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Archive for the category “Writing”

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.

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…

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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?

 

The Importance of Writing Voice

A writing voice is just as unique and distinctive as a speaking or singing voice. If you want your reader or audience to be compelled to read/listen, understand and maybe even enjoy what you are saying, you have to exercise and develop your voice. With a deep and unique voice carrying through your writing, you can aspire to gather readers who will want to return to listen to something new you have to tell.

The writing voice is more than language or style. Somewhat like the spoken voice is different from accent or inflection. To free up the voice one has to train it. I find that my blog voice is different from my fiction voice. Like my Sanskrit chanting voice is different from my English country music voice. All singing helps my voice, but to sing better I spend time practising both of these separately. Once a voice is developed we can hope that our writing does not sound phony, hollow or (heaven forbid!) like someone else.

Try as I might, it is not possible to isolate my writing from myself. My writing, fact or fiction, will reflect many aspects of who I am. That thought in itself is quite scary. But bringing out my real self onto paper is a learning experience. I don’t like to destroy even the worst of what I write. I may not share it with anyone, but everything I write transforms me and helps me grow. I am grateful to technology. Can you imagine how cluttered my house would be if I were to retain every scrap of paper I wrote on?

It is also important to understand why I want to write in the first place. All of us want to be understood and appreciated (and paid 🙂 ). But if that is the sole motivation to write, I don’t think it will carry us through the tough times. The primary reason has to be the joy that writing gives. Yes, I want to write well so that people can pat me on the back and say “well done”. There is still time for that.

I haven’t found my voice yet. Just like in the classical singing that I was taught, riyaaz (practice) is key. The more you flow, the more you grow. Holly Lisle’s article gives ten steps you can take to find your writing voice. The writing games are great as exercises to help train your voice. They free up not just the words, but also the heart. When the heart marinates in emotion, it cultures thought. The voice deepens.

Finding my voice would probably be one of the most important things I do for myself as I begin to walk on the writing path. I might be able to fool others by pretending to be someone else. But, I have found that it is never a good idea to try to fool myself.

 

Mechanics of a Story

Amy Deardon’s ‘The Story Template’ arrived by courier last evening. I am super thrilled!

I have always been fascinated with learning about how things work. The mechanics of machines, food, life, relationships, happiness, anything. I want to break down the processes which go on within. See how they connect. Learn what makes them work together as a whole. The workings of a successful story, I feel no differently about. Even though spontaneous creativity must be valued and cherished, there are certain invisible laws at work which make a story attractive or not. And that is what seems to separate the successful ones from the also rans.

Randy Ingermanson’s book with Peter Economy, Fiction Writing for Dummies is a wonderful book which summarises the essentials of fiction writing. I read and reread the book. I was so much in love with the ‘how to’ aspects that it took a fair amount of willpower to actually create a consistent writing schedule and get started with the actual work. Things started looking up when I decided to become an early riser. It has been nearly a month since I began waking up at 4 am. I cannot begin to extol the benefits. As any busy mother can understand, two solid hours of focus time without any other distractions (kids, doorbell, phone) can make so much difference to a cluttered schedule.

As I work along any project, I keep looking for new inspiration to motivate me. So, instead of spending time writing, I took a break to look for inspiration ;-). I found Amy’s blog. When I learned that she took apart twenty entertaining modern novels and films to study story progression and determine common pathways, I knew that this lady was one after my own heart. I had to have the book in which she captured that learning.

So, here I am, holding it in my hands, excited as a child with an unopened present. Can’t wait to begin reading, doing the exercises and then seeing how I can implement them in the novel, a third of which I have already written.

And if indeed storytellers are born, not made, I will just pretend that I am honing the skill I already have.

If you love what I write

I wrote a poem some time ago to promote my blog. SEO may be the better idea. Been lazy and haven’t figured that out yet.

I’ll go with the poem for now:

If you love what I write,
Or even love just me.
Keep my blog in your sight,
And click on “follow” me.

You may get to know me better,
Or find you don’t want to.
But nothing’s just to the letter,
Even things we know to be true.

So many things I think to be,
Manifestations of the real me.
Break it down and I see,
Just the desire to be free.

I am only going to write,
What touches my heart then.
Some deep, others quite slight,
Anything I may like to pen.

Feel free to share your mind,
In the light of being frank.
Don’t forget to be little kind,
For all of it I’ll deeply thank.

So, if you love what I write,
Or even love just me.
Keep my blog in your sight,
And click on ‘follow’ me.

Word Count Woes

Most of us have experienced the heady rush of momentum when a deadline looms ahead. A non-negotiable, externally set deadline.  The same kind of energy is more difficult to recreate when the said deadline is self set.

I have experienced this in the past, especially during home organising projects. Things happen so much faster when a houseguest is arriving in the weekend. The level of confidence and commitment that comes when one is in the flow is remarkable. These periods of extreme efficiency have been brief for me. Once the momentum is lost, it takes so much effort to get back on track.

Writing a book is a long process. Life’s many challenges are a great temptation to break the writing discipline. Writer’s block doesn’t help either.  To keep myself on track with writing my book and to get myself into a heightened state of efficiency, I decided to impose certain conditions.

Clear Goals

I needed to break it down into smaller measurable goals with a deadline each. So I have different finish by dates for the first draft and the final manuscript. I am not sure how many edits it will take since it is my first book. Judging the 5,600 words I have written till date, I have a feeling I will be spending quite an amount of time revising. Oh no, my goals are not that clear after all!

Word Count Breakdown 

The average running length of a novel in my genre is 100,000 plus words. I am going with 110,000. I plan to finish the first draft by the end of August 2012. Roughly I would have to produce 1,800 words per day. To keep a log of daily word counts I downloaded the NaNoWriMo 2011 word count tracker and adjusted the daily goal. The spreadsheet gives a running tally, per hour rate, percent completed and also a project finish date given the current pace.

Social Pressure

More than the fear of failure we fear standing shamefaced among our peers. To create that kind of artificial pressure I have announced to the world that I am working on the first draft of my first novel. Who cares? No one does. It will only be interesting if I fail. My family and friends encourage me and support me in this new found hobby. Then there is self doubt. Do I have it in me? There is only one way to find out. And if the answer is not favourable, it can always be remedied with a good dose of learning.

Writing Discipline

Writing without distractions for an extended period of time helps me gain momentum, making the words flow more smoothly. I had underestimated the power of a nine month old to seek attention (and here he is, clawing at my legs, asking to be picked up). I have always believed that so long as I planned and prioritized my activities properly, I could manage to find the time to do what I want. But how do I explain that to my baby? Jokes apart, I can still do this. I am working to be an advanced early riser. Getting up a good two hours before the world around me wakes up would give me solid time for good work. What a wonderful start to the day that would be! I am currently aiming for 4 a.m. Knowing myself, I still need my rest. So I have to factor in an early bedtime too.  That would take a lot of getting used to.

So many conditions to create a sense of urgency!

Now, if only I had a book deal to begin with, that would have cranked up the pressure and given me just what I need, a powerful kick in the pants.

Hyderabad Indiblogger’s Meet- June 2012

Stay at home motherhood is a lonesome job. I thought writing would cure that. Found that writing is lonelier still. Wondered if blogging would be the remedy. Even though I write primarily for myself, it does feel like stepping out into the world. The endless possibility of meeting wonderful people. What more could one want?

Dreams turned into reality on Sunday when an in-person meet was organized by Gautam through Indiblogger. I wanted to acquaint myself with all the bloggers registered for the meet before I went. With important guests arriving and my son falling ill, I did not have time and just skimmed through most of them. I knew I had to go. Even if it were only to establish that I still had a life of my own, other than caretaking and homemaking. 

I am fairly new to blogging with just seven posts published. Imagined I would meet a tight group of people who knew each other’s blogs and nothing to say to me. I was wrong. They welcomed me with open arms and hearts. Thank you, Gautam, Crack the Sky, Subho’s Jejun Diet, Gardener at 60, Tilling the Earthwoman, Gaming Garage, Cool PC Tips and Restless Fingers!

Subho said it was fun putting faces to blogs. For me it was more putting blogs to faces once I got home. Maybe it was just as well I did not know that I was among mini celebrities. Instead of basking in the warmth of the good company, I would have been mentally planning how to improve my own writing.

“Kindred Spirits” I smiled to myself as I rode back home.

Are we?

I don’t know.

It will surely be fun finding out!

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