Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Last two days...

Day 29 of NaNoWriMo: Can I?

I have crossed 34000 words. I still have another 16000 words to go. I will need to write around 8000 words each day for these last two days. I have been writing around 5000 to 6000 words everyday.

With a pen and paper, I can easily do double of this but to win NaNoWriMo, it needs to be typed and that is proving to be a huge problem. Doubts are pouring into my mind at times. However, I am telling myself I can do it and the light at the end of the tunnel is not too far. This is the final lap and I am giving it all I can. I am going to write like crazy these last two days. The final sprint - Wish me luck, friends!

Day 30 of NaNoWriMo: Lots more…

All said and done… I couldn’t do more than 4000 words yesterday. So, I have 12000 words waiting for me today. I have never written 12000 words in a single day and it is going to be a very tough call for me. However, I am taking solace under a few facts:

• There was one person who completed 80000 words on the first day of NaNoWriMo itself.

• Enid Blyton used to write around 10000 words every day of her writing life.

• Stephen King speaks of this author who used to write the first draft of a novel in just 3 days. So, that person must have written around 20000 -30000 words each day.

So, it is not a huge impossibility. The one big obstacle that has stood in my way this last whole month was the fact that I didn’t know typing. As my one finger goes around searching and pressing the keys on the keyboard, I find it frustrating. And the disuse and odd position, while typing, of my teeny little last finger of the same hand has given it cramps. Every hour during my writing break, I am icing the typing finger and the little finger of my right hand.

I have always written my first draft in long-hand. And when I type it out, I keep editing it and it turns out to be a second draft. The slowness of my typing didn’t disturb me then. However, it is absolutely frustrating now. These last 30 days, this has been a mantra that I am constantly chatting, “I need to learn typing…. I need to learn typing… I need to learn typing…”

So, tomorrow, you all can be rest assured that you are going to find me at the doors of some typing institute or downloading typing tutor softwares on my computer.

The last day… the last run… wish me luck!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

World needn’t be perfect!

“You must want it enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist, you must learn your craft, then you can add all the genius you like.” – Phyllis Whitney

“In Boot Camp, tough sergeants deliberately try to break the morale of inducted men. Those who break, they send back to civilian life, or to some more or less ignominious chore in army life. There are two or three hundred thousand ‘writers’ who ‘write at’ writing in this country. 90% of them make next to nothing. The few who do get by are those who were not “broken” in the Boot Camp of their own wills, or lack of same.” – Jack Woodford

Rejection, disappointment and poverty is nothing new to a writer. It is just a stage they need to cross to reach the other side – Success. I wrote this blog to teach myself that I will not take rejection as a personal insult.

The problem is my critics don’t come from outside. I am my biggest critic. I sneer at my stories, jeer at my ideas and scoff at my language. And, as I am honing my skills, it is getting harder to please myself.

As I sadly sat pondering about this, suddenly, it just struck me. We call God - the creator. He is the highest force of creative energy who has created this entire universe and all the creatures in it. But none of this is perfect.

Every man has physical faults, mental faults and spiritual faults. The sea water is too salty, the river water is too scarce and the rains are always too low or too harsh for crops to grow. Cows have two horns, roses have thorns, eyes need glasses and bones can be broken.

If the greatest of creators, the Lord, can make so many mistakes then what can be said about we poor mortal souls?

So, I should learn to allow myself to make mistakes and forgive myself when I make them. If I can criticise the Lord’s work then all are permitted to criticise my work too and I should learn not to hate them for it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: Mastery by Robert Greene

Robert Greene has always fascinated me. His ideas and knowledge shared in ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ and ‘The Art of Seduction’ thrilled me. I wouldn’t say that I actually followed the ideas in the book as I had never been mad about power or had the need to seduce someone. However, I enjoyed reading the book as it is a voyage into human psychology and how it all works together. So, when I saw ‘Mastery’ on the shelves at Connexions (Chennai), I picked it up immediately. One, I admire Greene’s books. Two, Connexions is my most favourite bookshop and it is one of the traditions I uphold during every Chennai visit – each family member picks up at least one book there. (I know it is cheaper to shop at or or at least Crossword or Landmark. Still, I do this because all the stand alone book shops around the country are slowly disappearing and I am disappointed at that!)

The book far surpassed all my expectations. It was enlightening and inspiring. Greene speaks about how we can gain mastery over whatever life’s task we choose for ourselves.

“We are merely born with the capability to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”

“Whoever is born with a talent, or to a talent, must surely find in that the most pleasing of occupations! Everything on this earth has its difficult sides! Only some inner drive – pleasure, love- can help us overcome obstacles, prepare a path, and lift us out of the narrow circle in which others tread out their anguished, miserable existences!

– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

With any skill we want to acquire, there is always a period of excitement in the beginning and then we realize how much hard work is there ahead of us. The great danger is that we give in to feelings of boredom, impatience, fear and confusion. We stop observing and learning. The process comes to a halt.

Greene explains the steps to mastery:

1) Discover your calling: The Life’s Task
2) Submit to Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship
3) Absorb the master’s power: The Mentor Dynamic
4) See People as they are: Social Intelligence
5) Awaken the Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active

Out of all the steps, I loved the second one the most. Now days, the principle of Apprenticeship is slowly dying away. No one wants to accept that someone is better than them. No one wants to live with and serve another just to watch and learn their skill. However, this is not how we can attain mastery. The Gurukul system advocated the principle of learning by observing and repeating with humbleness and discipline. How wonderful it would be if we had some such skill transference programme for writers too??!

Greene says that there are three essential steps in apprenticeship, each one overlapping the other. They are

1) Deep Observation (The Passive Mode)
2) Skills Acquisition (The Practice Mode) and
3) Experimentation (The Active Mode).

In the Practice Mode, Greene says apprentices of yester years worked on materials for a time that would amount to more than 10,000 hours. This was enough for them to establish exceptional skill level at the craft. This seems to be the amount of quality practice time that is needed for someone to reach a high level of skill and it applies to composers, chess players, writers, and athletes, among others. This generally adds up to 7 to 10 years of sustained, solid practice – roughly the period of traditional apprenticeship.

Greene makes some interesting observations about the basic principles of skills themselves. Firstly, you must begin with one skill that serves as foundation for acquiring others. You must not multitask. Secondly, the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. You need to accept and embrace this. Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits in the learning process. However, you need to cultivate the ability to handle the tedium with discipline. In the end, our brain gets hard-wired and we can perform the task with less conscious control. Hardwiring cannot occur if you are constantly distracted, moving from one task to another. It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it.

Greene has described a challenging but clear course that we can pursue to achieve mastery in our chosen field. He makes the path interesting by sharing the stories and behaviours of Einstein, Darwin, Mozart, Da Vinci, Keats, Ford and many others.

A must read.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 26 of NanoWriMo: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

I realised that I am the embodiment of laziness. I am a huge procrastinator. When I need to write, I feel tired, I clean cupboards, I research, I read books, I chat, I help the kids with homework, I cook up a special dish for the family and do anything and everything else but writing. I remember the words from the book, ‘The War of Art’. It dealt with this issue. All these things are the lures that resistance creates to pull us away from Success. The deadline has woken me awake to my problem.

I am at 22792 words – not yet reached the halfway mark till now. I only have another 4 days to complete the remaining 28000 words… approx. 7000 words per day. I did write around 7000 words yesterday quite easily. Therefore I know that it is not an impossible feat. And I have all my writing buddies on the WriMo Facebook page cheering me up and giving me a hand and pulling me up to reach the peak. I am going to write and write for the next few days. There is going to be

• No TV
• No Whatsapping
• No chatting
• No partying
• No social networking (unless it is writing sprints on facebook), etc.

Also, I am going to make sure I don’t run out of coffee, green tea and Red Bull.

I am going to keep telling myself, “I can do it. I can do it”. And I am sure I will do it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quest for Cafe

I was just so sad at the unfriendly and unhelpful staff at most of the cafes I went to in my locality. The Café Coffee Day in Kandivali Lokhandwala had staff who blasted off their favourite hindi soap operas the entire time with no regard that I was working. (Finally, it shut down!)

The Café Coffee Day at Thakur Village Kandivali had no working power sockets to connect my laptop to (pathetic!) except one that was outside in the open sun. I requested the staff there to at least switch on the fan so that I needn’t swelter so much. After 15 minutes of getting no response from them, I left the place.

I called up Justdial to get the number of any other cafes around. The first name on my sms list was ‘Green Rock Café’ at Thakur Village again. I called up the number. I didn’t want nasty surprises again.

A smart cheerful voice answered the phone. He gave me exact directions to reach the place, assured me of working power sockets and a calm atmosphere to work. I reached there in about 5 minutes and set up my place. I introduced myself to the staff as the person who just called up. They were surprised.

“Our phone is not working properly. We didn’t receive any calls from morning,” the thin little girl said.

“What? I just called. Your number ends with 14 right?”

“Nope,” she said.

‘Oh mystery solved,’ I assumed. ‘The owner must have given some other number – his own personal one,’ I thought. ‘I should give him a call. He was a nice chap.’

I called up the number again. Surprise of surprises… the café phone rang… loud and clear! The staff seemed as surprised as me!
There must be some simple explanation like call forwarding, etc. for these eerie happenings. But I choose to believe that God intervened and found me an ideal place nearby where I can sip good (yes, it’s decent!) coffee and work in peace.

He wants me to write and will try to nullify all the silly excuses that I can come up with. For, had it been one of these sleepy, non-english speaking staff who had answered my phone, I would have called it a day, gone back home and snuggled into bed with a nice book.

God, thanks for this café. You made sure that you found a place for me that makes crispy yummy garlic bread, fragrant green teas and pizzas too. Thank you.

Now, no excuses. I’m working…

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

General Anaesthesia - A memory

I mull over most of my life’s experiences before pinning it down on paper. It was the same with what I experienced some ten days back. My hands were itching to write all about it but my mind was telling me to allow it to germinate a bit more. Finally, today I realised that if I don’t jot it down, it is going to escape. So, here it is…

I had already spoken about that small surgery I had around a week back. I had to have general anaesthesia for it. Ooh! What an experience! For both my caesareans, I had been given spinal anaesthesia. Though I passed out and lay senseless during both of those surgeries, it was nothing compared to what I experienced this time.

The last that I remember was a mask placed over my mouth and nose. I could breathe in the noxious fumes but I could barely breathe out anything. The man was suffocating me. Man, I had still not published a novel. I was too young to die! I vaguely remember throwing out my hand to push away the Anaesthesian but whether I succeeded or not has been decided to be kept as a secret by the medical fraternity.

The next I remember was floating. I felt so light – free from worries, free from word counts, free from NaNoWriMo, free from relationships, free from dreams, free from hopes, free from power, free from responsibility. I felt like a newly born child who has nothing to give or lose. And I was in a magical world. Everything was virgin white and circular. I was floating in a circle in the driveway around a building. The building was nothing like what I had seen on earth or even read in a book, even a sci-fi one. The entire structure stood like a smooth circular metallic white cone with no windows or doors visible. From where I floated I couldn’t see the topmost tip of the building. So, I am not entirely sure if the building ended or just scraped across the sky into eternity. I could see no one around me but I neither felt lonely nor craved company.

I was waiting at a particular spot on that structure for someone – someone important, special! I was excited, happy and felt blessed. (now when I think back, at this point, I wonder – I don’t remember the word ‘God’ being mentioned but it felt as if I had an appointment with Him) A particular moment occurred and I was permitted to call Him. I touched the building. Yes, the entire building was a hi-tech touch screen and a rhombus portion of the building disappeared and I met Him. Now, at this point the POV (Point of View) changed. I was still there but I was floating above me. The first me stood transfixed in that I beheld. The second me (the me, that is typing this out right now) started floating away looking down at the first me. Someone was calling me and the first me decided not to come back. The second me didn’t want to come back but the caller was persistent. They were not ready to give up.

Slowly, I heard my name being called out. I didn’t want to come back. Strangely, this was the first conscious thought I had. If I open my eyes now, I’ll never be able to return there. I’ll never feel that peace and calm ever again. I opened my eyes. I could see nothing but some hazy forms before my eyes. I closed my eyes again in hope of getting back there. It was lost. It was gone.

“What is your name?” someone asked me.

“Archana,” I said. Having interned in a psychiatric clinic, I have seen many patients being administered anaesthesia. I always thought all these were regular questions used to check if the patient has gained consciousness. Now, I knew these were questions to test if they had really returned back from that wonderland – maybe I could have sent someone else in my place! I would love to see if I can do that the next time they drug me.

“Put out your tongue.” I dutifully did it. I tried opening my eyes again but it was too much of an effort. I couldn’t move any part of my body but my mind felt so active. I thought about all that I had seen. I tried describing it to my husband. Btw, the tongue was the only organ that moved! Everyone urged me to sleep but the next couple of hours, sleep deluded me. I was too excited by all I had seen.

Finally, after a few hours,I had settled down. I went into a deep sleep. The experience became a memory I’ll always treasure.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Day 6 of NaNoWriMo: Can I?

Day 1: Excellent - 2560 words done

Day 2: Diwali – I just couldn’t get a single word in.

Day 3: Attended the Chennai write-in – My word count came up to some 4100 words

Day 4: Sudden medical emergency – I had to have a minor surgery done. I actually took my laptop to the hospital. I expected to be in a daze for around 2 hours after the surgery. However, the doctor said that I had to be in the hospital for at least 5 hours. So, I dreamt of myself blissfully tapping away at my laptop for the remaining 3 hours on a comfy hospital bed. (No kids to disturb me, wow!)

Little did I imagine how terrible general anaesthesia can be! I couldn’t see anything for about 5 hours. After which I slowly started recognizing the familiar faces around me.

Once I asked for my laptop and my husband offered to type while I dictate to him. I refused. The story was still an infant and I refused to share him with anyone.

The second time, I woke up from my deep sleep and told my husband that I dreamt of seeing my book on the stands when we both entered the Crossword book store.

The third time, I struggled to sit up but started throwing up. Finally, I gave up the fight and went back to sleep. I slept off the entire day expecting the next day to be a better one.

Day 5: The day was no better. I was in a deep hangover and couldn’t keep my head up. It felt like a sack load of stones had been fixed on top of my head. The head-ache was awful. I was back to bed. The word count stood just where it was.

Day 6: Today. The day has dawned bright and cheerful. My head is back in its place free of the sack of stones and I am back at my laptop. I should have completed 10000 words by now. I have done only 4000. I have another 6000 words to go.

But I am not disheartened. I am not giving up now. If there are folks who have written the entire 50000 words in a day, why can’t I? I will give it my best shot. After all, isn’t November the month of hope?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Day 1 of Nanowrimo: Valuable lesson learnt

The fact that you can write anywhere, anytime is a lesson that NaNoWriMo has taught me the first day itself.

I am this pantser who waits and waits for this elusive muse to show up. It was of no avail. A pressure to write, to perform, to conform to a word count was the push that I desperately needed.

My NaNoWriMo trial run began yesterday itself. I had to get around 2000 words done everyday, for a full month. So, I needed to write whenever and wherever I got time.

Yesterday, we went to catch up the latest Kollywood blockbuster at Abirami Theatre at Chennai. And, I was able to write a bit there. It was the first day show of Super-Star Ajith and if I can write among the cheers and whistles, I can write anywhere. Today, right now, I am penning these words as I sit at a hair salon, as experts are trying to fix up my hair. (Now, that’s another elusive thing!)

Lesson learnt: When you want to write, you can write. The time and place does not need to be perfect.

And thanks to NaNoWriMo for drilling that into my head.


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