June 3, 2014


Dear M,

Sometimes it is such a relief to write what comes to mind, without bothering about the order or sequence or chronology or depth of characters. Throwing preparations to the wind. I don't know if it is a good idea or if it is anything at all; but I don't mind.

Maybe the reader will be disappointed, maybe the reader will think it has no convincing plot, no amazing characters, no colourful premise. But who cares? - the author doesn't, because the author is enjoying the writing of it, and when the author does that, nothing else matters.

That's the kind of book I am working on now. Just jotting in scenes here and there, with appropriate titles and nothing else. No worry about whether this happens before that or that happens before something else.

There is no strain in writing, no stretching of memory, no papers flying around the room with important notes on them. No planning, no discipline, no setting aside fixed time daily. No pressure.

Just writing when it strikes. Sometimes two days a week, sometimes every day with hours stolen from work. Sometimes just one line in a day. 20K in one month. Not an amazing pace, but enough, for me.

And definitely not the kind of thing an author with credentials would approve of. I can see you there, over yonder, shaking your head at me. It's bound to fail, you think.

Who cares, my dear friend, who cares. Not I. Not today.


Like this post on Facebook!

June 1, 2014

The ideal word(s)

Dear M,

Some time ago, some of us - who had been writing for a while as well as who wanted to enter the world of writing - gathered to attend a workshop. There was a lot of interesting discussions on different topics. More importantly, we came to know the strengths and weaknesses of our own writing as well as those of others. It was a good learning. I wonder how many of them still keep writing. I remember a few of those determined faces, but I have my doubts about some others who might have stopped writing two days after the workshop.

Anyway, there was a question raised by one of the attendees. She said that while she was writing in a flow, sometimes she would get stuck because she could not find the ideal word and then the flow would be lost because she would keep returning to that one word. We asked her if the thesaurus did not help. It was indeed difficult to get back on track once the flow was lost. We also suggested to her to write the closest word and continue writing, but to come back later and modify the word. She said it didn't work; she could not continue until the right word was found. And by that time, the thoughts that were running on would have gone ahead beyond her view.

I haven't faced a similar situation, but I do know the suffocation when the right word is at the tip of your fingers but it refuses to come out. Sometimes I too spend time trying to coax it out, sometimes look for it in thesaurus, and sometimes I leave a hyphen where the right word is to be inserted, so that I can return later and spend time on it.

Yesterday I was working on a particularly difficult section of my story. I had to convey it in a way that did not sound like preaching to the reader, and yet, it was a piece of philosophy, though not unknown to the reader. I had been thinking of nothing else for the past couple of days. In my sleep, I would be framing sentences. Those sentences never came out right. But I kept writing whatever came to my mind, even though the words were far from ideal. They did sound like preaching, they did sound condescending, they did sound wrong. But I wrote any way. The same thing in many different ways. Once those thoughts were out there, it was easier to find out what was making them sound artificial. It was easier to smoothen them out and soften them a little and compact them a bit. The final result is not perfect, yet, but I know I will get there.

It is important to write it down, whichever way it comes out, so that it can be polished or edited or rewritten later. If we keep turning it in our mind, it may not come out properly, and the result would be that we get stuck and would lose the thread of writing.


Like this post on Facebook!

May 24, 2014

Writing about painful incidents from life

Dear M,

There was an incident that happened about twelve years ago. I was not among the ones that were directly hit by it, but I was in an inner circle. It was not easy to get over it, especially the questions it raised. The Why? Why? of it.

I never found out the answers. Probably that's why I never found a closure with it. I could probably have dug deeper into it, but it would have reopened the wounds of the people who were trying to get past it.

I met them again last month. It was not something you grow out of or you can move away from. It was something that would hang over their heads for ever. They had worked their lives around it. Things are looking good for them now, there have been happier incidents in the past few years and it did fill our hearts to see them getting along.

The questions were not answered, though. I could not bring myself to ask those and risk seeing their pain.

Why did I bring this up now? Because in one of my recent stories, I wrote about it. The similarity is too thin to notice - except for the people who know and haven't forgotten. I don't know how it would be received if they read it. Would they think I have commercialised a personal tragedy?

For writers, sometimes the only way to let out pent-up emotions is to write about it. Others may easily claim that we're trying to make money out of it. But in truth, it is our own way of finding answers, of finding some peace. Twelve years hence, I still haven't found any peace with that incident, except a slight satisfaction when I met the people concerned. It is our own way of creating the same situation and explaining it the way we think it happened. It is our own way of trying to believe that it wasn't worse than we had imagined, that the real explanation isn't more terrible than we are trying to convince ourselves. Yes, the answers of the Why could indeed be anything.

Though it does not always help, it is our attempt to find some consolation. For a reader, it might seem like the author has quickly weaved it into the story for want of a better scene. Or that the writer is just another person who uses stories for their own purpose, like the media highlighting tragedies to lure viewers. It isn't.


Like this post on Facebook!

May 7, 2014

The Wikipedia approach to writing

Dear M,

I am a huge fan of Wikipedia. Apart from the fact that it gives me a lot of info about things (I am not interested in going into the right-or-wrong discussion regarding Wikipedia), it also serves another purpose, in my eyes. The way Wikipedia presents topics, classifies them and highlights the important facts - to me that appears to be a good method to use when we are preparing to work on a novel.

It is always a good idea to identify chapters prior to writing. I know several writers who just write in a flow and break the chapters down afterwards, but some people prefer to prepare a chapter-wise summary for the entire novel before actually plunging into the writing.

And if you look at Wiki you get an idea. An intro, a summary, a cast of characters, list of casualties, (okay - maybe not) in short, a quick highlight of each chapter might be a good idea as a part of the homework.

Once we do that, we can weave scenes in, to each relevant chapter, we don't have to collate them into an incomprehensible mass.

Because, however much we think we know the story, trust me, writing a novel is a long journey, and somewhere, some times, we lose track of threads, some fine, important threads, and we need notes to bring us back into the game. The more organized, the better. As I tell myself every day, to no avail.


Like this post on Facebook!

May 5, 2014

Character Development - 5: Dialogs

Dear M,

I have always thought that watching movies is a great way to learn about writing scenes, because movies is mostly about 'showing, not telling' (except when there is a lot of voice-over).

Recently I watched one, where the protagonist's attitude and behaviour were presented to us through dialogs by others. In a few sentences we were told that she was obsessive when it comes to a certain matter, and that the speaker and she had had an affair. There was no need for a detailed flashback or digging into the specifics of the relationship. Again, a second scene in which the protagonist herself speaks to someone gave away some other factors of her character, without our even noticing what the scriptwriters were doing. (Okay, a writer would notice, but the dialogs seemed effortless and regular, just the kind of things we would say, and not as though they were talking just to convey something to the viewers.)

It is not easy. They must have spent many, many hours and days to introduce that conversation (which was essential in itself, and not brought in just to give away the protagonist's character) and compact it into the most necessary bits. (A novel writer is bound by no such strict rules the way the movie's scriptwriter is, but it would make a very good read if only the necessary words are used.)


Like this post on Facebook!

May 3, 2014


Dear M,

Everything in writing sounds easier than it actually is. You can talk about a topic and say, this is how it is done. Then you pick up the paper and look at it for hours, writing something, trying to implement what you had just spoken about, strike it out (or type something, delete it out), and this could go on for hours.

I have been obsessed with writing sub-plots. I had a chance to explore the sub-plots in some books I was reading. I haven't been very good with sub-plots though.

Here are some things that I observed.

Sub-plots have many purposes

We know the theme and plot of the novel. So when the protagonist strays too far from the path, we know we're headed out for a sub-plot. Sub-plots either serve to push the main plot forward, or to develop the characters along the way.

Sub-plots could be distracting

Recently I read reviews where a reader complained that the deviation from the path was very distracting and irritating. Many readers (if not most), I have noticed, are impatient to get to the end of it. Taking the longer route isn't for them.

Some sub-plots are very promising

We would just want to go into them and breathe deeply; some sub-plots are exciting and we are sad when they're over.

Will the story work without them?

I think the defining factor will be, will the story remain the same if the sub-plot is removed? Cut out an entire chapter and see if anything is different. If not, it probably is best edited out.


Like this post on Facebook!

April 27, 2014

Non-Email Manuscript Submission

Dear M,

I wonder why the publishers of English books in India still expect authors to send their works by post. Yes, you heard it right. Most (if not all the good ones) publishers have written very clearly that emails are not entertained. (There has been a slight change in the recent times, though, and one publisher has given an email ID in their website, however no one seems to be on the other end of it, except a bot that sends auto-thank-you-responses.) Another well-known publisher had enabled email submission guidelines, but before long they reverted back to post submissions.

What could be the reason?

The only reason I can think of is that, since these publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, once the email channel is opened, there is bound to be a flood of submissions daily. There is no effort in shooting an email to anyone at any time of the day. But think of taking print outs of about 50-60 pages of your work (after formatting them according to specifications), making sure the pages are in order, copying down the name and address (making sure the query letter is addressed properly) and taking them to the courier/post office - and doing this fifteen times? (And at least once mixing up the names, and addressing the Penguin editor in the courier that went to Harper Collins?) No, unless you are serious about publishing even one tiny bit, you would not go through all that trouble.

I am not surprised that the publisher who had temporarily opened email submissions had quickly closed it down.

Maybe there is a simpler reason behind it. If there is, I would like to be enlightened.


Like this post on Facebook!