Plotter/Pantster/Prankster


In getting ready to write a marathon length manuscript, I wonder whether I need to plan meticulously or whether my overconfident self can survive by thinking up things as I write. 
Usually, my approach is to think up of something I would like to write about, keeping that thought in my mind for a few hours, savouring it and anticipating the pleasure of writing. When I feel calm and ready, I roll up my sleeves and get down to it. Ideas and words come in a torrent, sometimes a trickle that does not dry up till the work is done. That makes me a pantster. 

The only doubt here is whether that trickle can stay steady in the face of the gargantuan task of finishing NaNoWriMo. 

Do I need to plan out my storyline, my characters, my plots and sub plots? Do I need to think of the voice, the mood and the imagery? Do I really need to create character profiles and mind map my story? Do I need to become a big time planner? 

In midst of all this, I am taken to be a prankster by most of the people I know. They think that attempting the NaNoWriMo is like pulling off a prank. For one, I have been busy and maybe getting busier still. And for another, this seems too lofty a thing. 

I think I would need skills of all three kinds. 

What are your views on any piece of long form writing? Do you plan meticulously or go with the flow? 

NaNoWriMo: A Method to the Madness

NaNoWriMo or the National Novel Writing Month sounded a utopian concept when I first encountered it. Every year, in the month of November, thousands of writers, aspiring and already published, sign up for an exceedingly exciting and nerve wracking month of writing away and producing a novel at the end of 30 days. How cool is that! 

A Writers‘ Paradise 

If this isn’t the stuff of what a writer’s dreams are made of, then what is? Writing with abandon, on and on. 

Oneparticipating in NaNoWriMo is that you become a writer and writing is what you ‘do’, just as in an office job with a fancy title. The seriousness of being a writer which is a profession of creative pursuit is always an enchanting idea. 

Two, the license and the intent to write endlessly and knowing that thousands around the globe are doing the same is boosting to the morale. 

The two things combined are the real life version of a lone cottage tucked away in the hills with pine scented air and absolute silence except for the crunch of leaves underneath your foot as you walk and think of the great literary masterpiece that you are creating. 

And, at the end of it all, you have a real manuscript in your hand or in your hard drive. 

The Background 

I got to know of this wickedly sinful tempting treat of a lifetime, nay an annual one, two Novembers back. A part of me went into a dream overdrive thinking how good this paradisical apparition must be. The other realistic part of me knew I could not type fast enough or long enough for the writing marathon. I was doing a lot of my writing on the paper. I was not really dealing in quantity and quality was paramount to me as I completed a paragraph. The first challenge was to think and write in terms of screens and word documents. 

Another reason was a time constraint. I did not know then that time never stops anyone for following one’s passion. 

I would have loved to write at that time but did not know what to write about. 

So I settled for the next best thing that November. It was to sign up for NaNoWriMo’s cousin, the NaBloPoMo, which meant that I committed to posting everyday on my fledgeling blog. It worked quite well and I came away with a renewed vigour. The next year, I decided, I would do the novel thing. 

Fast forward, next November. I had the time, the resources and the idea for a full length novel. It was to be a memoir. There were reams of material sitting in my head waiting to be taken out, examined and slotted neatly into chapters. I was pleased with myself and very enthusiastic. I pledged to write daily and meet my target word count every single day/night.

It started off well. Very well. I exceeded my word count daily. The ideas flowed thick and strong. The words came out in droves and secretly I marveled at the way I marshalled my thoughts and the memories sounded like interesting anecdotes. A few days on… Life happened. I missed a night of writing and then two and then panicked at myself never being able to get back to the word count satisfactorily. After that, the ideas ran out and the anecdotes sounded repetitive and then the entire premise of creating a book out of my experiences sounded rather lame. I did not even try to do my best. I did not even try to redeem what was left of the month and of the story. I gave in, hook, line and sinker. 

Now 

This year I know better for the failure. I know I want to experience the ultimate utopia and the ultimate validation (writing like a writer who knows what she is doing is more a validation than a published work). 

So, I am doing the NaNoWriMo 2016. I would be writing those 50,000 words which would make up the first draft of my piece de resistance. I am trying to pin down the ideas that are swimming around in my head, creating great whirl pools and sometimes cascades. I am yet to decide the plot, the characters and the storyline. Even if it does not happen, I am going to pluck an idea out of thin air and start writing. 

The Muscling Up 

The first and foremost is that I know I am going to do it. Truly and wholeheartedly. It is easy to lose track of motivation and give up when the going gets tough. 

I must also know what to expect. I cannot wake up on the morning of November 1 and start writing madly and expect the momentum of the writing to carry me through the next 29 days. A month long project takes some preparation, even if mental and it would not do to rely solely on coffee. Or wine. 

The word count might look formidable so I break it into daily chunks. Ah, the magic 1666. No, don’t think of the Devil yet! However, my past experience has proven that things come up unexpectedly and daily writing may not be possible or the word count we try to achieve may not be consistent. So I plan ahead. I look at the calender and the scheduled events and decide which days would be good to write more and which ones need to take the slack. 

As for the actual writing, I am trying to get into the habit of reaching the desired word count every day till November comes around. 

This gives me some very useful insights. I now know what is the best word count I can have for the day. I know which times of the day are good for writing. I know how I can get around the challenge of not having enough time to write. I know my blocks and I know how to work around them. I know the distractions and I have developed strategies to overcome them. 

Most importantly, I have created a support system of people, writers and non writers, to motivate, to push, to shove and to inspire. And also to relax with after having the entire character cast run through my head all day long. 

All this makes me more confident of the actual process of writing. So, cheers to the preparation and a greatly satisfying round of writing the story I have always wanted to. 

Are you participating in the NaNoWriMo this year? What are your tips and strategies? 

Being Radically Authentic

Isn’t being authentic enough that we now want to be radically so? 

An authentic life is where we express ourselves just the way we are. There is no disconnection between our inner world and our outward life. It is peace, joy and bliss rolled into a package, or so we are led to think. But being radically authentic is when the clichés surrounding authenticity are challenged and candour takes the place of pretension- the charade of being true only to the positive in the spectrum of human emotions. 

In the pursuit of emotional well being, an authentic voice is much desired, something that is true to the self. The ‘voice’ manifests itself in the choices we make, in the way we run our lives, the philosophy we swear by and the creative outlets we have. We declare to the world our real personas and we feel empowered when we bring out all the love and goodwill for the humankind as a mere fallout of being ourselves. 

Yet, I question myself, are we, as a community or a society, going overboard in our quest for authenticity? Do we not feel pressurised to have the perfect life or the perfect work life balance, the perfect emotions and the perfect goals? Is it important that we be climbing mountains, real or metaphorical, travel far and wide, write a book or record that album and in the process feel nothing but priviledged, successful because we pushed ourselves or challenged ourselves? 

An average day sees in us a wide range of emotions… Happiness yes and focus yes and bliss yes and chasing our dreams yes. Do we even acknowledge the ubiquitous doubt no and anxiety no and inadequacy no and boredom no and whiling away time no…? We do not even allow a low grade unhappiness because of the inherent and sometimes unavoidable disconnection between the situations and the realities of our emotions. 

Why is it that suddenly we have an aversion to negativity, to feeling inadequate, to not be following our bliss, to not be dreaming big? Do we need to look at every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth? Do we have the courage to admit our vulnerability, our flawed reasoning and all too human failures? Even in talking of our failure, we are supposed to concentrate how it was a learning experience. 

Sometimes, I think back of the time I was fighting depression. Safely distanced from that experience, I like to think how I cherish that time because it was the biggest learning for me. Coming out of that harrowing time unscathed, I proclaim that it is empowering to know that I could conquer. It makes me brave in everyone’s eyes and a winner to my mind’s eye. While it is true that it is good to have a greater feeling of security because something that could go awry and wreak havoc ultimately turned out all right and I feel relatively unscathed. Yet, am I turning my back on those negative emotions that led me into that well of despair in the first place? I feel compelled to be looking at the glass as being full most of the time and am rewarded by a vocal acceptance of myself as a positive person. But how much of my completeness is contributed by my dark side? 

Is it not alright anymore to lead an ordinary life? To be able to see the beauty and the magnificence of the simple existence? It is more desirable that we recognize our pace, our proclivities and that our little happinesses are just as important as the grand ones. It is only a matter of scale and a perceived importance of the larger one. It is alright not to judge sometimes, more importantly our own selves or to push ourselves to feel what we should be feeling… feeling posituve, energetic and dreaming lofty dreams. It is alright to do things for the sake of doing them and not for any end in sight. Not for that painting to be one day hung in the gallery or even in the parlour. Not for those words to be penned down into a book. It is better to take time to stop, to find ourselves by losing ourselves in ‘something’, even nothing, rather than chasing after a goal. It is better to share a moment with a friend and even silence. 

Every few days or even hours, we might feel unhinged. Something happens to throw us out of our equanimous state. And often, it is because nothing happens that the mental equilibrium is challenged. It is the void that becomes our undoing. And we realize that spiritually we have strayed far from home. 

For me, finding and maintaining authenticity is being in balance, emotionally, physically, spiritually… all of the elements that make me. And being in balance means finding balance again and again and yet again. It is the acknowledgement that balancing is a constant act. 

Being radically authentic does not only mean being open but also embracing both the positives and the negatives within us. We often ignore the negative because it drives us down but shadows are a part of light. 

On Writing

Ever since I started blogging, there are a few questions that I ask myself periodically. 

Why am I here? Who am I? Why do I blog? 

I am here in search of beauty. I am here to carve out sentences and memories from words and impressions. When I see a bend in the road, or think back to the desolate man by the road side, and remember the colours of the ice cream cones I once had; I want to turn them into tactile and sensual experiences so that I do not ever lose sight of them. 

I write because I also want to forget. I write to get rid of the demons, of the impressions and the words I have gathered in my mind for a long long time. 

I put them down on paper, color them and sometimes even embellish them. I live those experiences again, this time slowly and deeply, feeling all that I missed in the rush of that moment. It is like picking up a favourite book again. I turn the pages of that book, run my fingers on the spine, thinking back of times gone by. Between the pages I stumble upon words and scenes I had lived before and I delight in them anew. When I write, it is like reading the book of life again; I go through it again to lay the memories to rest – having lived them fully and now only to be visited when I want to. 

I have lived an ordinary life. But it is the awareness of bringing in my viewpoint to all that has happened or is happening that prompts me to take up my pen or stylus. 

I wtite / blog for a validation. That validation is from my self, for the ability to put down in words, my impressions, my dreams and my aspirations. The turn of the tide, the silence of the reflected moon in the still waters of the lake, the whisper of the fronds; they are all a part of me. The immeasurably deep valley and the deceptively shallow brook, the curve of the grassy knoll and the trees as tall as the neck can crane are what fill my mind. 

I write for self expression. I write because I have to ‘be’. I write for my creativity to manifest itself as words. I write in order that I be a writer. 

And I want to write with a method to the madness of putting words on paper. I want to write of those who have walked with me on my journeys. I want to write of the bits and pieces that make up the whole me. I want to write and be consumed by the worlds I create; I want to write of the longing that my soul has never felt. I want to touch the despair of misery and the crest of happiness. I want to write, create and then live that world. I want to escape in that make believe world for a moment. I want to step into others’ stories feeling that I am part of the whole. I want to feel being a part of the mankind. I want to find the similarities and the differences between myself and others. 

I want to write for meditation and spirituality. I want to reach out and understand the universality of the human experience. I do hope and pray that my reasons for writing change over time but my pace does not. 

I do this exercise time and again: of asking myself why is it that I write. What I say each time surprises my rational self and the changing replies assure me that I am growing. 

Please share your reasons for writing and blogging. Let’s start a conversation.