The Unglamorous half of Writing

If you are on a break from writing,
consider this-

You can don your best peaked hat in dark, brooding colours that makes you look intimidating and on the front, embroidered in purple thread is the word, ‘Editor’.

Don’t feel like writing? Never mind. You can always edit your work. Rummage through your drawers for those manuscripts shoved there weeks or months back. Straighten out the pages, flip through them.

You would be surprised at the quality of work. You might of course pull your hair in frustration at the lack of clarity or be glowing in the reflected glory of a well written piece.

But stop, don’t tell yourself that the words are yours. Till the time you are wearing that cap, don’t identify yourself with the story or the narrative. Better still, think it is some low life scum who wrote that and now is the time for you to teach him a lesson.

Take out the highlighters and the coloured pens that you keep stashed away. Use them with abandon. Strike out what is even a tad bad. You are free to use cuss words to tell the writer what’s really wrong with that writing. Laugh at the plot holes. Snicker st the pacing. Write all that you feel is wrong with the manuscript.

There, you are having so much fun. Editing is the other half, the hidden half, the unglamourous half of writing and even though you did not write any words today, you were still writing.

Feeling good, eh?

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Finding my Writing Pace

My favourite grudge is over the writing advice I see plastered all over the place. Everyone has an opinion (and here I am airing mine). When to write, where to write, how much to write every single day. It all seems to boil down to discipline. Write every day. Write consciously. Write beyond your comfort zone.

I am not an adept writer. I should have put this disclaimer at the beginning. I am not published, I don’t get paid for what I write and I don’t have to manage rejection. I call myself a writer because this is something I am passionate about. I am besotted with words, etymology, nuances. I feel that words can move mountains or be the refreshing founts of peace.

But the very helpful advice that I encounter somehow makes me feel off my pace.

Write everyday. I try. But there is life. There are moods. And if I do not crank out a few hundred words at the end of a session i feel like a failure. Which makes me shrink back from the entire thing. Am I trying out others expectations as my size and disappointed that they do not fit?

Find a space that you can reclaim again and again as your writing nook. I have one of those. It doesn’t work everytime. I only need solitude. I can write on the bed, couch, floor, on the window stoop, in a crowded temple with blaring hyms. The only thing I need is solitude or a disconnection from the world around me and a connection with my own self.

Write at the same time everyday. I find that constricting. I need the expansiveness of space and time to be able to write. I want a flow and to get that I want to be unhurried, to be away from deadlines such as the one, ‘write for the next one hour and try to get down a thousand words.’

Am I creating art? With these rigid deadlines and guidelines, I am not. Do artists/writers need angst? Or do they need to sit down everyday with discipline and determination and write words?

I need discipline to grow but I also need a teeny bit of angst so that I don’t forget that writing is also a calling. With that, I find my own pace.

Which is the writing advice that you love to hate?

How to Get Back to Writing after a Break

Writing may be your passion but sometimes life or other commitments come in the way and writing drops off your radar. If you don’t write for a living then it is even harder to get back to it. It seems like writing is something you do for fulfilment and as a creative pursuit and heck, we do push back the me-things when other things are overwhelming.

It has happened to me time and again. One week I would be writing furiously, churning out words, ideas, dreams and then suddenly something would come up and writing would be the last thing on the agenda. These days grow into weeks and sometimes months and getting back just seems tougher.

So, what do I do? There are many ways I get back to my writing. Sometimes one approach works, sometimes the other and at times it has to be a combination.

Here they are:

Ease back into it

You know that you have to get back to writing. Pat yourself on the head (try not to be too patronising) and start small. If you are into fiction, write a 100 word story. Write a haiku if you write poetry. Flip through the pages of your WIP if you want to revise and edit. Give yourself the space and time to get back to the things you love.

I do this easing-back-in when I have had a tough time, strict deadlines and tiring commitments to catch up. I need the TLC not the discipline.

Just Do It

The exact opposite of the first approach, this involves sitting into that damned chair and not getting up till you write something substantial. You might require the assistance of finger snacks (non greasy), coffee at your elbow and some tissues (you might not cry at the unexpected beauty of your writing but you certainly need to wipe those crumbs off your fingers and blot out the coffee cup stain from the table).

This approach works for me when I have been procrastinating for too long and thinking up of silly excuses for why I am not writing. I don’t need sympathy, I need a kick in the backside.

Read and Write

Pick up your current read. If you haven’t read anything meaningful in a while, then dust off your favourite book and flip through the pages. The words would jump at you and soon you would be lost in the fictional world. The writing would impress upon your mind the sheer beauty of the written word and remind you (hopefully) of all the things that you yourself want to say. You realise that life is short (it would be good if your favourite book has a dying character in it) and you need to catch hold of all those grains of sand that have been slipping through the hourglass and write.

I am an enthusiastic reader and I generally have a book or two I can get back to (e-readers ensure that I don’t have to dust my books). But there are times when I have upto four unfinished books and at those times, I have to force myself to finish them (not off) one by one so that I can get back into the flow of the narrative and then on to my own voice.

Become a Copycat

Again, pick a book. Read a little, a couple of pages would do. Zero in to a passage you especially like. Judge it, by the choice of words, the length of the sentences, the cadence of the language, the tone of the story. Pick one dominating element and write your own passage using that element.

If you like the dreaminess of a work; write about the dreaminess of your unforgettable meal. If you are struck by the choice of short, powerful words in a passage, attempt to recreate that pace through the choice of similar words on a topic that is close to your heart. You’ll get back to your mojo in no time.

There are dog people and then there are cat people. I am neither; I scream at the merest proximity of even a beaked creature. The nearest I can come is to be a Copycat and it generally works very well to get back to my own style.

Take a Pledge

Imagine the Bible or the religious scripture you have an affinity for. Think yourself taking an oath with it being the witness. Decide now how much you are going to write and with what frequency. If you are back in the flow, stay in the flow. Don’t let this exercise at getting back be wasted.

Not overly religious? Never fear, think of foregoing your favourite pizza or the Netflix binge watching if you don’t stick to your writing goals.

I like to make a virtual promise for my writing goals. NaNoWriMo is a wonderful time and so is the Camp NaNoWriMo platform. I promise, put it into writing and post on my blog. There are a few friends who serve exclusively as my boasting boards and I make sure that I tell them of my promise so that the fear of looking small pulls me back into the writing chair.

I am collecting tips and tricks for getting back to writing after a break. Please share yours with me.

How many of the above tips resonate with you?

To BuJo and Back

When I started blogging, I would always write my blog posts first on paper and then type them out. Labour intensive yes, but I just could not seem to think well while typing. My ideas flowed better with a pencil in hand and the scratching sound on paper reassured me that something was happening. I was making progress.

Then came modernity. I wanted to be able to type long documents, not the office communication or the reports kinds but the imaginative ones. The ones that had stories or articles or posts. So I moved from the paper to the screen. Soon, I was doing very well for someone who could only write on paper. Thus started my journey into the world of typing on keyboards and keypads. Soon, even the grocery lists on paper were replaced by the ones on my phone. It was just easier and convenient.

But over the years, I found that I was in need of inspiration a lot of times and I was just getting very tired of looking at screens. One day, while going through my things I came across my journals that I have filled with my scrawny writing over the years. And the itch to write on paper started again.

I like things to be organised and my writing too and of course, I love making lists. That was the perfect recipe for falling for a BuJo. For the uninitiated (I don’t think there are any), a BuJo is a Bullet Journal, which is a simple and innovative journal designed to keep everything in place, aka the notes, the tasks, your progress. It helps keep you on top in terms of assignments, to-dos, the social calender etc. For me, it also meant not letting go of those creative ideas and the little moments in a day that I could write about.

BuJos beckon the artistic and the organised. It is like a person’s mind, on the page. I had always wanted a journal that would carry Everything that I had ever wanted to write and that had ever crossed my mind. There were the lists, the random things that struck me through the day, the useful resources that I discover, the facts that I uncover from long time mysteries. There is the progress on my daily, weekly and monthly goals. There are the new ideas that just cannot go cold. There are opportunities and there is potential waiting to be tapped and I have to write it all down. And yes, there are my emotions and blog post ideas and things I must share with my group of friends.

I tried creating a very beautiful looking, artsy Bullet Journal. But the entire planning process took days. It was more of a balancing act, writing what, where and at the same time to not let it descend into chaos and an overwritten page.

I know that half the world is crazy about BuJos and the other half is just the ignorant lot. But, somehow, the planning took away the spontaneity.

I got back to the ordinary notebook, grateful for the simplicity. I now carry a bunch of them around with me; colour coded into sections so that I can find what I want without the option for a digital search. My pencils are right next to them and I am happy with the scratch of the pencil on paper.

How much do you write by hand? Do you have a journal? Do you do a BuJo? What have your experiences been?

What I have been doing…

Plumeria

Image Credit: Background Plumeria by Jade Moon

I keep getting the urge to yell ‘I am Back‘ on my blog and I really could not let this entire month go by without posting anything. So, at the far end of the month, rather than the brand new beginning of a new month or even a new week, I am trying to make some sense while writing this.

I have been away for some time and I had the usual reasons. I didn’t know what to write, I was busy, I wanted to shake up things but did not know exactly how. I wanted to start the year on a good foot, with an elaborate plan for the blog, planning out content with editorial calenders, posting a number of things, a judicious mix of the serious and the light hearted, the long and short.

But I never got around to making those plans and really, even after all these years blogging, I work more by the seat of my pants, blogging while feeling inspired or intensely emotional or wonderfully elated.

And all this inactivity has led to a deeper disquiet, more than a mere lethargy. It is a sense of boredom, of apathy, or an ennui. Of course, life gets in the way of writing and just too frequently for my liking.

I started the year by having monthly writing goals. No surprises and because there has been nothing posted here, it is safe to assume that I did not meet those goals. They need to be refined for month 2 of the year. I am also getting back to writing by hand, as opposed to be always typing on some keyboard or some screen and got two journals, plain white sheets with colour coded sections. However much I like them, the inertia kicked in and my first few days of the shift was characterised by staring at them in dread.

The stress of the shift to pen and paper, coupled with low productivity nearly led me to binge eating but I reigned myself in, just in time. Now, I am experimenting with healthy meals, which are sometimes so bland and uninteresting that binge eating is impossible.

I am still reading though, many books and yes, here too I should step out of my comfort zone. Perhaps I should read fantasy or sci fi. I am still writing the reviews so that is some writing I am doing, even though I am posting them elsewhere.

I am also wondering if I am a writer and this quote made me sure that I am.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” -Thomas Mann

I think a change of scenery would be good. I have been traveling and had a good change. On the blog, I need to change the theme and the layout and some change in content.

I am also dipping my toes in social media. I joined Twitter and am loving the brevity and the wit and the sarcasm. It’s a great tool for getting more eyeballs but I am still taking baby steps.

Any tips and tricks for Twitter that you could suggest? (@Writenlive1)

Coming back to the original question, what should I write about? I hope to sort this out soon.

I welcome your suggestions.

And This is Where I Summarise

The things we do for the love of reading and writing! Here are some of the things that I put up on my blog this year.

Book Reviews

I have written a lot of book reviews this year. But the most fun I had was in the months of September and October, when I raced against time to read the Booker shortlist, before the winner got announced. I managed to read five out of six, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 being too long for me, even in the best of times. Reading these excellent books back to back provided me with some great insights regarding the storylines and the plots. I was excited to read these vastly different voices, from the richly imagined Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (the 2017 winner) to the ethereal History of the Wolves by Emily Fridlund (an excellent debut). There was another debut work, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, which had excellent world building. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid has received effusive praise and I would let others do the talking here. Autumn by Ali Smith made me long to write something on those lines; light, contemporary, witty and yet poignant. It sounded from the heart; it talked of things close to us, the ones that touch us deeply in life.

I also marveled at how these adept writers broke the rules and how books are wonderous even when they are flawed.

Listicles

This year, I made public my love for writing lists. Ideally, everything I know or think of can be written in the form of lists. It isn’t just the satisfaction of ticking off things; it is the fun of enumerating things without having to structure my thoughts much. So, I kicked off 2017 with a weekly feature on lists. Those listicles ruled the blog till October when I realised that I was repeating myself and would do so unless I found different things to write about. Most of the listicles were about the writing process and really, nearly all of them are my favourites. Still, I would recommend this one on keeping the writing inspiration strong. And this one on the Muse. Also this on creativity. I wrote one on goodbyes. And why I write.

NaNoWriMo 2017

I completed the NaNoWriMo this year too and saw the difference it makes when one writes a lot, even though initially a lot of it may be crappy. I learnt a lot more about the writing process and what my strengths (obstinacy) and weaknesses (outlining) are.

If we were having coffee…

I wanted to write many coffee posts and have a heart to heart talk with my readers but this year, I was also stuck in the bubble of not wanting to talk much about myself or what was up in my personal life. I wanted to cut out the I, Me, Myself completely but our blogs are essentially a reflection of our selves. I need not have played the hide and seek. Hopefully, in the coming months, I would be able to talk more of my experiences.

Through the Mist

The best thing in the journey of reading and writing came in the form of a collaborative book that got published this year. I got together with four other writers and penned short stories for a collection titled, Through the Mist. Writing with others turned out to be a new and fun experience and having my own published book in my hands is a priceless feeling. Being part of a very supportive team of writers, the editor and the publisher has been an enriching writing experience.

Sunday Trees

This year has also been about the trees. I cannot help noticing them wherever I go. I am incredibly fortunate to be in cities that are teeming with so many of them. And as a blogger friend pointed out, we appreciate and take care of trees and that’s a fantastic thing on our part.

I was also very fascinated with flowers. For some time, I happened to be in a place where the houses are fronted with magnificent gardens, a plethora of flowers in every yard. I was hooked as I saw their colours and forms with new eyes. And then we moved places and there are no flowers in the boxed apartments. I have taken to clicking leaves of the potted plants. But that’s a story for another time.

Thanks and good wishes to each one of you in the blogging community. I wouldn’t be here, if not for you.

The NaNoWriMo Experience

 Why this post?

A month and a half back, nearly at the end of October, I planned a set of posts for the blog that I would do in November. I would be busy doing the NaNoWriMo and what thing can be more wonderful than writing nano related posts? I wanted to write weekly updates. I wanted to talk about what I learnt through writing so much. I wanted to rave about my learnings. I wanted to crib at the inevitable setbacks.

All those plans failed, though. Once I got sucked into the vortex of writing, I did not have the energy to even reply to the comments on my blog (not that there were many).

So, this should have been the last in a long series of posts; instead it is standalone. What have I learnt from trying to fit 50k words in 30 days?

What I Learnt

First and foremost, it is a mind-altering (replace that with mindset) experience. Writing a lot, writing regularly, showing up and pushing at it stretches the writing muscle in unimaginable ways. I found myself feeling very confident of my writing abilities after these stints. It is like taking the angst out of writing and striking out all the romantic notions of the Muse. Writing feels more of a craft than being a mere talent that I am dredging up.

I understand the writing process much better now. I understand the places where I face blocks. I understand which times of the day are good for writing. I know what to do when there are minor conflicts in the plots. (Outline, question yourself and bring up plausible answers). I know how to work around gaping plot holes (go for a walk, the longer, the better. Each extra mile brings a fresher perspective). I have learnt to rewrite flat scenes and make them more layered.

Writing a lot, even when you have nothing to write forces you to bring up words from the very depths of your being and that is actually good and magical because otherwise those experiences and words stay in your subconscious. There have been times when I was simply pushed in a corner regarding a particular scene but I soldiered on, wrote some more, hated myself for writing rubbish, forced myself to imagine the unbelievable, wrote that and found some gems.

This NaNoWriMo, I wanted to be a rebel. There was last year’s MS staring at me and I was trying not to catch it’s eye. I have neglected it a lot but the fact was that I was absolutely terrified of opening it again and look at how bad the slush pile really was. But there was no way I was going to start writing something new. I could not have handled the guilt. So, I put on my cool sunglasses (ahem, the sunglasses were normal temperature; they just made me look cool) and picked up last year’s 50k pile to attempt to make it better.

This strategy made me understand the joy of first drafts. Till now, they have been the source of vexation, the mine from where I was yet to find diamonds. Now I love their spontaneity and their potential and that writing them can be so easy as compared to rewriting an existing manuscript.

I have always loved the idea of writing quickly. Last year, I timed myself and the faster I wrote the better I felt. There is no greater exhilaration than having a few thousand words under your belt at the end of the day. This year has been different. I saw that writing very fast affects the quality of my writing even when I stick to an outline. So, I went back to writing thoughtfully, deliberately, choosing words carefully so that my satisfaction at the end of the day stemmed from writing meaningfully.

And yes, writing buddies are invaluable. Also, the NaNoWriMo forums are awesome. Every once in a while I got frustrated by my lack of progress and I needed to vent. I wrote long rambling angst ridden passages to myself, setting out why I was writing and what things I was trying to accomplish (showing off the NaNoWriMo winner certificate topped the list). Some days, I could not understand what was I doing. Was I writing? Editing? Rewriting? Looking for plot holes and incongruous character development? These were the times when I found that bouncing ideas with my writing friends led to clarity much sooner than a pity party or a rant would have brought. So, I am keeping my sympathisers and critics close to me.

And, also…

There were also things that I hated. I disliked the intrusion of my Inner Editor (IE) very much. The first week goes along fine. That’s the time to ride the crest of your writerly voice. Soon, the IE manages to unshackle itself and show up. Looking over your shoulder, making disparaging remarks; your writing life turns to hell. It’s really important to exercise all your will power and throw the IE back into the dungeon.

I also started obsessing over word count. Usually, I stop writing when I have covered the major points and have said all that I wanted to say and the piece looks complete. Now, I was counting words in my writing and my texting and my talking. I was evaluating every event of my life in terms of how much time it took and how many words I could have written instead.

Being immersed in writing and doing not much else for long stretches of time is my idea of bliss and while I loved every minute of that chance, I also realised that writing too much can and does lead to a burnout. We need breaks. However, this year, I did not have the luxury of doing that because I had spent too much time thinking and rethinking the plot, making some changes in the structure and trying to chase the word count at the same time. Towards the end, I was reduced to talking to myself while walking on the road, alone. I would laugh and frown for no apparent reason, at least not apparent to the people around me. Visualising a new scene put me in a frenzy of writing and after it had been written, I often found myself sitting and typing away in very odd places.

Would I do it all over again, if I had the choice? Yes, of course!

How did you find your NaNoWriMo experience? Please share your insights.