My Writing Process

This post ought to have been left blank because I realized that I have no process. Or perhaps there is no process.

Except that process where you have shown perseverance in spending time glued to the chair at your desk, tearing your hair (if you have any left), sighing in despair, pacing up and down the floor and sitting through the bouts of time when there has been no writing.

I realized also that you must have reached a goal, albeit set by yourself, weekly or monthly, of a number of pages/words that you decided to write, even if the writing was all gibberish, to have started thinking about a process.

The gibberish is an important ingredient to start with.  It is the one that might or might not lead to magic.

Unfortunately, I have realized through the years that there is no magic in the world that you haven’t produced yourself. But try enough times and you’ll see that for those who know how to look for it, lo and behold! “Zim zam zambowe/ Magic comes from nowhere!” (so sings the wise, white-haired, white-bearded sorcerer from the Indian children’s show Chota Bheem).

The sorcerer with Chota Bheem and his gang. The image is linked to the the image url. Thanks to The Boy for locating this image.

The following steps are solely how it happens with me. I’ll be very glad to hear how it happens to you. Continue reading My Writing Process

Does writing advice really help?

from pixabay
from pixabay

People vary vastly in their approach to work or play. So when I see a lot of writing advice doing the rounds (including my own), I’m rather skeptical.  Unless the advice is really specific, regarding tone, structure, syntax or something else, it serves little purpose for me beyond motivation, which, admittedly, is a huge part of success in any endeavour.

Some of the advice comes from writers themselves, when a dry spell probably compels them to write about something and what better a topic than the one they know most about—writing?

A lot of the impetus for writing about writing comes from a high demand amongst readers, who would be writers, and are looking for some magic recipe that will tell them how write. They expect such instructions to be clear and bulleted, exactly like the ones on how to put a bookshelf together or how to identify nasty weeds in your garden.

Again, such lists serve a purpose, to an extent, if you’re looking to churn out writing that will fulfill a purpose, and in theory, will help the next person write a similar thing should s/he be able to get to the instructions just like you did. Catch the reader’s attention with the intro, use a quote or an anecdote and end with a question or comment. Or, make sure the characters develop and edit out the parts that don’t fit.

But really, if someone has not recognized that they need to catch the reader’s attention or to make the characters come alive like real people from his or her reading of good authors, and is spending valuable reading time on reading a list of five points with clear headings and sub-headings on how to write, is this a person who should be thinking about writing for an audience at this stage?

That is not to say writing about writing serves no purpose. In a discussion or workshop based setting, whether face-to-face or online, talking about craft in a specific manner really helps. Where is this piece not working? Am I failing to connect here? Am I too verbose? But without a specific piece to start from, is it possible to discuss writing? Continue reading Does writing advice really help?

Tales by The Boy

Thanks to the exploits of The Boy on the word processor, the nascent blog post I wrote has been deleted.

Mischief by H. Brückner. Print showing a boy and a girl pouring ink and water on papers they removed from a desk and placed in a wastebasket.

Various experiments were performed by The Boy on a solitary sentence I had churned out after almost half an hour’s worth of staring at the screen when said boy decided to alter words here and there to check the various colours in which a spelling and grammar check was going to underline words.

Several minutes were spent finding words that were not words so that the underlining could happen effectively until we discovered that it isn’t easy to misspell words when you badly want to. Then fonts were changed and clip art inserted and magnified to fill the entire screen until the sentence was edited beyond recognition.

Hence, on the palimpsest of my poor, solitary sentence, having run out of ideas, I had no option but to regale you with stories by The Boy himself. Continue reading Tales by The Boy

Freshly Pressed! Times 5

I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my email! I’m going to be Freshly Pressed for Writing Memoir on Social Media.

Freshly Pressed
Freshly Pressed

I must acknowledge my debt to two people for the post: Cheri Lucas Rowlands (who also happens to be the editor who chose the piece) whose recent post brought to my attention The New Yorker article by Dani Shapiro I talk about and The Boy who blew the bubbles that turned into Writing Memoir.

Please like me on my Facebook page because, well, there’s stuff that I can do on Facebook that I can’t do here on the blog. Continue reading Freshly Pressed! Times 5

Writing Memoir on Social Media

I’m doing something in the room and The Boy walks in stealthily from behind me and suddenly there is a shower of bubbles in the air and lots of childish laughter. I turn my face and I see a host of bubbles floating up and up and up towards the light, their shiny surfaces catching the light and turning them into iridescent rainbow hues. It’s hard to tell how each bubble will float away, where it will stick and when it will burst.  But together they transform the room.

Actually I’m not just sitting here doing something. I’m writing yet another blog post. It isn’t unusual at all, while I’m writing, for a childish face to peek in and insist on typing a word or two or close a window or want to check out a blinking light below the touchpad. But bubbles? They are new.

The bubbles floating around me make me think of a lot of writing I’ve been doing lately. Light, beautiful, polished, iridescent and ephemeral.

What really has been the end goal of these pieces? To live for a bit, to catch the light, to stick in someone’s mind for a moment and then to disappear? To float directionless, to dazzle and to die? Continue reading Writing Memoir on Social Media

From eleven-year-old Bottledworder

You all have been reading Bottledworder for the past two years. Thought you might enjoy something I chanced upon covered in brown paper tied with a jute string this week.

They were old exercise books. Peeking out of one of them was an old, yellowed exam sheet with the words Better English, Class V-A on top.

Not ashamed to say the word “good” was written in red with my English teacher’s signature on the front. However, I seemed to have scored only 26.5 out of a possible 30 in the whole test.

Here’s where I lost a point-and-a-half of those missing 3.5! Not ashamed to admit, again, that I’m wondering, even after all these decades, what I was supposed to write for a full 5.

Ms. R, if you ever chance upon my blog, could you please explain? 🙂 Continue reading From eleven-year-old Bottledworder

The room of my own

When my brother and I were little, we used to play this game in the afternoons sometimes. My brother would sit on one side of the bed and I would sit on the other and we would imagine that the bed was a boat and that we were floating away on the ocean.  We would imagine that the space in the middle was one where we would keep all our prized possessions. My brother would keep his tools and I would pat the bed and say, “This is where I’ll store all my boiled eggs.” Continue reading The room of my own

Friends down memory lane

It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won’t save us any more than love did. ―F. Scott Fitzgerald

We sit around a huge bed covered in a thick, rough, cotton fabric next to huge windows overlooking wide expanses of this city of asbestos roofs, open dumpsters, pretty apartment buildings with AC’s hanging off the walls and rickshaws and BMW’s parked next to each other spanning a vista that looks almost pretty in the bright sunlight if you had the eyes to see it.

We’re still sitting in a circle, almost happy, almost young, almost twenty.

Some of us (who can) look over our shoulders in a familiar gesture to see if auntie (one of our mothers) is at the door to supervise us. But she has become too old now and retires to her room in the afternoons.

At first, we start talking like we always did whenever we met for the past ten to twenty years, since the steady decline of opportunities in the city and this age of globalization showered it’s bounties upon some of us and catapulted us to various parts of the globe.

Other schools, other cities, other jobs, other husbands, other children, other friends, other neighbours, other colleagues, other languages and other ways of life while some continued here in the city, swaying with the pull of distant lands or staying steadily rooted, yet none being able to ignore the loss and gain of bonds in our new and changed world. Continue reading Friends down memory lane

Them in the City

Something or the other is always happening in Calcutta.

Many of these events would be quite outside the scope of my experiences in the US and yet here they seem to fit in so seamlessly with the daily course of things. The events I’m talking about could be as simple as an altercation with an autorickshaw-wallah regarding the lack of change while paying the fare or hearing of a hanuman (big monkey) sighted on my street in the early morning sitting and eating kachori at a popular roadside stall with other customers (even while in many ways city life here is in no way different from anywhere else in the world as people use smartphones and laptops and commute to work on buses and cars and the underground metro).

Here’s a really unexpected event that occurred this week which reinforces my belief that if you’re looking for stories, there’s no better place in the world to come to than our very own Calcutta!

On Monday evening, my parents are about to leave for the market. I am ready to see them off when we open the door to an unexpected sight.

Our very long term domestic help P’s saree is strewn all over the landing between the main doors of the two apartments that face each other. A bunch of black hair, clearly cut with a pair of scissors, is strewn on the floor next to it.

The hair looks dark and glossy and freshly cut. Continue reading Them in the City

The Calcutta Cricket

One of the new experiences you have to adjust to when you visit your home in Calcutta from your home in New Jersey, travel from the temperate zone to the tropics, is that of living with the constant presence of insects in the summer. Even in city apartments, these companions make their presence known in various obscure or aggressive ways.

The glow worms are beautiful when they float in during a power cut.  The ants and the spiders are a silent lot. If you leave a box of sandesh on the table, in no time will you see a group of industrious ants pushing globules of sweet, white balls away. You might have to keep an eye out for the spider doing the silent dance around the toilet seat or the lizard suddenly bursting into a loud tick-tick-tick on the wall. The millipede could climb on your arm while you’re asleep or a winged cockroach might decide to spend its last few hours with you. Then of course the mosquitoes will sing to you and keep you company through the night until dawn. Those who are wise know that a single one inside the mosquito net could treat you to its serenade all night long.

But here’s my experience this summer with a harmless insect I’d never thought I’d have to battle with so vehemently in a city apartment. Continue reading The Calcutta Cricket

The Old and the Young

For expatriates, visiting home after long periods of time reveals slow changes imperceptible to those who live close by. The changes most noticeable are those in the old and the young.

The Old Man sits on the same seat on the couch everyday lost in his own thoughts. There’s a din around him consisting of the cook’s angry exclamations on the dearth of red-pepper powder (the lack of which jars against her professional perfectionism), the washer-woman’s insistent tramplings carrying heavy wet clothes to the balcony to hang, the all-purpose domestic’s comings and goings looking for mosquito nets to fold or to look out the verandah to see who has been pressing the “calling” bell for the thousandth time.

Despite all the din, The Old Man’s world is quite silent. He sits with the unfurled newspaper most days or just with his thoughts. He has grown a little frailer, lost a little weight, grown a white beard to complement his white hair. Yet, when there’s a soft discussion in the background between the domestic and The Old Lady that there’s no fish in the house for The Boy, he stirs from his seat as though to go to the market in the burning heat. When I pull up my huge American suitcase up the stairs, quite out of scale in this Calcutta apartment, he gets a grip on it pulling it up (looking as though he shouldn’t be), while all us ladies look on with concern trying to persuade him with words to let go but not daring to touch the handle to take it away from him. Continue reading The Old and the Young

Hello

Dear Friends:

Hope all of you are well and keeping up with your blogs. Thanks for your concern on my Facebook page regarding what on earth may have happened to me. It’s true that when a nameless, faceless person disappears from the interweb, it’s as if the person never was. Only the blog remains like the smile of the Cheshire cat.

But I am indeed alive and somewhat kicking!

It is perhaps a cliché to say that life is a journey. But would it be such a cliché to say that a blog is a journey too? My blog has accompanied my life in its travels through hills and valleys, nooks and corners, the bright sides and the dark sides like a little murmuring brook on the roadside that has spoken to me as well as you. A blog like this isn’t exactly true in that it hardly ever records facts and yet it isn’t exactly false in that it does hold up a very distant and distorted mirror to the lights and shades of life.

This blog has been a tiny home for me in a changing world that I’ve been able to come back to from time to time. It houses the mirrors that reflect the flame that lights this tiny space but must also show the darkness below the lamplight when it’s time to say nothing.  Both sound and silence are necessary to meaningful speech and the last couple of weeks were just that here–silent.

Why? Just because.

Hope to meet you old and new readers more frequently here on this platform soon.

BW

The self in writing

  • When man looks into a mirror he sees himself. When man looks into a book, what does he see?
  • When man writes a book, who is he speaking to–to others or to himself?
  • Why do most people write anyway, when it isn’t a school curriculum,  a job requirement or something that provides a living?
  • Is writing  entirely an act of speaking to others? Is there any part of writing that involves listening as well?

I don’t suffer from hubris large enough to claim to have an answer to all of these questions as big and complex as they are. Speculation will only prove my amateurish ignorance within the writing community and so I’d better maintain a discreet silence here.

Writing and I

However, one thing I do know is that a lot of inexperienced writers, myself included,  view their own writing as self-expression and self-exposure of one kind or the other.

The simplest of these authors view writing as a way to gain recognition for themselves, be it to millions of readers (as a sort of alternate career dream), or to be valued by friends and family (to gain social stature) or to find value in themselves (as a means to find meaning in their lives). All worthy goals with a single underlying thread.

The self. The me. The I. Continue reading The self in writing

Hope

I step into the tub for a shower.

Ahh.  A greyish black speck against the perfectly smooth, white surface of the tub.

I was bound to notice. Everything else was bleached clean, sparkling, sleek, shiny and fragrant. The slender faucets glinted in the recessed lighting, complexly designed yet pretty in the light that came in through the spotless, transparent shower curtains. Everything in this space was designed for perfect control from the temperature of the water to the force of the jet from the showerhead. A smell of heavy, synthetic fruit from green plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner overwhelmed the senses with promise divorcing existence from the brutal wintry day outside in its sweet entrapment.

ice-curtain-16561_640

A speck it was indeed, quite out of place in this dazzling white cube of perfection. For the person who occupied the tub, the roof was perfectly angular in the corners, the tiles sparkled white, the tub was cleverly contoured and the plastic shower curtain sparkled.

Just like the city outside with its perfectly clean river and its hard, glittering skyline full of metallic jagged angles and spikes on a sparkling clear day brutally cold like this one.

There was no wind here in the tub. Yet the speck moved. Continue reading Hope

Email and the Parents

An old post revisited for readers old and new.

bottledworder

It was probably the year 2001 and I was checking my email in a computer lab in a school in Florida trying to concentrate amidst the loud noise that the dot matrix printers were making on the aisle (which were the only printers completely free for students then although laser ones did exist).

I was checking an email that had the following subject line:

INFORMATION RECEIVED. ACTION TAKEN.

View original post 1,551 more words

Of cool writer dudes

So you go to a party and are introduced to a stranger  for the first time as a writer. Said stranger moves his chair up to you and decides to be nice. “So how’s the writing coming along?” he asks. Or even better, “What’s your novel about?”

It seems to me that only writers are graced with such pleasant conversation starters.  Imagine someone wanting to make small talk at a party with a person from a different profession. “So how’s the coding coming along? “And how’s the plumbing going?” (unless you are personally invested in the results of said work) or “So how are the surgeries keeping you occupied?”or “What’s your criminal case about this week”?
Continue reading Of cool writer dudes

Thrift Stores: Memories and Things

I have this gigantic beige coat that has been lying unused a long time in my closet. It’s humongous with a gigantic aura of fake fur trimmings. It is certainly at least a size too big for me. It makes me look very well equipped for a trip to Antarctica whenever I get into it.

Because of the recent snow storms slamming the North East, I took the coat out at last a couple of times this season. I noticed that a tag  under its collar says L.L. Bean. Yet, I vividly remember the day I bought it at a store in Florida which is as far as it could be from a nice outerwear clothing store such as L.L. Bean or Burlington Coat Factory.

Having always lived in tropical climates, I was stumped a few years ago when I was due to visit Philly at the height of winter from Florida, where I lived then, for some interviews at a conference. I realized that nothing I possessed could match the kind of cold I might have to face up North. Knowing I’d never use the coat beyond the day or two, I visited the town thrift store to look for something suitable.

Image by brina_head on flickr

It was a biggish store with vast spaces full of clothes on hangers hung on rails with bright natural light coming in through the windows. Almost all the clothes there were either cotton or made of artificial silky material that hung on the hangers with slumped shoulders looking like they could be crumpled into little balls if needed. Continue reading Thrift Stores: Memories and Things

Is blogging bad for writing?

Do you want to become a good writer? Keep writing! Practice makes perfect.

Or does it?

Keep writing is usually the advice new writers are given to help them launch a journey onto the uncharted waters of how to write well, a practice that doesn’t usually have any proven rules of success although there’s plenty of advice going around.

I realized that as in every good thing in life, blogging too comes with its own share of pitfalls. Where there is opportunity for improvement in writing, there is also a need for tremendous caution.
Continue reading Is blogging bad for writing?

easy reading is damn hard writing

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