Time to run…time to slow down

​I met her a long time ago. Let’s call her W. In her 50s inching towards her 60th birthday she had a head full of silver streaks in her poker straight hair. A warm smile with lots of laugh lines around her eyes; a reminder of a life well lived; full of laughs and sunshine. The lines couldn’t be erased by any anti-ageing cream. And W didn’t seem to care. She was over the phase of caring and bothering. A qualified professional who had worked for many years and now spent time watering her plants and making cushions out jeans she no longer fit into and didn’t bother herself over it.

I was a year short of my 30th birthday when I met W. Eager, anxious, impatient; with a list full of things to do, the world to see and explore. I was yet to see London, Paris, Louvre. I’d just sipped my first glass of wine. It was heady, tizzy and exuberant. But more than the wine, it was life ahead of me that excited me. Life is indeed the most potent of aphrodisiac.

So W and her quiet days seemed like such a waste of time to me. How could a qualified professional just be content with plants and sewing? How purposeless I said to myself! As i rushed from my editing job at Unilever to Rohan and home.

There’s indeed no better teacher than life itself. It moved, gushed and sped and I ran with it. I turned 40. Rohan finished school and went to college. I wrote my first book. Finally. Then I wrote another one; the second one better than the first. Rohan started working. Sandeep stopped working. My days slowed down. The hours stretched and the 24 hours which earlier seemed too little now seemed long. I filled 3 balcony with plants. Taught myself to propogate baby plants, sowed seeds. watched the saplings grow. Played with Casper. Struggled with my weight. Played tennis. Stopped it. Started cycling.

I have become W. My jobs are done. The items on the list ticked off. I’ve seen London many times over. Traveled to beautiful countries that I’d read and dreamt of. Sipped many glasses of wine. Now I prefer whiskey.

I stopped chemically straightening my hair and learnt to manage, accept and live with my witch crazy hair.

There’s a time to run and a time to slow down. It’s not something you plan and do. It happens. Life slows down and you have to with it.

The angry impatient young waterfall that gushes down the mountain slope, skimming over rocks and boulders…finally comes to a languid gentle flow.

I think I’ll bake a loaf of bread today and enjoy the warm aroma as it wafts through my home.

Love what your write

‘Do you think I will be able to write like Murakami?”

My friend Z said this to me. I’ve known her for a while; both of us with the shared love for words and books. She’s writing her debut book and rued, “I don’t write like the authors I like to read. I’m not a Jhumpa Lahiri, Murakami or anyone of the literary bigwigs I admire. I’m so ordinary.

Then there’s Y. Warm, vibrant, cheerful and with natural flair for words; it’s a pleasure to meet her. So Y is almost done with her debut book and a publisher has shown interest in it. I asked her to tell me more about her debut book.

Pat comes the reply. Oh! It’s nothing serious. You know, just casual…you know…ordinary stuff… her voice trailed, shrugging her shoulders looking almost apologetic. I resisted the urge to box her ears but took a deep breath and dragged her to the far corner of the room.

My lecture to both friends was long and sharp.

Don’t ever do that. Don’t ever minimize your book. Don’t ever call your book ordinary.

What you write is what you create and that can never be ordinary. It’s your story, your words and imagination. Don’t trivialize them. Yes, there are these literary giants who are awe-inspiring and intimidating with their virtuoso, with their flair. And may be what we write is ordinary in comparison but ordinary isn’t something to be ashamed to. Every story is beautiful and precious because it has come out of a human mind.

Recently I read two articles which further cemented my thoughts on this.

First is by Michael Lewis – New York Times bestselling author of multiple books of nonfiction, including Moneyball and many others. He offered this sage advice on writing and storytelling.

Have the nerve to be yourself—you can’t learn voice.

‘You can’t be someone else. The goal is to be the best you. Stop reading [other writers’] stuff, and comparing it, because it’s going to be different anyway, right? Having the nerve to be yourself is very valuable. Even if you don’t naturally have a strong literary voice, try not to sound like someone else.’

The second is an article by Cara Sue Achterberg on Twitter: http://booksbywomen.org/write-the-story-you-know/

A writer and blogger who lives in New Freedom, PA, Cara has three bestsellers to her name. She says:

‘It’s taken me over a dozen years to realize that good writing doesn’t need to be impressive or use big words or have deep metaphors and heavy hidden symbolism. It doesn’t need to be ‘literary’ or follow the format of a particular genre. It simply needs to tell an honest story. A story from the heart. My fiction writing stumbled along for years because I was trying to write like John Irving or Anne Patchett. But I’m not John Irving or Anne Patchett. I don’t have their experiences or education. When I finally just started letting my heart pour out on the page and didn’t worry about a stranger’s judgment or a friend’s shock, my stories came to life. They were fun to write and escaping into them became my favorite part of the day.’

This is so true. Yes! There are literary bigwigs that we admire and gush about. Idolize them, go crazy about them but don’t make the mistake of imitating them. Nobody is interested in reading an imitation of Murakami & others. Cara further adds, ‘More than the definition of the hero’s arc or how to write a query letter, teach yourself to write from your heart. Be brave and don’t let anyone – including yourself – stand in your way. Pour it all out there and follow the stories where they take you. Write your passion. Write what you know. Write your story.’  

I couldn’t agree more with the above words. Be brave and don’t let anyone – including yourself – stand in way. Write with your heart. From your heart. Let it gush out.

I’ve written all my life; for publications and companies. I’ve nursed the dream of penning a book for years. The question that bothered me most wasn’t when would I write my first book; it was what will I write. As a freelance writer I spun yarns for companies and their products but fiction eluded me. There was no story buzzing in my head, no seed that was gradually germinating. And then in 2014, in just 7 months I had the first draft ready. People have laughed, even smirked when I said this: the story chooses the writer and the time it wants to be written. Every story has its Destiny. When you write, just write the best you can. Tell the story that you’d want to read.

Don’t think about what publishers want or prefer. What sells and what will make a bestseller. Just write. That’s what I did. Some people told me that a marital drama will never sell. That only young college romances sell. I turned a deaf ear. I wrote the story that I wanted to tell.  

When you do listen to the voice inside you, often a quiet murmur; it can never be ordinary. You aren’t ordinary, neither is your story. I told both Y & Z the same.

Write what you love and love what you write.

How to pitch your novel

So you have finished writing the story that haunted you and kept you awake. Brilliant. That’s really a great feat accomplished. Take a break. Celebrate. You owe it. For the successful completion of phase 1 you must celebrate but do it more to gather strength for the next phase that awaits. 
Yes.

This may sound discouraging but it’s the truth. You are now at the threshold of an extremely challenging, frustrating and despair inducing phase in the book journey. Unless you are a Bollywood icon, wife of a Bollywood star or a spy who walked in from the cold… Please be warned that getting a publisher is bloody tough. You will need loads of patience, guidance, friends to hold your hand and large doses of whatever is your poison. Mine is wine and pepperoni pizza. So celebrate before you plunge in to the phase 2.

However, before your wait begins, you have to pitch your MS (manuscript) to the publishers. This post is to help you with some pointers to do that.

  1. What is a pitch?

This is a short synopsis you send to the publisher, enquiring of their interest in your MS. In case you happen to meet an editor in person and are able to start a conversation; this pitch could also be an oral one. Something akin to the elevator pitch as they call it. The written pitch, usually via an email is usually accompanied with 3 sample chapters.

2. Finish writing the book
This isn’t mandatory but I think you should have the entire story written out so that you know which parts to focus on in the pitch. I know of few authors who sent few chapters to an editor who fell in love with the story and then asked for the whole. But exceptions don’t prove the rule. So finish writing and then pitch.

3. Pitch isn’t the whole story compressed
A pitch is what you read on the book back cover. The gist that tempts you to pick up the book. You don’t have to tell the entire story. In fact you mustn’t. It must have the essential story line, the main characters and most importantly the hook of the story. Hook means… What grabs the attention of the reader. Please remember there are no original story ideas left. All of them have been told and written. What’s left is for us to tell it in a different and interesting way.
The story of my debut novel – A Forgotten Affair isn’t new. A woman losing her memory and trying to remember her life. I made it different by weaving in emotional abuse, a love affair outside her marriage. What if the woman was in an abusive marriage and had found love outside the marriage… She loses her memory. Forgets the good, bad and ugly. What happens then? The narrative goes back & forth. I used Facebook as a tool for the woman to see glimpses of a life forgotten. And I had a catch line to hook the reader.

4. Catchline..? What is that? Why do you need it?
You and your MS need to stand apart from the 100 other pitches (may be more) that the editor reads or hears. If you have an interesting line that defines the essence of the story then you have an edge above others. While preparing for the pitch, I came up with 2 lines.

LINE A: Sometimes you need to forget everything to recognize what matters the most.
LINE B: There’s something better than finding the love of your life, it’s finding yourself.

I went with the first one. The line features in various places in the story and is the tag line or catch line of the novel.

This really caught the attention of the editors.

5 Who do you pitch to?
Yes, you may send it to the general submission email that’s given on the website of all publishing houses. The publishers go blue in the face saying that they read every submission. I have my doubts. Yes, there have been people who have risen out of the slush pile but those are again exceptions. Don’t bank on your luck to shine out of the pile. I got accepted by two reputed publishers and both of them were direct contacts. So preferably try to connect with editors so that they know who you are. Make an impression if you have the opportunity to. I got the chance of presenting my story idea to a panel editors at Bangalore Lit fest in 2014. That’s where the HarperCollins editor heard my pitch and liked it. Please understand and remember that no one will sign you up on the basis of a 3 minute pitch. This is just an avenue to make a personal contact so that your MS isn’t faceless. The normal procedure of review follows after a successful pitch. In the end it’s the story that matters.


6. How long should the pitch be?
If you are sending it via email; then a short synopsis and three sample chapters. A short synopsis is about a page long, no more. Sample chapters don’t need to be in order. Any 3 chapters that best showcase your writing and the story. Don’t send the whole MS at this stage. If the editor likes the pitch they will ask for the whole MS.

7. Pitching to an agent
The above rule applies. But please remember, no agent of repute will charge you anything before you sign up with the publisher. The agent gets paid once you get paid by the publisher. If the agent asks for money don’t work with him or her. Authors are vulnerable. Don’t be fooled or taken in for a ride.

8. Patience is the key
This is a waiting game. It’s harrowing. Every author knows how agonizing it is to keep checking the email to see if the yes! We will publish your novel email has arrived or not. I remember the wait. But you have to be patient. Don’t bug the editor with persistent mails and messages. A friend of mine was refused by a reputed publishing house because he annoyed them by his constant messaging. It’s OK to drop a line once a month. No more than that. It’s a good idea to follow the editors on social media. Interact with them through their posts and tweets. They will be reminded of you but you wouldn’t be chasing them.

This is where you need author friends. Believe me, your lover, partner, spouse, mom or best friend wouldn’t know what the wait feels like unless they have been through this. Only an author knows. So it helps to talk to people who have felt the same despair as you. The wait is awful. I know it because I have gone through it.

Writing a good pitch is really very important. It’s the first impression your book makes. And we all know that first impression matters. So don’t rush it. Take your time in polishing the pitch and making it very best. So all the very best. Don’t lose hope. Believe. Dreams come true…only if you believe.

My books – Nobody’s Child & A Forgotten affair are available on Amazon.

Happy Ending

Some readers asked me, “Why didn’t you end #AFA (A Forgotten Affair) on a happy note? Why didn’t Sagarika go away with Akash – the man who clearly loves her a lot?”

I truly believe when I tell them that AFA has a very happy ending. The memory-less, confused scared Sagarika emerges stronger. She confronts her abusive husband, challenges him questions him, reunites with her mother and best friend and then chooses what is best for her. To leave with her mother to recuperate fully.

She loses her memory but finds herself. What can be better than that? Sometimes you need to lose everything to recognize what matters most. Sagarika loses her memory to recognize her true identity. A woman. Not a wife or a lover.

Girls since childhood are fed stories of helpless hapless women trapped in a tower by an evil witch, put to sleep by the prick of a needle and a curse only to be rescued by the kiss of Prince charming, a man. They grow up watching Rom-coms believing that there’s a man waiting for them with whom they will live happily ever after. Madhuri Dixit had crooned in Dil to pagal hai; God has made us in pairs. He has left it to us to find the other half that would make us whole. (sic!)

This isn’t a love-bashing post. I’m not anti-love. I’m all for love, roses, chocolates and things that make us gooey and mushy. I just don’t believe that love is all you need. That we are made in pairs and our life’s but a journey to find the missing half (rofl!). Love is the only happy ending; this I don’t believe.

The 1982 released, Arth by Mahesh Bhatt starring Shabana Azmi & Smita Patil; an iconic and path breaking film ahead of its time made the point succintly. In the end, Shabana refuses the love offer by Raj Kiran and also the pleas of reconciliation from her philandering husband. She chooses to be a single mom and walks away happily into the sunset with the little girl.

Gauri Shinde makes the same point with Dear Zindagi. Alia Bhatt doesn’t go back to any of the men she liked or loved. She silences the screaming demons in her mind, makes peace with her parents against whom she’d held a grudge for years and makes an independent film. She isn’t walking into any sunset with any man. Yes, she does meet an interesting guy but the lasting image in the end isn’t a romantic one. Rather it is of a woman who has emerged stronger, confident and fearless. A woman who accomplishes her dream – of directing a film – without the support of a lover.

A woman can walk away into the sunset, alone. That’s not a tragedy. That’s a very happy ending if that’s what the woman chooses. It’s time such perceptions change that the happy ending must have a man alongside the woman.

I do a lot of reading on Twitter; midst all the crazy rantings there’s a sea of engaging reads on Twitter. The headline of the article is what grabbed my attention:

https://www.vagabomb.com/I-Love-Siddharth-but-Im-Still-the-Most-Important-Person-in-My-Life-Vidya-Balansays, actor Vidya Balan. Yes, she’s promoting her latest film Kahani -2 but Balan has never been one to mince words and her choice of films have been anything but hackneyed. “I love Siddharth (her husband) but I’m still the most important person in my life.” This strong message should go out to every woman. Very easily we fall back in step with our dreams, our wishes, allowing the man in our life to be centre stage. We have been very carefully wired to believe that unless there’s a man in the picture, holding our hand, that’s not a happy picture or ending. That the man is the most important person and we are at best second.

Before the world around us changes, we have to change within. Be the change you want to see is oft said. It’s time women believed it and more importantly pass it on to their daughters; the next generation. Choosing to be alone, choosing one’s self isn’t a sad ending. It’s the best ending ever.

If there’s anything better than finding the love of your life, it’s finding yourself.

You can buy A Forgotten Affair on Amazon.

How to start writing?

Let’s call her R. We met at Bangalore Lit fest, 2014. We were among the chosen 15 who pitched our stories to the panel of editors. She made a brilliant pitch but is yet to finish her manuscript.

There’s a story in each of us. We are all born story tellers. But getting the first story out is far from child’s play. Writing is never easy, nothing really is. It requires a different kind of commitment, so here are few tips from me. Hope they help you get started.

THE LIST OF DOS

  1. The only way to start is to just start. Planning to do it isn’t doing it. Nobody has ever got anything done by merely thinking about it. So stop kidding yourself and get going. Kiran Manral, bestselling author for four successful books across genres says, “Write your story. One word at a time, one day at a time. Set yourself a deadline to finish the book. Set yourself a daily minimum word limit. Don’t indulge in the narcissism of a writer’s block. It will stop you from reaching ‘The End.”
  2. Start with detailed summary and character sketches. You have an idea of the story, even if it’s just a sliver of an idea. Do a detailed summary writing and then think of some characters.  Write detailed character sketches. This is often a great way to start.
  3. Have a memory list. This is your first novel, so your life experiences will come tumbling out. Spend a lot of time on which memories you want to include in the book. Making a memory list sounds quite ridiculous but it’s not a bad thing to chronicle them and use when you need.
  4. Begin by writing chapter outline of the story. You could do it for the entire story but if that’s daunting then do it for the first 10 chapters. This will set you off well.
  5. Constantly think about the story and the plot. Even when you aren’t writing, think about it. I never stop thinking about the WIP. I keep jotting things in the mobile notepad, which I incorporate in the story.
  6. Needless to say have a fixed time to write. Don’t keep it flexible. Either wake up before rest of the family does or burn the mid night oil. I often woke up at 4 am to write. The story churning in my head drove away sleep. So better write than toss and turn. One rule was and is sacrosanct for me – I never keep writing till the end of the day. I never told myself, I will finish my household chores and then write. I am brain dead after having shopped veggies, dealt with maid, carpenters and etc…creative juices die in me. So the most important thing for me, my writing – I did first thing in the morning. I clocked in 2 hours before the family woke up and then of course did more throughout the day. But on days, when I couldn’t get any more work done, I knew that I had done 2 hours at least.
  7. Yes, the idea is to write not to finish the race and come first. But set a deadline. Not a 2 year deadline! But not a three month deadline either. Stephen king says, first draft should be done in one season, that’s 4 months. I gave myself 9 months. I finished in 8. If the NaNoRiMo works for you, great but I don’t like to push myself to that extend. Writing is my passion. It’s the love of my life and I relish it bit by bit. I have a deadline to meet but this isn’t a 100 m sprint. I’m too much in love with the journey; making characters, sketching the plot, changing it, taking it through. I have a blast while I write.
  8. While writing the first draft, don’t edit. Just get the story out. You will have time to perfect it later. Don’t slow down the thought process. The story is churning in your head, let it flow. Bestselling author says, Kulpreet Yadav says, “Be original, understand that conflict(s) drive the plot & engages the reader. Don’t fall in love with the characters you create. Always, have the reader in mind.”

Few DON’TS

  1. When you start writing, other story ideas will keep popping in. you will not distract yourself by even writing half a chapter of the second novel, till you are done with the first. You don’t two time. Ok? That’s not how this works. One lover at a time. Be faithful. If the relationship isn’t working and you feel it’s not going anywhere, cut your loses and move. But you will abandon the first one only after you are sure that it’s a dead end. We don’t want or need ghost of past unfinished WIP haunting you!

However, feel free to jot down random thoughts about other ideas. But only jot them down. I do that a lot. My WIP 2 is done. Currently polishing it. Novel 3 is fleshed out. Novel 4 is germinating. Let’s put it like this, I’m in a steady relationship with Novel 2, but am allowed to have a coffee or just a casual chat with Novel 3, 4 etc. nothing more.

  • This one’s a no-brainer. Put away the mobile. Mute whatsapp, FB, twitter and  everything else. Writing is serious business and this isn’t something anyone gets done while flipping thru social media. I keep my phone away from my work area while writing. My family is informed of the timing I keep. So no one disturbs me. Only my mom and dog Archie dare to step where others fear to tread. The former believes since she’s my maker, so she has the leeway. The latter…he’s furry, cuddly and cute, hence exempted from rules.
  • Recently I read an interesting article: Ten ways to get writing by Hazel Gaynor, author based in UK. She says, “Tell everyone you’re writing a novel. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, domestic help…everyone. The external world will enquire about your progress, thereby putting pressure on you to finish the book you’ve thinking about.” I think this is an excellent idea.
  • After the first draft, ideally stay away from it for atleast 2 months. Then go back to it ruthlessly with a severely critical eye. Chop, re-write, re, re-write, sharpen…polish it till gleams.
  • Get a beta-reading done. Show it to your family, partner, best friend but don’t ask for feedback. This could be dangerous for the future of your relationship. Get a professional beta reader. I don’t believe in circulating the manuscript to all and sundry. Get advice from people who wouldn’t mince words. This isn’t the time to pamper your ego. This is the time for reality check so that you can hone your manuscript to its best.

Writing your first novel is special. It’s the most amazing journey you will ever take. So stop thinking about it and get started. It’s criminal to have a story in your head and not write it out. So get to it!!

Developing characters

Think of some characters from books you enjoyed reading. Characters that linger in your thoughts long after you closed the book. Some of mine are – Sherlock Holmes, Heathcliff, Miss Havisham (Great Expectations) and many others. Why certain characters stand out clearly in our minds is because of the minute detail authors have paid attention to while writing. They stand out in the story like a picture and you can visualize them doing whatever they are supposed to be doing in the story. That’s the power of great writing.

‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature: Earnest Hemingway.’ So when I write, I try to do the same. Visualize the characters and portray them as real people. The first step in ensuring that you treat your characters as real persons is giving them features, habits and quirks like real people. What do they look like? Are they tall, short, thin, fat, fit gym toned body or beefed up? Describe their hair. Is it curly, wavy, straight, maybe colored or smoothened? In my Novel 1 – A Forgotten Affair the protagonist has wild curly hair that is chopped to a close crop after she meets with an accident. When she wakes up from her coma and has no memory of her past she often rues about her hair, hating the close crop. In my Novel 2 the protagonist Asavri has fizzy unruly hair and that’s the bane of her existence. She’s a small town girl in Mumbai and feels very envious of women with smooth gleaming hair that stays in place. She feels that looks very chic and sophisticated. That’s part of her character. So go into great physical detail while fleshing out the characters. It makes them more interesting and more real.

Before I start writing the story I list down the primary characters. And I go into great details of who they are. What is their background, how educated they are, where are they from, where are they currently living? I also list down their favourite food, kind of music they like, who read books, if yes, what kind of books? I may or may not use all the information I list down about the primary characters but listing them down gives me great clarity about the characters. I know them inside out. This is just a process of gradually making them come alive.

To be able to do this you need be very observant with people around you. Look at people closely while at a party, movie hall, supermarket…anywhere. How they walk, talk, eat…their facial expressions? Everything. Observe and note away in your mind for future reference and use. Observation is key to good writing. And needless to say shamelessly eavesdrop on conversations. I do that all the time.

The final step, for me, while forming characters in the story, is giving them a special name. I like to choose unique names for my characters. I don’t pick on the commonplace Sunita, Rita etc. No offense to the Sunita and Rita of the world. But my characters are my children. I give birth to them when I start writing the story and it’s only fitting that they have a unique name. In my novel 2 Asavri is a singer. The word Asavri is the name of the morning raga. Hridi, another character, means from the heart but the character Hridi is anything but from the heart. She is very blunt, outspoken, often rude. She is something like Bree from Desperate Housewives. Moon is a dark and vile woman. She says about herself, “I’m the dark side of the moon”. So very specific names for the characters that is unique.  Writing is like playing God. You create characters and then you script the plot that’s their life. You make the characters  do things. So in my opinion they deserve special names.

Also, writing is my passion, my hobby and the love of my life. I have a blast writing, creating characters and making them do crazy things. So I go all out while sketching them.

One of the best compliments I received for A Forgotten Affair is when a reader wrote to me saying that Roohi, the protagonist’s best friend is the kind of bestie she would like in her life. She loved the character of Roohi, her tattoos all over her arms, her fetish for food and total ignorance of art and anything artistic. For this reader I was able to make Roohi come alive. I hope to be able to create memorable characters. I want to be able to create a character like Heathcliff, Atticus or even Miss Havisham.

As I end, I’d like to add: everything mentioned above is what I follow. You don’t have to follow what I say. The most important rule of writing is that there’s no rule. The above works for me.

Have you read my latest book – Nobody’s Child? It was released in August 2019. The characters in the book are very different from my first book. If you haven’t read it, go through some of the reviews on amazon. Click on the link: https://amzn.to/2XQHTjK

Mom! I’m coming home…

It was only when Rohan started class 11 that I began thinking about empty nest. He would leave for college in 2 years and being the only child, my husband and I would be empty nesters.

I had an arranged marriage. Our parents picked the significant other from Statesman matrimonial column. We married quite early; he 26, I 23. Curly top was born fairly quick too. When two Virgos marry, they plan, execute things and get it done! As a dear friend often teases me, KB you popped a kid even before Shopper’s Stop opened the first outlet. That’s true. So long story short, Rohan went off to college while my husband and I were in our 40s and we became empty nesters. And it worried us, me more than him I guess.

Our younger days had been spent juggling work and Rohan. My world was Curly top; what he would eat, his classes, his studies, his exams and etc. While Sandeep was busy at work, I did a bit of freelance work but mothering Rohan was my principal job. And I enjoyed it thoroughly. Reading to him, taking him from one activity class to another, watching reruns of Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, Castle and so many other things.

So when he was about to leave for college I was apprehensive about how I would manage myself and more importantly the other man in my life. My husband. I’d been so busy being a mom, I suspect I was often less of a wife.

Rohan was worried about me too, so he pushed us to get another dog. That’s how Casper came into our family.

But life is really a box of chocolates and you never know what’s in it till you open the box.

Empty nest proved to be very unlike what I thought it would be. Sandeep and I travelled a lot, focused on wellness and got fitter. I learned tennis, he learned golf. We both lost weight and for once we were racing with each other to be the one who lost…more kgs.

I also got myself a new tele-buddy. My husband. Together we watched TV series, movies and had a blast. We went for movie dates without having to worry about school next day. We met up with friends and partied like there’s no tomorrow. We travelled. On a scooty in Goa; meandering through sleepy lanes. In the double decker bus in London watching a rain splashed city go by. Trying out kulcha and lassi in Amritsar. Tiger spotting in Ranthambor and many other places. And we also discovered there’s a lot you can do in an empty house when there aren’t kids. Do things loud, really loud. You gutter minds!! I’m talking about singing and playing music really loud. You have very dirty minds!!

So now Rohan is graduating. Yes three years just flew by and while I’m thrilled that he will be home and work for a few years but I’m going to miss the empty nest. I’m just so used to having the whole house to just us, it’s going to need some changing of ways at our end. He left as an 18 year old and will be coming home as a grown 21 year old; used to his freedom and so am I. No longer are my mornings about yelling at him to get ready for school and packing his tiffin. My mornings are about tennis lessons and fitness class.

A new phase in life often fills us with anxiety, even apprehension but sometimes new exciting things lie waiting for us. Having an empty nest was nowhere near as difficult as I’d imagined it to be. It was actually a great phase in my married life.

Today, I waiting for my 21 year old to come back home, watch the next phase in his life begin and see how the days unfold. His room, now neat and tidy is going to once again look like a hurricane hit his closet. He’ll be playing drums and I wouldn’t be able to hear myself. He’s going to gobble up food; father and son will fight over chocolates. One thing is for sure, I’m going to need to keep my cool when he isn’t back home by 11.

For starters he told me some of his college friends are going to come over and stay with us for few days. All girls. Only girls. I stopped myself in time before blurting out, what will the sleeping arrangements be? I’m trying very hard to wipe the surprised look from my face and lower the raised eyebrows.

When lil birdies grow up and come back home it’s time for mommy to take a Chill pill or may be just reach out for the bottle of chilled wine.

How yrs of freelance writing helped me

Why did I waste so many precious years penning newsletters, brand promo articles and stuff for publications when I should have been writing novels. Hell, if I had, I would today have nothing less than 6-7 titles to my name.

This is a question I’ve often asked myself. Not so much today but when I started writing my debut novel in Jan 2014, I often cursed myself for having wasted so many years.

Somewhere along the way I realized, my stint as a freelance writer didn’t go waste. It has equipped me with valuable skills. Skills that come in handy as a fiction writer.

Working on a schedule:

Anyone who has been a freelancer will tell you about deadlines and schedule. Clients will delay payment indefinitely but you have to submit on the date agreed. So every time I negotiated the time frame for a project; I’d always factor in last minute hiccups, school holidays, a school project, weekend plan etc. Never agree to an unrealistic deadline. Decide on a time frame that allows some wriggle room. Always finish before the penultimate time so that you have time for revisions.

This held me in good stead while writing the novel. It still does. I set a timeline for the first draft and I finish it at least 7 days prior. I have been wired to work on a timeline and I can stick to it.

Ideating:

This comes naturally to any freelancer. Simply come up with ideas out of nothing at all. You have to churn out article ideas galore and pitch them to editors or brand managers. There was a time when I was contributing to at least 10 publications across the country and you can’t send the same article to more than one.

When I decided that I didn’t want the crumbs the publications paid and switched to being a corporate writer, it was no different. As a corporate writer it was second nature to hunt down companies and convince them to have a company newsletter if they didn’t have one and if they did, I had the creative pitch ready to make them see how I could embellish what they had.

When I began writing my first book, I told myself, Woman, if you could do that for face creams, security vaults and deos; you certainly can spin yarns for novels. Today I have one novel on book shelves across the country, second one written, two more totally fleshed out.

I’m an ideas factory. Give me anything and I can spin a story around it. I once wrote five articles on just a brief that some spots are good and for others there’s an anti blemish cream.

Discipline of writing

Freelancing taught me to never ever wait for the divine spark of creativity. One just doesn’t have that luxury. Clients are known to give you the brief on Friday evening and demand for final write up by Monday morning. What do you do? Either you write and submit or just get the hell of the way for ten others who will jump in before you blink. Writers’ block, I can’t think of what to write, I don’t feel like writing…a freelancer never ever allows herself this. Frankly, when I hear some people say such things, I don’t get it. You gotta write, that’s it. Simple. So you write every day. It’s just something you do. You just train yourself to do it.

Ruthless editing

As a freelance writer you get used to having the best bits of your article chopped off because an ad came  in last minute. And  anyone who’s written for a publication knows that  the ads are the boss. People buy to read the articles, which are dispensable and disposable when pitted against ads. Stupid, loopy logic. It sucks. Such is life. Like it or lump it! So you get hardened and stop taking it personally. And when you graduate to writing for companies you learn another lesson. You have to write in the tone of the company’s ethos. That means, you can take your creativity and shove it up or down whichever hole you find, as a writer you have to write the way the manager demands; who of course knows jack-shit about writing which is why you have been hired. But please shut your gob and re-write the beautiful piece to suit the company’s tone. Comprende?!

I used  to simmer and boil when I couldn’t make  the manager see my pov and then meekly did as was told; but now I realize how beneficial that was!

When I edit my first draft, I ruthlessly cut, chop and delete. I don’t bleed or weep. This ain’t workin, it gotta go. Where’s the question of getting emotional about it? What’s the fuss! For novel 1, I deleted 40,000 words. I went after it with hammer & tongs. I reworked tracks, added characters, deleted massive chunks and breathed new life. I got accepted by two leading publishing houses, I decided to go with Harper Collins.

My novel 2 is written. 80k words. I’m mercilessly chopping and re-writing coz I’m not happy with the way it reads.

So I don’t get it when people say they are emotional about editing. Be emotional about your kid, husband, dog or the LV bag if you must but be ruthless with your MS, coz the publisher isn’t your lover. They will throw your precious MS if it doesn’t dazzle.

Two decades of freelance writing endowed me with skills and tools that came in very handy when I began my journey as a fiction writer and it still does. It didn’t go waste. Nothing really does. Don’t rue about where you are. You could be learning valuable lessons without even realizing. You are where you for a reason. There’s a plan, there’s always one. We often don’t see or realize it. But there is.

Find your dream. Make it happen!

dream catcher

Most of you who know me personally will scoff on reading this. But it’s true. I’m not a confident person. I’m just blessed with a confident countenance and that helps me get by. I used to stammer as a teen and even today sometimes I do. I feel nervous if I have to address a group of people. All eyes turning on me and waiting for me to spew pearls of wisdom when I have none.. dear God, why can’t I just sit and write. That’s my easy zone.

Easy zone…yes I can tell you a lot about it. I’ve stayed cocooned in it, enjoyed its cosy comforts and I’ve eyed successful women with envy. Wow! She earns the big bucks. She travels the biz class on company account. Attends seminar, globe trots…wow…wow, wow…and how stupid and worthless are you K.

Many of my class mates from school and college are today working with reputed banks, MNCs; earning the big bucks, accolades and all. I’ve felt worthless and told myself the same all the time. I hated myself. I envied them, often hated them but when opportunity came knocking (and they did come) I snuck back into my easy zone.

Truth is we make choices. Our own choices. Nothing has ever been thrust unto me. My life has been my choice. And with age I’ve regretted the choices I made. I wished I hadn’t married so young. I wished I had studied harder and made a career. And focused on it. I wish I had taken up full time work and not chosen the easy freelance route. Even as a freelance writer, in two decades of it I should have done a lot more. I didn’t. I should’ve been a columnist, a blogger with a big following…I should’ve done this, that and…

The list of should have and must have is never-ending. But QED : KB you pulled the short straw. Willingly. How stupid!

This continued. My self loathing, feeling lesser than others, repenting and regretting. Then my book happened. In a strange way it changed many things in me. It changed me. I began to see myself in a different light. I didn’t hate myself so much. I felt happy, most importantly I felt proud of myself. Writing a book is a huge commitment. Sticking to a schedule for days, weeks, months; getting the  story out, reworking on the draft, pitching it to publishers and then finally signing the  deal is a long haul journey fraught with tension, rejection,, endless waiting. It’s the toughest thing I have done. But once done, it’s an awesome heady feeling. For me it is the most important thing I’ve done for myself. The woman who always took the easy path, shied away from challenges, led a life of comfort and envying others from the sidelines; I plunged headlong into the whirlpool. And most importantly I didn’t quit.

Our dreams, passions… When in the throes of it they burn us to ashes. Almost take the life out of us but when accomplished the peace is almost serendipitous. After 43 years I fell in love, again. With myself. I discovered myself in my journey with the book.

Recently an old friend called. She’s known me for almost a decade. Part of our conversation went something like me:

She: K, you aren’t earning anything?

Me: yes. I’ve given up all money making projects.

She: But…why? Money used to be so important to you. How can u be without work for almost 2 years now…u will get back to it right..

Me: It’s not important anymore. I don’t think I want to go back to that.

She was flummoxed. I was amused.

Chasing your dream can never be about money. It never is. It’s like staring at the rainbow and trying to catch it.

In pursuit of my dream, I laid to rest the screaming demons that howled in my head for years. I don’t care anymore if I make loads of money like my friends. I don’t care if I get to fly business class on company account (lol!!). I don’t care about anything anymore. I’m home. Nirvana is far away but I’m more at peace with myself than I ever was.

Like most authors I too will dedicate my first book to my parents but actually this one is for me. It’s my gift to myself.

Find your dream, your passion and make it come true. It could be anything. This isn’t taking one thing out of the bucket list. This has to be THE THING. The one thing that breaks you to pieces and in breaking you down puts it all together. It defines you in a way nothing ever has and nothing else ever will. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. It isn’t for anyone else. It’s for you. My husband would have been happier if instead of writing a book, I’d conceived of a business plan and worked on it. He came up with many brilliant ideas but none struck home with me. My heart dances to a tune of its own. Every heart does. Find yours.

It could be going back to work. Running the marathon. Going on a solo trip. Losing weight. Starting a home business. Anything.

There’s nothing more amazing than self-discovery. You’ll meet yourself for the first time. Unravel facets you never thought you had. You’ll hurt, bleed, doubt yourself, fight with everyone around you and you’ll want to quit. But just keep at it.

Find your dream and then protect it like a flickering candle. Hold it close. Nurture it. Watch yourself change, begin anew.

It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

Oh! Yes, you are.

I’m a single tasker. And that’s fine!

woman-multitasking

I learnt a new word recently. Single tasker. A person who can do one job at a time. The word very succinctly describes me. Yes, in a world of multi-taskers, I’m odd. I am a single tasker.

The multi-taskers run businesses, train for the marathon at the crack of dawn, are on the PTA committee at school, between con-calls, back to back meetings and deadlines, they tweet, organise parties at home and don’t be surprised if they announce one fine day that they have penned a book. After all that’s the in-thing to do today.

Phew! Just typing it all left me exhausted.

It’s not uncommon to hear about authors who have written 4, 5..7 books. Alongside writing one per year, they blog, tweet, and some have kids, do yoga or Zumba, flaunt diva-esque bodies and also have full time jobs.

I am in awe of them. These multi-taskers. I look at them with envy because I’m not like that at all. Truth be told, I cringe in shame when compared with them. I gave up my freelance writing career and a promising business venture with a friend to focus on my writing. I’m mother to a 17 year old who is extremely independent; he neither needs nor wants my motherly inputs. I should be able to pack in more in my life, every day. But I don’t. More accurately, I can’t. I’m a single tasker. I can do one thing at a time. Dammit! I can’t even read two books at a time. When I read about Indrani Mukherjea and her sordid saga my first thoughts were, “How the hell did she juggle so many men and intrigues?” I can barely manage one husband, one curly top and a dog! God lord! I’m really an idiot. Low IQ kinda person.

I just can’t do it!

It took 40 years of harried, hurried and hassled running around like a headless chicken to finally accept that I just can’t do it all. I’m not a multi-tasker. I can’t do 10 things at a time. Guess what I can’t even do 5. I can just about manage to deal with 2, maybe 3 if I really stretch myself. And I’m ok with it. This calm acceptance of what I considered my biggest flaw came to me to after two decades of self-berating and self-flogging. Of feeling lesser and not smart enough like the super multi-taskers.

The trajectory of my mental evolution was something like this: first I tried to do it all. Believing if others could, so can I. I fumbled, blundered and made a mess of things. Countless cheques were deposited without my signature on it. Packed everything I needed, the family needed, checked the baby bag and left for a trip with my wallet lying smugly on the bedside table. Innumerable dinners have been burned. And then the worst…I left my infant son in the car, doors locked and key dangling inside!! The List goes on as did my shame, horror and self-loath.

Stage two was hate and resentment. Directed at myself and my hubby. I believed he was responsible for it all. Married women do this a lot; direct their anger at their better half for the things they are unable to do. So after two decades of this turmoil, when I turned 40, I think it was the dawn of sense and sensibility. Gradually I began to accept who I am, the way I am. Nirvana is far away, but the self-acceptance is calming.

Recently I watched Shonda Rhimes, writer of Grey’s Anatomy give a speech at the graduation ceremony of Dartmouth University. She said,

Don’t be fooled by women who tell you that they do it all. Work, exercise, be there for their kids, paint, entertain, cook and etc… Nobody can. Nobody can do it all. If they are succeeding at something, it means they are failing somewhere else. If I’m writing an award winning show and winning accolades for it, I’m not there to watch my baby take the swimming lesson or play the piano. So stop believing in the media-created myth of this impossible super woman who can do it all and more with elan. It’s an urban legend.

Irrespective of what we excel in, nobody can beat a woman at beating herself down. We love to look at ourselves with negativity. Even before others cast the first stone, we have already beaten ourselves down to pulp. I did it for years.

Nobody can do everything and if there’re people who can work, run, cook, paint and etc…good for them. They are wired differently.

It’s perfectly fine not to be able to do everything. I pick the ones that really matter.

Choose what you love the most and enjoy that to the optimum. Don’t feel stupid. You aren’t. We aren’t meant to be clones of each other. Beauty lies in diversity. Beauty lies in accepting who you are and relishing it!

So I watch the world rush by, doing multiple things while I lumber along doing just one. Some days the old feeling of self-loath returns and I scold myself but I’m older and hopefully wiser.

It’s ok, be yourself. You’re fine. I remind myself.

A leading cosmetic brand screams – You’re worth it; I tell myself – I accept me.

Do you?