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Thursday, December 30, 2010

To do, or not to do?

Try again, fail again; fail better - Samuel Beckett

Try not; do or do not - Yoda

Sometimes, this is all the advice you can get, so take your pick!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Craving vs. Carving.

‘Stay on the path. It's not your concern. Stay on the path. It's not your concern,’ mutters Denzel Washington’s Eli in The Book of Eli whenever he comes across injustice, aggression, or an inhuman act being committed against another person. But these two seemingly ordinary sentences can be used by a writer (or by anyone in any trade) in less intense circumstances, Viz., to gain focus.

When I was young, I used to stay up watching TV until I literally ‘fell’ asleep. ‘Everything in the world is not for you alone,’ my father assured me almost every night. Hard to believe when you are young. What does he know? I would think. He probably doesn’t realize the catastrophic repercussions it could have on my future if I miss this episode of Mind Your Language.

When I wasn’t reading, TV was my best friend; it talked and I listened. On the subconscious level, I realized it was a major distraction. But I didn’t feel distracted; I rather felt hypnotized.

Fast forward to almost fifteen years later when I started writing for magazines and newspapers: reviews, interviews, coverage of cultural and social events. Then TV happened. The object of my obsession became the object of my passion. I wrote feverishly. Years of reading and watching combined with self-teaching came gushing out. I was consumed by this urge to write. I had finally found my calling in life and I just couldn’t stop answering.

This is who I am, I told myself. This is why I am.

Meanwhile, I realized that my reading and watching had trickled down to an almost zilch. ‘What did I tell you?’ My father’s eyes seemed to be asking. Uh, it’s just a, uh, temporary phase, I wanted to say. To defy his gaze and enveloped in haze I went on a shopping spree. I started buying books and DVDs by truckloads. I stashed them. Lined them in shelves. Put them in plain view as I worked. Unconsciously trying to fill a void. Consciously saving them for when I would have time.

‘When’ I would have time? But we ‘always’ have time!

Soon, the rabbit of habit hopped back in: while looking something up on the internet (turning pages of a paper dictionary or an encyclopedia seemed so last decade,) I found myself clicking on countless links, wanting to discover the origins, the usage, the variants. Knowledge is power and I wanted to feel more powerful. I read up everything and anything on the craft. I figured everything was being written to educate me, to inform me, to update me.

Me, me, me. Who are thee?

And then there was more: is e-publishing the future? What is a Vook? How to effectively use Redshirt characters? Which are ten of the best poisonings in literature? (One of them is in I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Read about the remaining nine here.)

Then I realized that I had always heard of bestselling ‘writers’ but never of bestselling ‘readers.’ So I took a long breath, and stopped.

I realized I was hoarding up knowledge and information, not putting it all to good use. To boot, all the information may become dated by the time I actually need it. I realized that I was using this craving for knowledge as an excuse to procrastinate. That I was fooling myself into believing that I was getting something done as I read up How to Salvage a Scene. That when I came back to my ‘scene’ and tried to ‘salvage’ it, I had to make changes that had The Butterfly Effect: change one thing, change everything.

So what did I do? I came back to paper dictionary and encyclopedia. I set aside 15 minutes each day to make a list. This list included tips and tricks that helped me with idea generation, planning, plotting, developing conflicts, writing, and editing.

Of course the list is exhaustive (and exhausting.) 
Of course it is bulging beyond limits. 
Of course it is like gardening where I often have to trim the hedges.

Of course I had to stop craving and start carving out a path that I would tread each day. 

I know there still will be distractions along the way: I will run into blog posts, self-help books, and facebook status updates written ‘especially for me.’ I will be thrilled by a news like ‘the last episode of LOST ever. "The New Man in Charge" is a little mini-episode that follows the events of LOST's series finale ….. with all the answers it hands us.’

On times like these, you and I and we and she can turn to Gary Whitta for the timeless advice, ‘Stay on the path. It's not your concern. Stay on the path. It's not your concern.’

So how do you create a balance between craving and carving? What do you do when the scales tip?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dawdling Darling

Procrastination is something we all indulge in. Sometimes we do it to reward ourselves for a job well done. Sometimes we do it for a job, well, done. But ‘sometimes’ is ok only if it doesn’t stretch to ‘quite some time,’ which was the case with me until recently.

In the beginning, I enjoyed it. Then I got weary. Then I meekly tried to break the shackles. And then ….. I turned off the internet!

Yes. That was the first step I took when I realized I was wasting a lot of valuable time ‘netting internationally’, ‘accumulating’ knowledge ravenously, and reading ‘helpful’ articles on the craft of writing.

All this when I was supposed to be typing, not staring.

Are you tired of being relaxed? Here is what to do:

1. Pull the plug. 

Look at the right side of the Windows taskbar. You thought those two blinking monitors in notification area display how many megabytes (or gigabits) your computer has received while it actually shows how many tetra-moments you have wasted. Even while researching, one link can lead to another, then another, and then …..

There is a reason why it is called World Wide ‘Web’.


On a laptop, a button, on a desktop, an icon conveniently disconnects you from the internet. Do it so you will have to make an effort to check your mail or retweet an oh-so-interesting article.

If all else fails, you can always pull the plug on your wireless router (or unplug the cable).

2. Save it for later.

I love getting stuck on a fact or forgetting an important detail because that gives me an excuse to Google it. It won’t hurt if I meanwhile update my facebook status and check if Avatar has been released on Bluray in 3D, right?

Yeah, right.


Make a list, highlight the missing part, take notes, leave blanks. Do whatever is necessary to postpone the urge to go ‘click’ happy. You will edit your work later, no? If you save the time, the time will save you: research and recheck when you revise.

Speaking of time, you can always fill in the blanks but you can never fill in the voids.

3. Get Crayons.

Typing (or writing on paper) can seem like a rut at times. Among other things that writers share (OD’ing on praise, daydreaming, dandruff) is the dread of a blank page. Our mission: to cover white with black. Our problem: too much white does not look right.

If the only words you can think of are ‘white as sheet,’ maybe it is a hint.


Children get happy when you hand them crayons and paper (they are happier when you offer them crayons and a wall but more on this some other time.) So, grab your colorful markers, walk towards your whiteboard (or the nearest store to get one, whichever is applicable) and start writing.

Free associative writing helps on paper but this is not what you are doing here: you are carefully creating descriptions, listing scene pointers, writing notes on possible outcomes or whatever you are working on currently. You are separating everything with color-codes and you are stepping back every few minutes to take in the details, look for gaps in development, and other problem areas.
From one of my work-in-progress serials

I have experienced that change of medium (from computer to paper or paper to whiteboard, especially whiteboard) can unleash a powerfully creative pied piper (or Sugar Plum Fairy, depending on your gender or preference) we all have inside.

The results of writing on a whiteboard can be startling (in a positive way). Perhaps it has something to do with the size of the board that unconsciously encourages us to think on a larger scale. Or maybe it feels like a mural on which we can paint our world in pieces until we see the big picture. Or it just helps excite our inner child.

Whatever the reason, try it and be pleasantly surprised.

As I said in the beginning, procrastinating sometimes is good. You can even enjoy it if you heed Marc Hack’s advice and utilize time outs to find out what is happening in our world from quality international news sources like BBC News and Reuters.

That’s one. He offers 28 more suggestions here.

Word of caution: his blog is highly inspiring, insightful (and addictive) and you can find yourself clicking on one entry after another.

Finally, extended periods of procrastination may signal that something is amiss; maybe an inspiration killer is hiding in the closet. Don’t troll for a shrink just yet because Candy Arrington is here for rescue. She points out that some writers put off writing and submitting because they fear rejection. Others fear success. Could you be having one of the problems she lists in her Writer's Digest article?

So, what do you do when you bump into Dawdling Darling?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to think more creatively and come up with better ideas

Writers would write day and night if they can just figure out what to write! No matter how clearly do we see the end of a project, we still get stuck sooner or later in the maze, wondering which step next to take .

There are books, there are exercises, there are even teachers who show you how to limp across the barren desert of 'no idea.'

Justine Lee Musk tackles this from another angle. In how to think more creatively and come up with better ideas, she offers four solutions out of which at least one should help in any given situation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Inspiration 101.

My books are highly 'personalized:' I date them, time them, underline what I like, highlight passages, write ideas in the margins that spring to mind while I read. Basically, when I am done with a book, you can tell that I have been 'there.' Then I return to them later for inspiration, idea generation, and to refresh my feelings about them.

Sometimes, I stumble upon something that adds a valuable perspective.

This recently happened while I was reading Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro. In her short story 'Nettles,' while describing a golf course, she writes, 'The bushes right at the edge of the grass had dark leaves and an almost formal look, as if they had been a hedge, set out there. But they were in a clump, growing wild. They also looked impenetrable, but close up there were little openings, the narrow paths that animals or people looking for golf balls had made.'

So now, I am getting close to my troubles and looking for an opening.