or survive the first rejection.

But the ones who persevere, daily fight the fiercest battle of writing - procrastination. Have I spelled that right? What a horrid word. Procrastination.

We all have beautiful stories to tell. But writing it down in the form it should be written, or editing it to perfection, or re-writing it so that it reads the way we saw it in our mind, all those take so much of effort - days and weeks and, sometimes, years of effort. There is no other way but to work on it. It is so much easier to think, I will do it tomorrow.

We have urgent work, we have family responsibilities, we need to sleep, we need to travel, we are feeling sick, we badly need a break from this tiresome writing - there is no end to the excuses we can find. If we cannot break free of those, we will never finish it. And if we never finish it, we are not worthy of being called writers.

The other side of the story is that unless we have some encouragement, we cannot be motivated to write. If we have a publisher nagging us (oh, doesn't that sound sweet!) or an agent who is awed by our writing skills, it is difficult to keep the fire burning. It is much easier for the fire to die out.

I read a tweet recently that "A page a day is a book a year." Certainly not as simple as that, but yes, a page a day is an achievable goal, even allowing for emergencies. Isn't it?


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September 21, 2013

The most challenging part of querying

Dear M,

Most writers would agree that the toughest part of getting published is the querying. And in querying, you know what is the trickiest job? Not just writing a query letter that could whip up the publisher's excitement and make them dash to our doorstep. Of course that is important, but the most challenging thing is to halt their world in mid-spin with our three sample chapters.

The opening of the novel pretty much determines if anyone wants to continue reading or throw it into the trash. So what if your novel becomes awesome from chapter four? No use at all. We get three chapters - but in most cases not more than three pages, for apparently they deal with a hundred manuscripts every day - to prove our worth, to take the editor's breath away. Everything we do after those three do not matter!

In the case of a novel, at least you have the luxury of saying that these are my first chapters, whatever happens. I can modify and edit them to my heart's content, but I cannot send chapter fourteen in the place of chapter one. But when you are submitting an anthology, the story is different.

Submission guidelines specify that the author should send three (or in some cases, five) of his best stories as a sample. Sounds simple and clear enough, but you will know only if you try it a few times. To an author, choosing three of the best stories is like choosing the most beloved of his children. All stories are amazing and original and exceptional and well-written, in his eyes. He can ask a few others, but the problem is that each person will have a different set of favourites. Which leaves you, wide-eyed and wondering, back to square one. There might be a few common stories, though, and most of the time, their selected stories don't match the author's!

A big problem, if I ever saw one. And I do not have the right answer to it. What I do now is, imagine that the folks sitting at the other side of my query are all alike, even though they belong to different publishing houses. So I send a different set of stories to each. Maybe a bad idea, but who knows? I don't. It hasn't worked so far, but neither has sending the same set to all. I stubbornly refuse to believe that my stories could be rejected because the trouble lies with my stories and not with the folks who read them!

Meanwhile if you can tell me how to select my top three stories to submit to the next publisher, I could certainly do with some hints.


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September 20, 2013

Jealousy and the Magic of a Word

Dear M,

For all that fancy talk I gave about reading, I haven't been truly honest. Not intentionally, I assure you - I knew I was not writing something, but it took me a while to put my finger on it.

It came to me as I was reading a book - a book by a debut author who had no literary background. Just like me. But wrote great stuff. Not like me. And was published by a giant publisher. Not at all like me.

I liked the stories a great deal. But (or maybe because I liked them), as I read them, I felt a pang in my chest - or more like a pang-pang-pang-screeeeech-wail-shatter. It was the twinge of jealousy. Jealousy!

Yes - and I think I am okay to admitting it now - I feel so very jealous when I read a good book or watch a breathtaking movie. I enjoy it, and I love it, but then I feel a deep, intense collapse inside... that I am not able to write like that. That I am nowhere close. That even at my best, I would not be able to work such magic. Oh, that pain is unbearable, I tell you. I may be okay or even good at times, but I doubt if I could ever get to that breathtaking heights these people have reached. And I am not one who likes to settle for mediocre. Sometimes this feeling of jealousy inspires me, sometimes it makes me want to walk away from everything. I am sure every creative artist feels this way, and if it inspires them to try harder, then it is good. But if it doesn't...

When I sit at my desk every day wanting to write, these authors flash through my mind - the ones who have made me jealous. They make me nervous, they do.

But what do I have to lose? Nothing! I have a story to tell. And I will just tell it the way I know it. Because I am a nobody, I can tell things the way I like - no one is going to question, there are no expectations on me, no one is going to be disappointed that my story is not up to the mark. There is no mark anywhere. I am a learner, and will always be.

Every day when I sit at my desk, I go through these emotions before I can start. It's like a ritual. Disappointment, disillusionment, then slowly and painstakingly building up the courage to write a word. Then the magic of that one word takes over, and I forget everything.


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September 19, 2013

Open-ended and closed-ended stories

Dear M,

There are open-ended stories and there are closed-ended stories. (Is that what they are called - closed-ended? Sounds a little weird. Anyway I hope you get the idea.) Open ended stories leave you with a strange feeling, because you do not know what happened, or you wonder did they do this or do that, or you wish to re-read the last part to know what the author meant: did she mean what you think she means? Or you ask yourself, why in the world did the protagonist do that - when he had every reason to act otherwise? It drives you mad - which means the story is a success.

I like open ended stories, and once in a while I am able to write such too. I know it when my friend calls me up and asks, what in the world did you mean? I chuckle and reply that whatever you feel had happened, is what happened. That's the most amazing part of an open ended story. It is left to the reader's imagination. The writer only suggests something, the reader deciphers it as per his experience or knowledge.

However, most of my stories are closed-ended. The sense of closure and the calmness it brings is somehow important to me when I write. Not always, as I said, but most of the time. Even a closed-ended story can be kind of open-ended. The author does explain what has happened and closes all loops, but not the why or even the how. Or she may leave some clues which leave us wondering. The characters in the story think the chapter is closed, but we the readers know there is more to it. I don't know how to explain it, but I know it when I write it, or read it.

Such endings leave us thinking. It goes much beyond the 'what happened', into the much deeper purpose that lies in all our actions and reactions and words and silences, and in our very existence. It is these stories that actually can awaken us and prod us into action.


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September 18, 2013

Writing about Nature

Dear M,

There is something about nature that inspires and excites us. Perhaps it is the fact that we have absolutely no control over it - we cannot predict it or change it, most of the time. We are fascinated by something we know pretty much nothing about. And when we can do nothing about it, what we do is compose songs and paint and write about it.

Some writers give a lot of detail about nature (and they do it so well). They write about the road their character walked on, the dust, the trees, the raindrops, the blue sky, the river gurgling in the distance, the rustle of the wind, the nasty storm,... it could go on and on. It is true that we can write about nature with abandon, and never get tired of it.

I like writing about nature too, but I am not so good at the details, I think. I feel it intensely but I think I am miserly about the descriptions. Be that as it may, I like to write about nature. I like to close my eyes and imagine how it must be, and try to imagine the smells, the sounds, the wind on my face, the green of the post-monsoon wilderness. I do not know how much detail is good, and how much is too much. I just write what seems right to me!

When it comes to modernisation, I totally dislike writing about the latest antics of human beings. I don't know why but writing about people connected through the internet or talking on mobile phones makes me feel very artificial. I don't know what that means - people do that all the time, and all contemporary writers write about it, but when I have to write, I try to sneak in a mobile phone to my protagonist's hand and request him not to use it. When I did have to write about him calling up someone or Googling something, I did it in such a distracted way, almost so that no one would notice. If I feel it is artificial, then surely the reader would feel that way too. But there was no getting around it.

Which is why I like to place my story at around twenty years ago. Safe. No mobile phones, no internet - I can easily say that my folks haven't heard of either. They can still grope in the dark and write long letters which they can drop in post boxes or wait in an STD booth and dial long digits to make a call. Hah. Do you not think that's clever?


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September 17, 2013

Of filmmaking and writing

Dear M,

One of our friends is directing his first film. It's close to release and we see its promos in the newspaper, television and social media. While I am excited for him, I also feel awed by the kind of effort that goes into making a movie.

We first heard about his maiden movie two years ago. In the intervening time, I didn't hear anything and I was afraid to ask. What if it had come to nothing? What if somehow it had failed and they had to shelve it? I could not bear to think of such disappointments. Heck, I know what disappointments are like!

I was very relieved to know that all was well and proceeding as per plan. Inevitably, thoughts turned to my own creative pursuits. In that sense, we writers are a luckier lot. If one MS fails, we don't lose much, perhaps a little money that we spent on editors or so. A huge file or a PC full of stories and jottings. A film maker, on the other hand, invests so much. So many people are involved in the making. So much money. So many locations and studio and outdoor arrangements. So many things. I am glad I chose a safer passion. At least I am the only free resource involved in this. I don't get to ruin any other person's life. There is a limit to the money I can spend. Every word I write (though it comes to nothing) is a lesson that is cheaper compared to what every movie frame would cost. The disappointment is just as great though, in both cases, but the burden is definitely more in a film maker's failure. I won't ever be able to bear such a load, for sure. Maybe that's why I was not led to venture into it.

Sometimes these kinds of thoughts help us to cope. Not that someone else's failure should make us happy - it is that we can't wade in self-pity when there are others risking every paise they own into their dream, knowing that what is at stake could ruin their entire family for generations, and yet bracing themselves against the worst and fighting for their dream. How much ever I do will not be enough to come anywhere close.

But it doesn't work all the time. Some days our losses seem to be the end of the world. But then, there comes tomorrow. And, as a brilliant writer once said, tomorrow is yet another day.


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September 16, 2013

Why is writing important? - II

Dear M,

Today I received one more rejection letter. That ends the life of that manuscript, I do not have any more pending-queries-awaiting-response and there are no more publishers left for me to to query. I have no idea what I should do with that MS. If there is nothing more to be done, then let it go, I guess. Maybe its time will come, later. I hate to think it is dead. I love it so much. I still believe there is something in it, a spark, a flame. Something.

There are too many publishers these days, but that is not always a good thing. You have no idea which ones are genuine, and which are fake. Which ones would be able to really help you, and which ones are working for their own benefit. Perhaps it is unfair to think so, these publishers are new and need as much support as new writers do, but these days it is tough to trust anyone. Which isn't what I wanted to talk about.

I return to yesterday's topic - why is writing important? In the light of this new rejection, I am revisiting my take. Saying that my writing should make a difference to someone and that it should live for decades after I am gone sound pretty noble, no doubt, but is that really all? The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that that is not all. I want to write so as to prove something - to myself and to a few others. I have a few failures under my belt - incidents that shook the foundations of my self-confidence. These happened a few years ago and I rebounded as much as I can, but the feeling that perhaps I am not even average at what I do keeps constantly nagging me. If I have to get rid of it, I need to make my mark - on the one thing that matters to me now. I cannot afford to fail. It's that bad. It's that simple.

And with each rejection, this belief, this strength, this semblance of confidence drains a wee bit. So many editors cannot be mistaken, can they? And if I am going to fail in this one too, there is no alley left for me to turn to.

They say you should never give up. They say many writers have faced the same fate. They say everyone gets a break, if they persist in their efforts. But if there no longer seems a purpose to fighting, then what do you do? It doesn't make my struggle and pain any lesser to know that other authors have endured the same.

You do realise how desperate I am, don't you? I need to write because I need to prove that I don't have to give up. As long as my optimism and my energy prevail, I will be out here. And when they run out? I have absolutely no idea.


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September 15, 2013

Why is writing important?

Dear M,

I have been asking myself this question over and over again. Why is writing important? Why do we kill ourselves over it? I can understand people writing for money, but when money is not the immediate requirement or the reason we write, what do we seek, and why do we get frustrated when we do not receive what we seek?

Let me rephrase that. Why do I send my writings to all publishers and agents and hope for a positive response from any of them, like a letter asking for the complete manuscript or even a contract? Why do I keep track of all rejections? Why am I not satisfied with the encouraging words I receive on my personal blog or other places that I write on? Why are we, the entire human race, not satisfied in general with what we get?

I have absolutely no clue. I just know that I am frustrated. Granted that I have a couple of eBooks up on Amazon. They aren't ground-breaking or record-breaking or breaking anything if you know what I mean. They're just there, because I wanted them to be up there.

I know my writing is good. I know it for many reasons. But somehow the fact that my writing is good isn't enough to satisfy me. I wish I could be content with the comments or likes on my articles and stories and poems. Why do I look for a professional acceptance? Why do I look for my work to be compiled into a book?

I guess I don't want to be an average writer. I want to be good, and better than good. Great. This desire is terrifying. It is draining. It is frustrating. I am afraid of it. I am afraid of what that desire is turning me into, of what it is making me do.

Why do we want to be exceptional writers? Why is no one content to remain an average writer or be satisfied with our scribblings in our secret diary?

It is because we want our writing to make a difference. We want our writing to remain, to survive us. To be alive long after we are gone.

Each rejection, though it is sometimes called a stepping stone, is also something that shoves us in our chest. It makes us take a step backward. It tells us menacingly with an evil snarl, 'You aren't going to be great. You aren't even good.' It takes more than what we have in us to not be taken in by those words. Why do we take these hits and keep moving forward? Why do we fall down and pick ourselves up and wipe our tears and rub our bruises and crawl on again?

Because we are fighters, because we are persistent, because we want to win. Because everyone who gets to the finishing line wins.


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September 14, 2013

Vocabulary plays hide and seek

Dear M,

When my first set of stories were made available for my friends and relatives to read, I (as can be expected) awaited their feedback eagerly. I expected a great many kinds of comments but the one I expected least was, in the words of a friend who lovingly called me up and praised my writing, "You write in such simple language, I loved it. It was so effortless to read and easy to connect with. You do not use too many unnecessarily long words."

Don't tell anyone, but I had thought my writing would be termed intelligent and somehow sophisticated and absolutely undecipherable. Scratch that. I did not think of its sophistication at all. I did not think about simplicity when I wrote. I just wrote the way I knew how to write. But when I heard those comments, I felt very sad. What! My writing is simple enough that anyone would understand? How ridiculous, how disappointing! How utterly terrible that my stories did not contain un-bite-able words that would send people scampering to the dictionary every two minutes! How unimaginable that people would not learn a few kilos of new words from my book.

A long time had to pass before I figured out that there was more to the comment than what I decoded from it. A long time had to pass before I could be proud of the fact that my writing was simple. A long time had to pass before I could understand that even in the simplest writing, profound thoughts can reside, and that when someone terms your writing simple, it is actually a compliment.

Simple does not always mean that you have an underdeveloped vocabulary. Some books take an effort to read because of the vocabulary it is packed with. At places it looks as though the author wanted the thesaurus to be emptied into his book.

Vocabulary development is not about coming up with the most sophisticated-looking word you can find. It is about finding the right word for the situation. Once I wanted to write about a needle hitting a person and breaking his skin and entering his blood stream. I wrote it like that, until my editor gently corrected it to 'pierced'. Whoa, I thought, that is precisely the word I had wanted. If I go over this letter once again, I am sure I would find better words for 'find' or 'simple' or 'think about'. I use these too much. Perhaps a side-effect of not having English as mother tongue.

That's the thing with vocabulary. You know many of these words, but when we require them, they hide from view like children, hoping they would be discovered and used. But we, like bored adults, we stop looking and use the ones that we have at hand. Our writing shines in a duller light, whereas it could be brightened up with the right choice of words. Not an entire thesaurus, but a few of the appropriate, apt words poured in the right measure.

Vocabulary can be built and enhanced by reading, but to bring the evasive words to mind at the right time? It requires writing and writing and writing.


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September 13, 2013

It takes courage to be a writer

Dear M,

I know I have said this before, but I see no harm in repeating: there is more to writing than writing. Hard-work, persistence, discipline, constant learning, reading, observation, ability to develop a thread into a story, talent, skill, writing experiments and exercises, are just some of them. Today I want to stress the importance of Courage.

Now that's perhaps the last thing you would think a writer needs. After all, a writer can safely hide behind his words, however harmful and inflammatory they may be, and justify them with phrases like 'creative licence', 'poetic freedom' or even at times, 'freedom of expression'.

Though writing controversial stuff does require some amount of courage, that is not all. It takes courage to be able to write what you believe in - though it is a mere cat and mouse story. It takes courage to put it out for the world to see. It takes courage to face criticism. It takes courage to face rejection, tonnes of rejection.

It takes courage to sit day after day, with not a single positive sign, on the razor's edge, ready to fall overboard and give up. It takes courage to battle on, not knowing if you have any talent at all, wondering if you are waging a losing war, asking yourself if your efforts are all going to be a total waste and if you are going to die a loser, if you should be doing something worthwhile with your time and be with your family instead of brooding over a blank sheet of paper or a blank MS Word window.

It takes courage to finish one novel, spend weeks poring over query letters, send it out to publishers and then move on to the next novel, then the third and then a fourth, and then come back to the first three and edit them and work on them, one at a time, or all at a time, not sure what you should be doing, not sure which you should be working on, not sure of anything at all, yet trying whatever seems right at the moment, it takes courage to not toss everything into the fire and walk away.

It takes considerable courage to sit and write day after day, not knowing if the next milestone - a small positive encouraging sign or a small success - is going to be weeks away, months away or decades away. It takes courage to not wither away, to hold oneself together when failure strikes as it inevitably will, to be sad and write in sadness, to get over it and write in calmness and look forward to the future and write in positiveness.

It takes tremendous courage to call yourself a writer.


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September 12, 2013

Plot-based and character-based

Dear M,

Some years ago, I lent a book to a girl. I figure I must have been talking long and loud about the books I've been reading, because one day this girl comes up to me and asks with her sweet smile if she could borrow one of them interesting books I was reading. I was taken aback. I was not the kind who lent books. I was the kind who once lent and learnt the hard way that books lent were lost forever. Then I shook my head free and remembered this recent book at the top of my book-rack. She said something about not reading any books and wanting to start that habit and such. I thought this book would do just splendid for her. It was light, simple to read, not too profound or boring, fast-moving, intriguing, all of that in the right amount. Not a kind of book I would recommend to an avid reader except as an airplane read, perhaps. She wasn't going anywhere for a while, so my book was safe. And I said, Sure.

So after a couple of days I gave it to her. During the course of the next few weeks she told me she was enjoying it immensely and she was very grateful etc. etc. Then I heard nothing more. We met each other every day for the next several years but this book quickly slipped out of our memories. Then one day I remembered it and looked all around my book shelf and could not find it. I brushed and dusted my memory and remembered giving it to her. I asked her about it and she said "I think I had returned it to you."

That was that, and my book was lost forever. So much for magnanimity! There are two morals from this story. The first is, obviously, don't donate your books to anyone unless you want to get rid of them (either the books or the people).

The second is that first time readers and those who have no patience to read, would prefer a plot-based story. A plot-based story is generally quick-moving, action packed, and does not linger on the flowers of the season or their fragrance. It tells us who the people are but we do not bother about their character development more than is crucial for the story. We don't want to know of their coming of age unless it is relevant.

I like to read both kinds of stories. Sometimes a plot-based book feels good, just because there are so many things happening that you are gripped by its sheer pace. Or so many intriguing puzzles and mysteries and so much tension that your heart is pounding as though you are the protagonist. Or sometimes you want to read something where it does not matter what each line is, you just want to push through and get to the end. A character-based story generally goes slow, but it too can set our hearts racing. As long as it is not too slow as to become boring and yawn-invoking, and delving too much into the unhappening mind of the protagonist! In a character-based story, there is a significance in every line. You cannot skim through without spending some thought on each. Sometimes you read a sentence twice and you will find a different meaning in it each time.

As far as writing is concerned, I would like to write character based novels. I like to think my characters have power, a solid structure, three-dimensional existence, and that they can connect with people around me. I like to think that the effort I spent on each line brings out some amount of emotion in the reader; that it tugs at his heart.

It is easier said than done, but having a clear goal sure helps.


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September 10, 2013

Introducing minor but important characters

Dear M,

Writing a story or a novel isn't easy. It appears to be, but it isn't. The easier it appears, the more difficult it must have been.

A story doesn't come easily to a person. When it appears, it is a thread or a vague idea. Expanding it into a story from that vague nothingness takes skill, patience, energy and a helluva lot of persistence. The author takes days and months to polish it out and polish it out and polish it out until it appears to flow through the pages. Until it appears as though it was written in an hour or so, quickly and effortlessly. Except it isn't.

Just as effortlessly, a talented writer introduces minor characters into the story, introducing them at an early stage, prodding them around gently without drawing too much attention to them, but just enough so that we know they exist, and we are probably curious at their presence, and we may also wonder deep inside as to their significance. In other words, just enough for us to notice them, and just enough for them to capture a corner of our attention. Perfect - until they return with a bang and make the story spin on its axis.

A perfect example is Ben in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca - when you first read the story, you do not even suspect that the "idiot" has any importance at all, except making Winter a little uneasy in her new surroundings. For that matter, everything in Manderley makes her uneasy, so we aren't concerned. You know Ben is harmless because Winter says so. Soon you realise that Ben is a little delicate and fragile, you are afraid he might fall and hurt himself. He lets slip a few things that make you sit up and notice. Then comes his crucial appearance where his evidence - or the absence of it - makes everyone's head turn.
A very minor character, who holds the plot in his quivering hands.
A very talented writer, who gently and carefully unveils important parts of the story without the reader noticing that a major unveiling is in progress.


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September 9, 2013

Discipline isn't easy during holidays!

Dear M,

So much for discipline! You can just step out the door and glance upwards and you will see my great big theory of discipline flying out the window.

I am one hour late already with this letter - and I have only begun writing it. I should have written it about twelve hours ago. (That's what my discipline dictates.) Well, what do you know - long weekends and festival holidays do that to people. I have always wanted to be true to Hemingway and Stephen King and all others who insist on writing for a certain period of time (or a certain number of words / pages) every day. They lock themselves up and write every day, even on Christmas when their whole clan has gathered. Ordinary folks like us do not have that luxury. If I so much as imagine myself doing that when "vishesh mehman" are at home, I start rolling all around, laughing. No, forget festivals or holidays, I cannot lock myself up if anyone comes, any day. There is no such thing as saying hello and getting back to my writing. But some day, I hope, some day...

In the meantime, it is better to give in quietly because such things do happen - your big plans of writing at a certain time are tossed to the wind because loving relatives choose that time to visit or we are too tired after a hectic week/end. If we try to resist it, we'll only end up more frustrated. And if you are like me, all the pent up frustration escape out elsewhere and the victims are left wounded and scarred. If it is not possible, it is not possible. Live with it. Try to make up for it the next day. But don't kill yourself doing it. Because you need to be alive if you want to finish that book. Simple.


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September 8, 2013

Listening to the Editor

Dear M,

Today I crossed a major milestone. I sent the MS off to my editor. It was with me for six months - can you imagine! - since she sent me her last set of suggestions. Can you also imagine the amount of ploughing up I must have done on it in six months?

I am superstitious though I am not particularly keen to announce that fact to everyone, and I am not too superstitious, but I like to take care of a few things, sending it off on a good day at a good time, etc. I decide the good day and time, though. So this time, it was today.

I hope I never hear from my editor again.

Not that I actually hope for anything of the sort, but just that the reply from the editor is something we all dread. The only response acceptable to us is "Holy Sh##! This book is outstanding! I've never read anything remotely exciting or interesting as this! I just couldn't put it down! I don't think you need to change a single line in it!"

But of course, very rarely do first time writers face that kind of a response. Editors are a kinder lot that we like to give them credit for. Instead of saying "Eeeek! What a horrid, unconvincing story! All I want to do is throw it into the trash!", they would tell us, "I think we need to change this part a bit so that it blends in with the scene in chapter 2" or "We may need to re-write the plot to take into consideration..." and things like that. I would so like to appreciate the pains they go through to believe in our story. But however kind they are, the fact remains that their report is going to make us a wee bit unhappy.

A friend remarked on social media recently that she had just received her editor's email and she was going to take a walk before she opened it. That says it all.

Prepare yourself for the worst, and believe that the editor has your book's best interests at heart (though maybe not yours). Everything else can be ignored.

I know my editor isn't going to get back to me for a long time. She must be working on something now, that she has to finish, then she will take a while to read and re-read mine and see how I have changed things, and ask herself, is the writing good? it the story exciting? are the characters behaving as they should? is the plot flowing and believable? if it is too fantastic, is it within a reasonable range? do I feel like throwing it into the trash, or am I curious to turn the page? what would a normal reader feel if he/she picks this book up?

She's there to help me get the book out, that's all. She isn't waging vendetta against me. But I really hope this time I have got most of it right on my MS and that the closure is near.


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September 7, 2013

Unpredictability of Characters

Dear M,

Don't you sometimes wish people were like robots? That they would stop being so strange, and that they would simply follow the rules of life?

How much of pain that would save us, if everyone behaved in a decent, cultured, prim and proper fashion! There would be no unkindness, there would be no pretensions, there would be no unpredictability. Everything would be pre-determined and pre-defined. The world would work like a complex, well-oiled machine producing desired output - whatever that may be.

Even as I think that thought, one of the first things that come to mind is - if that were true, I would not have a job. If people were like robots, there would have been no place for creativity. There is nothing creative about a set of human robots behaving "as expected." It is our unpredictability itself that makes us human. If we did everything as we were programmed to do, no artist could create anything new to excite or surprise us, because such newness would not be true. So if humans are predictable, there would be no painters, musicians, writers. We feed on the humanness - which can mean anything, because if I can define it, it ceases to be unpredictable.

If we all behaved as programmed, a person on his way to office would not change his mind and go to the cinema and would not unexpectedly meet a wonderful woman who he had been introduced to at a friend's surprise party a year before...
Instead, he would have gone to office just as he did a million days before and will continue to do a million days after, and the wonderful woman would be doing what she had been doing for a million days before and they would never have met unexpectedly anywhere because there would be no surprise parties...
You get the drift?

There would be no place for jealousy, vengeance, anger, love, surprise and all those emotions and responses and reactions that we artists eye with almost a sadistic fascination.

But even in unpredictability, there is an order - says Chaos theory. If there is no pattern, no one would be similar to another, and no one would be able to identify with another. Which is something else we thrive on - the ability to tell one man's story and make another feel it is his.

Without these imperfections and inabilities and impulses and the patterns that run between them, though we blame people of harbouring them, none of us would have a career.


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September 6, 2013

P. O. V.

Dear M,

I've been thinking about P.O.Vs - (I am always thinking about something or the other related to writing, I wonder if that is even normal? How much obsession is healthy?)


Point-of-View is a very well-researched and well-studied and well-discussed topic (like everything else). I am sure I have nothing new to add to the countless articles we find on the Internet (like everything else). But when did that stop anyone from pouring out their opinions (well, like in everything else)?

There is clearly no rule to what your point of view should be. It could be a first person account or a third person narrative (one-sided or global), or switching between more than one first person accounts, and apparently a story can also be written in the second person. Whichever confuses the reader the least.

But I think the P.O.V is not something we should decide in a hurry. Most first time writers prefer the first person voice. Something to do with seeing themselves in the shoes of the protagonist, explaining what goes on in one's own head is easier and simpler that getting into the skin of another person, etc. But mainly because, for most writers, their first novel is an extension of their own life. There will be autobiographical elements concealed deep within the story (however much we tend to deny it). It is easier to show it through our own eyes because we know how exactly it was.

But it is important to experiment with different P.O.Vs. Once we find our "author's voice", it will be easier to explain through another's eyes or as a bystander or a sootradhar who runs the show. When we get the P.O.V right, we know.

I think I have told you before about a short story I had been writing. Everything was clear, except when I wrote it, I didn't like it. One should always feel proud of the words one has written. When you come back to it after a week, if it feels yucky, then it probably is yucky. In this case, the story snippet was yucky. I put it aside.

Much, much later when I was watching a movie it came in a rush. The story was not to be seen through the eyes of the mother or anyone else. It had to be the daughter, the little girl. She was the crux of the story. Though not strictly first person, because it would be too confusing. But the story revolved around her. It was so clear, so very clear, that the only thing left for me to do was write it. It was over in no time.

P.O.V is something we decide based on our gut feeling, nothing else. We may need to experiment with different styles to get a taste of it. So that when the time comes, we can easily switch the role and enter the skin, dressed up in whichever role we are required to be in. Pretty much like acting, don't you think?


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September 5, 2013

Character Development 4 - Biography

Dear M,

We had left off character development after we tried to define the different quirks of people. There is something else that I was reminded of, which would actually complete the character development process and cover most of the important things. Only most of them, because the rest is left to the writer to improvise on. Knowing the theory doesn't mean you will produce outstanding output. You need to work on it until your character is complete, three-dimensional, rounded and as imperfect a human being as is humanly possible to create. But knowing the theory means you know how to break the rules gracefully, and how to add colour to a dull landscape and bring them to existence.

If you are a person who relies heavily on Wikipedia for everything, what I am going to say will be very clear to you. You must have checked out some random person's bio on Wiki. But have you ever tried reading up on Wiki about a fictional character? If not, do so right away. Choose some fictional character you like. For example, Randle McMurphy (One flew over the cuckoo's nest) and Ashley Wilkes (Gone with the Wind). Just two names that come to memory. I have seen more detailed Bios of other fictional characters, but I cannot recall them now.

If you look at the biography or character section of these Wiki pages, you could see that they are narrated like a story (in the sense that you get an idea of the whole novel if you read one person's bio), beginning with who they are (sometimes with respect to others in the story). Then their defining characteristics. Those few paragraphs explain them and their attitudes and their actions - that is the final result of character development. As simple as that. Our previous discussions on the topic all boil down to that one bio on Wikipedia. If we are good enough.

If we have the character development thus expanded to a bio before we start writing the story (even though the bio will naturally be vague and unclear at places), it will help us when the actual writing begins. Character development, timelines, etc. are our homework before we begin. When we expand each little scene, we know exactly how this character is going to behave, how that one is going to act, and so forth. Truth be told, if we have these detailed stuff in our hands, it is pretty much copy-paste into the story. There will be no writer's block, I promise you, once we begin writing: we have everything in hand already. The bio that we take pains to create will not be wasted, because those words or words derived from them, go right into the story, stronger and more powerful than they ever were.


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September 4, 2013

Let me take you for a Walk

Dear M,

I can see you raising your eyebrows - surely I am not going to talk about Walking when the topic is Writing? But you know how I am: when I am determined to push my point across, pushing my point across is what I do. Wait, allow yourself to be convinced.

I like reading the biographies of authors - an autobiography is more enriching, but not available all the time - and if I do not have the patience to read the entire book, I settle on the author's bio on Wikipedia and other websites dedicated to him/her. In the most detailed biographies, I have noticed without fail the authors' fancy with evening walks. If they all do it, you agree that there is something to it.

I like evening walks too. (Oh, so that raises me to the same league as the authors I admire, eh.) Not that I get to do it every day, but when I do, they leave me with an amount satisfaction that I cannot explain or justify. There might be a number of reasons to it, not the least of all is that writers are generally cooped up inside their houses poring over their stories, and a breath of fresh air would only do them good. That is my excuse, anyway.

Some days, my only reason to go outside is to take a walk. Even though the walk is confined to a certain space, it is like allowing the sunlight to burst into the darkest corner of a room - all warm and bright and shiny and sudden. After the walk, everything gloomy about life seems to have shattered into a million pieces. I don't even know what that means. But I do know how that feels.

The very first thing that it does to me is provide me with a distraction. Rather than look at my work area with its fusillade of thoughts and scraps, I could look at the trees and the ground and the wind and the playing kids and the gossiping mothers and the evening walkers and the people returning from offices and the vehicles and the stray dogs (lots of them). I speak to some of them (not the dogs). There is also the highway with its noise and pollution and shouting people and impatient drivers and terrified pedestrians, but I would go there only if I want to write about a mad traffic junction. An hour of walking opens me up and, as I said, throws light into my darkest sides (which I have in plenty). Artists run the risk of letting their dark sides grow too much, because they forget to show themselves to the sun.

A walk refreshes me and cheers me up the way nothing else can - except a nice, long, warm bath, perhaps. No, on second thoughts, the bath doesn't come anywhere close to it.

It also provides me with some clarity on my writing - or perhaps it is the distraction that does it. When I return to my writing after the walk, often I begin to think from other angles and see newer perspectives. New ideas spring up into view, issues I hadn't thought of, resolutions that seemed impossible - everything walks in to my freshly-scrubbed mind and takes their seat.

But just as in the case of all things important to writing, this is also something we could neglect easily. We do not miss walking if we do not do it, not always. It is easy to postpone or cancel it for a day. But when we do give it its due, we realise its significance and the fragrance it brings to the purpose of our lives.


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September 3, 2013

Making Time to Write

Dear M,

I have been very busy the past two months. Very busy is pretty much an understatement, going confusedly crazy would be closer to it. If we did not need so much sleep in our lifetime, we could have managed ourselves better. No, I take that back: if we did not have to sleep, we would take up more work to fill in twenty four hours, and more. I don't know if any other species neglects themselves (and finds satisfaction from it) the way we do.

I was reading an article on the web last evening about finding (making) time to write between our regular career and other lifely matters - how people have managed to spend an hour every day to write, how amidst the din of normalcy, writers find their voice, etc. Our professions are important, we need them to sustain our life. Writing, until we become so good at it as to earn from it, does not do much to contribute to our sustenance. It probably helps to keep our sanity together - on second thoughts, these days my sanity is on a downward spiral thanks to my literary pursuits. But I digress (as usual). We cannot abandon our people or ignore their needs just because we call ourselves writers. Not yet, but maybe some day.

A few months ago, distressed that my regular job was keeping me from writing as much as I wanted to, I took a month's leave from work. I decided that I was going to finish this darn writing and editing that had been pestering me for long. I was excited about it, you know. This time, I was going to nail it, and there would be no more regrets, I promised myself.

The first week of leave went well - I wrote like I had never written before, ten continuous hours of writing, with breaks only for food and water and basic needs. In the evening, I took some time off for a walk, to refresh myself. I was happy - and that is an understatement too.

The second week started slow, I was a little exhausted with the efforts of the first week. Delighted and enthusiastic and highly motivated, but a little sleepy. I watched television and took more naps than before, but wrote for about eight hours or so. From there began the decline. In the days that followed, I showed up at my desk only when I felt guilty for wasting my precious leave. I managed to do what I wanted to by the end of the month, but it was mostly guilt that drove me.

I realised something that wise people have known for centuries: unless we are under pressure, we would not do anything. When I had my regular work, I would manage one hour every day to write. And that one hour would be very focussed, because I knew I would not be able to spend more than those sixty minutes. Some days I would be tired and let myself take rest, but the next day I would try to make up for lost time. I was under extreme duress, (and complaining like hell) and I was performing well without endangering my health. The progress I made was astounding. When the work pressure was taken off (and since there was no publisher-pressure), there was nothing to drive me - I had the feeling that I was given all the time in the world. Thirty days.

After I rejoined work (which I now appreciated more than I did earlier) I began to plan my time better. Weekends were pretty much completely dedicated to writing. Week days, I would write only three days, for two hours each. Any three days. The other two days I would rest. Maybe I would write one more day, but that was my choice. That way, I would not be killing myself writing, nor would I be neglecting the literature. Once in a while I take a day off and write all that I want to write. That one precious day-off would be completely committed to writing (or editing, whatever was the priority at hand).

That, simply put, works wonderfully well.

But I took another month from work to participate in NaNoWriMo, and that worked even better - I should tell you about it another time!


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September 2, 2013


Dear M,

Today we talk about Timelines. I have been burning to talk about them, for days. Creating a Timeline is one of my most favourite activities. It is also one of the activities I consider very important. If we get the Timeline clear before we start writing the actual story, the writing part would become simpler and easier and quicker than if the Timeline were just a few random notes on paper or in your head.

I have often told you that I started writing my first book wrong. How can it be otherwise, without a proper training or background? But the best part of any endeavour is when you figure things out along the way, and even though it means you have to plough through the work you have done and rework from scratch, you come out of it a better and more knowledgeable person.

I just wrote my story the way it came to me. Afterwards, when I figured out that there were too many threads in it and I was losing touch and forgetting some of them (despite the scribbles I had made in the name of notes), I decided to do this exercise. I am sure all the millions of articles I had read on the topic had led me to it, eventually.

The Timeline - as the name indicates - is a chronological order of things. Your story maybe told in that order, or in reverse, or bouncing between past and present, or in any order you chose. But to prevent you getting confused, and to prevent the reader getting confused, the best thing is to have a Timeline before you start.

I started (re-started, rather) with an MS Excel sheet. The year in question was 1997. So I began to enter each important detail for 1997, one point in each row.
1997 Jan - Winter, scene 1
1997 Jan 31 - scene 2
1997 Feb 23 - protagonist turned 25
I got all the incidents of this year in order, one for each row, a single line summary for each important incident. This also reminded me of important and relevant days that came in between, like holidays or festivals, that could have an impact on the story, a change of seasons that had to be incorporated into the story, etc. Things began to burst into view. Then I began to work backwards. 1972 Feb 23 - my protagonist was born. How old were his parents then? Then the years he went to school, the years he went to college, the years when other things happened to him, whether these activities were relevant to the story or not. Get what I mean?

If you don't have a clear character development ready at the time, this would help you to create it. If you do have a character development, you could take tips from that. Either way, the Timeline and character development enrich each other.

Build this, work on this, think about everything that could possibly happen. For my story, I went as far back as the 1940s, but that was because it was important to my story. Then to the future up to 2009, which was also important to the story. But the actual story does not start in 1940. It starts in 2009, springs back and forth between 2009 and 1997, and then for a while it slips back to the period from the 40s to the 90s. Hopefully it does not confuse the reader.

The Timeline gave me a lot of confidence to approach my writing. I was no longer storing everything on my head or on paper scattered across my table. I did not have to worry about if everything was handled, or of missing something until it was too late. The moment I had copied it to my Timeline (and backed it up somewhere safe) I could remove it from my head. And with it, the unnecessary worry of not trusting my memory. You have no idea how many times I had to refer this Timeline while I was writing!

What happens to the Timeline after you finish writing? It stays in your MS Excel sheet for some more time, until the editing and polishing are over, and until you are published, and it is for your eyes alone. You could retain it after that too. After all, you had spent days on this, why would you want to throw it out?


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September 1, 2013

Reading isn't the same once you become a writer!

Dear M,

Reading just isn't what it used to be.

I have always been a book-hungry person. Sometimes I think of all the books I want to read and wish that I could read them in one day so that I could feel somehow richer or fulfilled or satisfied. If there is something like a greed for reading, then I suffer from it. And yet there are so many authors, so many books I haven't laid my hands on. There are several others that I have started reading but couldn't finish for many reasons. However, the hunger remains as gnawing as ever.

It had been so much easier to read books before I began to call myself a writer. Those days, reading involved only that - reading. Enjoying the story, plot, characters, writing and - loving it or hating it (and being very loud about it). After I started taking writing seriously, and most importantly, after I began to read about writing, my perception began to change. Earlier, I would not give much importance to parts I did not like. But now, unconsciously I begin to analyse why I did not like it. My eyes stray over that piece for long, trying to find its faults. It should have been written this way, I would think. Well, I am entitled to my own opinions.

After the book is finished, I would think about characters, plots, how the author had brought them into existence. How the characters were developed, the pains she/he has gone through to show them to us. The subtle way in which important characters were introduced. How the various seemingly unimportant threads came together to break into the climax. And how unexpected, unpredictable the story had turned out to be. How original and wonderful the writing was. And how incompetent I am when compared to these amazing writers.

Reading has become more difficult and more inspiring, more painful and more motivating, since writing became an important part of my life. It is impossible to remain unaffected by good writers. Every book we read enriches us. But every good book also intimidates us. Every good piece of writing inspires us, but every good piece of writing also depresses us. Every story makes us want to write. Every story makes us want to conceal our writing from the world.

Life had been so much simpler when I did not have to worry about an author's skills, but life has become much more brighter when I began to analyse and learn from what I read.


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