Oh, I Juggle!

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

Just Married Please Excuse by Yashodhara Lal- Review

“Where is the sticky stuff we make rotis with?” Y asks V after searching the kitchen cabinets for readymade dough for a botched up surprise breakfast of alu parathas.

Introducing Y, a smart professional with an MBA from one of the top institutes in the country, but unbelievably naive when it comes to domesticity. Y feels she is too young to get married and has maintained a ‘let’s wait’ stance ever since V popped the question. She says an impulsive ‘yes’ when V stands by her, stroking her hair as she is vomiting! Not very romantic when said like that. But isn’t this how love evolves in marriage? Knowing that building a life together is more than sitting around candles and roses and romance is standing through difficult times, beside the one you love. Most of the difficulties Y and V face are, however, self inflicted. Each of those ups and downs tickles and touches the heart at the same time. Yashodhara Lal beautifully marries emotion and humour and makes them work together wonderfully well.

‘Just Married, Please Excuse’ is the heartwarming story of Y and V, how they come together in holy matrimony and go through all sorts of unholy experiences that couples adjusting to new roles go through. V is poles apart from Y in most respects but his devotion to her and her childlike ways is endearing.

I love humour and most of my appreciation is shown by smiling. I rarely laugh out loud. It is probably because I am tough to impress and also because I don’t find crass ‘in your face’ humour funny at all. As I balanced JMPE in one hand and patted my baby to sleep with another, both he and I were surprised by the frequent chuckles escaping my throat. If the book could do that to me, I can safely bet that most of you will be clutching your bellies and tearing up with laughter. Even when I was not laughing, I was grinning and nodding throughout. My husband, who rarely comments on what I read, became quite curious and asked me what the book was about. Humour is extremely difficult to execute well. Yashodhara is a natural and does her job with great finesse.

All the characters in the book grow on you and stay with you long after you finish reading the 255 pages. I feel as if I have known and loved Y for a long time. My measure for great characters is how long they stay with me after I turn the last page of the book. I finished reading nearly ten days ago.  I still get a warm fuzzy feeling when I think of Y.  Just like the kind you feel when you think of a friend.

You could try and win a copy by participating in the contest. Even if you don’t win, just go ahead and order your copy online. If, like me, you insist on great quality of narration and love humour, you will not regret it.

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The “Just Married, Please Excuse” Contest

Yashodhara Lal, author of Just Married, Please Excuse is hosting a contest on her blog. You just have to write a post about a funny incident from your married life. The chosen ones will win a copy of JMPE and the Delhi based ones will also get a free lunch and great conversation with the author herself.

I was one of the lucky firsts to win my own copy of JMPE from the giveaway. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I will share more thoughts on the book later. I just wanted to tell you guys not to miss this opportunity. Sift through your memory files. Choose something funny and get your creative juices flowing.

Here is the contest link:

http://www.yashodharalal.com/2012/08/the-just-married-please-excuse-contest.html

Good Luck!

P.S. Hey Yash, any plans of visiting Hyderabad?

Overwhelmed? Make a Master List

There are times when a hundred priorities seem to be pulling you in different directions. The mind keeps jumping from one thing to another. It is hard to focus because you know that you still have so many things to do. What also happens is, the same thoughts keep coming back on a regular basis. So much mental energy gets expended and it becomes quite exhausting.

The easiest way to break out of feelings of overwhelm is write down everything that is stampeding through your mind. Getting it out on paper gives you an immediate sense of taking charge of the situation.

A master to do list acts like a mind dump. It clears the clutter in the head and helps you organize your priorities. The very act of sitting down and writing that list will unlock a lot of energy that is needed to get things done.

I prefer to stick to a pen and my diary for writing down my master to do list as well as daily lists. I feel that writing is a little slower than typing and since your writing is unique it helps you connect to the list better. Also, if you use any other device to keep track of your tasks, the device has many more in built distractions.

These are the steps I follow to clear my mind and break out of overwhelm:

Write Everything Down

Don’t edit anything. Write down all that you want to or need to do. A master list is not time specific, so you can include anything that is to be done in future. You don’t need to categorise just as yet. Just number each separate entry.

 Define Broad Categories

I had done a post on having a distilled future vision. It is easier to have such a vision when you divide life into broad categories. I have home organization, health and fitness, kids’ learning, spiritual growth, other learning and development, writing, creative pursuits, maintaining relationships (including keeping in touch with friends) etc. as my categories.

 Assign tasks to Categories

Assign each item on the master list to a category. If something is not easily classifiable, you can always create a new one. I just write the beginning alphabet in capital for each category near each item. S for spiritual, O for organising and so on.

I have portioned out my diary (you can use a three ring binder) for each category. That way it is easier for me to revisit my ideas. If any new idea crops up, I can just open up the category list and jot it down there.

 Decide Current Focus

Pick up tasks from the master list you want to currently focus on and put it on your monthly or weekly to do list. Here you can also decide how much you want to focus on each area of life. Sometimes one area keep us so occupied that some other areas get neglected. If you are unhappy with that, then you will have to take a stance and decide what proportion of your time you need to give to each of those areas for achieving the kind of balance you like.

 Plan Each Day the Night Before

 Sometimes when I have been busy all day and I lie down to sleep, my mind refuses to settle down. It keeps churning out thoughts of things to do. The best way to calm the mind a have a good night’s rest is to write the daily list the night before.

Some of the items on a daily list would come from the master list. Now, the master list does not always list something that can be completed at a go. For example, in my creative category I might have mentioned “learn to crochet a hanky edging”. That is something which would have to be worked at on a progressive basis. You could decide to work on crochet every Friday or something like that. Then on Thursday night you can put it on the list for the next day.

Other items on the daily list would be just tasks life keeps throwing at you on a regular basis- a school project, menu plan for dinner guests etc.

Have you felt overwhelmed lately? Want to clear you mind? Make a master list.

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.

My Favourite Productivity Tool

Most of us agree that a lot more can be achieved in a given period of time if we focus on the task at hand rather than try to multitask. This learning was a turning point for me on my road to greater productivity. I am a dreamer. Daydreamer, to be more precise :-). This habit of mine has me drifting away in the middle of many tasks. Life has changed a lot since I started using lists and my trusted timer. I am able to achieve twice the amount I could earlier, even with the distractions of raising two young children who don’t understand the concept of focus.

There is a marked difference in the amount of work you can get done when there is a time crunch. Setting a timer to mark time for a specific task works on the same principle. I prefer to use a simple digital timer which is not a part of any other media device.

This is how I do it:

Step 1: Make a list of tasks to be done. You can add any task which takes more than 5 minutes to complete.
Step 2: Sort them in the order of priority, putting the most important on the top.
Step 3: Estimate the minutes it will take to complete each item on the list and write down that number against it.

The list might look something like this:


If the task might take more than 30 minutes, break it down. For example, a 40 minute task can be broken down into two chunks of 20 minutes each.

Once the steps above have been completed you can begin with the first on the list and set the timer for the time estimate that you gave. Commit fully to the task at hand and focus on completing it in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Once the alarm on the timer goes off, you can stand back and relax.

I sometimes cheat. If the baby is crying and needs attention, I stop the timer and attend to him. Then I resume as soon as I can. But I can vouch that this works much better if you avoid all distractions including attending to phone calls.

The benefits of using a timer are many. You can use it on any kind of task, complex, mundane or unpleasant. There is an immediate boost in energy much like the caffeine kick from drinking a strong cup of coffee. Without any side effects. I use my timer even when I am not feeling well and still need to get things done. There is an immediate sense of satisfaction when you strike off item by item on your to do list.

My six year old daughter and I play a game. When we have to get the house back in order and put things away before bedtime and neither of us feels like it, we set the timer. I set it for less time than I think it would take. We then race against the clock to win. When the work is done we both sit back and have a good laugh and wait for the timer to ring. It is loads of fun!

If you have never used a timer to supercharge your to do list, do give it a try. It will cut through the lethargy and rev up your engine.

Don’t forget to let me know how it goes.

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!

Handwritten Letters

Ah, the joys of reading a handwritten letter!

My sister and I loved sending each other handwritten letters. Long before the internet revolution touched our lives. Maybe even years after it did. We have now migrated completely to email, Facebook and online chats. Technology keeps us in seamless touch with each others’ lives even though we live on different continents.

But, I am nostalgic thinking of the letters I have got from my sister. I would hold them in my hands and imagine her mood when she penned the words. Looking at her handwriting I would know whether she wrote at leisure or was in a hurry. She would sometimes write down a few spontaneous lines of poetry to end the letter. Draw lips and kiss them. I would press that picture against my cheek and imagine a kiss. Then I too would kiss the letter and as I did I would breathe in the scent, thinking about the journey of this piece of paper. The letter was so much more than the words on it. It was such a wonderful experience.

Communication is the whole package, isn’t it? Emotions expressed so completely that the other understands you. Choosing words to best convey the emotion one feels is an art on its own. And with letters we did put in much more thought. The letters would take time to reach and the next one would be sent much later. Emails reach instantly. We don’t try and make them poetic. We know we can always add new information clicking on ‘reply’. The message is conveyed. Clarifications sought immediately. Replies sent. All in a matter of minutes sometimes.

Yes, I am nostalgic. But not regretful. Because although I miss the good old letters, I know I couldn’t possibly have known what my sister had for breakfast each day if I did not have the internet.

For that I am ever so grateful!

 

*Image credit to True Stories, Honest Lies

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