#IWSG: What if you need to hibernate?


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Blogging during Hibernation

This new year’s eve, I fell asleep before midnight.

Of course, I’m aging. But more than aging, I’m hibernating.

Since Christmas, I’m doing a complete rewrite of my MS, and I aim to get it done by the 31st January. So I’m not really responding to messages, making  (or receiving) calls. Not blogging (much) either: I click Likes still, when I sometimes read posts during writing breaks, but not many comments.

It’s like I need to stay in the world of my MS to bang out about 2 to 2.5 k words a day: and it’s like meditation, if you’ve ever watched a hen incubate an egg with those faraway, lost look in her eyes, you’ll know what I look like these days. Pretty darn unattractive. You’ll find me on Twitter: @damyantig : I’m a sucker for  #wordsprint ever since I started this binge, and #1k1hr .

But this morning my calendar told me today is the 7th Birthday of this Blog. If I ignore that too, I’d be a bit of an asshat.

So I’m peeping up to say HI to everyone, to wish everyone a good new year ahead. And I’d be an even bigger asshat if I didn’t say THANKYOU to all the readers and commenters of my blog. And didn’t say SORRY for disappearing (pretty much) from the blogiverse for the last few weeks.

So Thankyou for being my friends, and Sorry about disappearing.

I also re-added myself to the Insecure Writers Support Group, cos let’s face it, right about now, in this temporary break from my fictive dream, I do feel a little Insecure. What if everyone forgets I exist? What if this blog becomes a forest of *crickets*?

From within the world of my novel, these seem like pretty trivial concerns. (That’s because they are, Damyanti– the world has gone through tragedies too many and too diverse to name in 2014– and you’re worried about your blog? #firstworldproblems #sigh)

But as ever, I need your advice: What do you do when you need to hibernate? Is it terrible that I want to take this month off to finish my MS? I know I can’t, I’ve made commitments, but what if I could? Have you ever taken a hiatus from your blog? Taken a hiatus in January? Thoughts on Hibernation? Hit me with them!

Do You Mark the #Books you #Read ?


The Reading Experience

The Reading Experience

As a child, I’d often seen people reading books with a pen in hand– underlining, making notes, folding pages.

I have a horror of that– I try to keep my books as pristine as possible. I’m not anal about them or anything (right!), but I never take a pen to them, even those that I study for a project. I add sticky notes, in case the need to make a note of something is absolutely dire.

I read this article on books and readers, and it made me sit up and take notice:

There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue. Students would report that their reading slowed down when they had a pen in their hand, but at the same time the text became more dense, more interesting, if only because a certain pleasure could now be taken in their own response to the writing when they didn’t feel it was up to scratch, or worthy only of being scratched.

Looking back over the pages we have already read and marked, or coming back to the novel months, maybe years later, we get a strong sense of our own position in relation to the writer’s position. Where he said this kind of thing, I responded with that, where he touched this nerve, my knee jerked thus. Hence a vehicle for self knowledge is created, for what is the self if not the position one habitually assumes in relation to other selves? These days, going back to reading the books that have remained since university days, I see three or four layers of comments, perhaps in different colored pens. And I sense how my position has changed, how I have changed.

Makes some sense to me, and today when I picked up a book other than one from the library, I thought of trying out this reading with pen in a hand scenario. I didn’t manage to scratch a line. Maybe my habits are too ingrained now. Or perhaps, it reminds me too much of my editing stints, and ruins my reading pleasure.

What about you? Do you mark your books with a pen while reading? Or like me, do you like your books free of marks?

Do #Inspirational #Quotes Work for You?


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Inspirational quotes

If you’re on Social Media, you’ve seen those– Inspirational Quotes meant to lift you up, or your day, if you so choose.

In the internet glut of images and words, some tend to stand out, and yes, I do share them on Twitter or Google+ or  Facebook, and yep, now Pinterest, from time to time.

With apps on phones and tabs, it’s easy to create a collage, edit a picture, slap on a quote and let it loose in the cyber world, leave it to flutter or sink, as it will. I’m guilty of a few of those– yesterday I made one of those quote + picture thingammyjigs on Amlokiblogs. And to the left, you can see a drawing I’d scribbled some time back, and added a quote to.

I often wonder, though, whether some of the quotes make any sense. Maybe they’re too glib, facile, and sometimes, overstated, even. I found this sentiment reflected in this article:

Inspirational quotes cross the bounds of class and taste. It’s true they are vented freely on The Apprentice where “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. (That’s the candidate Ella Jade Bitton.) But they also colour political discussion. The Scottish yes campaign cited the supposed Gandhi quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” You can buy inspirational quotes in the New York Public Library shop, see other people’s favourites on Goodreads. Inspirational quotes were even on billboards at the Frankfurt book fair – “because you can’t buy happiness but you can buy a book”. Congratulations if you make it home tonight without seeing an inspirational quote. You will probably find all the ones you avoided, photographed by your friends and posted on your Facebook wall.

Inspirational quotes operate as currency on social media – not only in terms of the way their wisdom is handled and passed on, but because motivational tweets have become a key indicator of a person worth following. In 2013, Forbes ran a list of the most influential people on social media. (There is no escape: clicking that link will activate a pop-up “Quote of the Day”. Enjoy!) Haydn Shaughnessy compiled the data, and noticed that the most influential people on Twitter offered a stream of motivational content. “When we looked at leading social media influencers in 2012, they were all people who created a lot of content. By 2013,” he says, “it was much more likely that a top influencer would be tweeting inspiration instead of creating separate content. The reason? People probably don’t read content anyway, they just share it.”

I don’t know if I would stop sharing inspirational quotes, or even posting them from time to time. Who doesn’t need a dose of positivity every now and then? But I think I would hold back a little– anything, even goodness, when taken to the extreme, has its disadvantages. Saccharine, asinine, isn’t where I want to go.

What about you? Do you read Inspirational Quotes? Do they inspire you? Or do they annoy you just that little bit sometimes?

 

 

Do Women Dominate #SelfPublishing ?


A to Z Stories of Life and Death

My self-publishing experiment

On Daily (w)rite, the majority of bloggers who comment are women.

In any creative writing workshop, women outnumber men by ten to one.

I recently read an article in the Guardian, that says women dominate Self-Publishing:

Alison Baverstock, an associate professor in publishing at Kingston University, Surrey, said her research showed a clear gender split, with 65% of self-publishers being women and 35% men. Nearly two-thirds of all self-publishers are aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half are in full-time employment, 32% have a degree and 44% a higher degree.

Baverstock said there was a widespread misunderstanding about who decides to self-publish a book, and how the genre was changing the publishing industry.

The article goes on to talk about how self-publishing is quite a robust alternative to traditional publishing:

“…there were popular subjects that traditional publishers had ignored, including “respectable soft porn” and “gentle memoirs of everyday disasters, such as losing a child”. Most publishers, she said, were being outpaced by a heady mix of democratisation and digital distribution, because they came from a “very limited gene pool … all agree on what they like … they know each other, and are not necessarily in touch with popular taste. Self-publishing is going on in schools, across institutions, spreading knowledge [of how to publish].”

While I agree with self-publishing having had a much huger impact in the last few years, I’m not so sure of women authors outstripping the contribution of men in this area. I’ve tried self-publishing a book of flash fiction, mostly as an experiment in learning how it’s done. Being less interested in publication and even lesser in making money out of it (both are unarguably good things, just not things I’m terribly interested in so far), I’ve mostly gone the traditional route. I’m trying to learn how to write, and despite the small published portfolio of short fiction I have gathered, I think I have a very very, long way to go.

I’m interested, however, in how the publishing world is shaping up: as a reader, I want to stay in touch with who’s publishing the books I read, and why. So here are a few questions, if you have a minute:

What has been your experience? Have you read more indie books by women than men? If you self-publish, would you drop a comment here, so we can have some real, first-hand accounts? Why do you self-publish? Have you tried the traditional route?

Who’s your Hero? #India #ProjectWhy

Who’s your Hero? #India #ProjectWhy


Everybody needs heroes. And I’ve needed mine– I just had to wait around to find her, way into my adulthood. Today, I’m talking about her on Daily (w)rite as my contribution to the Who’s Your Hero Blogfest.

Anouradha Bakshi NGO India

Anouradha Bakshi: My Hero from Project Why

Joy Campbell is running the Who’s Your Hero Blogfest today on her blog: Post approximately 300 words about someone who has encouraged or inspired you. Your hero may be a friend, spouse, teacher or writing buddy.

I love my friends, adore my spouse, have tremendous respect for some of my teachers and writing buddies. But the person I want to write about is someone I’ve met for a very short time in real life, but who’s had a huge impact on my way of thinking, my attitude to the world around me.

Her name is Anouradha Bakshi, the founder of Project Why, an organization that works in the slums of New Delhi. Lots of such organizations are doing good work, so what’s special about Anouradha and Project Why?

Project Why works with the slum children and women from within the slums by empowering the slum community. Some of the teachers were once maids, who got an education at the Pwhy, and are now teaching the kids from the slums. Others are helping to manage the project and run it. Yet others work as drivers, who ferry the kids and teachers from one learning center to the other. A Project Why team member’s family helps cook the midday meal for the creche kids. Most of the education given to about a 1000 kids from creche to secondary levels is free, as are the courses on sewing, and other skills for women. One of the schools is literally situated in the middle of a dustbin, because that’s where a majority of the kids who attend it, live.

Visiting this school, as I did this month, is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

All this is supported by donors touched by Anouradha’s way of thinking– “Seeing with the Heart

Where others see a burden in a disabled person (a common sentiment in many parts and social strata in India) she saw God’s own children. The Special Section, which I visited on my recent trip to New Delhi is poorly equipped, but full of love, as is the rest of the Project.

Project Why Kids, Doll Museum New Delhi

Day out with the kids at Project Why at the Doll Museum, New Delhi

Anouradha insists on spending most of the donations received on the kids and the women, finding innovative ways to cut corners on overheads. One of the centers uses a solar panel donated by a businessman introducing their use in India– and the water system is donated by a visiting school.

Tying all this is together is Anouradha’s compassionate yet indomitable spirit: you can’t help but be touched by the smiles she brings on the faces of so many people, with such honesty, kindness, and willingness to move on despite tough circumstances. (Her honesty, and her unwillingness to make a circus of the slum dwellers makes it difficult for her to raise funds– donors sometimes come in with cameras trying to pose the kids of the Special Section for public relations exercises, or to exploit them for publicity.)

Inspired by her, I try to look at the world around me with the eyes of the Heart, to understand, empathize, relate, build community, spread joy, in whatever small way I can. Not that I’ve succeeded, far from it– but I’ve made a start. I’ve been a contributor of sorts for years, and now, I’m trying to help get their social media and online fundraising efforts off the ground.

We need more heroes like Anouradha Bakshi. To my mind, though I can never become the hero she is, maybe I can learn and become a better person each day.

Who are your heroes? How long have you known them? Would you like to join in the Who’s Your Hero Blogfest, or just talk about your heroes in the comments? Would you like to support Anouradha Bakshi in her efforts?

How Self(ie) Obsessed are You?


Writers have an excuse for people -watching. Research, they say.

Today, at the beach with the family, I spotted a thin young man, with his techie camera, floppy hat, long-sleeved, stylish clothing.

I paid him no mind when he took the first selfie. After all, people all across the beach were either jumping in front of someone with a camera, letting out squeals, arms raised in fake ecstasy; or fishing for selfies, waist deep in the lapping waves, selfie-rod held in firm grip, grimacing away. (Notice the women modeling on the rock in some of the pictures.)

But this man’s persistence amazed (amused) me.

He kept trying to take Selfies, with a focus to rival a fishing stork–only he didn’t remain still except to pose.

He kept skipping and scampering across the sand and splashing into the water, busier than a seagull, and possibly livelier. He had no use for the blue vistas and white sand spread out before him, other than as a background for himself, and his nascent muscles.

I’m cruel. I guess so is my family.

That man adjusted his camera and jumped in the sun for the best part of three-and-a-half hours. For all that time, in between snoozing and chatting, we snickered at him, and I took pictures. I know I should have walked up, offered to take his picture, put him out of his misery. But it was far too much fun to just lie back and watch.

Here, I bring you the man on his quest for the Perfect Selfie. I hope he got it.

Selfie-Obsessed Man on a Beach Sunday morning Thoughts

Sunday Morning Thoughts: Selfie-Obsession at the Beach!

Selfie Obsession

Jumping about in Search of a Selfie

Do you take selfies? Possess a selfie rod? How many selfies do you take in an hour/day/week/month? Have any selfie-obsessed friends or relatives? Do you think we sometimes lose the moment while trying to show off on social media?

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?


Here at Daily (w)rite, I run a series of interviews of publishing industry experts: I’ve had poets, authors, and creative writing professors. Today, I’m chatting with Tim Tomlinson, who teaches at the New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program, and is an author and poet in his own right.

My first encounter with him was through his book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, one of the first books that gave me the confidence to go on writing without an MFA, and not lose heart. I took a writing workshop with him some time back, and speaking from experience, if you have the opportunity to go for one of those, do not hesitate.

1. You’re one of the founders of the New York Writing Workshop. What was the impetus behind it?

Solidarity and frustration. The founders were all teaching for another organization whose demands began to clash with our values. We met, somewhat conspiratorially, and we decided that we could do it better on our own. The rest is a combination of history and farce.

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

Meeting new writers, hearing their material, and giving them ideas for presenting the material most effectively. I recently finished two long sessions in Baguio, Philippines. Lots of talent, many wonderful people, but with a need for craft, useful practice, and self-belief. In two days, we made great progress in all those areas, and that’s gratifying.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

3. Tell us about your book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. How would you like a reader to approach it?

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing was meant as something of a substitute to MFA programs, or more accurately, a substitute for the expense of MFA programs.

At New York Writers Workshop we encountered hordes of recovering MFAs—aspiring writers damaged to varying degrees by destructive MFA programs. Writers who’d become convinced their work was garbage unless it matched whatever criteria were being pushed in whatever program (if, indeed, any criteria were being pushed). The Gordon Lish survivors were the most crippled: they couldn’t get beyond sentence one (which, according to Captain Fiction, must be perfect before one can proceed to sentence two). So we wanted to offer an alternative to spending $50,000 on nothing, or worse than nothing. For $16.95, the conceit had it, one could avail oneself of some, many, or close to all of the lessons of the MFA program.

But, and this is a big but, the book can’t provide community, or readers, or encouragement. MFA programs can (although none of these is guaranteed). The book also encompasses a range of disciplines: fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, poetry. Some programs prohibit movement between disciplines; our book encourages movement.

4. Can creative writing be taught? Why/ why not?

It most certainly can, and as we say in the book, one should run away from any program or instructor who says that it can’t. Talent can’t be taught, luck can’t be taught, discipline can’t be taught. But talent can be recognized and nurtured. And when it is, discipline follows – it’s more fun to sit down to the grind and discover that good work, or better work, is forthcoming. And when disciplined practice becomes part of the routine, luck often follows—one creates one’s luck. You teach the craft, you suggest the discipline, good things follow.

5. What advice would you give someone who is applying for MFA Writing programs?

Ask tough questions, of the program, and of yourself. Who will be teaching? What is her approach? (Does she believe creative writing can be taught?) What’s the rate of acceptance? How many nonsense requirements will intrude upon my writing time? Can I afford this? How deep will I fall into a financial hole? Can I achieve the same goals through less costly means?

6. If you had three pointers to give an aspiring writer, what would they be?

Read a lot, write more, and spend time far away from books (or universities). The work of too many young writers is informed by university experience solely, or predominantly. That creates the kind of provincialism you see in American fiction and poetry today.

7. You have taught creative writing in the West, as well as in Asia. What would you say are the key similarities and differences in the two experiences?

Very broadly speaking, Asian writers have more humility, which is a good thing for the development of craft, but maybe not the best thing for career advancement. Aspiring writers in Asia, too (again, broadly speaking) have far greater awareness of global realities than most aspiring writers in the U.S. American writers are freer in their diction, less formal.

8. Which is the last novel you read that you would recommend and why? Which authors would you name as influences on your own writing?

I liked Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth: A Novel. Her fragments are fairly large (in comparison to the fragmented fictions of Maggie Nelson, for instance, or Evan Lavender-Smith), but they’re still discrete units of narrative that enable Guo to focus on smaller moments, which build like blocks to a full coming-of-age story.

As for influences, in fiction no one has been more important than Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer, for language and spirit. John Cheever for structure, Denis Johnson for lyricism, Robert Stone for rhythm, James Salter for vision, Lydia Davis for options, Junot Diaz for freedom, Mary Gaitskill for awareness, Edmund White for honesty, Chekhov for neutrality. The diction of cowboy movies. Sam Shepard. And the diction of gangster movies. Martin Scorsese, and David Mamet. So many. In poetry, I don’t know if I’ve been influenced. Rather, there are sounds and visions to which I aspire. Charles Wright, Li Po, Merlie Alunan, Mary Oliver. And subject matters that enable my own. Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder, Philip Levine.

9. You help run a literary journal Ducts.org. Tell us more about it.

I’ve edited the fiction section for the past six or seven years (we also run essay, memoir, poetry, art, and humor). I’ve tried to make the representation global, and non-New-York-centric. I’ve run stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, England, India, as well as from many places in the U.S. Our readership has grown, the quality of submissions has elevated, and publication has become more and more competitive. We have two best-of anthologies: How Not to Greet Famous People, and The Man Who Ate His Book.

Tim Tomlinson New York Writers Workshop

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson is co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Writing Tomorrow, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing). He is the fiction editor for Ducts. He teaches at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Do you have questions for Tim Tomlinson? Have you taken an MFA or considering applying for one? Would you like to talk about your experience?