Oh, I Juggle!

Home, Family, Success, Peace… Can a woman really have it all?

Making Way for the New

The new blogging year could not have started better. I was thrilled when Subhorup Dasgupta from Subho’s Jejune Diet  asked me to write a guest post for his blog. SJD is a reservoir of intelligent and meaningful reflections on simple, ethical and value oriented living. Thank you for this honour, Subho!

The beginning of the year is always filled with plans. While there are many thoughts on how to do more and excel, my ideas on doing focused less and accomplishing more, Making Way for the New.

The Initial Spark

Whenever I have to do a post after a long gap, I worry. I feel as uncertain as I did when I started this blog. It is always easier to keep doing something than to start doing it. I know I should keep posting more often if I want this blog to survive. The intentions are all there, believe me. The execution, well, there are highs and there are lows.

Life interrupted the writing schedule a few weeks back and I haven’t gotten back in the saddle yet. The past few days, I have started and abandoned a few attempts at a comeback post. All attempts fizzled out even before anything shaped up. What does it take to write a piece? Any piece. Something triggers a single idea. A train of thoughts surrounding that idea follow. You think that you might be able to pull off a couple of hundred words following those thoughts. Shuffle them around in a way that might appeal to a reader who does not really care about all the thoughts that flood your mind.

When the mind is exposed to other people’s thoughts and opinions, it is easier to find more initial sparks to trigger fresh ideas. The spark alone is not enough, though. There has to be enough fuel to build a raging fire. I seem to be running out of fuel. Getting back in the saddle is much more difficult than I thought. My horse is galloping away.
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I have been trying to complete a satisfactory post for quite some time now and have not been successful. What I have written above is just some free writing that I did to get something out. I am that severely blocked. I am posting that because I don’t have anything else and I have to do a post.

Conversation with My Six Year Old

“Amma, what do you want to be when you grow up?” She asks.

“I am already grown up.” I reply.

“But, what do you want to do?” She clarifies.

I think for a while. “I am a mother.”

“No, no. What work do you want to do?” She is getting a little impatient.

“I used to work in a bank and now I stay at home to take care of you and your little brother. Taking care of the family is work too.” I smile.

“Like I want to be a cake decorator, what would you like to do when you grow up?” The influence of watching Masterchef. Also, I clearly needed to brush up some parenting tactics. She refuses to register that I am a grown up.

“I am trying to be a writer and hopefully soon, a published author.” I change course.

“Will you be famous?” She is all bright eyed with excitement. “Will you make lots of money?”

I don’t want her to have high expectations and be let down.

“One can never say. I will do my very best, but someone has to agree to publish my novel. Then, many people have to buy copies. I want to be a writer because I love to write, not just to make money. We can never be sure of how things will happen in the future…”I trail off, thinking of all the complexities of marketing and luck working together.

“Will you be famous or not?” She still expects a clear answer.

I quickly make up my mind, “Yes, I will be famous.” My eyes mirror the shine in hers.

Yes, dreaming is much more fun than being realistic. It makes this long journey of writing a novel more pleasant.

Just as I start wondering how I can slip in a lesson on acting and not just dreaming, she sternly asks me,

“So, how many words have you written today?”

S.T.U.C.K!

It was a foolish thing to do. I knew it then. That didn’t stop me. I went right ahead and took the risk. Now, I am even more acutely aware of how foolish that was. I had a plan, you see. And if I had worked inside that framework, nothing should have gone wrong. But my husband came along and told me why my plan wasn’t good enough. It wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t agreed with him. He managed to convince me, though, and now I am stuck.

 

 

It was just a short story. An experiment. It was no big deal. Even if it did not work well, I could always bury that post with a quick succession of entries. I am a planner and had all the details sorted out. I even went over the exact words I would use to describe the events. I wrote in my head as I went about my duties during the day. These plans intruded into my sleep. I could not wait for the next day to begin. When I could sit at my laptop and just get those words onto a more permanent medium.

I am stuck and don’t know what to do. His idea is good. Thing is, some facts from the previous part of the story have to be changed. I can’t do that because brilliant me has already posted the first part. At first I thought this would be a wonderful chance to pull off something exceptional. I mean, how smart would I need to be to execute a great story within these constraints? Unfortunately, most of the ideas fizzled out as they were unfeasible.

I don’t know which is better. To hope that people were looking forward to reading the rest of it and were disappointed that it had not been posted. Or hope that they had better things to do and didn’t notice that I haven’t kept up my word. It is a good thing to own up to an error and give an explanation, right?

Did I mention I am stuck?

Freewriting Your Way Out of Writer’s Block

Momentum is the impetus of a body resulting from its motion. It is a case of motion fostering motion. The worst case of a virtuous cycle. When the object collides with an obstacle, this momentum is lost. Most of us are juggling parallel roles and ambitions. Collision is bound to happen and when it does, the current project loses steam. Getting it up to speed again is such an uphill struggle.

Image credit:  www.forbes.com

With writing, the situation gets stickier. It is all in the mind, you see. There are times when thoughts flow beautifully and you feel like the most intelligent person. At others, you have to shove the thoughts forward. We call this the writer’s block. Some scorn this term, saying it is plain laziness. Well, I agree that the only way to get past it is to keep working. But you cannot simply wish it away.

Freewriting is a simple technique to unclog the mind and allow thoughts to flow more freely. It is like a warm up exercise for the mind. Once you force it all out, you may even find precious gems in all the gloop.

I have categorized freewriting in the following ways:

Timed Writing

Using My Favourite Productivity Tool, set aside ten minutes and don’t stop writing till the timer goes off. If you are procrastinating on freewriting itself, this is the perfect way to force yourself to focus. After all, it is just ten minutes.

Themed writing

Choose any theme and freewrite around it. It could be the very theme that is stumping you or something altogether different. The point is to get the brain into gear for writing. It is okay if most of what you have written cannot be used at all.

Mind Dump Writing

If thoughts are whirring around in the head with no coherence, it helps to just get all of them written down. There are no rules. The easiest way to clear a cluttered head is to write everything down.

Self Talk Writing

Self talk writing is like talking to yourself about all that is stumping you right now with the writing project at hand. Maybe the plot of the story is stuck somewhere and you don’t know how to go ahead. There are possibilities, each leading the story on very different paths. You don’t know which one to choose. Pretend you are talking to yourself and discuss all the options. Why something will work. Why it will not. How to make it all come together in the end. A blunt pencil is better than a sharp mind. Better solutions come when the chaos is funneled into words written down.

The key to a good session of freewriting is to not go over what you have written. Turn off the editor in your head. This is for no one else’s eyes. Once thoughts and words have had a good churn, what remains is thoughts that are nicely lined up for you to pick and choose from to create your written piece.

Have you ever felt blocked? What is your prescription for writer’s block?

I Have News to Tell – Short Story

I am sharing a short story (part 1) that I had written some time back. Cannot believe how scared I am. I feel so much respect for all you guys sharing your short stories with the world. I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway…

*   *   *

Radha opened the door quickly and flung the keys onto the coffee table. She kicked the door shut with her heel and surveyed the room. The cushions on the sofa had been nicely plumped up. Everything was well dusted and the light from the overhead lamp bounced off each surface. More importantly, the room was free of items which belonged elsewhere in the house. The dining table beyond was clean and an empty vase was waiting for the flowers in her hand. The only thing that marred that neat look was the keys which she had carelessly dumped on the coffee table. After having put in so much work since morning, how could she be so careless? Radha picked up the errant keys and hung them on the hook next to the door.

She looked at the list of things to do that she had stuck on the fridge. She had been on her feet since morning, but there were still a hundred things to do. She wanted the evening to be just perfect. It had to be. The memory of this day should stand out even years later. It was a special occasion, after all.

First things first. She stuck the vase under the tap and let the water bubble up to the neck. She dunked the long stemmed red roses into the vase and placed them at the center of the dining table, right next to the expensive candles she had bought nearly a year ago, but never lighted. For today, lighting them would be definitely worth it.

Radha went into the kitchen and took stock of the prep work she had already completed. In the morning she had a trial run of her planned menu. The recipes had come from various blogs on the internet and she had to be sure that they would turn out the way she wanted. With a little tweaking, they seemed perfect. The ravioli dough was resting and the mushroom filling was ready. The banana cake was cooling. The icing mix was ready. Radha washed her hands and wiped them before launching into making the chocolate sauce to go with the vanilla ice cream and the cake. She then finished making the rest of the dishes and went to her room to get ready.

The butterflies in her stomach had not settled since morning. It was then that she had found out. They had been waiting for more than two years. Tried so many times. And then the wait. Anxious. Hopeful. Finally the disappointing results month after month. Depression. The stress had gotten to them. They argued for things which both of them knew, did not matter at all.

Rajesh would come home from work with the cellphone stuck to his ear, making no eye contact with her. He would fill his plate with food and sit in front of the TV watching mindless comedy or reruns of movies he had watched countless times before. Most attempts at conversation were sentences from her and words from him. He did not share his thoughts with her. She would then just leave to finish clearing the kitchen and get ready for bed. Rajesh would start snoring within minutes of his head hitting the pillow. Radha would lie awake waiting for sleep to come. They had nothing to say to each other. Unless it was that time of the month. It had almost become a chore. But they could not let the precious few days earmarked by the doctor pass. They had to do their bit and wait for nature to do hers. Then wait for a few more weeks to know if their efforts had borne fruit.

Today’s news would change it all. They could forget all the stress and uncertainty of the last two years and celebrate. They could go back to being the loving couple that they had once been.

Radha pinned her sari to the shoulder of her blouse and looked at herself in the mirror. She touched up the kohl around her eyes and the lipstick on her lips. She teased tendrils of hair from her ponytail and let them fall on her forehead, letting them frame her face flatteringly. Final touches. She stood sideways and checked her profile. She smoothened a hand over the elegant pleats over her flat abdomen.

The doorbell rang. Her heart skipped a beat. He was home.

will be continued…

Writing with Distractions

I like to write with as little distraction as possible. That is one of the primary reasons I decided to become an early riser. No other part of the day can have the calm and stillness of predawn. At 4 am I am in no rush to enter the kitchen and start breakfast and pack lunches. I know I still have a few hours to myself before I need to meet the day head on.

What defeats the purpose of waking up early is the internet. It constantly beckons me. And I give in. Just for five minutes, I promise myself. I check mail and some of the blogs that I follow. And soon the five minutes turn into twenty. Some time back, I created a fan page on Facebook. I am not calling it that, Facebook does. I certainly don’t qualify for fans. Yet. I have clearly chosen ‘writer’ not ‘author’. I have also created a Twitter account. These have added to my morning distractions. Now I check mail, my blog stats, Twitter and see if there are any new ‘likes’ for my FB page. And just like magic two hours vanish and I haven’t made a dent in my word count target.

Sad, because once the day starts I have other, bigger distractions. Ones I cannot choose to avoid. The biggest is the baby, who is now officially a toddler. He has many things to say to me and doesn’t like being ignored. My beautifully organised plans and lists don’t have a chance if the little one decides that he needs to be carried all the time.

Focus is key to getting anything done and writing is no different. I am disciplining myself to have just one word document open while I write. Even checking the dictionary interrupts the flow. I have left that for the second draft. Sometimes the right word doesn’t come to mind. I just describe it and move on. It is so important for me to just get the flesh and bones done first. If the structure is stable, refinement will only be easier.

I now have to figure out some writing discipline for the blog. Dear blogger friends, How do you plan your posts? When do you write?

 

Five Great Ways to Trick Yourself into Feeling Motivated

Let’s be honest, there are many things we need to do but don’t really want to. I know I feel that way about household chores. I swing from feeling great when I get the housework done to wishing I could get myself a wife. No, don’t say we are all equal. Any married woman will tell you, we are not. Since I am the one staying at home to take care of the kids, I am not really complaining. Not all the time, anyway.

In the meanwhile, I have devised some fun ways of not only making the process enjoyable, but also seeing that the job gets done well. This can be applied to any task or job that you don’t feel like doing but have to do anyway.
Follow these steps to trick yourself into feeling motivated:

1. Move with quick purposeful movements. Your energy and enthusiasm will soon catch up with your physical movements. Straight spine and shoulders back can work wonders for word count too.

2. Imagine this to be your dream task and pretend to love the process. When you have fun working, you will be more efficient. Work will also get done much faster this way.

3. Pretend that you know exactly what needs to be done next. Sometimes motivation levels are low because of the complexity of the task at hand. You may not know how you will accomplish all the steps required to complete the task. When you act with confidence you may find that the steps were not so difficult, after all.

4. Don’t aim for perfection. Have a basic quality threshold which needs to be met. Once done, move on to the next step or task that you need to do.

5. Play a game and complete the task within a designated time frame. Remember my friend, the timer? Use it to mark time. It will help you focus and finish the job at hand before moving on to other things.

Try these steps on tasks you don’t like and see them transform into satisfying accomplishments.

Tell me, tell me, did it work?

 

Book Reading at Hyderabad- The Taj Conspiracy

I met Manreet Sodhi Someshwar at the Hyderabad book reading session of The Taj Conspiracy on the 12th of this month. I have been meaning to do a post on that since. But, lots of challenges cropped up on the home front needing my complete attention. Some of the excitement from the memory has died down. I still hope to capture that feeling here.

On the day of the event I logged into twitter early in the morning to check if any further details had been posted about the event. Manreet tweeted that there would be a book reading at Pune. My heart stopped for a second. I had been planning this day for the past two weeks. I quickly called Landmark, Hyderabad and they confirmed that the event was on. It had been a simple error. The Pune book reading had been the day before. What a relief!

In the evening, I walked in with both kids tagging along. My parents had kindly agreed to accompany me to help entertain the kids while I focussed on the event. I found the beautiful Manreet Sodhi Someshwar sitting with two others, chatting. All the other chairs were unoccupied. I walked up and introduced myself. She was charming and gracious. She patiently answered all my questions on writing and publishing. She advised me to keep going even when things got tough. With young children around it will be more difficult, she said. You just have to keep working.


My little girl was smitten. She wanted to know all about the dolphin bracelet that Manreet wore. Manreet’s daughter had made it for her and wanted her to wear it to all book promotional events. It was her special good luck charm.

The discussion started and I kicked myself for not completing The Taj Conspiracy as I had earlier planned. A young man in the front row had and thanks to him the discussed was evenly balanced. T.S. Sudhir asked her about the research, writing and her plans for the next book. Manreet was her eloquent best in answering all the questions. She told us that she had gotten to know Mehrunisa Khosa, the protagonist, so well in these past five years that she wanted to write more books with her in them. This book was therefore the first in a trilogy.

My daughter whispered to me asking why I didn’t hurry up and finish my book so that I could be on stage too, discussing my story. I informed her that it took Manreet five years to complete The Taj Conspiracy, conveniently leaving out the fact that my novel didn’t require as much research.

The discussion was over too soon for me. Manreet had an international flight to catch. Some people were getting their copies of the book signed. I had mine signed earlier.

Just before leaving I walked up to Manreet to say goodbye. I asked if there were plans to promote The Taj Conspiracy internationally too.

“Inshallah”, she smiled.

Manreet, for your dreams and mine, Inshallah!

Cleared Some Space and Feeling Energised

What does being organised mean to you? To me it means that I can find what I want without feeling stressed and living in a space which radiates peace. Being organised is much more than being neat or clean. It is a state of mind. If you can find what you are looking for quickly and be able to instruct someone else to do so, that space is organised. Knowing the what, where, how and most importantly, the why are the first steps to getting organised. When you are organised it becomes a firm foundation for all the things that you want to do well in life. It is like a backbone of structure running through the many things that shape your life. When you organise your physical space, your mental space gets organised. Your thoughts become clearer.

For me organizing is fun because part of it is establishing systems and logic underlies the entire process. If you have been following this blog, you know that I thrive on theory. It just makes everything more interesting for me.

Why am I going on and on about it? You guessed it! I cleared a major lot of books and papers yesterday. What a day it was! I started with a bout of allergy. So I was sneezing and sniffing the entire time. But since I had planned this, I just forged ahead. It was definitely worth it. I cleared a lot of stuff I had been holding onto for quite some time.

I find purging books so much more difficult than clothes. I have a more functional relationship with clothes. With books (and diaries, and papers with my daughter’s scribbles) there is a deeper emotional connect. So this pile had been growing and growing while every time I wanted to throw/ give something away ( remember the decluttering plan?), I would conveniently go to the clothes shelf, take a few pieces out, put it in a bag and give it off the very next day to my household help.

Yesterday’s decluttering put me in a wonderful head space and I woke up a good 5 minutes before the alarm rang at 4 am. The writing went very smoothly and I wrote down 1.5 times my usual number of words in that time. It really is simple. Momentum in one area of life livens up the other areas as well.

Whenever you feel stuck in the middle of any project, it is a wonderful idea to go organise a space. It clears up a lot of energy. Not just the subtle kind. You actually will feel physically more energetic. Declutter before you build a logical system into the space. You could also use symmetry to create a visual appeal. That well ordered look is what I call neat. But neat does not automatically imply organised. Although if you are organised it is easier to be neat.

How do you define clean, neat or organised? Do you use these words interchangeably?

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