For Bonobology: Are mothers who go on business trips leaving children with the husband selfish?

Wrote this for Bonobology.com

As it so happens, in my marriage, I am the one who travels. As far as arrangements go, this is quite the reverse of the ‘dad travels – mom stays back in town.’ When it is book launch time, I can actually go through a couple of months of living out of my suitcase.

The spouse on the other hand, as a stock market trader, is in a profession where he is at his desk all day and home after the market shuts. Between 8.30 to 3.30 he is completely unavailable. Post that he is completely available. He can be counted upon to be at home when I’m not.

Last year, the offspring’s midterm exams came about at the same time as my third book, All Aboard was released. As is mandatory during book launch time, I was shuttling between events and cities. Well-meaning mommy friends gasped in shock. “Can’t you reschedule your travel?” they asked. “After all, it is the midterm exam.”

“But his father is right there,” I replied. The censorious gaze was unblinking. Bad mom. Bad mom. Bad mom. It had been printed out in bold and slapped onto my forehead.

Read the rest of the piece here

The Face At The Window in the Hindustan Times today

htthefaceatthewindow

“Scaring people through just words on paper, like making them laugh, is not easy. It either works or does not. In the case of The Face At The Window it does, and there are some truly terrifying moments in the book. The sense of this leisurely, soporific life in a small hill town, the abruptness with which this tranquility is broken and the build-up is reminiscent, at times, of Ruskin Bond’s ghost stories. Manral’s descriptive prose brings this fictional world and those within it to life. This is true of the naive goatherd child Mrs McNally teaches in her free time and who is fiercely protective of her or the apparition, who greets her in the middle of the night, sitting and smiling eerily in her rocking chair.”

 

In the Hindustan Times today.
http://www.hindustantimes.com/books/review-the-face-at-the-window/story-kYWj2tENbMsdSScjIzTUNP.html

#WritingOn11: Ten Tips to write better by Madhulika Liddle

By Madhulika Liddle

Ten tips to write better

By which I mean writing that doesn’t make an editor wince.

Let me provide the context to this. Every now and then, I am approached by a wannabe writer who wants me to have a look at their manuscript and give my feedback. Very rarely (and what a sad reflection this is on Indian Writing in English), I find something that is a delight to read, even in its unpolished, unedited form. More often than not, what I receive is riddled with errors. Grammatical errors, factual errors, errors of everything from casing to punctuation.

When I have suggested, as part of feedback, that the manuscript be subjected to a series of self-reviews and (this is something not many Indians seem to be keen on) that an editor be  hired to clean up the manuscript, the usual reaction is, “But won’t my publishers do the editing?”

And my answer to that is, Of course they will. If they decide to take your manuscript in the sorry state it’s in (I word that rather more tactfully). Because editors in publishing houses are so snowed under with work, if they receive a manuscript that’s yelling, “You’ll have to do a lot of editing with me!”—no, unless the story is exceptionally compelling, they’re not going to take it on. What you’ll get is a reject note.

So, on to the list. Ten tips to make your writing easier for an editor to read and appreciate.

Good writing

Read. The simplest and most basic of them all. Unless you read, you won’t know a good book from a bad one. These days, what with the Internet, it’s become a lot easier to find out which books are considered good. Not all of them will be good, not all of them will be to your liking, but as you read, you’ll imbibe lessons on what makes a book readable. Not just the story (if it is fiction or creative non-fiction), but the style of writing. The number of words used in a sentence. The words used. The words not used. I have never come across a really good writer who wasn’t also an avid reader. 

Books

Do not fall in love with your own writing. In 2003, I began working with NIIT as an instructional designer. As part of our training, one of the most important lessons we were taught was this: Do not fall in love with your own writing. It’s an easy trap to fall into: most of us wouldn’t be writing if we didn’t think we could write, so it’s obvious that the next step is to think we write so well that there aren’t any flaws in our writing.

Which, sadly, is a recipe for disaster. It makes for a frustrating relationship with your editor, because every edit cycle becomes a question of who will give way first. Eventually, unless your story is so compelling that a publisher is absolutely certain it’s bestseller or award material, your editor is going to give up. And chances are, they won’t want to work with you again.

Subject your work to self-edits. I typically edit anything I write at least thrice. That is for novels. For shorter works, like short stories, the number of self-edit parses can be anything from six to ten, occasionally more, before I’m satisfied that I can submit it. The fact is, every time I go back to my work, I find ways to polish it further.

My way of doing this is to finish writing my manuscript, set it aside for a while (if it’s a novel, even for a few months), and then return to it. The errors, the things that could be better, leap out at me when I look at it with fresh eyes. I use these parses to tighten up the writing, to eliminate unnecessary words, to shorten rambling descriptions, to bring further coherence into the writing—it may be all of these, it may be one. But no work of mine, not even a book review to be posted on Goodreads, ever gets published without my having read and re-read it a couple of times. 

Editing

And now, some more specific tips. 

Watch your punctuation. Nearly all punctuation marks—commas, periods (or full stops, call them what you will), hyphens, exclamation marks, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, etc—are preceded by the previous character (without a space between the character and the punctuation), and are succeeded by a space before the next character.

Read that sentence again, and this one, for examples of what I mean.

Note, too, that that rule may not apply to some punctuation marks, such as m-dashes or n-dashes, which often come under a specific style guide followed by a publisher. Whatever style you adopt for these in your manuscript, make sure you follow them consistently throughout.

Another important note of caution: be very, very sparing with exclamation marks. Amateur writers seem to think exclamation marks help emphasize your point. They don’t. They just irritate the discerning reader. Exclamation marks are usually only appropriate in dialogue, and then too when judiciously used.

(Recommended: Lynne Truss’s brilliant book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves—this one is worth reading if you want to make sure your punctuation doesn’t make an editor wince).

Be consistent. Not just in punctuation, but in other aspects of writing too, such as casing, spelling, voice and tense. I’ve seen too many pieces of writing start off with colour and honour and organise, and then veer away into color and honor and organize. I’ve seen people switch inexplicably from past tense to present to past again, all in the course of one paragraph. I’ve seen random capitalization (words, for no rhyme or reason, being written in title case), and so on on. This reeks of carelessness.

Go easy on the adverbs. Most good writers say you should keep adverbs completely out of your writing. I don’t agree; my contention is that adverbs have their place, even in good writing—but they must be used with extreme discretion. One in about eight or ten sentences is forgivable. Also, make sure you use the adverb in its correct sense: ‘Her face was luminously radiant’ is contrived and repetitive, because ‘luminous’ and ‘radiant’ mean pretty much the same thing.

Think twice before using words you’re unfamiliar with. A couple of years ago, a debutant writer sent me his book for review. It turned out to be a fairly predictable college campus story; what made it abysmal was the sheer ridiculousness of so many of the words he’d used. A party, for instance, was described variously as a corroboree and a wassail (both of which are very specific types of gathering; these words cannot be applied arbitrarily to any party, especially in a non-Australian setting). I guessed what this was: a case of somebody wanting to show off his vocabulary, and picking words out of a thesaurus to help him find synonyms. The result was a painful, often unintentionally hilarious book.

So, don’t use words that you aren’t familiar with. They may turn out to have connotations you are unaware of, or they may simply read wrong.

Focused

Use simple words. The author I mentioned in the previous point also made another major mistake when writing: he thought that using ‘complicated language’ would make his book better (he actually admitted this to me in a conversation after I’d published my review of his book). Nobody in his book ever ‘talked’; they ‘confabulated’. ‘Then’ was replaced by ‘anon’ (this book wasn’t a historical), and nobody ever ‘heard’ anything; they ‘discerned audibly’.

Simple language is nothing to be ashamed of; on the contrary, it makes a book far more readable than something filled with words you’ve culled out of a dictionary or a thesaurus. Try reading some of the world’s best writers (and no, I do not necessarily mean bestsellers), and you’ll see that their greatness lies not so much in using big, fancy words but in using simple words well.

Weed out repetitions. Most of us tend to have some stock phrases or pet words that we use again and again (mine, when I’m writing non-fiction, include obviously, of course, and for instance). A lot of writers also have a habit of trying to explain things further by using additional adjectives and adverbs (as an example: ‘frozen icicle’, which I came across in a recent manuscript sent to me for review. It just needs a little reflection to realize that an icicle is always frozen; if it’s melted, it’s not an icicle any more).

Get rid of repetitions; they put off readers.

Use spellcheck, efficiently. Everybody—or everybody who knows anything about writing and uses a word processor—emphasizes the importance of using spellcheck. Running a grammar and spelling check should be an essential part of work on a manuscript, but it must be done intelligently. For example, don’t arbitrarily accept all changes your spellchecker suggests: many of these do not cater to some writing styles, and they do not, of course, take into consideration a lot of non-English words. Make your task easier as you proceed by checking each change the spellcheck suggests, and then—if there are words you use often—adding them to your spellcheck dictionary. As an example, I have Muzaffar, baoli, haveli, and other words that occur frequently in my writing added to my spellcheck dictionary, so these don’t show up as errors when I run a spellcheck.

Work on

Naturally, this isn’t all, because submitting a clean, well-edited manuscript doesn’t guarantee that it will get published. Lots of other things matter—the story (and that can actually refer to non-fiction too; how well you put your point across); coherence, writing style, characterization, your ability to draw your reader in.

(This was originally posted on Madhulika Liddle’s blog here and has been reproduced with permission)

Madhulika Liddle is an award winning short story writer and novelist.

#WritingOn10: “The Best Writing Tip is to not seek tips from other writers.” Nishant Kaushik

By Nishant Kaushik

Every time I am asked for tips on writing, I am instantly reminded of the time I had asked someone else for such advice. Mainly because it sure as hell did not work for me.

Circa 1998. I had read a few books in the Enid Blyton series (and maybe a few meaningful excerpts from some Sidney Sheldon novels that would interest a typical teenager), and I had begun calling myself a voracious book gobbler. It was around then that I was introduced to this slightly older boy who had a few of his short stories published in a community magazine. Fascinated, I asked him for writing tips, and what I got sounded reasonably profound, and hence reasonably correct:

“Find pain within you.”

It pains me to recount how long I waited for pain. I pursued love, I watched Hello Brother, I attended Chemistry tuition. Nothing seemed to help, and therefore I shelved my halfhearted intention to take to writing. A few years later, in the workshop of my engineering college, amidst the cacophony of students hammering away at metal, I found my inspiration to write.

I could not find pain, though. I hence realized early in the day that advice on writing is not a one-size-fits-all concept. The writer of short stories was motivated by pain, I was motivated by the need to do anything as long as I didn’t have to sit in a workshop, and there are several who are motivated by the sheer joy of telling people stories. Today, when I am asked for tips on writing, the most honest advice I can give is:

“The best writing tip is to not seek tips from other writers.”

Find your space:

The experience of writing is too sacred to let it be overly influenced by the guidance of someone who hasn’t breathed the same story as you. Sure, there must be some safe rules to play by when you set out to write for the first time. But the most important of them all is to be able to think freely, unchained by doctrines laid down by some handbook. Thinking freely gives you room to mull over an idea, to nurture it, and to own it.

Are you there yet?

Then it may be a good idea to now talk about those other safe rules.

Done is better than perfect:

The DIRFT (Do It Write The First Time) principle is unlikely to work with prose or poetry. And why would you want it to, because the struggle makes the journey special. A common mistake I have heard a lot of people make is getting intimidated by the struggle to write that perfect first paragraph, solving the “organic versus structured plot line” conundrum, and those weak moments when they spend hours looking up How To Rid Myself Of Creative Blocks on the internet.

The easiest way to get started is to get started. It is perfectly normal to not know what precise shape your final story is going to take. It is acceptable that you take ages to write your first word even if you know the entire story already. It is routine to write almost an entire book like a breeze and to struggle with the end. Don’t get thwarted by the what-ifs; instead, focus on what you can produce today. There is a reason that manuscript is suffixed with a “version 0.1”, so do not cower under the prospect of significant rework later on.

Keep post-its handy:

Note Murphy’s law: the best ideas will occur to you when you do not have your laptop handy. You could be on a train, at work, at a party you have no one to talk to. Ideas can give you the slip rather easily. Register them on a piece of paper wherever you are, so that you don’t have to regret having forgotten them once you are back home.

Read a lot:

For no other reason, except that the more you read, the better you get with semantics and vocabulary. This can be a little tricky though, I will admit. You may run a risk of reading too much of a certain author and then inadvertently let his or her style of prose influence yours. This could take away from your distinct style, and no artist would like people to scoff at his or her lack of originality when the influence might not even be intentional. A possible solution to steer clear of such a risk is to bring about diversity in your reading habits. Pick up acclaimed novels by different authors. Popular playback singer K.K. had once rightly said at a concert I attended: “The best way to get better at singing is to listen to world music. Absorb and understand what makes various artists tick, then blend their technical genius with your distinct style, and the results will be rewarding.”

Totally works in the field of writing too.

Fine line between trolls and critics:

I have heard people say they write only for themselves. Very well. But if that is the case, I expect such work to be written on a piece of paper that stays safely vaulted in the drawer of some study. The moment your work is out in a public domain – a published novel, newspaper column, a blog, or a film – you are subject to public opinion and feedback on your work. Whenever you are miffed about someone deriding your work, remember there are people who have praised it too.

The bouquets always come with the brickbats. Respect the brickbats, because they help you learn what part of your work can be bettered. This, of course, as long as you can learn to differentiate hollow criticism from meaningful, genuine feedback. The world is full of people who will take a dig at your work because being mean is often funnier, wittier and classier than being patronizing (especially on the social media). Read reviews, and identify the feedback that matters. It will usually have a tone of “I did not like this book because” rather than “Piece of trash, don’t read”. The best critics are likely to maintain a tone of basic respect even for something they haven’t enjoyed reading.

 

With all said and done, be proud of the fact that you have picked up that pen to write. The final verdict may be at the mercy of your readers, but the story and its beauty will always be yours.

 

Nishant Kaushik is the author of many bestselling novels including My Father Is A Hero, A Romance With Chaos and Chaos Down Under. You can write to him at nkaushik.23@gmail.com, and his Twitter handle is @nofreecopies. You can order his books below:

My Father Is A Hero

Good Boy Joe

Chaos Down Under

Conditions Apply

A Romance With Chaos

Watch Out! We Are MBA

 

 

#WritingOn9: Writing Tips by Aruna Nambiar

Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Write what you know. Use adjectives sparingly. … Writing tips? Dear God, where does one start? Here’s my stab at my top five:

Read: Avidly, Widely, Daily. I stopped studying literature in school, studied engineering and management, and worked as a banker. For long, much of the writing I did involved the use of phrases such as ‘aforementioned subject’ and ‘for your kind perusal’. If I’ve been able to make the transition to writing fiction for a living, I credit a lifelong reading habit. Reading has been my classroom – it has given me all the tools I need. Everything I’ve learned about plotting, character development, pacing, setting, grammar etc has been from the books I’ve read. I can’t recommend it enough – read what entertains you, moves you, makes you think. Don’t feel pressured to read only books that are considered intellectual enough to be worthy of writers, but do occasionally step out of your comfort zone and pick up something that you normally wouldn’t. Read good books, for they will inspire you to reach for greatness. Read badly written books for they will teach you what not to do – and give you the confidence that your infinitely better work is saleable too… what can I say, we writers are an insecure bunch.

Find your Voice: Admit it – haven’t you gone through a Wodehouse phase or a Bill Bryson phase or a (Insert Favourite Author Here) phase? And hasn’t the end product always left you feeling inadequate and derivative? It’s why new writers often choose not to read in their genre when they’re writing, so that they won’t be influenced by their idols.

Voice is perhaps the single factor that will differentiate you from every other writer in your genre. For there may be only a handful of original stories, but there are a million different permutations. And what makes your particular permutation unique is your voice – the way you see the world, the way you choose to express it, the turn of phrase you employ, the settings you choose. It is what differentiates Malgudi Days from Adrian Mole and One Day from Love Story.

It’s not the easiest thing to do, finding your voice, but it does get easier with experience and writing success, for it requires confidence in your own perspective and writing style.

Get into your Character’s Shoes… wriggle your toes, and walk for miles till they’re worn through. If you write slice-of-life stories such as I do, there is nothing more important than your characters – they drive the plot, they dictate the twists and turns, they command the dialogues. But even for genre fiction, a memorable character can lift a book from the realm of the ordinary. Bridget Jones. Perry Mason. Feluda. Enough said.

Know your characters as well as you do your childhood friend, so that if he makes an unlikely move or she speaks a stilted line, you spot it immediately – because if you don’t, your readers certainly will. Make out descriptions for all your main characters – include physical traits, foibles, aspirations, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, how the character changes during the course of your story – and refer to the descriptions often as you write.

Sweat the Small Stuff: The Devil is in the details – and God too, when you get them right. The best writers know how to paint a picture with words, by adding just the right amount of detail, at the right juncture. It’s what makes the reader feel the sun on his back, smell the salt from the ocean, hear the soft tread of the killer before the victim does, see a flicker of an emotion pass over a protagonist’s face. Add too much detail and you’re dragging the story down. Add too little and it’s too dry. So pay attention to the little things – so that your reader falls in love with your characters, steps into your setting, gets involved with your plot. Do your research too – if you’re setting your book in Eighties India, for example, do ensure that your character doesn’t own an ATM card or drive a Nano.

Forget the World: The World is inordinately interested in writers – it wants to know what you’re writing, how many words you’ve written, why you’re not done yet; it has an opinion about what you should write, what you shouldn’t write, what sells, what doesn’t, what would make a good story, what doesn’t. But know this: The World will desert you as soon as you’re in the front of a desk trying to bang out word after word, day after day, for months and years…only to reappear to ask you how much you got as an advance and how it compares to Amish’s or Chetan’s.

So forget about what you think The World wants to read, or what will sell, or what might win awards. Because great books were never conceived with one eye on The World – great books are born in the pit of your turning stomach, the depths of your racing heart and the far, far corners of your searching mind. So write about what you want to, to the best of your ability, and hone it and nurture it until you’re ready to send it out into The World. And no matter what The World thinks about it, whether it languishes on a slush pile or scrambles up a bestseller list, you would have experienced the only thing that makes a writer’s life worthwhile – the demands, the joys, the challenges and the deep, deep gratification of the writing journey.

Aruna Nambiar is a Bangalore-based writer and editor. Her debut novel, Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth, is a funny, poignant coming-of-age story set in small-town Kerala of the 1980s. You can reach her here on Twitter: @ArunaNambiar

You can follow her on Facebook here @arunanambiarauthor

 

#WritingOn8: Confronting our demons: A writer’s life by Kiran Manral for ShethePeople.tv

Continuing with the series on writing, today I take the liberty to post something I’d written a while ago for SheThePeople.TV. You can read the original here.

By Kiran Manral

Ever since I published my first book, one constant in my inbox has been the constant barrage of emails from young aspiring writers on how to be an author. My constant unchanging response to this is the polite, and the very honest, “I truly have no idea.”

Being an author is something that I am yet to wrap my head around.  I have, to my name, five books that show up under my name on e-commerce sites but I would rather call myself a writer than an author. That would be my primary job definition. The author bit of it is something that happened along the way of finding myself as a writer. I’m still on that journey, I have to still find myself.

 It is also, as T S Eliot said, about “And for a hundred visions and revisions.”  Or as Papa Hemingway put it less politely, the first draft of anything is shit. 

How does one become an author, they ask me. I have no honest formula that I can share. All I know and all I can say that it would begin by loving to write. And loving to read.

What is about being an author? Is it the glamorous, lit-festing, posing for the cameras, waving to the admiring throngs image most people think an author’s life comprises? Far from it.  Of course, some authors with devoted fan followings might have this as part of their life, but for the most part, authors lead singularly anonymous lives, except from when they are extracted periodically from the formaldehyde of routine and put on parade for the lit fest jamboree.

In fact, I think I would go back as far as to state unequivocally that I am a reader who also writes. Because there has been years, nay, decades of unstinting, reading before the first book escaped from my desktop into the permanency of print and paper.

authors lead singularly anonymous lives, except from when they are extracted periodically from the formaldehyde of routine and put on parade for the lit fest jamboree

But then I would rather be a writer. And here’s what being a writer entails. And it isn’t always pretty.

To begin with, it requires unflinching courage. When you write you need to dig deep down into yourself, mine yourself for your truest emotions and transpose them to your characters in order to make them real and believable. This requires a fair amount of not just confronting your own demons, but also dancing with them. This can be a scary process, also demons when unleashed are rather reluctant to go back into the box.

There’s a quote from Gustave Flaubert that perhaps exemplifies this the best. “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”  For a writer, this is the bare boned truth. The truth about the writing life is that it is primarily about discipline, immense amounts of self discipline in order to sit oneself down, day after day, digging time out from the work that needs to be done in order for bread and butter to be earned, to write what one must. And those are again, operative words. “To write what one must.” Because there is no gun to one’s head to get writing, except the one we keep resting on the writing desks ourselves, with the safety catch off, because we must write. The only compulsion to write is in our heads. Why else would we put ourselves out there, open to scathing criticism unless we had to.

a silent communion with the screen

A writer’s life is about solitary work—about a silent communion with the screen in front of one for hours because one is so absorbed in the life being created and lived out in a parallel universe one has created that living out one’s reality is always a bit of a downer.

A writer’s life is also about routine.  I know that every single day come rain or shine, unless I am trussed up in an emergency ward with a saline drip stuck into my arm, I will be at my desk. And writing. The body knows the routine, and so does the mind. And that is what it is, unforgiving, exacting routine.

It is also, as T S Eliot said, about “And for a hundred visions and revisions.”  Or as Papa Hemingway put it less politely, the first draft of anything is shit. It is the going back, tinkering with the manuscript one thousand times and then wondering whether you should have done a thousand and one-th relook at it, before sending it off. It is reading voraciously, a million times more than you could ever write because everything you read will distil itself into some essence that with infuse your writing with that something indescribable that elevates it beyond mere storytelling.  And it is this elevation into something magical that will create that communion between reader and writer, which will make your characters three dimensional, whole living breathing creatures who jump off the page, living a life of their own that cannot be contained in a mere book.

Kiran Manral on SheThePeople

A writer’s life is also, paradoxically, a chiaroscuro of shutting oneself in and opening oneself out. Going out and experiencing all that life has to offer, the good, bad and the ugly, will only enrich your work and then shutting yourself in for months to create your work will give you the isolation and the void you need that is essential for the process of creation.

A writer’s life is about hours upon hours of sitting at a desk, and a conscious effort invested in keeping one’s body fit, because writing takes up more energy than one could imagine. And to be able to sit for hours on end to keep typing on without being impinged by aches and pains, especially of the back, and not to mention the curse of sedentary lifestyle induced ailments, one needs to invest in ensuring one is reasonably fit in order to write.

And finally, a writer’s life is its own reward. In which other profession could you create a character based on someone who has been terrible to you in real life and have them done in the most gruesome manner and yet stay on the safe side of the law?

Kiran’s books on Amazon

#WritingOn7: Jane Gill’s Top Ten Book Writing Tips

By Jane Gill
Assuming you already have a great idea/plot for a book:
1. You always need an antagonist and protagonist (to create tension; they don’t have to be people, they could be war, weather etc) without this you have no story. You then need to decide on the POV (point of view). it is said that 3rd person is the simplest.
2. Narrative style. It could be a straightforward linea story or perhaps a more complex split narrative. Your story idea might dictate this to you!
3. I always plot my story on a large piece of paper; to make sure I have a beginning (build up) middle (climax) and end (fallout and conclusion).
4. Research, research, research. The more authentic the better.
5. Write character sheets for everyone that appears in your book, even if you don’t write about it, you need to know it.
6. Because my novels are based in the past, and my family history, I do timelines for each year I’m writing about. I section these into months and plot my family’s whereabouts and the things of importance i.e.: political information.
7. I try and get into a writing routine. I’m most productive in the morning so: 1 hour of yoga, 4 hours of writing, lunch.
8. I have colour coded index cards for each chapter, my colours relate to locations as I have a split narrative: one based in Karachi the other in Bombay but they could just as easily be split into characters.
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Index cards
9. Snippets: this is how I tackle information overload. Once I’ve written notes from lots off research that I wish to include in my book, I chop the paragraphs up and stick them on my writing room wall. Once used they get binned.
jg3
10. Venue change. Try writing in different places. I bought a cheap reconditioned MacBook…it’s fantastic not to be chained to my desk!

jg4

Garden writing room
jg2
Writing on holiday.
Jane’s book: Dance with Fireflies by Jane Gill

#Writingon6: Amar Vyas on Getting Back to Writing

How To Get Back To Writing When You Are Running Out Of Creative Juice

by Amar Vyas

Summary: In this post, I will describe how I got back into the writing mode after nearly a two year break. Today, I write nearly 4,000 words per day in the form of blog posts, and work towards completing my next novel.

Introduction

A little over two years ago, I published my debut novel NRI: Now, Returned to India. I had planned out a four part series around the adventures of Amol Dixit, and things looked great. Then, this thing called LIFE happened. I took up a career opportunity with amazon, we moved to Bengaluru, and the disruptions to my writing began. My new job involved almost constant traveling. In fact, for the first nine months of 2015, I was in the office for a total of 12 days! Thats when I fell into the trap of not writing regularly, and began to use every possible excuse as my lifeline. The list of excuses included early morning travel, spending the whole day at construction sites, returning to the hotel room late at night. We’ve all used these excuses in some form or the other. And then there was social media. Every spare moment was spent on the likes of Facebook.

Welcome, Creativity

I left my job in December 2015 to start Kamakshi Media, my startup in the podcasting space. The first show we launched was MyKitaab, a podcast on Book Publishing in India**.  As I began to speak to authors, publishers and entrepreneurs, the urge to start writing arose. Listening to some of the guests, about how they continue writing while managing a corporate career was inspiring. One guest, Chris Kennedy, for example, used the following logic:

“Write 500 words a day, which makes it over 1,80,000 words per year. That is nearly three novels worth of writing.”

I was sold. To ramp up my creativity, I used the following tools to get back into the writing groove.
**Kiran has been a past guest on the show, you can listen to her fascinating interview here.

  1. Daily Writing Prompts

There are several sites that post a daily writing prompt. The Daily Post has a compilation of prompts that can keep you going for the entire year. I used it for nearly three months, and found it quite useful. A simple google search reveals many such sites, you can check out a few and see which suits to your tastes. Pinterest also has a board on daily journal prompts.

Tip: Schedule the writing posts in Google Calendar or any other calendar so that you get the prompt delivered to you, without you having to search for the prompt of the day.

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  1. i_Author

This site has a Twitter account which posts daily writing prompts. I like this site for two reasons: First of all, they use images and ask you to write the opening lines of a story based on the image. I am a visual person, and I can write something up within minutes of seeing that picture. Secondly, the iAuthor folks are responsive. If they like your opening line, they will retweet it, which is a small ego boost.

Tip: Tablo also has a similar feature, you can choose and pick as per your tastes. This is a great way to create some followings and increase engagement on Twitter, which is becoming increasingly difficult of late.

 

Authors Publish:

Many authors call Facebook as a Time Suck, if not used effectively. I recently discovered how to use Facebook for creative purposes, courtesy Authors Publish. They publish an image everyday as well, but they want you to narrate a story in six words. That’s it. Great way to summarize your thoughts.

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Tip:Read what others have posted or commented. That gives you a lot of food for thought.

  1. Blogging Challenges

Last month, I participated in the Problogger BloggingGroove Challenge. For seven days in a row, we had to write one blog post on a different theme. The themes ranged from writing a How To Guide, a review, a FAQ among other things. I had a blast participating in this challenge. You can read “What I learnt from the 7 Day Problogger Blogging Challenge.”

Tip: I used Microsoft Sway to prepare this post, and it was a lot of fun!

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Reading (surprise!)

For peak performance, you need to be in top shape. Cricketers do net practice. They say, tennis player Steffi Graf used to practice for four hours every day. But the sports persons also spend a lot of time observing other players, particularly their competition. Authors should do the same, except that other authors are not your competition. Writers who want to develop a consistent writing habit should read, a lot. Particularly on the craft of writing, and also books that are in the same genre that they write. And these days, they must read about book marketing. I have a list of over 30 books that I plan to read before December 2017. That translates to one book every fortnight.

Tip:Author Joanna Penn reads 3 to 4 books every week! You can listen to her interview on MyKitaab Podcast about her reading and writing habits.

  1. Amitabh Bachchan

The man has been blogging everyday for the past 3071 days. That’s over 8 years and counting. If he can do it inspite of his busy schedule, so can you. There have been many days when I did not feel like writing. I simply went to his blog on Tumblr, read a couple of recent posts, and got back to writing.

Tip: Read only one or two posts, the blog posts are addicting, you might end up spending a lot of time reading them!

Translating it all into action:

I set aside an hour every morning for my writing, and another hour in the afternoon. During the rest of the day, I typically have a target of writing one or two blog posts, which I post on Medium or LinkedIn. I also meditate for about fifteen minutes every morning or afternoon, in order to recharge my brain cells (so to speak). It has helped me tremendously.

In case you are wondering what has not worked for me, the list is quite long, and I will mention only the top three here: Nanowrimo, Camp Nanowrimo, Writing Prompt Contests on FaceBook. Maybe that’s just me.

What’s next:

Since I botched my participation in Nanowrimo consistently, I plan to write a 60,000 word novel in November 2016. I am preparing for it mentally and physically. The meditation is super helpful, for mental makeup. But in case you are wondering where the physical part comes into picture, I use a standing desk. And standing for hours while typing away requires practice, which also includes reducing the weight that your knees have to support. That’s a conversation for a different day.

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About Amar Vyas:

Amar is the Co-Founder of Kamakshi Media LLP. He describes himself as a husband, an author, a podcaster, and a dog lover. He is the host of Mykitaab, a Podcast on book publishing in India, and the creator of Baalgatha, a podcast of Children’s bedtime stories. He is the author of the Amol Dixit Series and nonfiction books including the soon to be published Social Media Alphabet for Authors. Amar is an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He has spent over 13 years in Corporate roles in the United States and India and was associated with companies like Amazon and Schneider Electric.

Feminist Moms raising sons: A discussion for Feminist Rani organised by SheThePeople.tv

I was part of a lovely, incisive discussion last evening with fellow authors Lalita Iyer and Meghna Pant on raising sons as feminist moms. Here’s a report on shethepeople.tv written by Meghna Pant about the evening.

Are Modern Women Raising Their Sons To Be Feminists?

By, Meghna Pant

In this month’s edition of Feminist Rani we discussed whether modern women are raising their sons to be feminists. We spoke about how early in life boys are taught what it means to be men and how their attitude towards women are shaped primarily by their caregivers. In short, are mothers today paying careful attention to defining gender roles or not?

We were joined by blogger and author Kiran Manral, who is the author of ‘Karmic Kids: The Story of Parenting Nobody Told You’ and journalist Lalita Iyer, who is also the author of ‘I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot’.

I asked Lalita what her son is learning from her as a single mother, “I don’t want to introduce my son to gender boxes,” she replied. “Children may not listen to you, but they watch what you do.”

She also added that she was raised “to be gender neutral. Never once was I treated differently for being a girl.”

Kiran is the mother of a son who has been made famous by her very popular blog. I asked her what lessons – both purposefully and subconsciously –– she taught her son? “I’m trying to make my son aware of the difference between media messages and reality with regards to gender,” said Kiran.

Boys are never encouraged to imagine what it is like to be female. Are these feminist moms guilty of the same? “We raise our daughters to be sons. But we don’t have the courage to raise our sons like our daughters,” said Kiran.

Lalita said that her son buys doll and is comfortable wearing pink. “I will not unpink him,” the proud mom asserted. “If he wants to become a dancer when he grows up or gay, I will be okay with his choices.”

On the playground and in the classroom what are boys being taught? What is their notion of what being a man involves? Kiran made a noteworthy observation when she said, “We’re teaching girls to stand up for themselves, but we’re not teaching boys to reject aggressive macho behaviour.”

It’s true. I mentioned that boys are being told what it ‘means to be a man’ in very narrow, restrictive definitions.

Speaking about the grid of societal structures, Lalita said, “Supportive and helpful is how a husband should be. People need to stop saying ‘oh you’re so lucky’ when a man does something as simple as cook in the kitchen. Father’s get adulation for doing little.”

But she also pointed out that, “The world is also unfair to stay-at-home dad’s.”

After motherhood, most women become stay-at-home moms or return to a less than appealing professional situation, which is less fulfilling or engaging. This needs to stop. As Gloria Steinem said, “It’s not about biology but consciousness.’ First with the labeling. Instead of ‘working mom’ we should call it ‘career-loving parent’

Kiran said that in this context the “school moms judge the most, especially when I have to travel for book tours.”

We can do a great disservice to boys if we don’t raise them correctly. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage. We teach them that ‘boys will be boys’ granting them impunity, ego that they have to battle all their life.

In a truly egalitarian world we would welcome declarations of male and female empowerment with parity. The world would be a happier, freer place if girls and boys didn’t face the pressure of gender expectations.

Do join us for the next edition.

 

 

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#WritingOn5 “Writing isn’t easy” by Kanchana Banerjee

By Kanchana Banerjee

Today everyone wants to write and everyone has a story in their head. If I got a buck for every person who says, “Oh! I want to write but just don’t know how to begin..” well, I would be a very rich woman. That said, for those of who have been journalists, freelance writers, copy editors; it’s not difficult to start writing a novel. We have been churning out copies for clients, publications for years. It’s easy to write when you’ve been writing for decades. So here are few tips which can help those who aspire to pen a novel.

STOP TALKING ABOUT IT

If talking about writing could get the job done then there would be no problem. So if you’re serious about writing, stop talking and start doing. It’s time to walk the talk. Some know what they want to write but lack the discipline and courage to take the plunge. For you, help’s coming few paras down. Those of you who have a vague idea, a ghost of a story that lingers in the far recesses of your mind, I’m sorry to say but you have a bigger battle to wage. So list down ideas or themes as they come to you. Read books in that genre. This could trigger a well formed plot. You need to and have to spend time thinking long and hard about this. Set aside a time every day, when you can be undisturbed. Lock yourself in the room and scribble or type in random thoughts. Think hard what you want to do with the themes. Believe me, inspiration strikes in a flash but you have to prepare the ground for it.

STOP DOING FEW THINGS

You have to make a few, actually a lot of changes to be a writer. You have to forgo social gatherings, fun lunches, impromptu shopping jaunts and etc. Don’t get me wrong I’m not asking you to live the life of a hermit or a social recluse. But if you don’t put aside time every day for this, you’ll never get started. Writing like any other craft needs devotion and time. As Ann Patchett writes in her marvelous book This is the story of a happy marriage says; “Show up, show up, show up. The muse will too”. What does this mean? You need to sit with your writing pad or laptop whatever is your chosen writing mode. You need to do this every day. The Muse will come to you. The Muse isn’t your wife or mother who will cater to your whims and fancies. She is your lover and you have to woo her, court her, pamper her. She is temperamental. So show up for her. Every day. And she will come to you. She always does.

SET A ROUTINE

Many may disagree with me but it helps to set a routine, at least in the beginning. I find it best to write early in the morning, before the crack of dawn, before my family of husband, son and two dogs wake up. So pick your time of day when you think you can get an hour to begin with, undisturbed. Sit down with your thoughts and writing pad every day at that time. Our mind and body follows a routine. Compel your mind to think and write at a particular time to start with. Once you are in the rhythm you will need to increase the time. This will be a struggle to begin with but if you do so for a few weeks, it will get easier.

USE WRITING PROMPTS

If you’re having trouble starting and don’t know what to write but desperately want to; then start with writing prompts. There are websites galore that offer these prompts. If you sign up with them, a new one will be delivered to your inbox every day to flex your writing muscles.

If embarking on this solo journey is daunting, you can get yourself a writing mentor. While this may not yet be prevalent in India yet but there are few established authors who are willing to help aspiring writers. They coach you, hand-hold you through the stumbling blocks and most importantly keep tabs on your writing progress.

EXERCISE

Yes, you read that right. Exercise. Engage in some form of physical exercise that makes you sweat. Sweating not only cleans your pores, it also helps clearing the blocks in your mind. You may not realise this initially but if you do this regularly, you’ll thank me. When you sit with the story every day, think about it all the time, allowing it to churn in your mind…when you exercise, you get clarity. It will help you tide over the blocks. So don’t forget to exercise.

Writing isn’t easy

The rate at which books get published, it would be easy to believe that writing is easy. It’s not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the story will just gush out of your head. You’ll have to work very hard. The story will sometimes gush, sometimes trickle and then there will be days when not a word will come out. I told ya, the Muse is temperamental. And it’s very easy to give up when the going gets tough. When the words refuse to flow. When you feel flummoxed where the story is going. It’s not an easy phase to be in. It’s frustrating, emotionally crushing and you’ll ask yourself: do I have it in me? It’s natural to self-doubt. But don’t give up. When you get stuck, remember it’s the Muse testing your commitment. She is watching if you’ll give up or stick to course. This is also a time when your exercise regime will help.

JOIN A WRITERS’ GROUP

Writing is a solitary act, done in solitude but never in isolation. You write alone but being part of a group will give you company, solace and help when you need it. And believe me, you’ll need help. Lots of it. You can exchange ideas, reach out for help, critique each other’s work.  Sometimes it will help just to share your frustration and rant. It helps to know that you aren’t alone. Others face similar problems. For new writers who are just starting the journey, this is a good thing to be part of. It will motivate you to keep writing.

DON’T HURRY

Writing isn’t a sprint run. It’s a marathon. So take it slow and steady. You don’t have to finish the manuscript in a month or two. No harm if you do but don’t rush it. Spend time with the story. It will evolve and  grow beautifully. Stephen King says, “You should have the first draft done in 3 months.” While King is God, I don’t agree on this one. I took 7 months to do the first draft. Take your time but set a deadline and stick to it.

From a person who has written all her life and is now publishing her debut book, I can tell you, this is the most amazing journey you’ll ever take. You’ll rise and fall. You’ll stumble, rave and rant. You’ll want to give up. But then when you finish it…the feeling is something else. The sense of achievement in knowing that you didn’t give in. You didn’t stop. That you did it!! It will change you in ways you can’t even imagine.

So, write-away and write-on!!

(Kanchana Banerjee just released her debut novel A Forgotten Affair this month.)