Writing Tip #9 The Importance Of A Routine

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There is a general feeling that living within a routine, doing the same things every day confines you, limits you and eventually cages your creativity. New experiences, which provide a constant source of a high, are preferred. These high moments are considered essential, especially in the lives of people in the creative fields.

The buzz that comes from seeing new places, meeting new people, immersing oneself in new experiences, is, I admit, very attractive. For the moment it elevates you above the mundane and the boring, slicing neatly through the frayed ties that tether you to the things that you have done every single day. And it provides a much needed glimpse of a view of life that is likely to be outside the limits of what we do every day.

And for that reason alone, the routine breaking events are best limited. What if they became regular things? For one, they would become normal events and lose their charm. And for another, they would cause an unnecessary and unwelcome havoc in your working day. They would keep you away from the most important thing in your life – your work. And nothing that does that can be good enough to be encouraged or repeated.

The anticipation of a break excites me as does preparing for it. And while I do enjoy the break, I soon find that I am eager to get back to my routine. There is something so sturdy and comforting about having a routine, knowing each morning that barring a few minor changes, this day is going to be exactly like all the ones that came before it.  It is this certainty that gives me the freedom to be courageous and try out new things in my writing. If my day was full of breaks from routine, there would be no time or the calm necessary to work on my writing.

I like the routine tasks I go through every day, the cooking, the housework, even the small amount of exercise I manage to sneak in. These are so familiar that they leave my thoughts free to fly and wheel about. And so, while my hands chop and stir, while my eyes gauge the vegetables I am stirring, my mind is a free bird. It flies, it skims the tree tops, it swoops down and then it goes rising high like a rocket. Along the way it finds things, picks pictures and follows interesting looking trails of smells and sounds. It mixes and matches things, creating unlikely pairs and then finding ways to justify them. And so, by the time I sit at my computer, ready for a day’s work, these elements have all knitted themselves into a pattern that hangs tantalizingly out of reach, teasing me and beckoning.

And when I sit down to write, it hangs before my eyes. Every word I write, every character I create, every twist I plot, reveals the whorls and purls of this pattern. And when, finally, after several drafts and rewrites, the story is ready, I can sit back and heave a sigh of satisfaction.

As for rewriting the story, smoothening it out till it feels ready and flows well, that’s work for another day. Another day plotted by the hour, another day that is lived by all the rules of a routine.

And I welcome the thought of it, the certainty that it will be there for me, waiting when I wake up tomorrow.

Writing Tip #8 Should Your Story Be Universally Liked?

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In an ideal world yes, it would be fair to say that I do expect my work to be universally liked. I expect the entire world to see the work that has gone into my writing, to swoon over the prose and the innovative storyline. I certainly expect the world to sit up and take notice when my book is out. I expect conversations around my book, discussions about how amazing it is and all the hoopla that falls between. In short, yes, I do expect my book to be universally liked.

But no matter how hard I have worked on my story, the chasm between my expectations and what actually happens is a huge one. It is wide as well, with a bottomless echo that is terrifying. And so, there are always voices asking angry questions, all based entirely on logic, peevish doubts and queries being voiced and triumphant readers pointing to the tiny loopholes they have discovered in the narrative. In short, there will always be people who will not like your work.

And that is indeed how it must be. How can a world of varied readers of different ages, coming from different backgrounds all expect to agree on your book and their opinion of it? Isn’t it magical enough that people you are never likely to meet, in parts of the world that you may never visit, have been touched by you? Isn’t it enough that these people have read the words that you wrote and that their lives have been changed by this?

Does that mean that you accept their words of criticism with silent resignation? Not at all. But any criticism deserves to be treated respectfully because in most cases it emerges out of an intense interaction with your words, characters and plots. It does not, however, mean that this criticism is always right and that you should alter your writing style based on suggestions offered by your readers.

A writer knows when something works and she recognizes the truth within the criticism about something that does not work. And so, the best thing to do would be to stay true to your vision for your story and accept no attempts to change that. But in other areas that could do with improvement, you could certainly pause and consider the suggestions offered to you. And if they seem sensible, then you could even apply them to your writing.

If proper criticism is applied in appropriate situations, it is certain to improve your writing. And finally, isn’t that the real purpose of criticism of any kind?

A Writer’s World #2 Writing For A Competition

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There are people who sneer at the suggestion that they write something and contribute to a competition. I suppose such people think that writing with an aim to compete and then, to win, is somehow against the whole idea of writing. After all, writing is voluntary and does not follow any of the rules that one associates with normal jobs or careers. Why then, such people wonder, should writers compete with each other? Why write for competitions and pitch your writing against that of other writers?

I find competitions very exciting. And my excitement has nothing to do with thoughts of winning. Most competitions come with themes for the stories to be entered. This is a wonderful beginning, according to me. Anyone who can give me new ideas and areas to think of, wins my gratitude. Competitions also come with deadlines, forcing one to think and write within the framework of these. This might build a sense of pressure but in my opinion, a little pressure never hurt anyone. For a writer, working all alone, and with very limited contact with the outside world, pressure is something that is self-generated. And after a while it can become a little tedious to keep pushing oneself. How wonderful it is when this pushing comes from the rules and regulations put up by an unknown agency!

I don’t know how other writers approach the whole job of writing specifically for competitions. But I do know how I react. I get very excited and start writing as soon as possible. The minute the story is done, I can lean back and sigh with relief. Instead, I find myself beset by doubts. Is my story good enough? What if it does not win the hearts of the judges? What if… and before I know it, I am working on yet another story.

And by the time the deadline approaches, I find that I have written almost half a dozen stories. This is something of a miracle and I wonder- when did I write them? Why did I write them? But of course I know the answer to those questions. I wrote them because I was trying so hard to improve on my own storytelling. I wrote them in every single minute I could spare, creating newer and more refined drafts, constantly, constantly trying to improve on my own work. And that is why I love competitions and am grateful to them. They make me write, they help me improve.

And anything that can make me do that has to be good.

Writing Tip #7 Reading Your Book

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Reading your own book? Really? Yes, why not? After all, if you don’t read your own book, who will?

A book, when it is work in progress, is like a particularly strong scent that refuses to leave clothes even after multiple washings. When I am working on a book, it lives with me, is a part of me in ways that are too complex to detail. It’s the first thing I think of when I wake up, along with my list of things to do that day. It’s often the last thing I think of, as I lie in bed, going over how far my story has come. And on many occasions, it has haunted my dreams, so I wake up gritty eyed and tired.

When I am not working on it, it is there, lurking around the corners of my mind, so I find myself thinking of characters and events as I go about my work. The strangest things I see or hear will establish an instant connection with my story and I have often found myself distracted from something I am watching on TV, because a new idea has just struck me.

All of this makes it sound like writing a book is like having a very uncomfortable roommate, with crazy schedules and unpredictable routines. But the truth is, living with a story is a dynamic and very stimulating experience, one that opens your eyes, nose, mouth and even heart, to a variety of experiences. Nothing that happens around you escapes you and every single thing assumes meaning.

Once you have lived with the story in such cramped quarters, it becomes a part of you. And when it is accepted for publication, you get a wonderful opportunity to view it with fresh eyes, to smoothen out the rough edges and create a narrative that flows smoothly. This constant working on the book creates a sense of familiarity that often blinds us to our own work.

And that’s why reading the book after a longish gap is an eye-opening experience. I recently read a book of mine, about three months after it was published. It was an interesting experience. There were part of the book that felt extraordinarily familiar and then, there were the unexpected bits that I had no memory writing. There were sentences that made me wish I could rewrite them and there were particularly tender and fluid descriptions that made me gasp at myself.  And when I read the last line of the book, I knew that this was an experience that had taught me a lot about myself and the process of writing.

And any book that could teach you something this important, had to be good.

Even if it is your own book.

Writing Tip # 5 What Should You Write?

 

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So, what should you write about? When you are a new writer, the world feels like a sweetshop, with an alluring array of sweets to tempt you. Which sweet should you pick? The familiar peda? Or the wonderfully coloured and imaginatively shaped sweet with the deliciously exotic name?

Some people like to write about worlds whose contours are already familiar to them. There is a sense of security when you do that, like sinking into a chair that has adapted itself to the shape of your body. There are others who like to jump off the high board, straight into the deep end of the swimming pool. Both these choices come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Choosing to write on a completely new topic can be hugely liberating for any writer, but particularly for a new writer, still finding her feet in the world of writing. The world lies before you and you are free to create a universe of your choice, people it with characters you like and give it a history that you have woven. What could be better?

Writing about the familiar world can be wonderfully encouraging for a new writer. The terrain is familiar and so is the language. And within the limits set by these, the writer can play all she wants.  The first story I wrote was about a school play and friends; a world that was familiar to me not only from the vivid memories of my own childhood, but also because I worked in a school at that time. Of course the characters were my own creation and so was the plot, but the familiarity of the setting was wonderfully reassuring and I used my close knowledge of it to create a fun story. Since then I have returned often to schools as the setting of stories, using the petty rivalries and the dynamics that govern a group to focus on individuals who either use these or fight these to establish their own identities.

Does that mean I spent the rest of my life writing school stories? Fortunately, no, because I had to quit my job since I was moving away. The move brought new experiences and soon, that is what my stories were based on. And when my son was born, it was like I had been presented with the perfect audience of one. And since a baby couldn’t have understood stories about school, I began writing stories that he would understand. And that was the beginning of my career as a picture book writer.

The great thing about writing is that the more you write, the more new ideas are generated by whatever part of the brain controls the Idea Factory. Every single story you write is preparation for the ten stories that lie around the corner, in the Land of the Future.  And so, whether you choose to write about the familiar world or enjoy the buzz of creating your own world, what really matters is your dedication and your determination to present the world in all its details.

And these will help you decide exactly what you should write. And when.

Writing Tip #2 Who Can Be A Writer?

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There is a general feeling that writers are special people, possessed of skills and talents that the rest of the world lacks.

I agree wholeheartedly with this feeling.

Yes, writers are special people and yes, they do posses a special skill that the rest of the human race seems to lack. This special skill is called imagination.

But I don’t believe that only some people are blessed with imagination while the rest are forced to make do with their dull, commonplace way of looking at the world.

The rest of the world obviously thinks this way and that’s why people often ask me, ‘But how do you imagine all this? How do you even think of it?’

This is a question that is on par with a question that a magician is usually asked, ‘But how do you make things appear and disappear?’ Both these questions are uttered in tones of incredulous surprise by people wide-eyed with amazement and disbelief.

When I tell them, with complete truth, that every one of us is born with the ability to be a writer, they give me a disbelieving stare. But I do believe that each of us is born with the powers of imagination. We muffle it, we suffocate it and let it die a silent, un-mourned death.

What if we nurtured our imagination? What if we fed it with words and phrases, with images and sounds? What if we allowed our imagination free rein, and let it write where it willed? Let it draw what it wanted to? To begin with, it might well be like letting a child loose with coloured chalks in a pristine walled house. But in time, the imaginative child in us is sure to graduate, just like children move on to notebooks. And that is when writing becomes serious, notebooks are a mess of ideas and computer documents stuffed with neat pages of politely spaced words, an organized, well-mannered line of ants going about their business.

So, does that mean that each one of us can be a writer?

I am not sure about that, but I am certain that all of us come equipped with the skills to do so. What we choose to do with this is up to us. After all, most cars come with at least five gears. What if we are happy to chug along at a sedate pace, content with the second gear? We are sure to envy others who have adventurously put their cars into the fifth gear, as they shoot ahead of us. When the truth is we have no one to blame but ourselves.

And that’s why I believe that anyone can write.

But not many choose to do so.

Writing…and Fame

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Whatever gets published makes you famous.

But what doesn’t get published makes you a better writer.

 

This is not a well- meaning bit of sop for all those looking for comfort when they face rejection. It makes sense, a whole lot of it. Think of it, when you write a story, you write it in isolation, wondering all the while if your readers will like it as much as you do. A tiny part of your brain tells you that perhaps you are a little bit prejudiced in favour of your story but you push the thought roughly aside. And then you send the story to the publisher of your choice. When they write to say they are sorry but it does not fit their publishing list, you are devastated. How on earth could it have been rejected, you rage. It was so beautiful a story, with such lovely characters.

But when your anger subsides and you are at that stage where you look at the world through yellow coloured lenses, that’s the time to act. Read the story again. Read it as if you were a stranger, unacquainted with the characters, fresh to the setting and unaware of all the plot ploys you’ve put in. Laugh at the jokes, ponder the sad bits, and cheer for the characters you like. And when you read the last line of the story you will know exactly what makes your story weak, which of the characters are let down by stiff dialogues and which twist is so obvious that anyone could see it from the very first page.

And now, you are ready to rewrite the story. If you do things honestly and ruthlessly, cutting unnecessary bits out, pushing your favourite character into the dark of cupboards where they languish, then your revised story will be new. It will sparkle with believable voices and wit, with humour and laughter.

And when this story gets published, it will make you famous.

The Loneliness of a Full-time Writer

 

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The loneliness of a full-time writer

 

Whenever I see pictures of marathon runners or of cyclists participating in competitions that take the long way around the world, I am struck by the aloneness of the competitors. There they are, tiny specks in the whole stark loneliness of the world, sweat pouring down their bodies, utter exhaustion on their faces, but filled with a dogged determination that does not allow them to stop.

That’s pretty much a writer’s life, minus the sweat, of course! There’s no getting away from the aloneness of a writer’s life. She is locked away in a world where no one else can walk in, dealing with all-important questions like – should the protagonist be a girl or a boy? Should the bad guy be the Aunt or the Uncle? Will it be better to give the monster six hands or ten? These are important points and make all the difference to the way the story is first written and then, (hopefully) read.

So, what is the solution to this loneliness?

I am sorry, but if you thought I was going to offer you some secret passage out of this loneliness, you are wrong. There is no secret passage out of the loneliness. The loneliness is part of the job, it makes you who you are and helps you write what you do.

So, how do you deal with it?

By accepting it, even welcoming it. Solitude is a wonderful gift to a writer whose work involves long periods of thinking. Imagine how it would be if your entire family decided to keep you company and stayed home? You would so distracted. Even if they are the most considerate bunch of people in the world and walk about on tiptoes when you are working, it’s no good. When you are thinking and writing, even the sound of people’s thoughts can disturb your flow.

Think of all those writers who had to seek solitude and be grateful for what you have.

And you can see that silence and loneliness can be the best gifts a writer can hope for.

Writing… and Fame

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Whatever gets published makes you famous.

But what doesn’t get published makes you a better writer.

 

This is not a well- meaning bit of sop for all those looking for comfort when they face rejection. It makes sense, a whole lot of it. Think of it, when you write a story, you write it in isolation, wondering all the while if your readers will like it as much as you do. A tiny part of your brain tells you that perhaps you are a little bit prejudiced in favour of your story but you push the thought roughly aside. And then you send the story to the publisher of your choice. When they write to say they are sorry but it does not fit their publishing list, you are devastated. How on earth could it have been rejected, you rage. It was so beautiful a story, with such lovely characters.

But when your anger subsides and you are at that stage where you look at the world through yellow coloured lenses, that’s the time to act. Read the story again. Read it as if you were a stranger, unacquainted with the characters, fresh to the setting and unaware of all the plot ploys you’ve put in. Laugh at the jokes, ponder the sad bits, and cheer for the characters you like. And when you read the last line of the story you will know exactly what makes your story weak, which of the characters are let down by stiff dialogues and which twist is so obvious that anyone could see it from the very first page.

And now, you are ready to rewrite the story. If you do things honestly and ruthlessly, cutting unnecessary bits out, pushing your favourite character into the dark of cupboards where they languish, then your revised story will be new. It will sparkle with believable voices and wit, with humour and laughter.

And when this story gets published, it will make you famous.

But only after it has made you a better writer.