March 31, 2014

Going Back in Time

Dear M,

I went back to an old novel again. That's the best thing about old novels - you can go back to them any time and they won't complain about your lack of interest or attention.

So I went back to it: it was pretty much complete, and as close to first draft as was possible without being a First Draft itself. I had gone back to it several times in the intervening years, added a touch of colour here or a dash of modification there, and the best part about it was that, I still loved it, and I still believed in it. And there were even parts of that story that I thought had come out very well. (No, I really thought they were brilliant.) Those parts still gives me the goosebumps.

That novel gives me hope. It tells me that however the odds seem stacked against me, I should not lose hope. It is only a matter of time. And unless I persist, all my efforts will be wasted. There are so many things to do - but if the foundation is not robust, nothing can salvage it.

The thing about returning to the novel after a long break is that your vision would have improved, and there would be more clarity in your themes and characters, and most importantly, you would know how to bring it out. Time plays a huge role in making the right decisions, in doing away with unnecessary embellishments, and to compact the text into a better form.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 29, 2014

Unexpected and Unkind

Dear M,

However much we prepare ourselves for criticism, the fact is that we are never prepared for criticism. That's because the most hurting comments don't come from where we expect it to.

We know that we have been insensitive in the portrayal of those scenes in the story. We tried, but we never got it right. We know that we have not researched enough while writing those facts in the plot. We expect people to say that the first seemed too heartless, the second seemed to have been lifted right off Google. We're prepared for it. We have our replies scripted out.

But then, it comes, the bomb. That scene, they say, seems so fake. The misery and grief are so contrived. The characters seemed like they are acting. Tone it down a bit.

And they're talking about the part which you had ripped off from your own life. That part that wrenches your heart even as you remember it. That part which, when you wrote, made you shed bucket-load of real tears. Tone it down? How can you tone it down? It was more intense that you could ever describe. You had toned it down hundred fold in the story from what it actually was. Why can't they see how much pain had gone behind it? Why can't they see it was written right from the heart?

The world is an unkind place. It always wants to prop the unexpected on to your shoulders. We can never be prepared enough. What we can do, is to tell ourselves that we will not stop however unexpected, unkind and untrue the accusations are.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 27, 2014

Why should it matter?

Dear M,

This question may not come at the beginning of the writerly career, but as time passes, it will make its presence known. Why should my writing matter? What will it do? What can it change?

There is no concrete answer, of course. There is only an urge to say something, to speak to an invisible audience, and to see through their eyes.

Why do we read extensive articles on politics or analyses of the latest breaking news? We try to see and understand something that had not yet occurred to us. We like to be surprised by the author's viewpoint. We like to be delighted by her burst of wisdom. We like to be fascinated by her style.

We do write what we want to write, but we hope to make a connection with someone somewhere else. Did it help you? Did it relax you? Did it relieve you? Did it make you laugh? Did it make you act? Somehow we like to feel that it did.

Which is why, I feel strongly, there should be something more in our stories than the mundane. As writers, what can we bring out that a reader sees daily, perhaps, but has never noticed? Or something that the reader has never seen? Or even better, something that makes the reader pause, think, and say to herself - My God, why didn't I ever think of it that way?

When we ponder over a story we want to tell, when we are bursting with energy and enthusiasm to start typing it out, stop, and ask ourselves: Does it carry a message, a thought, a theme, or something that the reader could take away from it?

If not, ask again, is this the story I want to write?


Like this post on Facebook!

March 26, 2014

With time, comes confidence

Dear M,

Today I updated my bio again, to go with an article I was sending. And today, I found that it was so much easier to write one, perhaps because I have been doing it for so many years.

Writing a bio is not easy at the start. And writing a bio is essential, be it at the start or the end. (I don't know about the end, though.)

When we attempt it for the first time, it is easy to overdo it. Every little bit of information need not go into the bio. It is like a compressed resumé, but containing only the things that the reader needs to - or would be interested to - know. Your previous publications, your prior writing experience, your association with famous writing clubs, your writing awards, your hugely popular blog.

Sounds simple, but somehow the first time we write our bio, it appears so difficult. It never does come out well in the first attempt. Keep improvising and keep modifying, and most importantly, keep reading others' bios to see how they have done it in a simple yet striking manner.


P.S. And that's my 200th letter on this blog.

Like this post on Facebook!

March 25, 2014

Busy is as busy does

Dear M,

I think I have never been so busy in my life. Or maybe, it just appears so every time it happens. The way I remember it, I have had busy flashes that passed quickly, then there were some busy days during which I did only one thing the whole day. Perhaps the fact that I am trying to do several things at once is taking its toll.

And inevitably, the writing - the only task in my list that is done for purposes of my own, the only task that gives no pleasure to anyone else, the only task that does not actually swell my bank account - becomes the one that suffers.

That's how it is - every task and every person has to shove through and make themselves visible if they need to be noticed. My writing has to impress me, has to be "useful", and it has to make a "difference" to my life if it should be given due respect.

I hear pretty much the same story from everywhere around me, so I guess it has something to do either with March, or with the climate in general, or with the collective energy of the planet. Somewhere, someone else must be compensating for it by taking long breaks and following his passion full steam.

Next month, I hope I am one of them.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 22, 2014

The story should flow from one line to next

Dear M,

Why do people read some stories even though they aren't particularly curious to know what's going to happen next?

Perhaps the author is their favourite writer. Perhaps, though they know what's going to happen in the end, they want to know how it comes about. Perhaps the opening line caught them unawares and they just could not put the book down after that. Perhaps the writing followed all the best rules of writing and came out perfect. Perhaps they were bored and waiting at the doctor's, and any book would have done.

While there is a certain truth to all of these, the only real reason I can see is the ease of reading.

I have been captivated by the first line of a book, and tossed it aside after reading about five or ten pages. That's all the first line can take you to; no further. I have been bored by the first two pages of a book and just as I began considering throwing it away, it became interesting and absolutely un-putdownable.

The only reason, I repeat, is the flow of the text. The reader should tumble from one line to the next easily, as though the story were flowing, like a river. That does not mean the story should be light and funny and shallow and superficial. It can be unreadably profound and complicated writing, if you like. It could still flow.

How do we write like that so that the story tumbles from one sentence to the next? That's for each of us to find out.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 20, 2014


Dear M,

One of the most challenging things about writing a story is to make it convincing. It is even more difficult when the story is (or intended to be) funny.

In one of the recent episodes of a comedy show in TV (the one with canned laughter), there were a couple of scenes which were not only irritating, but were also unbelievable. "How did they get away with it?" was the question in my mind. I felt as though the makers of the show expected all viewers to be fools to laugh at something like that. Those were deliberate (and poor and even desperate) attempts at being funny. (Apparently that show does well elsewhere.)

There is a thin line between showing something that is impossible in real life while making it appear real and possible, and showing something that is so ridiculous that you just want to run away.

The author should be able to think like a reader. Would I believe something like that?


Like this post on Facebook!

March 18, 2014

Show, Not Tell

Dear M,

This Show, Not Tell thing baffles me. In fact, I remember first being baffled by it 5-6 years ago. I have not come far from there. It is very clear in theory. But when to apply it? How to apply it?

Actually we can apply it in every single scene. But it will become tedious and boring to the reader. There are places where we should tell, without showing and get past them quickly, because a major scene is coming where we will have all the showing to do. So we need to judge where it is needed, and where it is not.

Now, how to do showing and not telling. I wrote about it in different forms here and here.

Something came to me recently, while I was watching a movie. How does the director tell us what the protagonist is thinking, or what kind of a person she is?

He does not appear on the scene and tell us oh, she is a real tiger, isn't she?

He shows us. He throws her into a situation, and asks her to react. She tells us in her behaviour, in her choices, in her decisions, in her expressions, in her words.

In an ideal story, that is what I would like to do, too. (I am not saying that is how all writers should decode the Show, Not Tell concept. It varies with each writer.)

I want to write detached, as though I am a mere observer, making a note of what is right before my eyes.

Her eyes widened, I would say, because I saw it. She said, I would never do that, I would say.

She got into the bus hesitatingly, I would say, because I saw her hesitate. Forget the adverb.

Those are things I see - not what I read from her mind. I do not want to get into the characters' minds more than necessary. I just want to be the one who jots down what's visible.

Would that be possible, without doing any analysis of the scenes before me, without getting into minds and spilling everything out for the reader. I believe it is possible. But will such a read be interesting?

Remains to be seen!


Like this post on Facebook!

March 15, 2014

The Struggle, the Noise, the Hardships

Dear M,

An author recently claimed that she was inspired by silence, that her ideas came when she was alone and in very quiet atmosphere, like her own room. Lucky, I said to myself.

Not all writers are so lucky. Some have to write in the middle of squealing children, even while screaming at them, or in the midst or chores, or even sneakily at work.

Some of us do not have the luxury of getting creative in loneliness. Some of us get creative despite all the noise around us, despite not having a minute to ourselves, despite wanting to throw all the unpleasant things in life away.

The efforts to focus become all the more trying, like sunlight trying to peep through a tiny hole. Perhaps, and this is positive thinking I suppose, because of all the hardships, our efforts become more beautiful.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 13, 2014

The Right Choice

Dear M,

There was this "big, fat" ad in the newspaper today - in large font, caps, on the front page, no less. It said, "Fortune favours those who make the right choices." And I wondered what the right choices are. How would one know he is making the right choices?

I don't know if I am. I don't know if I ever have.

I seem to have been running from pillar to post, as they say. For each of the pathways that I took, there were many, many others that I ignored. There were some others that I tried to follow but abandoned after a while. I do not know which of my actions were right and which were the mistakes. I do not know if I had pursued something else, would I have wound up somewhere else? Did some other trail lead to a miracle? Do I want a miracle?

But there is one thing I know for sure - being a writer was a right choice. There was a definite turn in the road. There was a crossroads. There was a choice. And I had taken it, fully conscious of what I was doing.

Wherever I am now, whatever I am or not, whether people would term my life meaningful or not, successful or not, I know for a certainty that being a writer was a right choice.

I have never, even for a moment, felt that this was not for me. I have been saddened when I did not get what I wanted, I have been miserable when my attempts failed, I have been mad with rage when I was rejected multiple times, but not for one moment did I regret this choice. I am on the right track. I do not know where I am going, what I will find. But this journey, this struggle, this madness, this despair, this momentary satisfaction of writing something I believe in, that is my life, that is my success, that is... my destination. I am not going anywhere. I am there.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 12, 2014

The Comma, the Pause

Dear M,

A long time ago - in fact I think it could have been the turning point in my writerly career - I shared one of my short stories with a friend. He must have realised that I am handing over something very precious that he had to handle with care and eventually return.

He gave my story due respect. He was an avid reader, and I do not know what he actually thought of my story - my encounters with critics had not yet begun. He told me what he liked about the story. He delicately kept from me his negative thoughts, if he had any. It must have come as a surprise to him that I wrote stories, perhaps that surprise alone made up for the drawbacks of my writing.

Anyway, none of that is important here. Something he said to me drew my attention. He said I gave the right kind of attention to the pauses in the story - that my punctuations, especially my commas, were well-placed. Now, that is the last comment I would have expected him to make. Yes, he did speak about the language I used, the plot and other things, but today this is the only thing I remember from our conversation.

Normally no one pays a lot of attention to the punctuation while reading, except a person who knows what he is talking about. A person with a keen eye. A person who knows writing. Most importantly, a person who knows reading.

We read a book in our mind, true, but we're actually reading it out aloud. Without the pauses, the commas, the semi-colons, the exclamations, the hyphens, the full-stops, we do not comprehend the text the way we should. One could write very well without many of those, there are writers who dislike the semi-colon. But each of these serve a purpose to the reader. They could be annoying when overused, but most often they give the right feel to the reader.

I have heard that reading our story out loud is very useful in fixing (polishing) the style. I am sure when we read aloud, we pause at the right places. These pauses and exclamations could get converted into punctuations which will help the reader read it exactly the way you want it to be read.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 10, 2014

A story can be told in many ways

Dear M,

There are several ways a story can be told. There is no best way, there is no perfect way. More than the flow or the approach or the angle in which it is told, it is more the presentation.

Imagine a painting competition for children. You give them all a topic, say, Independence Day. If there are fifty children participating, there will be fifty new pictures, none of them alike, except perhaps for the presence of the National Flag. And yet will you be able to say which picture is better or the best? (Competitions do come out with a "winner", though.) If we look at those with a creative eye, there will be something original, new, different, appealing, endearing, in each one of them.

The same goes with stories: with the same plot and characters, different people can write in different ways. A reader may choose some of them as better than others, but that is based on his or her own priorities.

The point here is that there might be different ways to tell the story we want to tell, and we could run our mind over these possibilities, as far as we know, to choose the best possible presentation. Maybe somewhere along the writing, we would find that there is a better way of narration. If we are sure that would work better, then alter it. Maybe some readers are not going to like it; maybe some will. But ultimately, the author has to be satisfied. If he/she isn't, then the chances of a reader liking is next to nil.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 8, 2014

Brilliant at jobs, not so at Writing?

Dear M,

Many of us have jobs outside of writing, and are very good at it too. We've been appreciated, and we know we are as close to perfection as humanly possible. We're dedicated, hard-working, talented, good learners, and, if I may say so, indispensable. If we put in our papers, our colleagues are going to be devastated.

So why is it that, we are so brilliant at our jobs, but we aren't so at our creative pursuits? Why aren't we the winners, the way we are at office? Why aren't publishers or agents racing after us, the way our Bosses do?

Because job, most of the time, is different from creativity. This is a general statement. Many people do creative work that is as demanding as writing itself. But many others do work that has a definition, a certain expectation, some sets of rules to follow. There is, in most cases, an expected outcome.

When we write a story, or a novel, we're not working on any definition. As the author, we know what we're going to write about. But we do not have a sample or template to refer, we cannot get our work reviewed by others (except for editing suggestions), we do not have input specifications, we do not have a list of expected output.

Which is why it isn't easy. Which is why, one person may say it is great, while the other would find it boring. Which is why, our writing style may appeal to some while it would put off some others.

We have to tackle and master the craft, just as we did with our jobs. And if we are determined, we could be as good.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 7, 2014

Reviews as a learning

Dear M,

I think writing reviews of books is a great idea. When we write a review, we are actually analysing the story, the plot, the characters and their development, the theme, etc. We are also trying to see the author behind the book.

When we find flaws in a book, we immediately know how a good book shouldn't be. When we say the characters are one-dimensional or not rounded, we think about what could have made them better. When we say the editing is not perfect, we know what phrases or words could have been removed or modified. When we say the book is not impeccable, we know what made us say so.

When we say the theme was new, something we have never thought of, we can try to think of such possibilities, of coming up with ideas that are new, original. The approach of the story, the narration, is different. And we all like different.

We wonder what made the author write so; why must she have come up with such a theme? Why did she model her characters thus? Where did she get the plot from?

Whatever makes us think and wonder is a lesson. Even if we don't write a review and put it up online, we could analyse each book as soon as we finish reading. It would be time well spent.

I also like reading book and movie reviews written by others in different blogs, it is good to get others' perspectives. Who knows, some day they might review us!


Like this post on Facebook!

March 6, 2014

When you say nothin' at all...

Dear M,

You say it best, when you say nothin' at all...
That should be our motto - well not exactly "nothin"; more like, say less and mean more. We don't have to explain every single word and line, the reader can figure that out. Leave out a few explanations, otherwise the reader would feel exhausted just reading our story. As far as reading goes, when we read, we don't notice that we are actually translating a set of alphabets into something we understand. So an extra clarification would be like a stone in your food.

It is difficult to see those redundant explanations in our own writing. But we could learn to note those in others'. And in due course, I believe we would find such in our writing too.

Now we're on the topic, I remember reading an author - acclaimed and everything, for his plots, imagination, creativity and far-sightedness - who sometimes explained more than I cared to read.

"Good Lord, what a mess!" He felt annoyed.

From the exclamation itself (and the context driving to it) we know he is annoyed. That line could have been edited out. It was the stone in my food, and it was annoying.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 5, 2014

List of Literary Agents in India

Dear M,

A couple of days ago, I posted a list of Publishers of English Books in India.

Now, here is a list of Literary Agents in India.

Aitken Alexander

Jacaranda Press

Purple Folio

Red Ink Literary Agency

Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency


Writer's Side

Please feel free to add to this list.

Also view: my list of Publishers.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 4, 2014

Back up your work

Dear M,

In the early days of my acquaintance with the computer, I used to forget to save my work. I should also say that those were the early days of computer in my neighbourhood too - which means, not many had heard of such things as UPS, and a power failure meant your unsaved work was gone. After losing my precious slowly-typed-in lines several times, I learned to do Alt+F+S.

Now we do not have that issue where power failure could cause our beloved work to be lost, however there still hangs above our heads the possibility of a hard drive crash, or something similar where we could lose our data.

Today, we have so many alternatives to keep our work safe. If you say you lost your 75,000 words of your novel because of a system crash, no one is going to be sympathetic. No one's sympathy is going to help anyway.

Software like MS Word have the option to save your data as you work. In recent versions, auto-recovery is enabled by default, and in other versions, there is an option to "auto-save" your work every few minutes. Enable it.

Use an external hard disk or a pen drive. Keep saving the entire folder of your work into it, once or twice a week. Just dump the whole thing there.

Find an online location like Dropbox, and sync your folder.

Take care that you know where the latest work is - keeping different versions in different places could lead to confusion and eventually, madness.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 3, 2014

List of Publishers of English Books in India

Dear M,

I have lost count of the number of aspiring authors who have asked me about publishers. I thought it would be easier to compile a list so that it would be helpful to others.

Aleph Book Company

Grey Oak Publishers

Harper Collins

Leadstart Publishers

Om Books International

Random House

Rupa & Co

Westland Publishers

Zubaan Books

I am sure there are more good publishers out there. Feel free to add to this list. (There are also several small, independent publishers, but I do not know anything about their credibility so I am not adding those names here.)

In a couple of days I will publish a list of Literary Agents based in India.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 2, 2014

The Gems within our Writing

Dear M,

It's amazing how gems creep into our writing. I am not sure if we can take credit for those. They just exist at the tips of our fingers or the nooks of our brain, and then spread to the paper/keyboard. We read them over and over again and are astonished.

What's even better is, when the reference to those return in another part of the story. It has happened many times with me. I write something in passing, and I don't even think it is important. Then, a couple of pages later, it just pops up again, making the initial reference worthwhile.

I don't know how or why it happens, but I attribute it to something higher than myself - something that resides in my head or above it.


Like this post on Facebook!

March 1, 2014

Scrap the old story and start afresh

Dear M,

Remember that story I was telling you about - the one that I had started in earnest, and lost interest after a few days?

Yesterday morning I got up with a fresh perspective to it, removed all the unnecessary parts, changed the POV and finished writing it in about two hours. (Actually, I opened a new document and started writing, only in a couple of places did I go back to refer to the original.) I did not get bored or disillusioned with this version, and I knew this time I had got it right.

I just thought you should know.


Like this post on Facebook!